On the 12 December 1988 I was about 5 minutes further towards London Waterloo than the Clapham Rail disaster occurred.
On the Saturday of that week the 17th me and a friend were driving past Lockerbie on the then A74 at about 7pm. Wednesday the next week Pan Am Flight 103 came crashing out of the sky there.
Also that Christmas while I was home I was out for a run, came in showered, went down to watch the news and saw a bomb had gone off in the last hour along my route of that night.
December that year was a memorable one for that young student at the end of his first term of tertiary education. Being raised in Northern Ireland of course I was also used to seeing the families of victims of terrorism on TV all the time. Therefore the reactions to the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate got me thinking back to those more troubled times.
On the TV those families had one of two reactions, there was either bitter anger or a forgiving compassionate response. I long knew which type of person I'd far rather spend more time with. The latter weren't hurting any less than the former but showed compassion, maturity, not wishing to escalate what was often a volatile situation any further.
If like many other times this year there was a story about a terminally ill prisoner being given compassionate release from prison, it may have made the front page of a local paper, but a column inch, if that, in the national's other news section. It is because of who it is and the nature and extent of the crime that this got this attention.
I was mischievous earlier about Kenny MacAskill sounding more like a Kirk Minister than a Government one. But unlike Daniel Hannan's playing to an American audience and forgetting the home viewers reaction, MacAskill was playing to both. He attempted to appease both sides with the promise that the decision was hard come by.That he eulogised about a higher power and a greater inescapable sentence being imposed, but it failed to quell the anger of some of the American families.
There were issues with the handling of the build up but the resultant outcome was the right one. America can shout and scream all it wants to but they have a legal system lacking compassion. In reality they have an Old Testament legality overlooking the New Testament, there an eye for an eye still holds true, here we believe in re-education and reintegration.
Back to the Northern Irish situation the peace dividend, after many Americans supported the IRA cause, has led to many of those who carried out killings to be released. Did we see a hoopla in the States about any of the IRA murderers being released early, not even on grounds of compassion due to imminent terminal disease? No, of course we didn't, but then these releases were also right in a different way.
The Americans are sadly,to an extent, largely, a selfish people, it is part of their inward lookingness. Their national champions in some sports after all are called World Champions. But some of the squawking about the shame to Scotland and the Scottish people shows the shame to the American people.
Back to those scenes on the TV in Northern Ireland and just over a year before Lockerbie one of the most emotive appearances for Gordon Wilson who held unto his dying daughter Marie's hand under the rubble of the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb. He was a victim physically and emotionally as someone present and as someone losing a dear one. His initial and lasting reaction was not to condemn those who had carried out the atrocity but to work for a lasting peace. After the release by Scotland of al-Megrahi some American statesmen are saying this will change how they deal with Libya. Why? How? Surely that is the wrong way to build a lasting peace. Libya are trying to get involved in the global fight against terrorism these days, steps have been made to a reconciliation, so why do Americans react this way?
A nation that shows compassion finds it easier to look past the past, one that hold grudges finds it harder to let it go. So while the triumphalism of al-Megrahi's return to Libyan soil was over the top so too has been the heightened of tension, deepening of old wounds that the American political class and media has stirred up.
MacAskill made a tough decision, but made a right one based on the medical evidence and leaving emotions out of it. If emotions cloud our rationale in making these sort of decisions we end up getting involved in trying to justify those actions with dubious facts (WMD in Iraq anyone?).