There is absolutely no connection…and I must make this clear to Foreign Office best practice standards… between my visit to Libya, a subsequent meeting with a man in a tent and the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber.
I just happened, like Lord Mandelson and Prince Andrew before me may have thought to themselves…. when they went out to Libya recently (if, indeed they did)…. that I had never been to Libya…. and… given the warmth of the Libyans towards Britain at the moment…. I thought I’d go out and see if I could blag a round of golf and free petrol for my motorbike for life… I was always taught… if you don’t ask you don’t get…
I was quite surprised to find a reception committee waiting for me at Tripoli airport. I’ve never seen so many Scottish flags in my life. The place was crawling with Libyans wearing kilts, tossing cabers, and even some enterprising souls came up to me and asked if I’d like to buy some Edinburgh Rock, a signed copy of Alex Salmond’s book Principia Economica: The Arc of Prosperity from Iceland to Holyrood… and one charming chap wearing sunglasses with a huge range of military medals on his blazer even sidled up to me and whispered “Want to see some pictures of the Loch Ness Monster?” I was told later by my guide, a Celtic supporter on the make, that the man who had sidled up to me was none other than Colonel Qadhafi himself…. I was pretty sure it wasn’t.
After a shower and a shave and some mint tea…. I was whisked off in an airconditioned Range Rover across the desert terrain. We listened to bagpipe music on the way. Although I am a Scot, I am not a fan of the bagpipes after the first two hours and listening to Amazing Grace and Scottish Country Dancing (Stripping the Willow) music for three hours was difficult. I was beginning to wonder if the Libyan Secret Service were softening me up for interrogation later or even if they were planning to put me through a show trial in the Netherlands.
I needn’t have worried. We arrived at a tent. We are not talking Milletts bivouac tents here – this was the real McCoy (if you forgive yet another Scottish metaphor)… a man in robes approached me. He looked a bit like Michael Jackson on a bad day, although this man’s nose did appear to be a real one. He looked as if he had been binge drinking with Alice Cooper and Oliver Reed for a month… but, this being Libya, and the fact that Oliver Reed is a goner… meant that this could not be so.
The man I met was charming… he kept looking at the ranks of photographers and grasping my hand to shake it. I have long wondered if world leaders do much apart from looking into cameras and shaking hands with other world leaders.
I asked the man… after doing the usual As-Salamu ‘Alaykum bit… if Tony Blair was about. The man smiled in the wily and shrewd way generations of desert people have and said nothing…. well he did say… “Sometimes, Grasshopper… it is best to reflect on other things” He touched his nose, which did not fall off, and winked.
It was surprisingly easy to get this man to agree to give me petrol for my motorbike for life. He was saddened that he could not offer me a round of golf but added “I know people in Scotland….. they can get you a good game of golf at Gleneagles or St Andrews… of this… I am sure. ” He grinned… a slightly sinister grin…. I knew what he meant.
I asked him if he was pleased with his new found friends in Scotland. The man smiled…. and said “I am not sure about that Milliband man… is he kosher?”!
Like the British Government … on this matter I am saying…. nuffink
Well… there we are… a quick trip back to Tripoli in the Range Rover, I stocked up on Edinburgh Rock, Scottish Highland dancing dolls, and even bought myself a kilt…duty free. I can tell you… this was a first. I have never bought a kilt duty free in 56 years on this earth. It was good to get back to my drinks cabinet…. all this dry nonsense… couldn’t be doing with that at all.
Best, as ever