The release of the Libyan Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, brought a heap of criticism down on the Scottish National Party government. Most of the criticism emanated from America, which does not seem to be able to resist the urge to interfere in the affairs of other people’s countries.
Considerations like the fact that the punishment of Al-Megrahi did not include as part of its construct the need to satisfy the vengeance of the relatives of the 270 killed on Pan Am Flight 103 were laid aside. The release was on compassionate grounds, just as the release by Justice Secretary Jack Straw a week earlier of great train robber Ronald Biggs was agreed because he also only has a few months to live.Other factors like the probability of Al-Megrahi’s innocence of the crime in question were also conveniently forgotten on the other side of the Atlantic. Amongst Scottish relatives like Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died on the flight, this question was a major cause of concern as it should be for all the relatives. Afterall, if the wrong man has been convicted a guilty individual is still at liberty walking free.What was most revealing about the whole episode was the light it threw on the one sided nature of the so-called special relationship between the UK and the US. This relationship has been useful to the US particularly over recent years, as the UK has backed it up in a variety of illegal operations, like the Iraq war. On the British side the advantages are less clear. From going to war to refusing the pay the congestion charge in London, the Americans seem to have very little respect for the junior partner in this “special relationship.” Take the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The UK has backed America in both foolhardy ventures with British troops paying the price on the battlefield. The UK has paid the price at home with such actions making it more of a target for terrorism. The UK would be a whole lot freer more peaceful place had the country not followed America into these two wars. Maybe when Americans threaten to boycott coming to Scotland, in response Britons should boycott going to Afghanistan.Then there has been the complicity of the UK in rendition and torture being pursued by the US in the name of fighting the war on terror. The case of Binyam Mohamed again underlines the one sided nature of the special relationship. It was revealed in court that America would withdraw co-operation on intelligence matters if a document were made public revealing its complicity in torture relating to Mr Mohamed. The Foreign Office has been fighting in the courts to keep these documents secret in order not to upset the Americans. It remains unclear just how many CIA personnel are deployed on active service in the UK.At a more petty level there is the refusal of the US embassy to pay the congestion charge in London. The bills have now orbited over £3 million. Whether the president is Obama or Bush this policy seems unlikely to change. Examination of what the special relationship really involves reveals a one sided deal with all the benefits with America. At some levels it looks as though the UK has almost become a colony of the US – the 51st state. There are US forces stationed across the UK from the base at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire to the airforce base at Mildenhall in Suffolk. How much this could be described, as an army of occupation is a matter for conjecture. It is a sobering thought to remember that the US bombing of Libya in 1986 was staged from a by the US airforce operating out of a number of UK bases. Never has there been a better example of violence begetting violence.The use of the term relationship is misleading. A relationship suggests some sort of deal, a bit of give and take on both sides, something for everyone. The value of the British relationship with America appears to be all on the one side. The relationship if any appears at times to be more akin to that of master and servant. The sooner that Britain comes out of its historical malaise and recognises the true nature of the “special relationship” the sooner it will be able to resolve its own international identity crisis. This should in the long term lead to Britain taking up a much fuller role within the context of Europe. If the Al Megrahi case helps speed this process on then so much the better.