MURRAY, Ronald (1922-2016).



18 June 1970 - 3 May 1979


Born in Glasgow in June 1922, Ronald Murray was educated at Edinburgh and Jesus College, Oxford. During the Second World War he served in the Royal Engineers, before becoming an Advocate in 1953. In 1950 he married Shiela Gamlin, with whom he had two children, and he pursued a successful legal career, becoming a QC in 1967.

Murray contested three Scottish seats in four elections between 1959 and 1965 before being elected for Edinburgh Leith between 1970 and 1979. He became Lord Advocate in 1974 and was appointed to the Privy Council. On losing his seat in 1979 he continued his legal career, appointed to the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary as Lord Murray in 1979. His political activism continued with active opposition to the atomic bomb through the World Court Project. He died in September 2016.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Ronald Murray in the British Library.

Transcript of clip

The big issue when I went in in 1970 was Europe. Ted Heath was the Prime Minister, and there was a tremendous debate in the first four years about Europe. Again I was very prominent in that, and the debating of that, because I had legal knowledge and training. I remember a lot of all-night sittings, I would be encouraged to stand and talk and talk and talk to keep the thing rolling on. At that time I was against going into Europe, therefore I was closely associated with some of the Conservatives against going into Europe: a little separate lobby if you like, of anti-European people. My main reason was that Edward Heath tried to steamroller everybody into joining Europe. Heath […] and the Tory establishment set up an extremely undemocratic system for dealing with it. I, as an ordinary MP in opposition, I was very used to proposing amendments to legislation that was opposed by one group or another group of the Labour party, I was quite active in doing that. When it came to the European Union nothing was allowed, there were no amendments, they were all steamrollered away, and it was very, very undemocratic. So I was absolutely furiously anti-European at that stage. Of course later things have changed.  

Summary of interview

Recording note: audio files 11 WAV 44 kHz 16 bit stereo [Track Two has interference from nearby building work from around 44 minutes.]
Track One [01:33:10] [Session One: ] Ronald Murray (RM) [nee 15 June 1922] born Glasgow. Description of family life, father’s work as telephone engineer, father nearly going to work in Chile, father travelling a lot with work, moving between different areas as child, living in Glasgow, Dundee, north west England. [00.01.40] Father’s decision to take demotion and move to Edinburgh for RM and sister to attend school. Remarks on attending school in Glasgow, England and Edinburgh. Comments on schools attended, starting school at four, receiving good education at first school, ‘dreadful’ nature of English school attended, mention of learning to swim. Remarks on attending George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, moving from bottom to top class, preferred subjects, leaving school at sixteen. [00.05.20] Comments on advent of war, starting university before war, uncle’s work as lawyer, father’s desire for RM to study law instead of science, RM’s interest in philosophy, attending Edinburgh University. [00.08.30] Further comments on outbreak of war, remarks on family divisions over Hitler, own opposition to Hitler, joining Communist society at university. Remarks on volunteering for Navy before conscripted, doing summer course in electronics and beginnings of radar, secretive nature of work. Comments on being interviewed by services, not being accepted by Navy, entering Army in technical job, serving with REME in south east Asia, opposition to atomic bomb. [00.11.40] Comments on Army unit served in, remaining in India for a year after war in case of Indian unrest. Remarks on working with Indian Navy, small revolution in Bombay. [00.14.30] Comments on returning to university to complete course on return from India, experience of being older student. [00.15.50] Comments on becoming moral philosophy assistant in Edinburgh, getting married, qualifying to work as lawyer, returning to work in law. [00.16.40] Remarks on trying to obtain good university job, spending year at Jesus College, Oxford, becoming honorary fellow of Jesus College. Comments on finishing law degree in 1950, qualifying as advocate in 1951, meeting wife as student. [00.18.00] Remarks on father being elder of Church of Scotland, own status as ‘loose’ member of Church of Scotland, not accepting communion, own Christian philosophy. [00.19.10] Comments on politics in family life, parents being Liberals, loss of Liberal identity, being involved in adult education in Army, early interest in socialism, becoming member of Labour party. [00.20.50] Remarks on returning to university Communist society after war, further comments on joining Labour party before 1951 General Election. [00.22.00] Comments on interest in working in politics, wanting to create just society, interest in NHS, initial involvement in party administration, being elected Chairman of Edinburgh Labour in 1950s/1960s, chairing council which appointed councillors, overseeing initial appointment of Gordon Brown. [00.23.40] Comments on fighting general election in Caithness and Sutherland in 1959, relationship between Conservatives, Liberal and Labour, challenges of constituency’s large size, traditional Highland support for Liberal party, losing seat because of lack of Liberal candidate. [00.25.50] Comments on continuing to practise as lawyer, fighting by-election in Borders, hopeless nature of campaign against David Steel. Remarks on continuing to be based in Edinburgh, travelling for work. [00.27.40] Remarks on third by-election in Edinburgh North. [00.28.10] Comments on entering Edinburgh Leith in 1970, winning seat and becoming MP for first time, becoming Lord Advocate, then judge. [00.29.00] Comments on entering parliament for first time, uncle’s political career as Conservative in Churchill’s wartime cabinet, visiting Westminster in 1940s, meeting Alistair Darling’s father, meeting James Maxton. [00.32.00] Remarks on changes in parliament, greater numbers of ‘common’ people in parliament in 1970, ex-miners, mention of interest in sailing, anecdote about being able to hold hot items because of rough hands from sailing. [00.33.50] Comments on ease of entry to parliament in 1970. Remarks on groups involved with – anti-Apartheid group – not agreeing with illegal action. Comments on involvement with anti-nuclear campaign, belief that wartime atomic bombs were illegal acts. Remarks on not being active member of CND so not to be involved in illegal action, belief in rational persuasion. Comments on continued involvement with nuclear campaign after end of time in parliament. [00.37.20] Further comments on anti-Apartheid movement, avoiding South African goods. [00.38.10] Comments on left wing section of Labour party, RM’s lack of involvement in strikes. Further comments on nuclear disarmament campaign while in parliament. [00.42.30] Mention of strikes, relationship with Barbara Castle, involvement with legal status of strikes. [00.43.50] Comments on relationship with Harold Wilson, anecdote about being invited to Cabinet meeting, Wilson not approving of some of RM’s legal activities. [00.45.00] Remarks on involvement with union leaders, impact of legal career on political career, focus on justice. Comments on Barbara Castle’s white paper, ‘In Place of Strife’, impact of it not going through. Remarks on Barbara Castle’s future with labour, disastrous nature of Michael Foot’s work. [00.47.10] Comments on devoting effort to industrial relations. Remarks on supporting Home Rule for Scotland, anecdote about sponsoring Home Rule motion at meeting in Ayr, motion being destroyed by John Smith. [00.49.10] Further remarks on being Chairman of Edinburgh Labour Party, selecting councillors, approving Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Robin Cook, democratic nature of selection process, influence of trade unions in selection on west coast, own prospects being ‘ditched’ by trade unions at times because of legal career, favouritism of trade unions. [00.51.00] Remarks on financing of campaigns, membership of General Workers’ Union, further comments on relationship with trade unions, comments on relationship between the law and striking, being disliked by trade union bosses. [00.53.40] Remarks on debates about joining European Union, prominence of own legal training in debates, comments on all night sittings, being against entering Europe, associating with anti-European Conservatives, dislike of Edward Heath’s ‘steamrollering’ of European legislation, undemocratic nature of decision. [00.56.40] Comments on meals being served at any time during night during all night debates. [00.57.00] Comments on own first speech in parliament, talking about natural environment of Leith, interest in preserving environment, speech not being received well, being congratulated by speaker, lack of interest in environmental issues in Labour party. [00.59.20] Remarks on spending Sunday to Friday at Westminster, impact on family life, travelling by plane, receiving free flights, impact of free alcohol on drunkenness, travelling regularly with knot of people on same plane, including Tam Dalyell, John Mackintosh. [01.01.30] Comments on accommodation in London. [01.03.00] Comments on staff in House of Commons. [01.03.30] Remarks on differences between being in opposition and in government, difficulty of accomplishing tasks in government, problems of bureaucracy. Further comments on enjoying debates on industrial relations. [01.05.20] Comments on destructiveness of Thatcher’s reign, Heath’s problems with industrial relations allowing Thatcher to destroy unions, causing strikes. Further comments on Margaret Thatcher. [01.07.00] Comments on taking oath in Scottish form with raised hand, Jewish and Catholic ways of taking oath, Margaret Thatcher describing herself as ‘pure Anglo Saxon’. [01.09.20] Comments on working outside parliament during time as MP, further remarks on impact of work on family life, having two children, remarks on wife’s role as Labour councillor. [01.10.20] Comments on not having office staff, having allowance for secretary, people having wives as secretaries, not being member of Westminster clubs. [01.11.50] Comments on membership of lobby groups, remarks on importance of agriculture to Borders constituency, interest in agriculture leading to interest in Falkland Islands, opposing Thatcher’s cuts to agricultural research in Falklands, Thatcher’s cuts encouraging Argentine invasion of Falklands. [01.13.40] Comments on serving on review of European legislation. [01.13.50] Comments on relationship with media, relationship of Tam Dalyell and John Mackintosh with newspapers, not being ‘media type’, despising using papers to lobby. [01.15.00] Comments on weekly constituency surgeries, enjoyment of surgeries. Further comments on European legislation standing committee. [01.16.50] Remarks on level of enjoyment of time as MP, further comments on industrial relations, difficulties of achieving change in government, greater ease of achieving change in opposition, preference for being in opposition, memories of speech by unnamed former Labour party leader about anti nuclear campaign, admiration of Barbara Castle and Harold Wilson. [01.21.30] Comments on departure from parliament, awareness that Labour was about to lose election, plans to stand for Scottish assembly. [01.23.10] Remarks on death of judge in Edinburgh, being appointed as judge by Margaret Thatcher [interviewee coughs]. [01.24.20] Remarks on missing being able to help people in parliament, otherwise being happy to leave parliament. [01.25.50] Comments on main activities in parliament, work with industrial relations, European debate and devolution, comments on ultimate achievement of devolution under Tony Blair. [01.27.45] Comments on continued involvement with anti nuclear weapons campaign after leaving parliament, continued involvement in justice issues, mention of involvement in Mull of Kintyre helicopter crash. [01.28.30] Comments on retirement from legal career, changes to retirement age for judges, turning 75 during case, retiring older than retirement age. [01.31.00] Further comments on involvement with industrial relations and opposition to original entry to European Union, description of Brussels as ‘dictatorship’. [01.33.10] END.
Track Two [01:03:35] [Session Two: ] Introduction to interview. Remarks on studying law instead of science, relationship between law and science. [00.01.30] Comments on interest in anti-nuclear campaign, origins of interest in wartime. [00.03.20] Comments on becoming aware of political issues as young boy in Dundee at time of 1926 General Strike, impact of strike on tram system. Remarks on parents’ political views, father’s views on nationalisation, parents’ views on Hitler, own views on Hitler and build up to Second World War, comments on discussing reparations after First World War and other developments related to Second World War in family, parents’ different views on Chamberlain’s negotiations with Hitler. [00.07.50] Comments on political views not being particularly shaped by parents, early discussions shaping moral views. Remarks on Holocaust, Nazi–Soviet pact. [00.09.40] Remarks on not being member of Communist society as student, comments on two wings of Labour party, being associated with Socialist Unity Party wing which included Communists, impact on Communists of Nazi–Soviet pact. [00.12.10] Remarks on teaching for Army prior to war, lecturing in Fife Mining School about electronics and radar. [00.13.20] Comments on wartime views shaping later political views, remarks on ABCA (Army Bureau of Current Affairs), becoming convinced of planned democratic socialist society as important for peace. [00.14.40] Comments on time in India during and after war, supporting Indian independence during time in India, remarks on Indian National Army, anecdote about final release from India, journey from central India to Bombay harbour and troop ship, getting lift from members of Indian National Army after car swamped by water in river. [00.19.00] Comments on returning to studying on return to Britain, difficulties of returning to study at older age, attending meetings of Socialist Unity Party. [00.20.10] Comments on wife’s interest in politics, father in law’s role as Conservative councillor, wife’s cynicism about ‘capitalist middle class’. [00.21.40] Comments on first vote for Labour in 1945 General Election. [00.22.40] Comments on different definitions of Liberal politics, Scottish/social democratic origins, transition in Scotland from old Liberal to Labour politics, parents’ membership of old Liberal party until link with Conservatives. Remarks on recent formation of Liberal Democrat party. [00.26.00] Comments on interest in National Health Service, ABCA support for NHS. [00.27.00] Comments on Home Rule for Scotland, Scottish Labour support for Home Rule, mention of early Labour MP [later identified as Keir Hardie] support for Home Rule. [00.29.00] Remarks on early seats fought, Caithness and Sutherland, hopeless nature of Borders by election campaign, further remarks on Borders campaign, meeting top Labour leaders, mention of being lawyer rather than ‘real politician’. [00.33.20] Remarks on family views of political career, uncle’s role as Conservative MP. [00.34.30] CLOSED FOR THIRTY YEARS. [00.38.40] Further comments on nuclear weapons, parliament not being receptive to ideas on illegality of nuclear weapons. Comments on George Robertson’s views on nuclear weaponry. [Conservatory door opened.] [00.40.20] Remarks on ministers abandoning principles to hold ministerial positions. [Further interruption as door fixed open and RM removes jacket.] [00.42.00] Comments on Barbara Castle’s white paper, ‘In Place of Strife’, difficulties of pushing forward ideas on industrial relations. Remarks on ideas about strikes, planned changes to laws surrounding strikes. [Background noise begins from here.] Further comments on laws surrounding strikes and trade unions. [00.46.00] Comments on European legislation standing committee, remarks on legislation passed in Brussels. [00.47.30] Remarks on early opposition to UK joining EU, desire for greater democracy in EU. Comments on current support for working within EU, advantages to larger union. [00.49.00] Comments on experience of becoming Lord Advocate, changes to Lord Advocate’s role, different aspects of role. [00.50.40] Remarks on famous case involving man named Meechan, charged with murder, campaign to free Meechan, comments on trial. Remarks on own research into Meechan case, finding that Meechan was innocent, need for new trial, move for new trial to go ahead. [00.55.40] Remarks on Young Liberals calling for RM to be impeached over trial, David Steel not allowing impeachment, enquiry continuing over period of years. Further comments on Meechan case. [00.59.50] Comments on Lord Advocate no longer being UK officer. [01.00.40] Brief comments on other cases involved with as Lord Advocate, cases involving nuclear weapons, Europe. [01.02.50] Comments on receptiveness of parliament to advice, being accepted as good minister. [01.03.35] ENDS.