Thursday 10 December 2020

This is Mrs Peter Murrell


In the version of a Star is Born (1954) that I know best, the film star Norman Maine played by James Mason goes into career decline as the actress he discovered played by Judy Garland becomes a major star. The recognition of her fake name Vicki Lester becomes universal while his equally fake name is forgotten. Finally, she tries to remind the world of her now obscure husband by announcing to the world “Hello, everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine”. I wonder if the leader of the SNP is ever going to stand up and announce. “Hello everybody. This is Mrs Peter Murrell.

The old rule whereby a married woman took both her husband’s Christian name and surname seem as quaint and archaic as the rules by which the hierarchy of sisters in a Jane Austen novel were distinguished. But it is only very recently that a married woman routinely failed to take her husband’s surname. Nobody knows who Margaret Roberts was, nor who Theresa Brasier is, though they were both Prime Ministers.

I think if I were called Sturgeon, I would rather have become Murrell. Sturgeon is the sort of name like Judy Garland’s Ethel Gumm satirised in the movie as Esther Blodgett, that most people would be happy to dump especially when it makes you part of the same fish dynasty as the king you wish to topple. But Sturgeon has a name recognition that Murrell never had.

This is the difference in the story. Murrell never was a star. His name has never been known to the public. It isn’t known now. But something happened the other day that not only has put him into career decline but has also turned the SNP’s only star into a yellow dwarf.

Murrell is an odd sort of politician. He is one who never wanted to stand for office. He never wanted to be “world king” or even Prime Minister. But he nevertheless is supremely powerful in Scotland, perhaps second only to Nicola Sturgeon, perhaps superior even to her. We don’t really know who is the puppet and who is the puppet master.

Murrell is like Thomas Cromwell in a Man for all Seasons. Henry the Eighth needs a divorce. Thomas Moore is not cooperating, so Henry gets Cromwell to fix the problem. He plots. He finds people willing to lie and eventually Moore is got rid of. Problem solved. Who has the real power Murrell’s Cromwell or Sturgeon’s Henry the Eighth? But such power is not necessarily forever. The plotter can be found out. Those who have been plotted against, may expose the lie. Cromwell too eventually was got rid of and executed in 1540.

Something extraordinary happened when Peter Murrell testified before the Salmond Inquiry the other day. The details of what he said are less important than the fact that for the first time it became self-evident that he had been plotting and this his plotting depended on a series of lies.

The public as yet is uninterested, but there was a break-in at the Watergate building in Scotland the other day. It took a while for the public to get interested in Nixon’s lies too. He no doubt thought for a long time that the scandal wouldn’t get close enough to him.

Very slowly the scandal at the heart of Scottish politics is getting closer to Sturgeon. She stands up on TV every day and her adoring audience are unaware that behind the scenes there is something close to panic.

Someone really ought to write a play about this. Mr and Mrs Murrell have ambition. They see that King Alex (Duncan) is standing in the way of their destiny. Which of them I wonder played the Lady MacBeth role and which of them wears the breeks with the cod piece?

Lady MacSturgeon of Irvine has become Queen of Scotland, but it looks as if her plot to kill off King Alex has failed. Perhaps when the assassin went into the bed chamber King Alex wasn’t there. Perhaps he had been warned. But now the kingdom is divided. The SNP are no longer as one. There are Salmondites and Sturgeonistas and Lady MacSturgeon is losing control of her realm as a Birnham wood gets up and marches all under one banner.

If Murrell and indeed Sturgeon have been caught lying, it is reasonable to assume that they are not doing it accidentally. It is reasonable to assume they have something to hide.

We don’t know what happened. Unlike the playwright, we cannot look into people’s hearts and we cannot hear private conversations. But we can use reason.

It looks ever more likely that there was a plot to get rid of Alex Salmond as a rival by getting him sent to jail. If this turns out to be true, then Nicola Sturgeon is going to go down in history as Lady MacBeth Mark II. Murrell will go down in history as her consigliere and behind the scenes plotter schemer and metaphorical stabber in the back.

It may or may not be that Sturgeon broke the ministerial code. It looks likely that she did. Her story and Murrell’s don’t match and there is an inconsistency in what she said to Parliament previously. But breaking the ministerial code can be merely technical and not of much interest to the public. What matters is why these people are lying.

This is a huge story, but we are all distracted by old ladies getting the Covid vaccine and brinkmanship with the EU. But those opposition members on the Alex Salmond Committee are playing a difficult hand very well indeed. They have wounded Murrell and the story isn’t going away.

When Napoleon won the Battle of Borodino. The Russian general Kutusov said that the wound to the French Army was mortal. Although Napoleon went on to capture Moscow, Kutusov’s prediction turned out to be true. The retreat from Moscow became a rout and hardly any French soldiers escaped over the river Berezina. Murrell’s wound too is mortal. It has poison in it.

There is a reason for Murrell’s lie and that is why it is spreading beyond either his or Sturgeon’s message management, just as Covid spread despite her attempts to eradicate it. Lady MacSturgeon of Irvine is right now looking at her hands. She can see that she is complicit, and she can see that she has nowhere to hide. Out damned lie. But no, the smell of it cannot be disguised by all the perfumes of Arabia. The public cannot yet smell it, but the stench is growing and soon the retreat will begin.

Mr Murrell’s star has been eclipsed, but the public are uninterested because they have never heard of him. But Sturgeon’s position depends on the idea that this married couple don’t communicate, don’t plan and don’t know much about each other. It’s as if one of them were paying the other to get married to get a passport. There is something fake about the whole arrangement as if the whole of Sturgeon’s life were built on foundations that are a lie.

This is Mrs Peter Murrell and I share all of my husband’s lies.