It’s all so surreal. Unbelievable. Nightmarish.
I mean, I’d talked before about intrusive thoughts. And they’ve been largely the sort that you find in a later Alistair MacLean spy thriller – heck, some of them have been pushing into Clive Cussler territory.
I’ve gone on record saying that I don’t want anyone to die for Scottish Independence. Yet at the same time I can say, in all honesty, that if the extremely unlikely were to happen and the only thing standing between a bullet and either Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon was me, I absolutely would’ve taken the hit for either one. I know that about myself. I had those intrusive thoughts every time I was in either First Minister’s presence. How could I not? Indeed, when I was part of the crew seeing the First Minister’s helicopter land at Battery Park, we were told in no uncertain terms that there is a slim chance of death in any helicopter landing. Slim though that chance was, it was a sobering thought: dark thoughts ran through my mind. Yet I, and all the others there, stood there, waiting for the bird carrying the First Minister to alight on the green grass of Greenock.
Thankfully, the dark thoughts did not materialise, and I’ll never forget that day. What follows is a collection of some of my darkest, most intrusive thoughts over the past few years, as an illustration to show that even if things look hopeless, there’s always a way out.
Conspiracy theories inflame the mind, not salved with the horrible knowledge that the reason many conspiracy theories exist is because manufacturing & ridiculing them is a tool the powerful use to suppress criticism and sow dissent. The difference between Conspiracy Theory and Genuine Conspiracy was handily put forward by George Monbiot:
The accusations leveled by Alex Salmond as part of his evidence into the Scottish Parliament Historic Harassment Complaints Inquiry include not only the civil servants at the head of the procedure which this inquiry is investigating, but individuals central to the operation of the Scottish National Party – the Chief Executive Officer, the Compliance Officer, and the Chief Operating Officer of the Scottish National Party. This, in addition to some individuals that Mr Salmond cannot name for legal reasons. The former First Minister – the man who led the SNP to the first Scottish Government in 300 years almost to the day, who led the first and (so far) only majority government, and almost led Scotland to independence in the 2014 referendum – is accusing several people who he’s worked with over decades, who continue to work for the party of Scottish Independence, of criminal actions against him.
I don’t need to tell you how absolutely, utterly insane this all sounds. Peter Murrell has been part of the SNP for as long as Nicola Sturgeon has. He got his start in the SNP at Alex Salmond’s own constituency office at Banff & Buchan, where he soon moved to administration at headquarters, and eventually the role of Chief Executive Officer in the same year the Scottish Parliament was reconvened. This is a man who worked with Alex Salmond near-daily for decades, who worked and toiled & sweated with him, who shared in his triumphs and defeats over election after election. For this to be true would be an act of betrayal practically unseen even in Scottish Political History, one already rife with sibling betraying sibling and best friends becoming bitter foes – and right before the most important election in modern Scottish history. It is scarcely believable.
But as shocking as that is, it isn’t just one individual – at least two others with prominent roles in the party of Scottish Independence are also accused. This means that the former First Minister is saying at least three people in the SNP’s highest echelons actually decided to risk perjury and jail time in order to destroy his reputation. What could possibly compel these people to jeopardise everything they have worked for decades to achieve? A cynical exploitation of the #MeToo phenomenon? Fear of the First Minister’s predecessor making a return to frontline politics? A dramaturgical role where the student must destroy, usurp, and ultimately surpass their master? And to think that, according to this evidence, the First Minister – the leader of the party – either had no knowledge of this utter disloyalty by people she worked with for years, including the man she married, or… what?
Why would these people jeopardise their place, their jobs, their freedom, indeed the very cause which they have dedicated their working lives to, just to get Alex Salmond out of the way?
For scandals of proportions like this, it’s never only a small Inner Circle of individuals. Dozens, scores of people would have to be involved on some level. A multitude of people would have to be willing to involve themselves in this criminal activity in some way or another. Look at Watergate: not only do we have to include the original seven who were personally involved in the burglary of the Democratic National Committee’s Headquarters, and not only must we add the seven aides actually charged & convicted for conspiracy & perjury, but no less than fifty-four others were also ultimately convicted out of sixty-nine indicted. Think about how many people that is – people who decided, through malice or stupidity, that aiding in the coverup of criminality that goes all the way to the White House was somehow worth imprisonment.
Think of the sheer number of people that would have to do this for the accusations to be true. Civil servants have already been named – Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, has faced calls to resign. This is a woman who’s worked in local and national government for over 40 years, in several senior roles – and she is being accused of debasing the service she has dedicated her adult life to. Yet even more people have to be involved for an operation like this to happen: do we include Barbara Allison, Director of Communications and Ministerial Support? Nicola Richards, Director of People? Gillian Russell, Director for Health Workforce? How many public servants must we expect to believe would be willing to throw their careers away? There are 6,500 Civil Servants in Scotland: how many people would know, yet somehow do nothing about it?
It gets worse. Oh Lord, it gets worse. It’s one thing to level accusations at the civil service, which has already received a beating over the years. But the Crown Office Prosecution Service too? The Lord Advocate has already been roundly criticised for his handling of the Rangers debacle: what kind of a fool would he be to compound his already battered reputation with a failure to properly undertake his role in this most serious of matters? And what of the police investigation, the 22-person operation involving hundreds of interviews, the largest of its kind in Scottish policing history – do we have to contemplate the idea someone, somewhere in Police Scotland knew too? Where does it end?
But the worst betrayal of all would surely be the betrayal of members of the Scottish National Party. Folk who have voted, campaigned, donated, worked, and dedicated their lives to the cause of Scottish Independence, are now expected to believe that people they entrusted to the operation of the primary political machine of the movement have committed the most abbhorent, the most outrageous, the most utterly despicable betrayal. This betrayal would be not just against Alex Salmond himself, but each and every member of the SNP past and present. Never mind that these people worked alongside Alex Salmond for decades, were directly involved in campaigning for him on a personal & national level, and shared that dream of an independent Scotland; forget that these actions would undo years of their own lives’ work. For people who were given the serious, vital, and integral role of managing the political lever of the Scottish Independence Movement to throw it all away – that would desecrate the memory of all those who’ve died striving for the independent Scotland to come.
Then think: if the upper echelons of the SNP are implicated in these accusations, what does that say about the Scottish Government, the elected members of the party, and everyone else who’s worked so hard to get where we are today? 61 MSPs; 47 MPs; hundreds of councillors, workers, office bearers. They either knew nothing, in which case they have failed utterly to put a stop to such machinations; or they would be complicit. If these accusations were true, then Cabinet Ministers either knew nothing of what at least 3 senior officials within the SNP were doing, or they let them continue through fear or conviction that they were right. SNP MSPs twice voted against motions for the Scottish Government to release key documents relating to the inquiry: how would you think SNP members would feel if they were told this was because of a cover-up, not because of legal considerations?
The SNP Code of Conduct, which all the SNP family from members to candidates must sign up and adhere to, contains the following:
4. Every member owes a duty to the Party to refrain from conduct likely to cause damage to or hinder the Party’s proper pursuit of its aims in accordance with its constitutionally laid down policy and direction
7. No member my make malicious allegations of illegal or improper conduct against any other member or maliciously cause to be reported or published in the media the fact that an allegation of illegal or improper conduct by a member is known to have been made.
Alex Salmond is saying that there are at least 3 people in the SNP, all holding the most senior of positions, who violated those terms. If such a thing was true, then it must also be true that far more were either completely oblivious to the most profound attack on our movement in its modern history, or just sat there and did nothing. Are there even candidates standing for election in 2021 who knew about this most heinous assault on the foundations of our party’s cause – that they were willing to take part in a criminal act, breaking not just the Code of Conduct, but the trust they ask each potential voter to place in them? Where does it end? Are we truly being asked to believe this?
Like I said, it’s insane. Yet this is what Alex Salmond expects the Inquiry to believe, and what he says he has evidence for. So we come to two, in my opinion, truly unbearable possibilities, both of which totally and utterly break my heart. The first is that Alex Salmond, the man who dedicated his life to Scottish Independence, has taken leave of his senses because of a vendetta against his successor, and is willing to commit defamation “without a shred of evidence” – and in the process, jeopardising the very cause he claims to champion. The second possibility is that we are witnessing a scandal that is practically unprecedented in a European government, where the cowardice of some and the malice of others has led to the most monstrous political injustice I think I’ve seen in my lifetime – again, jeopardising the very cause which seems so agonisingly close.
What on Earth are us lowly campaigners to think of all this? You can’t insult our intelligence by saying folk on the street don’t care about it. You cannot dismiss this as a simple political feud like the many which have come before. You certainly cannot argue it can wait until after the election. Whichever way the dice fall – and I’m absolutely terrified by possible revelations to come – this needs to be sorted, and fast. Either a hero of the Scottish Independence Movement has lived long enough to become its most wretched villain, or we are living in truly, historically, interesting times.
To those who believe the former, there isn’t much to say. Heroes have fallen before. People I trusted have betrayed me on a personal and political level. The First Minister’s approval ratings are strong, the SNP is polling well, and independence is the preferred choice for a majority of Scottish voters for the last 20 polls in a row. The truth will always see the light of day, and even if it’s tearing your heart out seeing so many fellow independence supporters seeming to be on the side of our most implacable foes, have faith that truth will ultimately prevail, and that the truth is always preferable to the lie, no matter how painful it is.
To those who believe – however much they may wish it wasn’t so – that it’s the latter, I could certainly understand feeling trapped in a chasm of hopelessness. For one person to betray the cause is one thing, but for so many? In the Worst Case Scenario, the people of Scotland would lose faith in the SNP. The voters and members of the SNP would be devastated. And many people who, through inaction or complicity, simply could not remain tenable in their positions. If that means resignations, so be it. If that means we lose some of our best and brightest, so be it. Even in the extremely unlikely scenario that every single MSP, MP, and office bearer was found to be involved, then so be it. We are sailing uncharted waters already, we should expect the impossible.
I remember back in 2014, in the absolute doldrums of our mistery in September. For most of us, the game was a bogey. Pack up everyone, time to go home. We’re done. Only… we weren’t done. Hundreds of folk joined the SNP. That became thousands. Then tens of thousands. Our 6 MPs started to ponder: maybe they’ll have some company down there. So candidates were fielded, folk that in previous years nobody would’ve rated, nobody would’ve given a chance.
Then the polls started to shift. Then we started to think maybe a majority of Scottish seats going gold wasn’t necessarily a pipe dream any more. Then “giants” of the UK parties started to tumble, as a young woman barely out of school saw the UK Opposition Party’s campaign leader out the door; former Secretaries of State for Scotland were dismissed, and party leaders were handed their jotters, Then we woke up to see only one each from the “victors” of the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum remained, with a sea of gold washing over the nation. All this happened less than a year after many were celebrating the death of the SNP, and of the Scottish Independence Movement. The people of Scotland disagreed with those sentiments. If the people of Scotland want to change their mind – on independence, or whatever they wish – then the people of Scotland will make it happen.
Whichever way the cards fall in this heartbreaking, devastating saga, the people of Scotland will prevail. In the original Scottish Wars of Independence, heroes became villains; the flower of chivalry failed; self-interested leaders put their interests ahead of the fate of their nation. Yet Scotland prevailed: a hard-fought, difficult, and seemingly hopeless war was ultimately won, because the people of Scotland wanted it – for without the people’s support, how could Robert the Bruce possibly have secured his claim to the crown?
Throughout the first referendum campaign, the mantra was it’s not about the first minister. It’s not about the SNP. It’s about the people of Scotland. So if anyone is so destroyed as to think that the outcome of this means the end of independence, remember: scientists once believed that nothing could escape the Event Horizon of a Black Hole… until they realised things weren’t as black as they thought.
… One can’t tell from the outside what is inside a black hole, apart from its mass, electric charge, and rotation. This means that a black hole contains a lot of information that is hidden from the outside world. If the amount of hidden information inside a black hole depends on the size of the hole, one would expect from general principles that the black hole would have a temperature, and would glow like a piece of hot metal. But that was impossible, because as everyone knew, nothing could get out of a black hole. Or so it was thought…
… Black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole, both to the outside, and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out.
– Stephen Hawking. 2015 Reith Lecture