The Death of William McRae
by Seán Mac Mathúna
"There are many who claim William was killed by 'them' - the same 'them' that killed Hilda Murrell (the antinuclear campaigner murdered in 1984") Michael Strathan, friend of William McRae, quoted in the News on Sunday, 5th November 1987.
On the morning of April 6th 1985, a radical Scottish Nationalist lawyer, and former Vice-Chairman of the SNP (Scottish National Party) William McRae, was found shot in his car at a layby on the A87, north of An Gearasdan (Fort William), in the Highlands of Scotland. He was found slumped in a coma in the driving seat, the ignition key on his lap. It initially looked like the car had been in some kind of motor accident - his maroon blue Volvo was found lying across a stream, with the drivers window wound down, and the door jammed in such a manner, that it hardly open. McRae was barely alive. A member of the public called an ambulance, and he was taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where he died the next day.
His personal papers and documents were some distance from the car and they had all been shredded "fairly meticulously" according to a report in the Celtic magazine Carn. (1) None of the witnesses saw a pistol or any cartridges near the vicinity of the car - although the police would later claim he had shot himself in the head. Police later recovered a revolver (owned by McRae), some distance from the car. Not only had some of his papers been found some 20 ft from the car, bizarrely, his watch was also found, with it's face smashed. Little or no explanation was given about how, after supposedly shooting himself, McRae had managed to throw his gun some distance from the car. As for his two briefcases, these were eventually returned to his brother by the police, who were unable or unwilling to reveal exactly where they were found. According to eyewitnesses who discovered McRae, their were no briefcases at the scene, or in the vehicle.
However, the bullet wound in the back of his head was only discovered when his body was being examined at a hospital in Aberdeen, Scotland. In fact. two years after his death, Hamish Watt, a former SNP MP and Councillor in Grampian told the Aberdeen Press & Journal that a nurse working at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where McRae was admitted, told him him that two bullet wounds were found in his brain - a fact that would clearly rule out suicide.
According to a report in The Sunday Mail, (2) it was found that McRae had been shot by an automatic pistol which had been fired twice at pointblank range. The window of his car had been shattered - possibly by a bullet. McRae's gun was "discovered" by the by the police two days after his death.
McRae had also told friends before his death that he believed he was under Special Branch surveillance, and that he was in danger as his "cover was blown" and because he was on a "hit list". McRae had also been a leading member of Siol nan Gaidheal, a direct action group once connected with SNP members - some of whom had been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and had been given legal advice by McRae. Furthermore, a small Scottish guerrilla group, the Scottish National Liberation Army (SNLA), claimed in their clandestine newspaper Saorsa that McRae had been an "active sympathiser" who had assisted them both financially, and in the planning of attacks. Perhaps it was his involvement in this that had been exposed when he talked of his "cover" being blown?
Like the 79 year-old antinuclear campaigner (and famous rose-grower) Hilda Murrell, McRae was also passionately opposed to the dumping of nuclear and other toxic waste. Gary Murray, in his book Enemies of the State: A Sensational Exposé of the Security Services by a former MI5 Undercover Agent, describes McRae as the "most formidable opponent in Scotland" of the Nuclear industry. One of his most famous quotes was from the Mullwharcher Enquiry in 1980, which overturned plans for nuclear dumping in the Ayrshire hills. "Nuclear waste" McRae said, "should be stored where Guy Fawkes put his gunpowder" (3). At the time of his death, McRae was planning to take part in a public Enquiry into the processing of nuclear waste at Dounray, and his law firm was on the list of official protesters. He was also writing a book on the subject, and he was known to carry two suitcases everywhere which contained most of his material for both the campaign and his book.
According to Murray, on the after of the same day that McRae was found shot in his car, a party of walkers a few miles from the site where he was found reported that during the afternoon of the 6th April 1985, a man drove up the road, parked, got out, and fired a number of shots in their direction. As Murray notes, his car (a red escort) was similar to the one spotted at the site of Hilda Murrell's murder a year earlier (p. 214).
Born in 1923 in Wester Ross, northern Scotland, William McRae had been from an early age politically active in the Scottish National Party (SNP). After serving in the army during the war, he joined the Royal Indian Navy, where he served in Naval Intelligence. It was here, that he learned to speak Urdu, and began addressing public meetings in Scotland. He resumed his political activities when he joined the Indian National Congress, then an illegal organisation involved in an underground war against British colonial rule in India. It was probably at this point that he came under surveillance by MI5 and MI6, which would continue until his death in 1985. Shortly before he died, his cottage in Dornie was burgled and his friend Mary Johnstone maintains that McRae said:
"They didn't get what they were looking for" (Murray, p. 213).
Murray speculates on whether this was a reference to the sensitive documents he always kept in his briefcase. Another strange thing happened just before his death, a vehicle with two men in it followed him to his home. According to Murray, local friends and investigators traced the number plate of the car to the Strathclyde Special Branch.
There is also the evidence of John Conway, an ex-policeman turned legal rights campaigner and member of Justice, who investigated the McRae case. He submitted a report to the Lord Advocate in which he stated:
"There can be no doubt that some time after the crash and the first people arriving on the scene, someone searched through McRae's pockets and also ransacked the car" (Murray, p213).
Conway also alleged that a two-investigation by the police was stopped because of MI5 involvement. In 1991, Conway was run over by a motor bike, receiving horrendous injuries. He is convinced that this was a "frightener" that went wrong.
Thus, it is my provisional conclusion that McRae was unlawfully murdered by a person or persons unknown, acting on behalf of the the nuclear industry, and ultimately, the British state. Members of the new Scottish parliament should call for an Enquiry to be set up, not only into the covert activities of the nuclear industry in Scotland, but also to reinvestigate how William McRae died.
1 Carn, Spring 1988. The SNLA also claimed that another member Douglas Ross had died in "mysterious circumstances" in 1982. The group accused "the British state" of McRae's murder, and Carn speculated that he was killed because of his association with the SNLA.
2 The Sunday Mail (Scotland), 16th June 1985.
3 Enemies of the State: A Sensational Exposé of the Security Services by a former MI5 Undercover Agent. Gary Murray, Simon and Schuster, London, England, 1993, p210