It's an interesting comparison. Here's the concluding section of the Scottish Justice Secretary's statement justifying the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi --
In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity. It is viewed as a defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people. The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live.
Mr Al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them.
But, that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days.
Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available. Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown. Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people. No matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated.
These sentences constitute a major rhetorical blunder and one that could yet cost him his job. What the earlier portions of the statement had pitched as a narrow application of standard procedures all of a sudden became an essential embodiment of the national character, rendering his moral values superior to those who would want al-Megrahi to die in jail. It's the kind of thinking that De Valera would have respected: the decisions of a single person automatically being the decisions that reflect the true values of the nation.
Which brings us to a more specific incident. De Valera infamously called on the German ambassador to Ireland in 1945 to express condolences upon the death of Hitler. Dev justified his decision in terms of scrupulous adherence to protocol, just as MacAskill (in the hasty backtracking following the uproar) portrays himself as simply an implementer of standard procedures in Scotland. Of course any comparison of Hitler with al-Megrahi is preposterous, but the two incidents share a principal oblivious to the broader context of their decisions, and indeed convinced that their own insights to the national character and playing by narrowly defined rules is all that needed to be done.
Strangely enough, Dev might have benefitted domestically from the outrage generated by his condolence call, whereas MacAskill and his fellow ministers could soon be out of their jobs. Dev was a better politician. The SNP still have the provisional licence.
Photo: Another person whose plight would touch MacAskill's heart.