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INSIDE TRACK: MI5 input in the independence debate

AMID the recent chatter about "spooks" in the independence referendum debate a notable missing ingredient has been a credible level of intelligence.

SNP MSP Christina McKelvie's "interesting conspiracy theory" that online abuse towards celebrities with referendum views may be partly down to the secret services was met with derisory howls about "mind-bending rays" and James Bond.

The Yes campaign has its fair share of ill-mannered, intemperate types but is it inconceivable elements within one of the world's most active security apparatuses, fearful of the strategic and security implication a UK break-up carries, might use false flaggers on a massively popular social media forum? Low-level, low-risk, easy stuff.

I've really no idea if the security services are involved in the referendum campaign. They're pretty damn good at not having you find out.

But history, even the very recent, should take any discussion beyond quips about dead-letter drops.

In the past 12 months it has emerged the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the state's main snooping agency, was assisting the US in mass surveillance programmes targeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 35 other world leaders, our international friends in the main.

Seven internet service providers last week filed a legal complaint against GCHQ over alleged attacks on network infrastructure. Meanwhile, two Green Party parliamentarians, Caroline Lucas, the Brighton MP, and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, have complained disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden made clear GCHQ was capturing their communications in breach of the so-called Wilson Doctrine, a long-standing protocol that MPs' phones aren't bugged or emails intercepted.

Journalist Seumas Milne, in his forensic examination of the pivotal role of MI5 during the miners' strike, reasserts his belief MI5 elements plotted the downfall of Harold Wilson's 1970s Government.

He also points out since the end of the Cold War and the Northern Ireland conflict, MI5 has doubled in size. I asked Milne if the security services were involved in the referendum campaign. He responded: "Would be interested in any evidence/allegations about that. Sure they're active, not obviously under their remit, but previous interpretations of remit so elastic anything's possible."

In Northern Ireland, the counter-insurgency role of the security services, from running terror gangs to the notorious Kincora Boys Home, is still unravelling. (MI5 double agent Freddie Scappaticci, who ran the IRA's ruthless int ernal security unit, looked nothing like an Ian Fleming character.)

And in recent years there has been a deluge of revelations about the role of police agents and agents provocateurs in cases from the Stephen Lawrence campaign to environmental and animal rights groups and trade unions.

The No campaign frequently raises international concerns around the security implications of independence. In that context surely there is realm defending to be done? Either way, it's a topic worth discussing. Or, for that matter, a handy scapegoat in the event of a defeat.

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