Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi is free. Causing a bit of a controversy, that. The one man convicted of Britain’s worse terrorist incident, the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, has been freed on compassionate grounds by the Scottish authorities. And pretty much everybody is complaining about it.

I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging on political issues in the last year or so. There have been many significant political events and controversies over the last twelve months, but I’ve bit my tongue and held my silence. Perhaps I should do that in this case too, or perhaps I’m ready to reengage with my former, ranting, self. Who knows; but I’m diving in here…

As far as I can work it out, the political decision was based on a recommendation by the judicial authorities, by the court and the parole board. There were also some representations from the police about the cost of necessary policing, were Megrahi released into Scotland instead of to Libya. The controversy? The controversy seems to be that the Scottish Justice secretary followed the advice given, and went with the recommendations of the parole board, and granted a compassionate release, because Megrahi is dying of cancer.

The Americans, especially, are rather pissed off. This tends to happen, in cases like this. As far as I can work out, America has a different understanding of “justice” than we do. In that they seem to replace the word with “vengeance” in most cases.

As I’ve said in the past, vengeance and justice are not the same things. It is not legitimate to kill terrorists, because they have killed people. It is not legitimate to deny compassion to a prisoner that we believe did not give compassion to others. The point of the law is to remove the natural desire for retribution, by providing a fair, impartial judgement and handing down a statutory sentence. It is fair because it is impartial and it is impersonal. The decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, and the feelings of the victims, or of the general public, are essentially irrelevant.

If a public minister, such as Kenny MacAskill, changes an impartial decision of justice because of the emotive feelings of the general public (or the equally emotive desires of a foreign government) it fundamentally changes the nature of the justice system. It can’t happen. If it did happen, it would be very, very wrong.

Of course we are appalled by the Lockerbie bombing. Of course we wish the perpetrator brought to justice. We may even feel, very naturally and understandably, a wish for some form of vengeance.

Questions over Megrahi’s guilt aside, there has been justice here: there has been a trial, a conviction and a sentence, a large part of which has been served. Perhaps Megrahi should have died in prison, but compassionate release, on medical grounds, is a right afforded to every prisoner under Scottish law, provided they meet the relevant conditions. Obviously, Megrahi did. To not grant him the release that is his by right, would be fundamentally unjust.

So, the American’s can go whine. I don’t care. Perhaps MacAskill can buy Clinton a dictionary, and helpfully flag the word Justice for her. It is the UK politicians I am appalled by, who seem to have decided, almost unanimously, that the opinions of the Sun and the Daily Mail are more important than actual justice. To them, I have two words:

Grow up.

Rant

Snow Leopard

The new Mac operating system, Mac OS X 10.6 (aka “Snow Leopard”) is out this month. The upgrade price, a very reasonable $29, or £25. Not bad.

So why the rant? Because $29 ≠ £25. $29 = £17.60. Why the hell does Apple *always* insist on ripping off it’s UK customers? It does not cost 60% more to print a DVD in the UK, or to ship one. And VAT would not make up anything like that amount. It’s bl**dy ridiculous

/end rant

Taking the Pledge

Anyone from across the pond will be fully familiar with the idea of a pledge of allegiance, an oath of agreement and support with the values of a country. In the States schoolchildren pledge allegiance ‘to the flag of the United States…’ Well, Lord Goldsmith, former UK attorney general and Tony Blair’s right hand man has suggested that such a thing might be a good idea for over here too.

Oh, this is wrong on so many levels…

Aside from the ridiculous notion that we should take pointers on what makes a citizen from America, who suggests that anyone would be more committed to the UK simply by saying a few words? The planned pledge will be in allegiance to the Queen. Now I have no problem with the Queen, I think she’s great and long may she continue to live happily in the house at the end of The Mall, but what about this countries long history of quiet republicanism? Isn’t that British? I mean, the vast majority of Labour MP’s are republicans for crying out loud!

OK, I’m going to leave the political rant there, because my main concern is actually a religious one. Pledges of allegiance, whatever their form and whoever or whatever they are to, are fundamentally un-Christian. To require schoolchildren to take an oath (something they can’t possibly fully understand) is to infringe their freedom of religion.

Christians call Jesus Lord. Now, that is a statement that doesn’t translate well into modern English, because the only people we call Lord now are ceremonial figures like Lord Goldsmith. Shane Claiborne has a better suggestion that helps us to understand the point. He says we should call Jesus President.

The declaration of Jesus as Lord (or as President) is a recognition of Him as the fundamental authority in our lives. It is to Him and Him alone that we ‘pledge our allegiance’. That declaration is fundamentally a political act, which is why the Romans killed so many Christians in the first 4 centuries: because the Christians were allied to a higher authority than Rome. They recognised Jesus over the Emperor.

I believe that Christians cannot pledge allegiance to a flag, or a Queen or a President, to a nation or a republic or a people group. Because Jesus Himself said that we cannot serve two masters.

That doesn’t mean we cannot serve peacefully under the authority of a state, or a citizens of a nation. But it does mean that we cannot take an oath to pledge allegiance to that nation, because our allegiance is elsewhere.

Throughout the last 2000 years Christians of many nationalities have had to take a stand for their beliefs over and above the politics and policies of their nation. Many, many have died because of that decision. Some of the worst excesses in Christian history, the stuff that has given us a bad name, has occurred when we have not been able to do that, when national interests, politics and ideologies have got in the way.

The Queen is great. Britain is great, and I am proud to be a citizen of this nation. But I am unable to pledge allegiance to either queen or country, because I am allied to ideals that go beyond such boundaries. And I believe that there are many, of my faith, of other faith and of none, that would be similarly unable.

Ditch the idea Gordo; its daft.

Something in the Air?

So, no great innovations – nothing judged ‘newsworthy’ came from San Francisco last night. But we did get this:

 MacBookAir1

Pretty.

 MacBookAir2

Unfortunately, its only available on pre-order, so I can’t ask my friends currently on holiday in New York to bring me one home. 😦

Which is a shame, because the base model will be £1,199.00 over here, while its in the US at $1,799.00 – a good £280.00 cheaper in the states!

Going Nuclear

sizewell bThe cabinet have apparently voted unanimously to approve the building of new nuclear power stations in the UK. (Source: Today, Radio 4)

Well, that’s the way the winds been blowing…

I’m going to say straight off that I think this is a really bad idea. Yes, there are merits to nuclear power; it is almost entirely carbon neutral for a start. Yes, the degrading of our current nuclear generation capacity meant that we were soon to have a hole in our power production, that would be a challenge to fill; something that necessitated action sooner rather than later. Yes, the issue of energy security is becoming a major one, especially as the UK’s ability to produce its own oil and gas is diminishing.

All good reasons, and probably the ones Gordon will use to justify the plan when he announces it today (presuming he doesn’t cower in the background and let John Hutton take the flack). But I really, really don’t think that these (albeit valid) reasons overcome the glaring hole in the nuclear issue: waste.

The decision being announced today effectively means that we are going ahead with building more nuclear reactors (or at least, letting industry decide to build them if it wants) without having any clear idea what to do with the waste we already have from our existing nuclear generators. This is stuff that will be dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, and we have no idea what to do with it!

To dispose of radioactive waste in such a way that it will still be safe in 200,000 years time (or, in context, about 10× the length of the entire of human history we know about) will be hugely expensive and incredibly technically challenging. I mean, how do you go about finding a location that will be safe from geological processes for 200,000 years?!? And, just as they don’t know how to achieve safe long-term storage, no one knows who is going to pay for this.

To me, despite its apparent advantages as a ‘green’ and secure energy supply, the issue of safe waste disposal means that the nuclear option cannot be considered safe, or cost effective. Until that is resolved, there is no way we should consider building new nuclear generators.

CND logo

If the government want new capacity, we have a very windy coastline, perfect for offshore wind generation. Microgeneration within towns and cities could be hugely successful if the government would subsidise it. And promoting energy efficiency at both industrial and domestic levels would reduce our overall generation requirements. If after that the government are worried about energy security, how about buying a 20% stake in Gazprom? (Better than investing in Northern Rock).

A problem of numbers

Now, I of all people know the difficulty that numbers can be, but I was somewhat surprised last night to learn that the Government had apparently mislaid 300,000 foreign nationals working here in the UK.

I don’t want to go into Government-bashing, but the whole issue does raise a few questions in my mind…

Every passport is tagged in and out of the country. The UK has no land borders so it is impossible to enter or exit the country without having your passport examined and its ID number recorded. So how come the Government don’t know how many people are here at any one time?

Yes, we get a whole lot of tourists, but surely the number of those outstaying normal holiday visa periods can be accurately calculated? That alone would let us know how many people are staying here…

And then there is the Inland Revenue (or Her Majesties Revenue & Customs as it is now called). They record tax details of every individual working in the country. A P45 is sent off to them for every individual role on the PAYE scheme. Now surely those numbers can be used to tell us how many jobs there are, and how many non-British nationals are filling them…?

You see, the problem the Government had was that its figures were calculated by a survey, which is a fine way of gathering data. But when these labyrinthine departments routinely gather all this data, why isn’t it possible to mine it for accurate figures?

The Immigration debate is a strange, highly-charged and somewhat artificial one. Yet it always surprises me that no one (and it really is no one) seems to have a clue about the real scale of the problem. How many foreign nationals come into the UK to live and work? We really, really don’t know.