Kenneth "Kenny" Wright MacAskill is a Scottish politician who has been Member of Parliament for East Lothian since 2019. He was a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Lothians region from 1999 to 2007, the Edinburgh East and Musselburgh constituency from 2007 to 2011 and the Edinburgh Eastern constituency from 2011 to 2016. A member of the Scottish National Party, he was Cabinet Secretary for Justice from 2007 until 2014.
MacAskill studied law at the University of Edinburgh and worked as a solicitor and was a senior partner in an Edinburgh law firm, before being elected as an MSP in 1999. He was a long-standing member of the SNP's National Executive Committee and has served as National Treasurer and Vice Convener of Policy. He was convener of the Scottish Parliament Subordinate Legislation Committee, and served in the SNP Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Shadow Minister for Transport and Telecommunications and Shadow Minister for Justice.
Following the SNP's victory in the 2007 Scottish Parliament Election, MacAskill was appointed as Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the Scottish Government. In this role, he oversaw the controversial transfer of convicted terrorist Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to his native Libya. MacAskill left office in November 2014 in the Cabinet reshuffle which followed the appointment of Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland.
At the December 2019 general election, MacAskill was returned as MP for East Lothian, gaining the previously Labour-held seat from Martin Whitfield.
Background, early life and careerMacAskill was born in Edinburgh and was educated at Linlithgow Academy before studying law at the University of Edinburgh. After completing his training at a firm in Glasgow, he set up Erskine MacAskill.
He came to prominence inside the SNP through his activities in the left wing 79 Group and became a party office bearer. In the 1980s he led the "Can't Pay, Won't Pay" campaign in opposition to the Poll Tax. It was widely known that he often disagreed politically with Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP through the 1990s, and he was at one stage viewed as belonging to the SNP Fundamentalist camp, being perceived to be allied to figures such as Jim Sillars and Alex Neil within the party.
Member of the Scottish Parliament (1999–2016)After MacAskill became on MSP in 1999 upon the establishment of the Scottish Parliament as a regional list member for the Lothians he moderated his political position, seeing the development of the Scottish Parliament as the most achievable route for Scotland to become an independent nation state. In this respect he was regarded as having adopted a gradualist approach to Scottish independence in place of his previous fundamentalist position. He was one of former SNP leader John Swinney's closest supporters.
In 1999 MacAskill was detained in London before the Euro 2000 second leg play-off match between Scotland and England on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly. As he was not charged with any crime the incident did not affect his position within the SNP and he won re-election at the 2003 election.
In 2004, after John Swinney stood down as SNP party leader, Kenny MacAskill backed the joint leadership ticket of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. He had initially intended to stand for deputy leader himself on a joint ticket with Nicola Sturgeon, who would have sought the leadership. He gave way when Salmond reconsidered his earlier decision not to seek re-election to the leadership. Upon their election as leader and deputy leader respectively MacAskill was selected to be the SNP's deputy leader in the Scottish Parliament, making him the shadow Deputy First Minister.
MacAskill authored a book, 'Building a Nation – Post Devolution Nationalism in Scotland', which was launched at the SNP's 2004 annual conference in Inverness. He has since edited another book 'Agenda for a New Scotland – Visions of Scotland 2020' and has co-authored 'Global Scots – Voices From Afar' with former First Minister Henry McLeish.
Cabinet Secretary for Justice (2007–2014)For the 2007 Scottish Parliament election MacAskill was top of the SNP's party list for the Lothians region. He stood in the Edinburgh East and Musselburgh constituency, winning that seat from the Scottish Labour Party with a 13.3% swing to give a majority of 1,382. This was the first time the SNP had ever won a parliamentary seat in Edinburgh. After the SNP's victory at the 2007 Scottish Parliament Election, MacAskill became the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.
One of MacAskill's first acts as a cabinet secretary was to lift the ban on alcohol sales at international rugby union games held at Murrayfield Stadium.
MacAskill also said that the 2007 terror attack on Glasgow Airport was not committed by 'home-grown' terrorists in that the suspects were not "born or bred" in Scotland but had merely lived in the country for a "period of time".
MacAskill won election to a redrawn constituency of Edinburgh Eastern in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election. Despite notionally facing a deficit of 550 votes, MacAskill won by over 2000 votes.prostate cancer. The Justice Secretary has discretionary authority to order such a release, and MacAskill took sole responsibility for the decision. Megrahi died on 20 May 2012.
In the United States, where 180 of the 270 victims came from, the decision met with broad hostility. Political figures including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against it, and families of the victims expressed indignation over the decision. FBI director Robert Mueller, who had been a lead investigator in the 1988 bombing, wrote a highly critical open letter to MacAskill. Former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish was critical of Mueller's attack on the decision.
In Britain, reaction was divided. Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, former First Minister Jack McConnell, and former Scottish Office minister Brian Wilson criticised the decision, while Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, former Labour MP Tam Dalyell and former British ambassador to Libya Richard Dalton publicly supported it. Ian Galloway and Mario Conti, representatives of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church respectively, also spoke in favour of the release.
John Mosey, a priest who lost a daughter on Pan Am Flight 103, expressed his disappointment that halting Megrahi's appeal before it went to court meant that the public would never hear "this important evidence — the six separate grounds for appeal that the SCCRC felt were important enough to put forward, that could show that there’s been a miscarriage of justice." Saif al-Islam Gaddafi reiterated his belief in Megrahi's innocence commenting that the Justice Secretary had "made the right decision" and that history would prove this to be the case. A letter in support of MacAskill's decision was sent to the Scottish Government on behalf of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
The Scottish Parliament was recalled from its summer break, for the third time since its creation, to receive a statement from and question MacAskill. The opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament passed amendments criticising the decision and the way it was made, but no motions of confidence in MacAskill or the Scottish Government were tabled.
After MacAskill won re-election to the Scottish Parliament in 2011, a Scottish National Party supporter said that the decision had been mentioned by very few voters during the election campaign.
Member of Parliament (since 2019)MacAskill was chosen as the SNP candidate for East Lothian at the 2019 UK general election. He was subsequently elected, overturning a 3,083 majority and defeating Labour's Martin Whitfield.
In April 2020, MacAskill called for the office of Lord Advocate to be split - similarly to the English and Welsh system of Attorney General for England and Wales and Director of Public Prosecutions - in response of the trial of former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond, to avoid potential conflicts of interest.