THERE’s talk once more that for many years agents of the British state have been operating at the highest levels of the SNP and the wider Scottish independence movement. Such claims have been scurrying around the nationalist community for a long time.

They are beguiling and are often talked about in hushed tones.

My colleague Neil Mackay, who knows more than most of us about the stratagems of British spies and counter-intelligence, thinks it unlikely and points to the lack of any hard evidence of their existence. As he says, spying by its very nature is about concealing evidence, spinning false narratives, and tapping one’s nose and winking conspiratorially.

It seems to us that it would be absurd if the British state wasn’t spying on the independence movement. If I was the director of operations at MI5 I’d have been sending entire detachments of spooks north to infiltrate the SNP.

Indeed, I’d have set up an entire control centre in the years immediately prior to the 2014 independence referendum when it seemed that Scotland might be a ba’hair away from breaking up the United Kingdom.

And I’d have located it somewhere it might operate virtually unnoticed, like Edinburgh or St Andrews.

Senior figures at the top of the British government and in its intelligence community have always denied the existence of spies inside the SNP. But then this lot kept the existence of the Cambridge spy ring a secret from the British public for two decades.

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had so many of its agents operating at the top of the British establishment that we were effectively in a clandestine twinning arrangement with the Kremlin.

The infamous Cambridge Five consisted of Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, below, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross. All of them were princes of the British establishment.


Kim Philby, whose desperate attempts to save his skin after the flight of his fellow Soviet spies Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess have been revealed for the first time as official files have been made public.

Kim Philby, whose desperate attempts to save his skin after the flight of his fellow Soviet spies Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess have been revealed for the first time as official files have been made public.


Philby rose to become First Secretary at the British Embassy in Washington and was our main liaison with the US intelligence services. Maclean held several top diplomatic posts throughout the world before heading up the American Department in the Foreign Office. Burgess would work for the BBC, MI6 and the Foreign Office where he had access to thousands of documents relating to British foreign policy during the Cold War.

Even after they were all discovered, British intelligence chiefs somehow contrived to let them three of them escape to Moscow.

Aye spy

NEVERTHELESS, you can’t be too careful about this sort of stuff. If the SNP are still serious about Scottish independence you’d expect them to have considered the possibility of British espionage seriously.

I’d be advising them to set up a Scottish counter-intelligence unit and start looking at the deployment of double agents inside the British security services.

After all, if the Soviets could successfully annexe almost the entire British spy community during the Cold War, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a few of our own to pose as British diplomats and senior politicians.

Perhaps there might even be Scottish sleepers already working inside the British political establishment. I’ve heard whispers, you know.

The trick is to insinuate yourself into a position like – oh, I don’t know – maybe a top media mogul or a top Tory and have them contrive a very public dislike about all things related to Scottish independence as cover.

As the Soviets found throughout the 1950s and 60s, it wasn’t exactly difficult to fool all of the British establishment all of the time.

Well Red

NOT to put too fine a point on it, the Soviets could have hoisted red flags all the way down the Mall and had the Household Cavalry wearing Cossack hats while doing the Hopak during the Changing of the Guard and no-one in British intelligence would have noticed.

All you had to do to maintain your cover was to have been at the right sort of school, speak with the right sort of accent, and call people “old boy” quite a lot.

They even knighted Anthony Blunt and, long after he’d been exposed as a Soviet spy, he was still advising the Queen on what paintings to hang in her house in his position of official surveyor of her pictures. So, the Scottish independence community shouldn’t be too alarmed about British spies in their midst. And besides, if they did find anything a bit fishy up here there’s every chance it would be on a desk in the Kremlin before it ever got to Downing Street.

London eye

THE DIARY would be right up for a wee sabbatical spying for Scotland in London. We feel we possess many of the right credentials.

We’re pretty good at upper-class English accents; we’re good friends with several right-wing, English-based journalists; we were once invited to a Spectator summer party; and we’ve worked at HM Daily Mail. Basically, we’d fit right in with the blighters.