CURRENT intelligence on the groups which might be said to constitute

the ''darker side of nationalism'' is that, while most are dormant, some

are quietly beavering away, gathering resources against a day when overt

terrorism may once again be -- in their eyes -- a necessity.

A ballot box victory for the SNP at a General Election, say the

winning of a clear majority of Scottish seats, followed by the kind of

delay and obfuscation which is at present taking place in the

British-Irish peace talks might be such a scenario.

Although more recent heads of the British state have signalled that if

the Scots voted for independence no impediment could be placed in their

way, one former Prime Minister also said that a clear majority SNP vote

at a General Election would merely lead to a very difficult

constitutional position, but nothing more.

It is that idea, that Westminster would do everything within its

powers to delay, deny and ultimately frustrate any attempt of a Scottish

pro-independence majority to move the country towards statehood and the

inevitable change of the Union, or total severance from it, which

exercises the extremist fringe the most.

That is what it would take very probably to bring a return of the kind

of activities, including politically-motivated bank raids, bombings of

oil installations and electricity pylons and the dafter types of gesture

extremism which were regular punctuation marks in the seventies and

eighties and which invariably ended in elaborate High Court trials

accompanied by swingeing prison sentences.

It would be foolish to believe that the types of people and groups who

have inhabited the wilder shores of fringe nationalism have simply faded

away through time. It would be very probably correct to surmise that

wherever they currently exist they are already infiltrated by Special

Branch informants, much as the Scottish offshoots of the Northern Irish

terror groups, from the Provos on the Republican side to the UVF and UDA

on the misnamed Loyalist side of the fence, traditionally have been.

It is through such infiltration, and, if your paranoia is sufficiently

healthy to embrace such concepts, through the deliberate planting of

agents provocateurs and the dubious use of entrapment, that the streets

of Scotland have been maintained in a clean condition, largely free of

terrorism for the past three decades.

Practically every group has had its informants and these were well

documented in the standard work by Andrew Scott and Iain Sutherland

Macleay, Britain's Secret War. They averred that the first, and probably

most active, of these Government agents was Major Fredrick Boothby, a

key figure first in the Army of the Provisional Government in the late

1960s but also in a broader sense in relation to the non-existent

Scottish Liberation Army. The claim made was that the activities of the

daft Major Boothby resulted in 11 people being jailed, some for very

long periods.

Scott and Macleay alleged that what really damned Boothby was his

emergence just at the precise moment when the SNP were racing towards

ultimate success. With hindsight, given the subsequent decline of the

SNP's political fortunes, that might seem to be a plausible theory; the

British state created violent nationalist terrorism with the deliberate

aim of discrediting the entirely legitimate aspirations of a democratic

political movement.

Boothby took part in at least two episodes, both involving abortive

bank raids allegedly aimed at securing funds for revolutionary activity,

before he was himself swept up. In practically every subsequent group,

infiltrators or informants were used to secure and give evidence against

participants. There have been persistent allegations that agents were

used to actually create tartan terrorism.

It stretched the credibility of practically all who attended the

Scottish National Liberation Army trial at the High Court in Glasgow of

Thomas Kelly when the key Crown witness, Goodwin, said he had gone to

the police because he had been shocked and dismayed by what he had heard

being plotted.

Goodwin was sacrificed as an informant to convict Kelly, a rather fey

amateur, while the real SNLA -- all three of them -- remained at large.

The leader still is and is seldom out of the headlines for long.

The dramatically-wild appearance of Siol Nan Gaidheal and Arm Nan

Gaidheal members were a constant source of embarrassment to the

mainstream of the SNP and did much to turn off ordinary, sensible

voters. They were undoubtedly heavily infiltrated and a number of them

went to trial for terrorist offences.

There were also key informants involved in the trials of the Tartan

Army, the Scottish Citizens' Army of the Republic -- allegedly now

reformed -- and in the dramatic High Court trial in Glasgow of

schoolteacher Donald Anderson, who was acquitted, and teenager Creag

Browning, who eventually admitted possessing explosive. It was, and

still is alleged that the Bridgeton scrap merchant, Andrew Wilson, and

his employee were set up by the Special Branch with gelignite belonging

to UVF men, then under close surveillance, to entrap Anderson and


There have been numerous other fringe groups varying in the degree of

danger they have presented to ordinary Scottish citizens and to the

integrity of the state. Between 1968 and 1990 there had been around 52

Scottish terrorists jailed. The pace has diminished since then, although

the Scottish National Liberation Army is kept alive by the presence of

Adam Busby in Dublin. He was allegedly behind the last hoax bomb episode

in Aberdeen and it emerged from that trial that the new groupings,

including the absurdly-named Flame, have a North-east orientation.

If the pattern remains true to the past, then it looks certain that

the current crop, including such militant anti-English bodies as Settler

Watch and Scottish Watch -- proscribed by the SNP -- are even now being

targeted by the police or the intelligence service despite public

protestations of strict non-violence.

The cynics of the nationalist fringe believe that the time is ripe,

with the current buoyant fortunes of the SNP and their current

respectability in the eyes of the Scottish electorate, for another major

political trial. The other, correct, reading of the situation is that

controlling the loonies leaves Scotland free for the legitimate,

democratic aspirations of those who believe in nationalism to develop

their aims in a safe society.