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Scotland - Only a call away

Scotland on Sunday - Hold the phone: the real story behind 'Gaddafigate' crisis

THE biggest constitutional row since devolution has been blamed on the British love of bank holidays, it emerged last night.

In a farcical twist to 'Gaddafigate' worthy of Yes, Prime Minister, it has been claimed Scotland was not informed of Tony Blair's plans to broker a deal on prisoner transfers from Libya because all civil servants north of the Border were enjoying a day off....

Last week, the failure to make contact led to fury in the Scottish Parliament, as party leaders accused Tony Blair of plotting a secret deal to repatriate the Lockerbie bomber.

First Minister Alex Salmond said that as Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi was in a Scottish jail, ministers should have been told of the ongoing negotiations.

According to the Whitehall insiders, the 'cock-up' began after the basis for the Memorandum of Understanding was agreed on Wednesday, May 23, in a meeting in London between the Libyan justice minister and his Whitehall counterparts. Officials rang Scotland on Friday, May 25 to let them know, only to discover it was a Scottish holiday.

The next working day, Monday, was an English Bank Holiday, meaning that all of Whitehall was at home. When both sets of officials were back in, on Tuesday, Blair was already in Libya to meet Gaddafi. ...

A source close to Salmond said: "I am afraid the more Downing Street spins, the worse it gets. It's a case of, 'oh what a tangled web we weave'. First they said the memorandum was a draft, that it wasn't signed, that it had nothing to do with prisoner transfer and Mr Megrahi - and now this."

The First Minister made an emergency statement to Parliament last week on the issue.

The UK government's embarrassment increased last night after it emerged that, while Scotland was out of the loop, officials in the European Commission were aware of the deal.

So for four days there was no way of contacting the Scottish Government? It gives you confidence in the way the Whitehall is run doesn't it! What a bunch of amateurs.


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