Kenny MacAskill

Kenneth Wright MacAskill (born 28 April 1958) is a Scottish politician who has been Member of Parliament (MP) for East Lothian since 2019. He previously served as Cabinet Secretary for Justice from 2007 to 2014 and was a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) from 1999 to 2016. A former member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), he defected to the Alba Party in 2021 and currently serves as the party's depute[a] leader.

Kenny MacAskill
Kenny MacAskill, Cabinet Secretary for Justice (2).jpg
Official portrait, 2011
Depute Leader of the Alba Party
Assumed office
11 September 2021
LeaderAlex Salmond
Preceded byOffice established
Cabinet Secretary for Justice
In office
17 May 2007 – 21 November 2014
First MinisterAlex Salmond
Preceded byCathy Jamieson
Succeeded byMichael Matheson
Member of Parliament
for East Lothian
Assumed office
12 December 2019
Preceded byMartin Whitfield
Majority3,886 (6.7%)
Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Edinburgh Eastern
Edinburgh East and Musselburgh (2007–2011)
In office
3 May 2007 – 24 March 2016
Preceded bySusan Deacon
Succeeded byAsh Denham
Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Lothians
(1 of 7 Regional MSPs)
In office
6 May 1999 – 3 May 2007
Personal details
Born (1958-04-28) 28 April 1958 (age 65)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Political partyAlba Party[1]
Other political
Scottish National Party (1978–2021)
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh

Born in Edinburgh and educated at Linlithgow Academy, MacAskill studied law at the University of Edinburgh and was a senior partner in a law firm in Glasgow. He was a long-standing member of the SNP's National Executive Committee and served as treasurer and vice convener of policy, before being elected at the 1999 Scottish Parliament election. He was convener of the Scottish Parliament Subordinate Legislation Committee from 1999 to 2001.

Following the SNP's victory in 2007, 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 and stood down from the Scottish Parliament at the 2016 election.

After standing down from the Scottish Parliament, MacAskill was elected to the House of Commons as MP for East Lothian at the 2019 general election, gaining the previously Labour-held seat from Martin Whitfield. In March 2021, MacAskill defected from the SNP to the Alba Party. At the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, he stood on the Alba Party's Lothian regional list but neither he nor his party succeeded in gaining a seat.

Background, early life and careerEdit

MacAskill was born in Edinburgh and was educated at Linlithgow Academy before studying law at the University of Edinburgh, gaining an LLB (Hons) degree.[2] 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)Edit

After MacAskill became an 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.[3] 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 Deputy Leader of the SNP in the Scottish Parliament. He served in the SNP Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning from 2001 to 2003, Shadow Minister for Transport and Telecommunications from 2003 to 2004 and Shadow Minister for Justice from 2004 to 2007.

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)Edit

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 Scottish Labour 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.[4]

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".[5]

MacAskill won election to a redrawn constituency of Edinburgh Eastern in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election.[6] Despite notionally facing a deficit of 550 votes,[7] MacAskill won by over 2,000 votes.[6]

Pan Am Flight 103Edit

On 19 August 2009, MacAskill rejected an application by Libya to transfer to their custody Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted of the Pan Am Flight 103 bomb that killed 270 people, acknowledging that "the American families and Government had an expectation or were led to believe that there would be no prisoner transfer."[8] The following day, on 20 August, MacAskill authorised al-Megrahi's release on compassionate grounds. Megrahi had served 8½ years of a life sentence, but had developed terminal prostate cancer.[9][10] The Justice Secretary has discretionary authority to order such a release, and MacAskill took sole responsibility for the decision.[11][12] 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,[13][14] and families of the victims expressed indignation over the decision.[15][16][17][18] FBI director Robert Mueller, who had been a lead investigator in the 1988 bombing, wrote a highly critical open letter to MacAskill.[19] Former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish was critical of Mueller's attack on the decision.[20]

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,[21][22][23][24][25] while Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, former Labour MP Tam Dalyell and former British ambassador to Libya Richard Dalton publicly supported it.[26][27] Ian Galloway and Mario Conti, representatives of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church respectively, also spoke in favour of the release.[28]

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."[29] 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.[30] A letter in support of MacAskill's decision was sent to the Scottish Government on behalf of former South African President Nelson Mandela.[31]

The Scottish Parliament was recalled from its summer break, for the third time since its creation, to receive a statement from and question MacAskill.[32] 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.[33]

After MacAskill won re-election to the Scottish Parliament in 2011, an SNP supporter said that the decision had been mentioned by very few voters during the election campaign.[34]

Member of Parliament (since 2019)Edit

MacAskill was chosen as the SNP candidate for East Lothian at the 2019 UK general election.[35] He was subsequently elected, overturning a 3,083 majority and defeating Labour's Martin Whitfield.[36]

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 a response to the trial of former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond, to avoid potential conflicts of interest.[37]

In February 2020, MacAskill authored Radical Scotland – Uncovering Scotland's radical history – from the French Revolutionary era to the 1820 Rising, published by Biteback.

Following the launch of the Alba Party in March 2021, in advance of the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, MacAskill announced that he was leaving the SNP to join Alba, making him their first sitting representative. He was reported as planning to stand for election to Holyrood in a regional list seat.[1] The SNP called on him to resign and trigger a by-election, describing his defection as "somewhat of a relief".[38] In the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, he stood on Alba's Lothian regional list but neither he nor his party succeeded in gaining a seat.[39] Later that year, at the party's inaugural conference, he was elected as depute leader.[40]

On 13 July 2022, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle ejected MacAskill and his Alba colleague Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) from the House of Commons for disrupting the start of Prime Minister's Questions. The two had been protesting about the refusal to grant consent for a second independence referendum.[41] As both Members were named by the Speaker, by convention MacAskill and Hanvey were handed five day suspensions from the House.

Personal lifeEdit

MacAskill lives in Moray, where he has a house, and he also maintains a flat in his constituency, East Lothian.[42] He has two sons.[2]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Scottish English spelling is used.


  1. ^ a b "MP Kenny MacAskill quits SNP to join Alex Salmond's Alba Party". The National. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Macaskill, Kenneth Wright, (born 28 April 1958), solicitor; MP (SNP) East Lothian, since 2019". WHO'S WHO & WHO WAS WHO. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u25288. ISBN 978-0-19-954088-4. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  3. ^ "Arrest incident 'closed', insists SNP". BBC News. BBC. 25 November 1999.
  4. ^ Stewart, Lewis (9 June 2007). "Murrayfield toasts lifting of drinks ban". The Times.
  5. ^ "Terrorists not 'home-grown'". BBC News. BBC. 1 July 2007.
  6. ^ a b "Scottish election: SNP changes Edinburgh political map". BBC News. 6 May 2011. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  7. ^ Dinwoodie, Robbie (30 March 2011). "Key Holyrood election battles". The Herald. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  8. ^ UK Cabinet Office, Cabinet Secretary's Review of Papers Relating to the Release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi 11 ¶ 31 (7 February 2011) available at
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ "Cancer expert says Megrahi is not responding to treatment". The Herald. 20 August 2009. Archived from the original on 28 August 2009.
  11. ^ "Transcript: Scotland official talks of Lockerbie release". Cable News Network. 20 August 2009. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  12. ^ "Lockerbie bomber debate – as it happened". Scotsman. 24 August 2009. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  13. ^ Adam, Karla (21 August 2009). "Man Convicted in Lockerbie Bombing Is Released From Scottish Prison". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  14. ^ Carrell, Severin (21 August 2009). "Barack Obama attacks decision to free Lockerbie bomber". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  15. ^ "Terminally ill Lockerbie bomber lands in Libya -".
  16. ^ Nasaw, Daniel (20 August 2009). "White House condemns decision to release Lockerbie bomber" – via The Guardian.
  17. ^ "Lockerbie bomber: Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi leaves Scotland bound for Libya".
  18. ^ Carrell, Severin; correspondent, Scotland (20 August 2009). "Barack Obama attacks decision to free Lockerbie bomber" – via The Guardian.
  19. ^ "The full letter from the FBI Director on the Lockerbie bomber release". The Daily Telegraph. London. 22 August 2009. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  20. ^ "FBI chief's attack 'out of order'". BBC News. 24 August 2009.
  21. ^ "The Lockerbie decision 'was wrong'". Public Servant Scotland. 20 August 2009. Archived from the original on 28 August 2009. Retrieved 5 June 2010.
  22. ^ Swaine, Jon; Cramb, Auslan. "Kenny MacAskill to face furious MSPs over Lockerbie bomber release".
  23. ^ Hinsliff, Gaby (22 August 2009). "Gordon Brown in new storm over freed Lockerbie bomber" – via The Guardian.
  24. ^ Wilson, Brian (21 August 2009). "Lockerbie bomber: The SNP's Libya stunt has shamed my nation". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 24 August 2009.
  25. ^ Carrell, Severin; correspondent, Scotland (28 August 2009). "Efforts to release Lockerbie bomber linked with trade, says Gaddafi's son" – via The Guardian.
  26. ^ "Alex Salmond defends release of Lockerbie bomber". The Daily Telegraph. London. 23 August 2009. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  27. ^ "Reaction: Lockerbie bomber set free". BBC News.
  28. ^ FBI chief's attack 'out of order' – Conti, BBC News, 24 August 2009.
  29. ^ Mackey, Robert (21 August 2009). "Lockerbie, the Unanswered Questions". New York Times. News Blog.
  30. ^ Carrell, Severin (28 August 2009). "Efforts to release Lockerbie bomber linked with trade, says Gaddafi's son". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  31. ^ "Mandela backs Lockerbie decision". BBC. 30 August 2009.
  32. ^ "Holyrood recall over freed bomber". BBC News. 20 August 2009.
  33. ^ SNP defeated over bomber release, BBC News, 2 September 2009.
  34. ^ Hannan, Martin (6 May 2011). "Martin Hannan: The battle for independence starts now". Edinburgh Evening News. Archived from the original on 10 May 2011. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  35. ^ Ian, Swanson (16 October 2019). "Kenny MacAskill chosen as SNP candidate for East Lothian at general election". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  36. ^ "East Lothian: Scottish National Party gain". BBC News. 13 December 2019. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  37. ^ "Kenny MacAskill calls for office of Lord Advocate to be divided". Scottish Legal News. 30 April 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  38. ^ Busby, Mattha (27 March 2021). "Kenny MacAskill quits SNP to join Alex Salmond's Alba party". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  39. ^ "Lothian". BBC News. Retrieved 8 May 2021.
  40. ^ Webster, Laura (11 September 2021). "Alba conference: Kenny MacAskill elected Alba party's depute leader". The National.
  41. ^ "Alba MPs thrown out of PMQs over indyref2 protest". BBC News. 13 July 2022.
  42. ^ Marlborough, Conor (27 January 2021). "Kenny MacAskill: SNP MP defends 200-mile trips between constituency and second home". The Scotsman. Retrieved 29 January 2021.

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for East Lothian
Scottish Parliament
New constituency Member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh Eastern
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh
Constituency abolished
Political offices
Preceded by Cabinet Secretary for Justice
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Scottish National Party Vice Chairman (Local Government)
Succeeded by
Preceded by Treasurer of the Scottish National Party
Succeeded by