The Blog fell silent these last four days because I have been at Dundee University for graduation, in my capacity as Rector. Graduation is done very pleasantly at Dundee, with each new graduate walking up individually to be touched on the head by the Chancellor with a ceremonial bonnet, to general applause plus whoops from their family and friends. Even though I haven’t been in office long enough to get to know many of this year’s graduates, I have to say it brought a lump to my throat on several occasions.
The University is now so large that this takes six ceremonies, each for about seven hundred new graduates. We finished five last week, the new doctors graduating next month, and I must confess I felt a bit weary after applauding three and a half thousand individuals over three days. With two ceremonies per day, interspersed by a formal lunch, and followed by a garden party then a formal dinner, I hope you will understand why I didn’t find time to blog.
I return to find a letter from the Council of the University of Lancaster offering me an appointment as an Honorary Research Fellow in their School of Law, which is most kind of them. They have one of the UK’s three leading Human Rights Centres. I need to give some thought to how I might fit this in, in a way which would make a useful contribution to the University. Then at lunchtime I have to leave to give a lecture in Geneva tomorrow.
I feel increasingly “in from the cold”, I suspect because those who think now almost universally acknowledge that the War in Iraq and the so-called War on Terror are indeed both a disaster, and I was telling the truth back in 2002 about torture. Now all I have to do is work out how to make a living!
A date for your diaries. My Installation as Rector of the University of Dundee will take place on 26 September. This is an ancient traditional ceremony, which includes my being pulled through the streets of Dundee in an old carriage by students, and then giving a Rectorial Address. These used to be great occasions, when the Addresses were given by figures like Adam Smith, William Gladstone, Thomas Carlyle, Andrew Carnegie and J M Barrie. Those would last for hours and be repeated verbatim in the national papers. Even in my time, addresses by Clement Freud and Peter Ustinov were well worth hearing.
My predecessor, Lorraine Kelly, managed one sheet of A4. I shall be closer to Gladstone than Kelly, in length if nothing else, and intend to give the students some provocative thoughts on society, politics and the role of a modern university. I do hope that some of the readers of this blog will put the event in their diaries and make it to Dundee to support me.
On a happy note, I am heading up to Dundee tomorrow to attend the graduations of thousands of students. There is no role for the Rector at this other than to dress up in a robe and look portentous, but it is a happy time of achievement; maybe some of the youthful optimism might rub off.
Much less happy was the University Court meeting last week. The University is closing its Gardyne Road campus, and some scores of staff are being made compulsorily redundant. I am shocked by the near Victorian brutality with which human beings can be simply thrown away in today’s society.
I went to Gardyne Road to speak to affected staff directly. One man I spoke to had worked there for 17 years; he earned ‘22,000 pa and was being made redundant with just over ‘6,000 in redundancy pay.
‘6,000 after seventeen years? Is that how we value people?
There were three things that especially horrified me about this.
The first was the attitude of academics, who don’t seem troubled because these staff are non-academic – cleaners, cooks, janitors and library staff, for example. Yet they are people too, and the university could not function without them.
The second was the fact that the University is much more concerned with spin than the plight of these people. The University is still telling the media that there are no compulsory redundancies, whereas in fact scores will go through in just five weeks time. The University is also emphasising that some staff were offered relocation to another campus but refused. That is in fact only true of three or four staff out of some fifty facing redundancy.
The third thing that worries me is that the University is offering no more than the legal minimum compensation, and is behaving with all the heartlessness of Dundee’s multinationals. The sad truth is that the people being made redundant are precisely those unlikely to find jobs again in Dundee. Even commercial companies generally attempt to improve redundancy terms a little where possible, for the sake of image, unless actually going bankrupt. The University appears to have no sense of being more than just a business, no sense of community or social responsibility to the City.
My other big worry with the University this week is the lack of attention to environmental issues. I had already noted that there appears to be no concern for renewable energy generation or carbon neutral building, even in its extremely new and ever burgeoning estate. The photo-voltaic cell was invented at the University of Dundee, but I am yet to see one powering anything on what is Britain’s sunniest campus.
I was therefore not surprised to find the University marked 79th out of 102 on People and Planet’s “Green League”, firmly in the Poor Environmental Performance bracket.
Now that’s something else that will get a mention in my Rectorial Address…
Stephen Fry and I both attended the Paston School in North Walsham, Norfolk, a local state Grammar. I gather from his autobiography, Moab is My Washpot, that he disliked it a lot, as did I.
It appears that we were not just at the same school, but in the same year and class. How astonishing that the same class from a small state school in Norfolk should produce two Rectors of the distant Dundee University.
The peculiar thing is that I have no recollection of Stephen Fry at all. He was apparently only there for a year, but at 16, presumably already enormous, and in the same class, I should have thought he would have been unmissable.
I had been more than a little disconcerted by what I discovered of the administration of Dundee University since I became Rector two months ago. In particular, at my first University Court meeting, held the first working day after I took office, the University administration forced through the closure of undergraduate teaching in modern languages and in town planning, and adopted a five year framework of cuts. Accepting hypothetically that short term savings were necessary, I could not see the need for the immediate adoption of a five year programme before their Rector had even had time to read through the papers (which I received two hours before the meeting). Interestingly every academic and graduate representative on Court voted against the cuts, but they were rammed through by an array of co-opted members, who appeared without exception to be either businessmen or from the government’s educational administration establishment.
The atmosphere at the meeting really was an appalling bulldoze. I waited some time before catching the Chairman’s eye, and was astonished when, one minute into my first observation, the Chairman rudely interrupted me to allow the Principal to “Correct” me. This happened several times in the meeting, to me and to others. I wondered who this chairman could be – his name was John Milligan. More on that later.
In short, the Univeristy appeared to have come a long way from being the self-governing democratic community it is supposed to be. In the analysis given by the University administration of different academic departments, they were viewed solely in financial terms. Just what they cost and what they brought in. There was no mention of educational values or wider societal considerations.
It also was plain there was an inner group who were running things, and each subject was introduced with people primed to support. I was sitting close enough to the Chairman to note that while he acknowledged those wishing to speak and ostentiously was writing a list of names, he would vary the order of the list when he felt a need to influence the debate.
It was also plain, from numerous little indications, that this was not just a clique in charge, it was a New Labour clique. This became even more plain at my second Court meeting on Monday, when the Principal, Sir Alan Langlands, spoke of a recent visit to the Life Sciences Department by the vacuous Scottish First Minister, Jack McConell, in quite blatantly electoral terms.
(In Scottish parliamentary elections on 3 May the Labour Party looks set to lose political control of Scotland for the first time in fifty years).
I might have let that go, but for what followed. The University has been in discussions with the Victoria and Albert Museum about the possibility of opening a branch museum in Dundee. It is a wonderful idea – the V & A has vastly more than it can display, and it would bring jobs and tourists to Dundee.
However Sir Alan Langlands said to the Court that a public announcement would be likely to be made by Jack McConnell in the context of an election promise.
That really is too much. This has nothing to do with New Labour – the discussions have been between the University and the V&A. To try to use this University initiative to New Labour advantage is completely illegitimate. The University of course sits in Dundee West, a key Labour/SNP marginal. I therefore said at Court that the University needed to be careful to avoid identification with any political party.
I was still wondering who this Chairman of Court, John Milligan, was and how he had got the job. I have been a member of the University since 1977, and had not come across him. He is not a man who exudes the mores of higher education.
Then today all became clear. As’I am currently in Ekaterinburg, I saw it several days late, but I came across reports that one John Milligan, ex-Chairman of Atlantic Power, on the Sunday Times rich list, and (wait for it…) a high profile donor to the Labour Party, had organised and paid for an advertisement attacking the idea of Scottish Independence, signed by a lot of rich people, some of them very unpleasant indeed.
The move was widely reported to be inspired by Gordon Brown and timed to coincide with his electioneering breakfast in Edinburgh.
Among those who had signed for Milligan and Brown was the Principal of just one of Scotland’s thirteen universities. You guessed it, Milligan’s team-mate, Sir Alan Langlands of Dundee University.
As these two are so keen to help New Labour by entering into the hurly-burly of politics, let us treat them to some of the heat.
Alan Langlands has questions to answer. After retiring in August 2000 as Chief Executive of the NHS, in March 2001 he quickly reemerged as a Director of Patientline, the disgraced rip-off company which enjoys a monopoly of patient personal communications in the NHS. They charge the ill – who are disproportionately poor and elderly – 26p a minute to make a call and 49p a minute to recieve one. They also provide personal televisions at great cost, and, worst of all, have campaigned succesfully to have mobile phones, pay phones and communal TVs removed from hospitals. Langlands was a Director of Patientline when I was in Westminster Hospital for two months in Autumn 2003 and unable to talk to Nadira as Patientline phones won’t call, or receive from, Uzbekistan. He resigned in 2004.
Patientline is one of the most appalling examples of greed triumphing over the needs of ordinary people in Blair’s Britain. But for Langlands to move so quickly from heading the NHS which gave Patientline its monopoly, to the board of Patientline, is in my view of the world a disgrace which in a civilsed country ought to be be criminal. What do you think?
As for Milligan, we know the rewards that giving money to the Labour Party might bring. Who is to say that the chairmanship of a University is not that sort of carrot? The University is now sewn up very tight indeed, with all future appointments having to be initiated by a nomination committee of just six people, of whom Milligan and Langlands are two, and at least two others are from their “Trusty” circle. At the last committee it made two appointments – from amongst its six members.
This whole sorry tale of New Labour Croneyism is typical of much of Scotland, but relatively new in the University sector. I do hope that it causes a backlash of revulsion. I urge everybody with a vote to vote anything but Labour on May 3.
It has been a very hectic few days, but they have been productive. I seem to have helped convince the mainstream media of the obvious truth that the maritime boundaries in this part of the Gulf are disputed and fuzzy, and that the real situation is much less clear than the British map. The BBC has at last started routinely to refer to the boundary as disputed and unclear. The support from the Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail helped enormously to turn the tide, as did the serious piece in the New York Times.
Last night I did Newsnight, BBC News 24 and a pre-record for this morning’s Breakfast TV. In all cases the BBC introduction stated that the border was disputed and complex as reported fact before I started, which made it much easier.
This morning Richard Dalton, former British Ambassador to Iran, said clearly on BBC Breakfast TV that nobody could be certain whose waters they were in, that the boundary is not agreed and negotiating such boundaries is very complex. That is the first open confirmation of this from an “Establishment” figure since the Blair spin about being “utterly certain” we were in Iraqi waters.
Furthermore, both the FCO and MOD appear to have cottoned on that accepting this as all a muddle is the wiggle room for diplomacy to get us out of this dispute with neither side losing too much face, and the way to get our people back quickly.
There is always something of a price to pay for standing up to the government. I am Rector of the University of Dundee. The local newspaper, the Courier and Advertiser, yesterday published an article giving a highly tendentious account of my views, making me out to support the Iranian detention of the sailors. I wrote a letter to the Editor for publication to correct this, in mild terms, and telephoned yesterday afternoon to check they had received it. They did not publish my letter, but today published an article saying that students were calling for my resignation over my views on Iran. They still have made no effort to talk to me or get my view.
This is the letter I sent to the Courier.
I feel your report today (2 April) was remiss in not noting that I am calling for Iran to hand the captives back immediately, and have made that call consistently since the incident started. You seem to wish to portray me as supporting Iran in this affair, which is completely unfair. I want both sides to see sense and solve this peacefully and very quickly.
There is no agreed Iran/Iraq boundary in the Gulf south of the Shatt al Arab river. That is not a “claim” by me, it is an undeniable fact. Maritime boundaries are established by treaty, and there has never been one. Doubtless the Law department of the University, which had always been very good on international maritime law, can confirm that for you.
The incident took place in disputed waters. That is all we can say. It is also all we were saying. Commodore Tim Lambert on HMS Cornwall stated just after the incident: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we were in Iraqi territorital waters. Equally the Iranians may well claim that they were in their territorial waters. The extent and definition of territorial waters in this part of the world is very complicated.”
Commodore Lambert summed the real situation up perfectly. But then the Number 10 spin doctors got to work and Tony Blair made the fatuous claim that he was “Utterly certain” that the incident was in Iraqi territorial waters. The MOD backed this up by producing a map showing a boundary in bright red lines. That boundary does not exist – it was drawn up by the MOD.
By publishing a map purporting to set the boundary in the Gulf, we closed the door on the obvious way to resolve this dispute and turned an incident into a crisis. The government’s desire to make hay out of jingoistic propaganda exceeded its desire to find a solution which would see our personnel returned.
The Iranians have legitimate claims in these seas – as do the Iraqis. it is not for us to decide the boundary between them. For the Iranians to make a practical demonstration of their claim against a foreign power boarding vessels in what they claim as “their” waters is arguably justifiable. But given the waters are disputed, they should behave with much greater circumspection, and to hold captives is bellicose and unjustified.
Both governments have painted themselves into corners. Both have to back down. The way to do that is to admit what everybody knew until they forgot it last week, that these waters are disputed and nobody knows for sure where the boundary is. We make plain that we had no intention of straying into Iranian territorial waters. The Iranians let our people go.
This should not be difficult to solve if the governments involved act reasonably. Both countries have leaderships which are deeply unpopular at home. The danger in those circumstances is that politicians welcome a chance to bang the drum of jingoism to win votes at homee, and are disinclined to compromise. I see elements of that here, and fear for our captives.
One element of this political trick is to pretend there are only two positions, and that anyone who queries is a “traitor” and on the side of the “enemy”. I am on the side of humanity.
On the brighter side, I always find Jeremy Paxman instinctively likeable when I meet him. I realise that is not a universal view. Just before we went on air, he said that since I last met him he had read, and greatly enjoyed, Murder in Samarkand. I always feel a real thrill when anyone says they read it. I can’t quite explain why – it feels like they must really know me, so we have got through at least one side of several year’s worth of making friends before we start.
I confess to being a bit disappointed by sales of the book. It has sold some 8,000 in hardback, while the paperback has only been out for six weeks so it is a bit early to tell. I had unrealistic dreams of selling huge quantities – everyone tells me that 8,000 hardbacks for non-fiction is really good. But it certainly isn’t enought to live on – I get around 8% of the cover price, minus the costs of the map, index, some legal costs etc. Work it out.
What I find hard to reconcile is the astonishingly positive reaction from those who have read it, with the fairly low sales. I say astonishingly postive because so far 317 complete strangers (yes, I know, I am very nerdish to keep count) who have read Murder in Samarkand have emailed me to say what a huge impact it had on them. There seem two main themes – people did not realise how dark and despicable the heart of our government really is, and people relate to the open account of my own faults and eventual disintegration. Especially the letters indicate anyone who has ever suffered injustice from government or an unfair employer, seems to find those emotional wounds reopened.
But the book does not tell you how to contact me. I don’t think it would ever occur to me to contact the author of a book I had read. Yet 317 people who, with a very few exceptions, appear perfectly sane, have read Murder in Samarkand and then gone to the length of looking up my website, finding my contact details, and then writing to give me their reactions to my book.
The other thing that seems very positive is the number of very famous people who have now read it. I can only name those I happen to know have done so – until last night, for example, I had no idea Jeremy Paxman had. This is a bit of unashamed name-dropping, but among those I know have read Murder in Samarkand are: Noam Chomsky, Harold Pinter, David Owen, Brad Pitt, Tony Benn, David Frost, Jeremy Paxman, Bianca Jagger, David Hare and Steve Coogan.
So I am left wondering why it is not selling better. I think that part of the problem is marketing. If you go into Waterstones or Borders, you will probably find a copy, but you will have to go up or down to the politics department and poke around the bottom shelves until you find a single copy, spine-on. To sell well nowadays, a book has to be on tables in a “3 for 2” promotion or similar. For that your publisher has to do a deal with the bookstore – one of the disastrous results of independent booksellers being replaced by big chains. My publisher, Mainstream, uses Random House for its distribution and marketing. When asked why they didn’t make more effort to promote the book, Random House replied (I paraphrase, but not much) “Because nobody’s ever heard of Craig Murray”.
All of which is very frustrating. But the book is out there, and spreading solely by word of mouth. The emails keep coming in, and keep my spirits up hugely.
I am now finishing off a short book called “Influence not Power – Foreign Policy for an Independent Scotland”, to be published by Polygon/Birlinn of Edinburgh.
The Scotsman 7 March 2007
Special Branch to badge up after campus spying claims
KEVIN SCHOFIELD EDUCATION CORRESPONDENT
SPECIAL Branch officers last night said they would wear badges identifying themselves if they visit a university campus in future, after they were accused of “spying” on students.
Craig Murray, the former diplomat who last month succeeded TV personality Lorraine Kelly as rector of Dundee University, said he had been “appalled” to learn that members of Special Branch had attended the university’s student freshers’ fair last year. Mr Murray, 48, claimed that the officers, who were members of Tayside Police’s community contact unit (CCU), had been taking down the names of students who signed up to support the “Stop the War” movement – a claim the force has strenuously denied.
Mr Murray, who left the Foreign Office three years ago after alleging that the United States and Britain were involved in torture in Uzbekistan, said: “I was approached by students at Dundee who told me that Special Branch were on the campus spying on Muslim students. “They were at the fresher’s fair taking notes of those who joined the Stop the War movement. That seemed appalling to me. I began to wonder what I could do about it, so I decided to stand for rector.” Mr Murray defeated former Scotland rugby captain Andy Nicol last month in a two-horse election race to succeed Ms Kelly as the university’s rector.
Detective Chief Superintendent Angela Wilson, who has overall responsibility for the CCU, last night denied that students’ names had been taken down and insisted Special Branch officers would identify themselves more clearly in future. She said: “I’m not aware of names being taken down. They were handed leaflets and the person who handed them out said that if they’d known who they were, they wouldn’t have done it. “Our policy has always been to be very open about these things and they didn’t disguise who they were. But in future, they would wear a badge identifying themselves. “And if people were uncomfortable with them being there, all they would have to do is ask them to leave and they will.”
Det Chief Supt Wilson added: “Having been made aware that Mr Murray may have these views, should he have any continuing concerns, I’m more than happy to meet with him. But I haven’t been approached as yet.” The CCU was established in the wake of the terrorist bombings in London on 7 July, 2005 to provide information on potential extremism. The Muslim Association of Britain has claimed that the unit has contributed to a deterioration in relations between the police and the Islamic community. The force, however, insists that they have actually created closer community links.
Ambassador who attacked ‘selling of souls’
CRAIG Murray was appointed the British ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2002. While serving as ambassador, Mr Murray protested that intelligence on Islamic terror suspects in the landlocked country was being gained through torture. He branded the practice unreliable, immoral and illegal and accused the British government of “selling our souls for dross”. The story of his time in Uzbekistan is set to be turned into a film, with comic Steve Coogan signed up to play the lead role. Angelina Jolie is set to play Nadira, a young Uzbek hairdresser with whom Mr Murray admits having an affair, costing him his marriage. He has also criticised extraordinary rendition – the CIA practice of flying terrorism suspects to countries in Asia and other parts of the world for interrogation.
An article from today’s Scotsman (posted above).
The Special Branch admit that they were at the Fresher’s Fair, incognito, but deny that they were spying on students. They have failed however to provide any alternative explanation of why they were there. Reliving their student past? Hoping to gatecrash a free gig?
By Graeme Cleland in the Dundee Courier
One of the leading candidates to become Dundee University rector has heavily criticised proposed cuts to the institution’s staff and courses to claw back a ‘1.6 million defecit.
Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, has spoken out againt the plant that could see town planning and modern languages courses axed – along with up to 100 staff. Mr Murray echoed concerns raised by the UCU that an artificial financial crisis had been created by a campus development programme that has seen millions spent on new buildings.
“I am very worried about the university’s desire to cut staff and cut the languages department,” he said. “I’m not at all sure the financial situation justifies it.
“I have been studying the figures and we do not need job loses, and certainly not in courses where the university interacts with the community such as with modern languages.”
When announcing plans for cut-backs the university suggested there would be “significant cost reductions and efficiency improvements” affecting the library, the estates service and research and innovation services. The university is also planning to increase income from sources such as overseas students and postgraduate students to try to turn a 1% budget defecit (‘1.6 million) into a 3% surplus by 2010 to 2011. That will require a change in the difference between spending and income totalling ‘6.85 million
Mr Murray suggested excessive amounts of money had been spent on unneeded layers of bureaucracy and administration rather than university teaching resources. He said he also believed the large outlays on recent building programmes undertaken by the university distored its financial situation and were being used as an excuse to enforce changes.
“It seems there is no need for these cuts, and I velieve the reason they are being pursued is part of an agenda rather than financial prudence.
“Only the smallest restructuring of the university’s debt would make the savings required to meet the targets set”.
Staff, students and the UCU have already vented their anger. Many are worried the changes could affect the university’s links with the local community as well as hampering its ability to attract students. Staff and students are planning to fight the proposed cuts ahead of the February 19 university court meeting, which will decide on the way ahead.
However, university management have insisted the capital investment in buildings and equipment over the past four years has been fully justified. It also highlighted the fact research income was high but was not growing as quicky as it had, and its financial status was not sustainable for the long or medium term.