9am Briefing: Kenny MacAskill under pressure over Lockerbie claims

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JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill was today under pressure to make a statement in the Scottish Parliament after it was claimed he sent a message to the Lockerbie bomber that he should drop his appeal to smooth the way for his compassionate release.

The allegations - strongly denied by the Scottish Government - are contained in a new book, Megrahi: You Are My Jury, by researcher and TV producer John Ashton, in which Abdelbaset al-Megrahi claims he was “the innocent victim of dirty politics, a flawed investigation and judicial folly”.

A Scottish Government spokesman branded the book “third-hand hearsay”.

But Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats all said Mr MacAskill should make a statement to parliament in the wake of the book’s allegations.

• A DECISION on whether an independent Scotland would have to reapply for membership of the European Union will not be taken until after the referendum, the EU Commission has said.

Maros Sefcovic, the commissioner for inter-institutional relations, said he could not rule on the issue until the terms of separation had been negotiated by Scottish and UK ministers. It means voters will have to decide on independence without knowing the implications for membership of the EU or the euro.

Meanwhile, the latest British Social Attitudes survey shows a sharp rise in English support for Scottish independence, up from 19 per cent in 2007 to 26 per cent now.

• EDINBURGH’s festivals are to benefit from the establishment of a new body which will work to boost their profile.

The Scottish Events and Festivals Association aims to increase knowledge of how much the festivals are worth to the economy and will be independent from government agencies such as Creative Scotland and Event Scotland.

Dr Jane Ali-Knight, director of the festivals, events and tourism institute at Edinburgh Napier University, will be one of the new body’s key advisers.

She said: “There is nothing like this body in Scotland at the moment.”

• LEADING figures from the Capital’s cultural scene have spoken out against proposed changes to legislation governing public entertainment licences.

Edinburgh Makar Ron Butlin, Morvern Callar author and Edinburgh University writer-in-residence Alan Warner and Irvine Welsh collaborator Kevin Williamson are among those to criticise moves to tighten legislation which they say will harm the arts.

Artist Craig Coulthard said: “The proposed licences and changes to be applied to exhibitions, galleries and venues are potentially devastating to grass-roots arts and culture in Edinburgh.

“As someone who helped create The Embassy Gallery after leaving art college, I understand the immense value that artist-run spaces provide this city with, as well as creating a vital environment for young, developing artists to grow within.”