I am aware that this post will cause some to laugh at me. I am aware that it may make me look pompous and self-seeking, and that my small hurts are nothing compared to what is happening to people in Libya. I am also aware it is impolitic to expose vulnerability when you are involved in internet debate.
What prompts me to write about a longstanding disappointment is this phrase from Chris Floyd yesterday:
Thus Craig Murray was not jumped in an alleyway, or killed in an obscure and ambiguous “accident” of some sort, as might have happened in imperiums of old. He was simply shunted to the sidelines and rendered “unserious” by official disapproval.
Which played on feelings that had been re-awakened by a post on Subrosa a couple of weeks ago, on whether Scotland should have its own honours system.
I could never be accused of craving honours. I have turned down three, the highest of which was Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. When I refused that one, I was given instead by the queen a letter rack hand made by Viscount Linley – and made extremely well. I donated it last month to the auction to meet Julian Assange’s legal fees, and it raised £500 (there is supposed to be a second part to this auction where the items now go on ebay to see if there are higher online bidders. That hasn’t happened yet because of Paypal’s blocking of Wikileaks).
I turned down British honours because it would be hypocritical to accept them for two reasons: I believe in Scottish independence, and I don’t believe in the monarchy. I was actually asked my reason by the queen in Warsaw, and I admit I stressed the Scottish nationalist bit more than the republican bit. She was not in the least put out by it.
With this background, you may be surprised to hear that what has hurt me so much is becoming perhaps the only Rector of a Scottish university in hundreds of years not to be awarded an honorary degree. (At Dundee I am not sure about Tony Slattery, whose rectorship never really started because of health issues).
The university senate debated a year ago whether I should be awarded an honorary degree and decided, with the strongest of steers from the university administration, that I was neither “respectable” nor “distinguished” enough. The matter was brought back again to the university senate by Dundee University Students Association, and again rejected. At university court, the current Rector, Brian Cox, formally minuted his dissent.
As to being distinguished, apart from being a British Ambassador and bestselling author, I have a first class MA (Hons) from Dundee University, was twice elected President of Dundee University Students Association and became Rector of Dundee University. If that is undistinguished, then Dundee University has a remarkably low opinion of itself.
I also find it rather curious that I am “undistinguished” but my two immediate predecessors as Rector, Lorraine Kelly and Fred Macaulay, were evidently “distinguished” enough. I should love to know the criteria.
It is not to do with the job done as Rector, because I attended many more committee meetings than my recent predecessors. This of course is exactly what the university administration did not want me to do. I argued strongly against cuts in university departments and student provision, against tuition fees, against allowing the special branch on campus, and tried to revive the notion of a democratically run academic community. I also attended regular meetings of other rectors, and with the Scottish parliament.
An academic from another university saw me in Edinburgh last week and out of the blue congratulated me on my rectorial installation address. I put a lot of effort into that speech, and it is surprising how often people do read and refer to it – I have been congratulated on it by Charlie Kennedy and Elaine C Smith, for example. But plainly a Rector able to make an interesting contribution on the philosophy of higher education is not what the university administration – which is just itching to bring in high tuition fees for all students – wants.
In a life which has spurned honours, I am hurt because I really care about Dundee University. I spent seven years of my life there plus three as an active Rector. If you sliced me, Dundee University runs through me like a stick of rock. That is why, on being spurned for an honorary degree, I feel emotionally like I have indeed been sliced. This really has hurt me.
Here comes the ridicule…