Secret memo: Nationalists in Scotland posed terror threat

30 Dec 2010

The British Government was concerned that army and naval bases could be at risk from Scottish nationalists in the wake of the loss of the 1979 devolution referendum, newly released secret documents reveal.

A number of Scottish groups were listed alongside the IRA and INLA as potential terror threats to the UK.

Security chiefs warned Margaret Thatcher there was evidence that extremist Scottish nationalists were trying to obtain weapons and explosives, and that they could target “defence establishments”.

They also single out Greenpeace as a potential terrorist threat, the files, which have been kept secret since 1980, show.

The warning comes from a secret report detailing the threats to the United Kingdom, compiled in March 1980 by the Joint Intelligence Committee.

It warns the “main terrorist threats” to the United Kingdom are posed by the Irish Republican movement – in particular the Provisional IRA and the smaller INLA, which the previous year had killed Airey Neave with a car bomb in the car park of the House of Commons.

But it also warns: “There are numerous other potential sources of terrorist violence: ultra-right wing groups, Irish Protestant and Scottish and Welsh nationalist extremists, revolutionary anarchists and various foreign-based terrorist groups.

“In Scotland … groups have recently shown an interest in acquiring arms and explosives and since defence establishments have been targeted in the past, it is likely that they will be again in the future,” the intelligence chiefs write.

The document mentions the group known as the “Tartan Army” or the Scottish National Liberation Army (SNLA).

In October and January there had been several robberies in Glasgow carried out by another of the groups that the security chiefs feared, the Scottish Socialist Republican Club, who had links to another group, the Army of the Provisional Government (APG).

There were also concerns that another extremist group, Siol Nan Gadheal, was attempting to acquire arms and explosives and has indicated a willingness to employ violence to achieve its ends.

“There is some evidence that two groups have shown a recent interest in acquiring arms and explosives,” the report adds.

“If there is a resumption of terrorist activity, defence establishments may be targeted as in the past.”

The report includes no suggestion of fears that the groups could decide to launch an attack on high-profile people.

In 1975, there was a major alert when a bomb planted by the a young activist Adam Busby and others rocked the Clyde Tunnel. It went off during the night and no one was injured, with little damage to the structure.

Busby, a former soldier with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, became the self-styled leader of the SNLA. In 1983 the SNLA launched a series of attacks, including letter-bombs to Margaret Thatcher and the Princess of Wales.

In 1997 Busby was jailed in the Republic of Ireland for the letter-bomb campaign.

The 62-year-old is now serving a four year prison sentence for sending two hoax bomb threat emails to Heathrow airport. Wheelchair-bound Busby sent the emails on May 8 and 15, 2006, claiming there were explosive devices on flights en route from Heathrow to New York.

Busby fled to Ireland in 1980 three years after he was convicted of making threatening phone calls to the Daily Record and the Press Association in Scotland. He was sentenced to two years on each count.

The 1980 report also warns that two Northern Irish loyalist paramilitary groups would attempt to restart activities in Scotland. A police clampdown had substantially reduced the threat from the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in Scotland. Both will attempt to regroup in Scotland and “the UVF is again active in procuring arms and explosives”.

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