Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Of Discipline, and Conscience

Craig Murray. Picture: New York Times
Craig Murray is a man whose personal reputation has been so traduced in over a decade of unattributable monstering by the British state and the main stream media that it's hard to form a good assessment of his character. That he is somewhat vain, inclined to depression, prone to hyperbole I can believe; monstering has to be based on exaggerating characteristics that really exist. That he has had problems with drink would not under the circumstances be surprising. I can believe, also, that he could make a difficult and challenging member of a team.

The SNP have chosen not to make him a member of their team. That is their prerogative - and I say 'their' advisedly as I am no longer a member. However, the SNP is still the party of which I am not a member, and consequently I'm interested in and concerned for their future; and especially interested as it's very likely they hold in their hands the future of my nation.

In furtherance of that interest, I want to argue here why I believe that the SNP are wrong. Why this is one in a sequence of strategic missteps which, for me, underline the belief that I was right to leave; which, for them, undermine their hopes of building a better Scotland.

So let me start by saying the other half of the things we know about Craig Murray, the things we know beyond a doubt. He's a man chosen to be Britain's Ambassador to a country which was vital to the supply routes of our army fighting a war in Afghanistan. That's not a small brief, not a brief you give to someone lacking in ability. Thus we know - certainly - that he's a very bright, talented man, with a deep knowledge of foreign policy. He's a man who, in that post, blew the whistle on extraordinary rendition and torture: blew the whistle on Britain's complicity. So we know - certainly - that he is a man of conscience and we know also that he is a man of real courage. And, since his resignation from the Foreign Office, we've read his blogs and seen or listened to his interviews. We've seen him express steady, consistent opinions across a wide range of issues. Consequently, we know - certainly - that he is a person of sound and enduring values, with deep sympathy for oppressed people around the world.

'All men have their flaws', as the Black Duke of Coffin Castle so' airily remarked. 'I count myself indifferent honest', as Hamlet put it, 'but yet I could accuse me of such things it were better my mother had not borne me'. We're none of us perfect. Murray is, let us say, vain, depressive, hyperbolic and sometimes over fond of a drink. Well, so he may be. Exactly the same charges could be levelled at Alex Neil, and yet he has been a good a valuable servant both of the National Party and of Scotland.

But to argue thus far is to argue only why it is not clear that the SNP should not welcome Craig Murray. I want to go further, and to argue that they positively should.

The mantra of the SNP over the past decade has been 'play it safe; take no risks'. Have independence, the party said, and it will make no difference: you'll still be subjects of the same Queen, robbed by the same banks in the same currency; your landscape the fiefdom of the same aristocrats, your soldiers fighting in the same wars for the same alliance. By playing it safe, by being disciplined, by being steadily and remarkably - creditably - competent in office, the SNP at the same time brought about the circumstances in which a referendum on independence was possible, and made certain that it was unwinnable.

Independence which changes nothing is worth nothing.

Let me say that again: independence which changes nothing is worth nothing at all. Why should workers put their jobs at even slightest risk, pensioners their pensions, business owners their businesses, for a change which would change nothing? Of course they wouldn't! And yet the SNP could articulate no radical vision for Scotland, because they had no vision. All they promised was technocratic competence: the same old, same old.

And it wasn't good enough. And so they - they and all of us in Scotland - lost.

The view in British politics that rigid party discipline is a good thing in politics is an odd one. We, after all, prosecuted the Nuremberg Trials: we've seen where obsessive discipline and following party orders leads to. Closer to home and more recently, we've seen what happened to the Liberal Party when they chose party discipline over conscience and voted to increase tuition fees. The SNP - Scotland - Britain - needs more than this. We need more people of conscience. More people with the courage to stand up and say 'no, I won't do this, this is wrong.'

This is wrong. But there's more wrong with the SNP's rejection of Murray than simply obsessive discipline. There's also their obsessive need not to rock the boat: clinging to the middle of the road in a compulsive need to touch every single cats-eye. If the SNP is to succeed, it has to be more than safe, more than competent. It has to speak for all Scots, and not all Scots are obsessive-compulsive.

I'm not obsessive-compulsive. I'm a bit vain, a bit depressive, occasionally prone to speculate a bit beyond my data. I need a politician who speaks for me, who I can identify with. I don't need a whole party who speaks for me, but I need someone. The SNP has to speak for all Scots, and so it has to be a broad church: a church not only of disciplined wonk apparatchiks, unable to express a view until the party line has already been defined.

But the SNP does not merely need to speak for all Scots, it needs to speak to all Scots. It needs to communicate a vision. It needs to explain why Scotland - and the world - will be a better place as a consequence of Scotland's independence. Craig Murray is a bright thread to weave into our banner, a thread which bespeaks a nation with an ethical foreign policy, a nation which will no longer turn a blind eye to torture and the systematic abuse of human rights. Craig Murray is an eidolon of a better world beyond independence, of Scotland's potential to make the world far beyond our borders a better place. And so he is a critical part of the vision we need to be able to build and communicate if we are going to drag Scotland up beyond that 45% point and over the top of the hill. He's part of the reason it's worth doing.

But he's more than that. He's Scotland's canary in the Westminster coal mine. He is one person (Lesley Riddoch is another, but she says she won't go and I don't blame her) Scotland could send to London in the sure and certain knowledge that v, if murky compromise deals were being hatched under that opaque cloak of obsessive party discipline, sing out clearly. It's because Craig Murray is a whistle-blower, a man of conscience - precisely because he's not a team player - that the SNP need him, and will be weaker without him.
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