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Terrorist or Walter Mitty at large?

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 and David Dinsmore somewhere in Europe.

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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 then?

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 Sea.

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 co-operation there.''

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 permanent job.

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 his home.

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 action.''

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 movement.''

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 in Dublin.

* 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.

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