SPIES and all things related have always been sexy.
On television right now we have the new series of the espionage drama, Homeland, while our news headlines of late have been dominated by the controversy over the US National Security Agency's (NSA) surveillance operation. Short of James Bond and his creator Ian Fleming, Scotland is not immediately a place most people associate with the lofty issues of security and intelligence affairs.
Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. How interesting it is to find that amidst all the clamour over the forthcoming independence referendum, the issue of how Scotland might build its own domestic intelligence agency to combat security threats has become something of a hot issue.
It was in January that Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs that such an agency would be founded should a Yes vote prevail. Such an agency, she said, would be there to serve the interests of the Scottish Government and people but inevitably maintain "very close intelligence-sharing with the rest of the UK".
Ms Sturgeon's remarks have subsequently elicited comment and provoked debate that most recently brought two former senior police officers to clash over the security implications of Scottish independence.
In the red corner, Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, a former director of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), argued that effective working is easier with Scotland as part of the UK.
In the blue corner, however, Allan Burnett, previously counter-terrorism co-ordinator with the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos), dismissed Mr Pearson's concerns, insisting that "an excellent Scottish intelligence organisation could be developed in an independent country".
It is a fascinating debate, and one sure to be put under even greater scrutiny at a conference next week organised by Glasgow University's Global Security Network that was formed to bring together a wide range of academics with an interest in security issues.
Scotland, of course, has some renowned individuals and centres of excellence in relation to such subjects. To highlight just one example, St Andrew's University's Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence has established a worldwide reputation.
Among the themes to be explored at the Glasgow conference are: Intelligence and Security for an Independent Scotland and Scottish Secession: A Dangerous Precedent? The concluding round-table debate will focus on these issues within the context of the imminent independence White Paper to be launched later this month.
Making his recent case for a Scotland capable of creating its own intelligence organisation, Allan Burnett stressed the enormous depth of Scottish talent that already exists in the military, secret and police intelligence services. It was he said, "a great opportunity for an independent Scotland to do very much better". Personally, I couldn't agree more.
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