A FORMER UK ambassador who was sacked by Tony Blair’s government a decade ago has been blocked from standing as an SNP candidate at the next general election because of a “lack of a commitment to group discipline”.
SNP members in the party’s branch in the Airdrie and Shotts constituency, held by Labour’s Pamela Nash, had nominated Craig Murray to fight the key target seat for the Nationalists at the 2015 general election.
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Murray, who was withdrawn from his role as the UK ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2004 after the Foreign Office became frustrated with his vociferous criticism of human rights abuses in the former Soviet country, said he had also been approached about standing in other constituencies, such as Falkirk.
However, Murray told Scotland on Sunday that SNP officials confirmed on Christmas Eve that he would not be allowed to stand for the party in 2015, after he went through a vetting process, which all potential Nationalist candidates have to go through.
The former diplomat said he was interviewed about how he would campaign and behave if elected as a parliamentarian over issues such as accepting group discipline and following the party whip in votes at Westminster.
Murray said he was “depressed” and “shocked” by his experience and did not know whether he would remain as a member of the party.
He added: “I’m trying to work out what to do about it. It’s a huge and enormous disappointment. I’m very upset about it, but I’m not sure how to react.”
The SNP hierarchy’s decision to veto Murray’s candidature came despite a pledge from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to “open up” the party’s candidates list for Westminster to “people who have recently joined the SNP but in the normal course of things wouldn’t satisfy our membership criteria to be a candidate”.
On his blog last night, Murray said: “Those in the SNP who make a fat living out of it are terrified the energy of the Yes campaign may come to threaten their comfy position.”
He added that his experience “makes a complete nonsense” of the SNP’s pledge to open up candidate selection.
Opposition politicians said the decision to keep Murray off the Nationalist’s official candidates list showed that the “control freak tendency” was in control of the party, despite Sturgeon’s pledge at the SNP conference in Perth.
Murray joined the SNP after campaigning for a Yes vote in the independence referendum and was quoted in a party press release calling for an inquiry into allegations that the British government knew of torture carried out by the United States.
He said that following the vetting process SNP officials told him that a “lack of commitment to party discipline” meant he could not be a candidate next year.
Murray added that he was asked by officials during the process whether he would be prepared to support the so-called Bedroom Tax as part of a pact with another party in the House of Commons in the event of a hung parliament after the election.
Murray stated that he replied “No”, which he claimed led to him being rejected as a prospective SNP candidate.
Labour last night seized on the row to challenge the SNP on whether they would do a deal on the Bedroom Tax to keep the Tories in power, which would be “a shocking betrayal” of the Scottish people.
Shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran said: “The SNP need to come clean about asking their prospective MPs if they would agree to keep the Bedroom Tax. This means they are willing to do a deal to keep the Tories in power.”
Murray also published what he said was a communication from Ian McCann, the SNP’s corporate governance and compliance manager, who said the reason Murray had not been approved as a candidate was because he “could not give a full commitment on group discipline issues”
“While you showed excellent qualities, you could not give a full commitment on group discipline issues, and for that reason the panel could not recommend approval,” the message from McCann posted on Murray’s blog stated. “There is scope to appeal this decision.”
Murray suggested that party officials had informed him the subsequent appeal against the decision failed on Christmas Eve to keep it out of the media.
He also accused SNP officials, who heard his appeal, of showing “hostility” and a “bullying demeanour”, which he said was worse than that of the Foreign Office, which sacked him a decade ago.
“Upset and depressed after being barred from the SNP candidates’ register by the hierarchy for “lack of commitment to group discipline,”, Murray wrote on his pro-independence blog.
Days before his candidacy was blocked, Murray had attacked Labour leader Jim Murphy as a “nasty lowest common denominator rabble rouser” who he said was “trying to drum up Neanderthal appeal” by calling for a relaxation of the ban on alcohol at football matches in Scotland.
The SNP is on course to makes sweeping gains at the 2015 general election, with an ICM online poll of 1,004 adults putting support for the Nationalists at 43 per cent, up from 19.9 per cent at the last Westminster election.
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said the exclusion of Murray showed the SNP was only prepared to select candidates for the election who showed “slavish” loyalty to the party leadership.
He said: “It’s characteristic of SNP members at all levels that they have to demonstrate slavish loyalty to the party leadership and the party line.
“It’s clear that there are some individuals who have come forward to be SNP candidates who are too independent minded to be an acceptable choice. Despite the warm words about inviting new talent to stand as candidates, it’s clear that the control freak tendency has won the day in excluding people like Craig Murray.”
An SNP spokeswoman said Murray’s application to stand as a candidate was an internal party matter, as she reiterated the party’s opposition to the Bedroom Tax.
The spokeswoman said: “This is an internal party matter. The SNP is and remains completely opposed to the Tories’ hated Bedroom Tax and it is a matter of record that our MPs voted against it at Westminster – most recently on 17 December.”
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