Since the 1950s there has been an intermittent series of extremist
activities on the fringes of Scottish nationalism. Two members of the
SNLA who fled the country in 1983 are in exile -- Adam Busby in Dublin
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and David Dinsmore somewhere in Europe. In this series Robbie Dinwoodie
considers the curious life of extremists in exile and Arnold Kemp
discusses how a stream of misinformation has helped to keep alive as a
controversy the death of leading nationalist Willie McRae who was found
in his crashed car in 1985 with a bullet in his head.
TO LIVE out a solitary, near abject exile, existing on the dole in
downtown Dublin, and to think that from there you can influence the
course of Scottish history seems a peculiar madness, but that is the way
Adam Busby sees himself and the decade he has now passed this way.
His significance or irrelevance is not as simple to evaluate as might
be gleaned from his circumstances -- a bedsit without room to sit, in a
fire-trap warren of similar hutches for lost souls perched above a
newsagent and general store in the heart of old Dublin.
Door locked against enemies, real or imagined, window left open to its
view across the Liffey, Busby claims people have died as a result of the
actions of his organisation, the Scottish National Liberation Army, and
that, at whatever tangent, however obscure the process of cause and
effect, this somehow nudges the homeland he fled 10 years ago towards a
brave, self-determined future.
At the foot of his bed is a small chest of drawers. Inside one lies
paraphernalia -- two kinds of gloves, woollen and rubber, plus stencils,
rubber bands, paper-clips, stationery, miniature batteries -- everything
but the obvious inflammable materials which would be too obviously
incriminating to have present. Is this bedsit a letter-bomb factory, the
drawer's contents an indication that a real terrorist lurks here? Or the
giveaway signs of nothing more dangerous than a Walter Mitty at large?
* * *
''HELLO, I have a caller from Dublin on the line. Will you accept the
charge?'' With this cheery admonition from Irish telephonists, Scots
journalists have become accustomed to receiving calls from what we in
turn, in the conventions of the terms of our trade, call the
''self-styled leader of the Scottish National Liberation Army''.
What will the call bring -- news of a skirmish around the perimeter of
the Palace of Holyroodhouse, a stunt at the British Embassy in Dublin,
or disruption of a Scottish Nationalist event held by some rival faction
deemed to have breached required standards of ideological purity?
Most times, the journalists listen as patiently as they can to the
insistent voice down the line, its Scots cadences now carrying both the
lilt and the paranoia of 10 years in exile.
''Look after yourself'' is always the parting courtesy, whatever the
claim just made of mischief, mayhem, destruction, or even death. What
That varies. A lot of self-censorship goes on. Journalists are well
versed in the arguments about publicity-seekers, terrorists, and the
oxygen of publicity. News of hoaxes (or ''inert devices'' as the
terrorists prefer) is routinely suppressed, unless they cause such
widespread disruption and are thus such common knowledge that to do so
would be absurd.
Near misses, incidents which could have caused death or injury but did
not, are a difficult area. Arson or other damage to property is usually
played down by the authorities' insistence that it was accidental, in
spite of terrorists' claims. Commonly, claim and denial are reported,
usually with a bias towards the latter, even when the claim shows
striking detail and foreknowledge. From the journalist's position it is
an inexact science. Deaths caused by terrorist activity are obviously
reported. Or are they?
The Herald recently took an anonymous call from Dublin purporting to
be an SNLA communique which followed up on a previous claim made by
Busby. It suggested that the cat-and-mouse game played between SNLA
activists and the Dublin police had resulted in the execution of a Scot
who was acting as an informer, and information passed to the IRA which
could lead to further reprisals.
According to the statement a Scot called George Arthur Dunne living in
Dublin as Sam Williamson was executed five years ago for spying on
behalf of an Irish Special Branch officer who also acts for MI5, and
names of more than 20 other informers within Republican circles in
Dublin have been passed by the SNLA to the IRA ''for immediate action''.
The superficial similarity in names between the Scottish National
Liberation Army and Irish Republican Socialist Party, and the Irish
organisations with similar names, has for more than a decade led to
parallels being drawn and supposed links being made across the Irish
But according to Busby no such tie-up has ever existed and the SNLA
has always seen the Provisional IRA as a more natural ally. Although he
says no military co-operation has ever taken place he claims the SNLA
has made intelligence ties.
''We have no formal links with any single Republican organisation,
although we support the right of the Irish people in their struggle for
self-determination using whatever means necessary. We also do anything
to undermine the PIOs (Garda Special Branch political intelligence
officers) and their networks of informers, therefore there is some
Most Scots will find it strange that an active, self-confessed
Scottish terrorist is allowed to live freely in the Irish Republic, but
Busby has always been indignant about what he sees as the harassment he
suffers at the hands of the Irish police, which he says has forced him
to move house every few months and has prevented him from finding a
Since winning his fight against extradition he has been kept under
regular surveillance by the local Special Branch in Dublin, with whom he
has played a cat-and-mouse game. Last month he named the political
intelligence officer who was targeting him as Detective-
Sergeant Michael Hughes and claimed that he had turned tables on the
police officer, befriending his girlfriend, Mary Hill, to gain access to
This sounded another fanciful exploit but Busby insisted that the
proof would come out soon in a way that would reveal Irish Republican
connections. DS Hughes subsequently appeared in court in Dublin to sue
the Garda hierarchy, who were threatening to return him to uniform
duties if he did not reveal the name of one of his sources.
Following this the Sinn Fein weekly Republican News claimed that the
story behind this was that Hughes had warned a prominent Republican
about a death threat against him, and it was the source of that
information which he was refusing to reveal. ''Could it be that Hughes's
informant has close links to an intelligence agency best known for its
inability to catch Russian spies and, more recently, City of London
bombers?'' asked the newspaper.
The SNLA then claimed the credit for the whole affair. A statement
said: ''On Christmas Day 1992 an SNLA unit entered and searched the home
of DS Michael Hughes and removed documents, photographs, and other
materials which not only identified informers but which prove that
Hughes is an MI5 informer. These documents have since been handed over
to the leadership of the Irish Republican movement for immediate
The statement called the action the culmination of eight years of
counter-intelligence in which the tables had been turned on British
Intelligence since raids on SNLA activists in 1986.
''In response to these raids the SNLA successfully targeted Hughes
himself and his network of Special Branch and MI5 spies. On February 16,
1988 'Sam Williamson', also known as George Arthur Dunne, a Scots
criminal who had been specially recruited by Hughes to spy on the SNLA,
was executed by the SNLA in Lower Sean MacDermott Street, Dublin.
''The first entrance to Hughes's premises had been made shortly
before. Since then the surveillance of Hughes, his colleagues and
network has continued unabated with results that have yet to be
foreseen. Personal details of Hughes, his activities, and the names of
more than 20 of his agents have been passed to the Irish Republican
It will be difficult for the Garda to ignore these claims and the
allegation of a Scots-Irish Republican tie-up. Ironically, by meddling
in the internal affairs of Ireland, Busby may have succeeded only in so
turning up the heat on himself that he will no longer be as free to wage
his supposed war for Scottish self-determination.
* Adam Busby: plays a cat-and-mouse game with the local Special Branch
* The sequence of events in 1985 which ended with Willie McRae,
centre, dying in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary; and, right, Scottish
Nationalists build the cairn at the Loch Loyne crash scene.