The dilemma Craig John Murray found himself in is not an issue I planned to write about – his failure to pass an SNP vetting committee to reach a selection list for election to parliamentary office – and in fact I will steer clear of it mainly because he is a man quite able to defend himself.
I’m troubled by the way his reputation is traduced by a few on social websites devoted to Scottish political topics. I must begin making clear I do not know the man, have never met him, and so do not feel qualified to judge whether he’d make a good or bad parliamentarian for the SNP at Holyrood or Westminster. All I can say is, he has the right to try and to fail without condemnation from the screeching Greek chorus.
Anybody who wants to make their own assessment should read his blog and the assorted comments appended to it. But I know slander when I see and hear it. And scurrilous accusation to plain libel there is on the Wings site. The vituperation is, however, balanced by a number of supportive comments of his political abilities and experience.
Who is Craig Murray?
For those unfamiliar with his accomplishments – which includes myself, it’s only right to offer readers a little of his curriculum vitae. A former Foreign and Commonwealth Office official, Murray was ambassador for Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004, later Rector of Dundee University, 2008 to 2010. His book, ‘Murder in Samarkand,’ was adapted into a radio play by David Hare. A film version appears to be shelved. The job of writing the screenplay was first offered to my late friend, the novelist and ardent nationalist, Frederic Lindsay.
Murray was invited to stand as a parliamentarian by SNP admirers. Knowing the SNP a broad church of the apolitical, liberals, Tories, communists, and socialists, voters seemed impressed by his past attempt as an independent candidate who stood against Labour’s flaky Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in the UK General Election of 2005.
Here is the curious thing – Murray did not get past the SNP’s vetting stage.
Too honest to be a British ambassador
He styles himself ‘author, broadcaster, and human rights activist.’ The latter description holds water because he lost his job as ambassador when his protest of torture on his watch became public. Wikipedia states it thus: ‘While at the embassy in Tashkent he accused the Karimov administration of human rights abuses….. Murray complained to his [senior colleagues] …. that evidence linking the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan to al-Qaeda was unreliable, immoral and illegal, and….. was obtained through torture.’
Murray went on say, “There is no point in having cocktail-party relationships with a fascist regime.” He was also bold enough to write to President George W. Bush to complain. Murray rightly condemned torture and rape in his jurisdiction, officially considered acceptable collateral damage in the pursuit of establishing a democracy. His silence was preferred. Charges against him were dropped but he was reprimanded for speaking out.
In time he suffered a pulmonary embolism and was flown back to London. Fragile health is the one reason I would question anybody keen to take on the ferocious tactics of British establishment.
We can conclude from his vicissitudes that Murray has a conscience, a remarkable thing for an Englishman working in the Foreign Office. As a whistleblower he paid the ultimate penalty, banishment to the labyrinths of internet Chinese whispers.
Condemned by cliché
Once you get by the off-hand, mawkish remarks – ‘He applied for a job and didn’t get it – welcome to reality’; and the clichés, ‘Why throw your toys out the pram?’; and the silly, ‘Does the SNP want obedient Yes men?’, you’re left with remarks of sly condemnation. Here are a few selected with my analysis attached:
- He is not a team player. By what yardstick can a man be judged not a team player when it comes to torture and rape? The term is standard right-wing procedure to eliminate a man’s opportunities of enhancement by claiming he is incapable of loyalty.
- He assumed vetting was a mere formality. This puts thoughts into a man’s head. In effect, it creates a falsehood. How does the critic know what the individual was thinking at that time, or at any time? There is absolutely no evidence to suggest Murray thought the vetting process anything but a close inspection of his political record, his attitude to key SNP policy, and his allegiance to the cause of self-governance.
- He has the gift of the gab. This is double-edged – it means either the speaker has enough erudition to talk on most subjects, he or she is well read, or alternatively is pathetically shallow. He waffles.
- He’s got a big mouth, self-opinionated, a sulker. [sic] Meaning, he has empirical evidence for his views, is prepared to voice protest, and shows annoyance if rebuffed. The accusation is one usually made by somebody opinionated.
- He didn’t make the grade. An attempt to demean. Here, the antagonist is admitting he doesn’t know the criteria for selection – it could be the ability to down five pints at one sitting for all anybody knows.
- Discipline is important in any party. Said comrade Stalin. And as it turned out, Stalin had a particularly extreme form of discipline in mind. The unthinking reader is expected to associate SNP expectation of adult-like behaviour and integrity with Stalin’s salt mines. Murray’s self-appointed jury show no discipline at all.
- He handed a bucketful of ammunition to our opponents. Unlike the firebrands who run amock spouting accusation and false witness, and afterwards express triumphant glee at another’s misfortune.
- He has contempt for the party and will resign. This comes from experienced hangmen. Expressing bewilderment over a vetting procedure is not contempt.
- I have a concern about people here as a student who then live abroad. As close to a racist statement as one can get without crossing the line, but certainly insulting to the many non-Scots in the SNP, or who are supporters of independence.
- His career was undistinguished. Erm, decidedly not. International attention for Uzbekistan’s record of torture, a committed campaigner for human rights, and a biographical book on the events made into a radio play by a distinguished playwright raise his achievements above the faceless bureaucrats with whom he mixed. It most certainly places his SNP persecutors in a reprehensible light.
- His intent was to use the SNP to get into parliament. Unadulterated slander.
- I think him a fool- oh look, he can’t take criticism. A variation on the cliché ‘touching a nerve’ whereby insulting a victim publicly causes him to say things he’d rather not have said, and so his antagonist can claim condemnation is justified. Had the individual taken it on the chin he would, of course, be accused of hiding something, or of running away.
- And one for the road …
- He would have been a disaster; I think the selection committee may have realised that from the get-go. Integrity of the vetting committee maligned; the insinuation the committee members had made up their minds before the candidate sat down for interview, thus rendering the process of vetting a mockery, the candidate hoodwinked into a kangaroo court to be humiliated and sent home.
By those examples alone Murray was defamed before he entered the interview room and afterwards. Incidentally, the examples I give are all used by internet trolls.
Sex Rears Its Ugly Head
The worst of the defamation slides repulsively onto Murray’s sex life. By his own admission, he patronised pole-dancing clubs in Uzbekistan; the stuff of every spy novel. This knowledge is grasped with glee by the prurient to show their disgust for all the awful things they enjoy guessing he might have got up to in his private life. Is there a lonely, disillusioned government official who has not found himself in such a place, drink in one hand, and goodness knows what in the other?
In reality Murray discovered passion late in life, divorced his British wife to marry an Uzbek citizen bringing her back to Britain to live.
Nae bad, pal, fir a man that’s nae oil paintin’.
Loose Cannons – and other naval sayings
There is plenty of comment alluding to Murray’s alleged disposition as a ‘maverick,’ less complimentary described as a loose cannon. The most successful ‘loose cannon’ in the SNP is Alex Salmond, a man of high achievement suspended for his membership of the 79 Group, a socialist-orientated inner cabal disliked by the SNP party, but who was reinstated a month later, and became Vice-Convener for Publicity, surely a hefty dose of irony for someone once regarded as uncontrollable.
Of his failure to pass the first hurdle Murray is accused of naivety for writing of his profound disappointment in his blog, as if somehow he’s not entitled to wear his heart on his sleeve, or analyse his failure.
One of the wisest comments on Wings puts the case for discretion and good sense succinctly: the ‘reasons for a person being refused a place on a selection list for election should not be the subject of idle speculation.’
The moral of the case
The moral of this tale is simple: never put anything in writing about an individual that you would not say to their face. It isn’t what one writes in a reference about a candidate that matters, it’s what you leave out that speaks volumes.
Murray has been accused of being a political opportunist – it’s a strange kind of opportunism that gets a man sacked for speaking out against injustice, and dismissed again for speaking honestly. One would suppose his insider knowledge a great asset to any political party intent on securing power. What a missed opportunity for the SNP.