"Web Campaign Calls on Americans to Boycott Scotland," The Guardian announced the other day. According to the campaigners, not just Scottish but all British products (including online newspapers one assumes) are tainted. Technically, I should have logged off the site and bleached my fingertips. Instead, I poured an Old Pulteney, put out some oatcakes, made a note to visit Scotland again as soon as possible, and went on reading.
The flap is over a decision made by the Scottish government to allow terminally ill Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi, better known as the Lockerbie bomber, to spend his last days with his family in Libya. Al-Megrahi went home to a warm welcome. This caused some hard feelings. As Eric Margolis put it: "A huge international furor erupted that was rich in hypocrisy and double standards." The United States was the source of much of the furor, not to mention much of the hypocrisy and many of the double standards.
The Boycott Scotland website was not thrown together by a bunch of illiterates. It’s an impressive-looking collection of opinion, fact, and news items stitched together by a thread of righteous anger. On the face of it, the campaigners have a self-evident point. Why should a terrorist imprisoned for blowing up a plane with 270 souls aboard be released on compassionate or any other grounds? Wasn’t this decision a slap in the face to the families of the deceased? Wasn’t it insensitive?
The questions are valid. But there are several realities the boycott neglects to consider. One is that those who have poked their noses into the Al-Megrahi affair, including both Scottish and American relatives of the Lockerbie victims, investigators close to the case, and well-informed observers like Eric Margolis, tend to report a smell of rat. Al-Megrahi has consistently maintained his innocence, claiming he was framed. And many contend that pressure for a conviction from the U.S. and British governments had more to do with the man’s sentencing than did solid evidence.
Another point to consider is that whether Al-Megrahi was innocent or guilty, whether the Scottish government made an indefensible decision or a noble one, who in the end should the good citizens of the world not boycott? Why, pray tell, should anyone buy an Israeli orange, or a Moroccan olive, or a Honduran shirt, or Azeri gas, or Brazilian beef, or Saudi oil, or Japanese sushi? Where should consumer indignation begin or end? Where is the spotless state? And in the hierarchy of spotted states, does Scotland really belong in the top tier?
The boycotters charge that the British government engineered Al-Megrahi’s release as part of a deal for oil. I wouldn’t doubt it, but I wonder… Has the United States government ever sponsored a shady deal or acted "insensitively" towards other (lesser) players on the world stage in the interests of oil? Surely not. And yet, what if, just hypothetically, the United States itself should somehow stray from the moral high road long enough to say, start an unnecessary war in the interests of oil, or rig an election, or shoot down a civilian airliner and refuse to apologize, or… Sorry, I have a hard time getting indignant about recent decisions made by the Scots, and a hard time understanding why the boycotters do not insist that the world stop drinking Kentucky bourbon.
I run some more Old Pulteney over the back of my tongue, well aware that I am regarded by the boycott campaigners as one of those vermin who reflexively hates America. I admit that I do not fly a flag on the Fourth, or care who wins the Olympics, or believe an American soul is more valuable than a North Korean soul. I’m not interested in singing God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch, or contributing money or children to my government’s bloody wars, or gloating over the misfortunes of foreigners, or insisting that Mr. Al-Megrahi’s dying at home be construed as a slap in the face.
The Boycott Scotlanders can think what they want, but I am not an America-hater. My country and I don’t drool over each other, but we have an understanding. If, on the other hand, the boycotters were to accuse me of being an unrepentant Scot-lover, I’d welcome the charge. Yes, some of my best friends are Scots… I am a haggis-eating, malt-sipping, McKewan’s-swilling, Kelman-reading, Celtic-supporting, Munro-climbing, Gordan-Brown-tolerant wretch.
Scotland, in my opinion, is a credit to the planet. My unqualified enthusiasm may be due to the fact that I have never stayed long enough to grow to despise the weather, or have my car windows smashed by a late-night celebrant in Govan. But there’s no place I’d rather be. The Western Isles, Glasgow, the Highlands, Orkney, the Lowlands — fantastic places, fantastic people. As for government, it has always impressed me that the Scottish government, as far as seems possible, is in the business of doing things for people; whereas the general impression of the American government, at home or abroad, is that it is in the business of doing things to people.
It seems likely that common sense will prevail. Most Americans I talk to have never heard of the boycott, and most Scots seem to support the remarks of the Scottish first minister: "Many, many things appear in the blogosphere. What we are talking about is in the real world, and in the real world the relationship between Scotland and the United States is strong and enduring." If you feel like boycotting Scotland, I encourage you to boycott your heart out. If, on the other hand, you’re inclined to boycott the boycott, you could do worse than Old Pulteney.
John Liechty [send him mail] currently teaches in Muscat, Oman.