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A Cautionary Tale

Spies and spooks are not all James Bonds and Jason Bournes - they're far more likely to be shopworkers, delivery drivers and security guards.

Sunday, October 8, 2023
14 mins

As Alba and groups like Salvo/Liberation Scotland, ISP and others continue to attract attention and grow membership, they will be infiltrated by members of the British intelligence community.

This is, sadly, inevitable. They would not be doing their job if they didn’t. 

Spooks, spies and hostile agents generally do not advertise their presence. The most effective of them avoid detection. One only has to look at the story of ‘Stakeknife’ for a relatively recent example. 

‘Stakeknife’ was the code name of a high-level spy who infiltrated the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) while working for the top-secret Force Research Unit (FRU) of the British Army. The identity of Stakeknife has never been officially confirmed, but it is widely believed to be Freddie Scappaticci, a former IRA member who was interned without trial by the British Army in the early 1970s.

Characters such as Stakeknife fit the profile of a character from a Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum story. But normal spies and spooks are not remarkable, do not have personal friends in high places, and certainly don’t rub shoulders with gun-toting terrorists. They work at a low level, often attending to mundane tasks which may go unnoticed by those most directly affected by them. But there are others whose task is not to simply observe and gather information - they are tasked with more direct action and while it may not be accurate to describe them as agents provocateurs insofar as they are not attempting to instigate blatant illegality, they can be remarkably effective in disrupting organised groups by causing trouble, generating discord, gaslighting and so forth.

This account of such a character has been amended only to protect the identities of the suspected spook and those he targeted almost a decade ago. The timeline and broad sweep of events is accurate. The group to which the agent was assigned was a small branch of a left-wing party in Scotland. We would prefer not to divulge any more detail than that and, although those directly involved at the time may be able to guess the location, there is no logical reason to assume that other branches of the same party were not targeted at the same time.

“It must’ve been the June before the referendum, this guy K*** turned up for a branch meeting one night. No-one knew him but he said he was local. That should’ve set alarms off cause we’d been meeting in the same place for years and he said his house was just up the road so why he’d never shown face before, I don’t know. He wasn’t a likeable guy, too wound-up all the time, just that way I suppose, you’re new in a place, you don’t know anyone so maybe it was just nerves but there was a real kind of vibe off him, he just didn’t seem right. Anyway, I thought it was just me so I never says anything. But that was him right in, after that he was there all the time, didn’t matter what we were doing, if it was leafleting or a street stall, a demo or whatever, guaranteed he’d be there.

He was pretty quiet first few weeks but then he started trying to take charge of stuff, volunteering to do everything and that was good I suppose cause there was always loads to do, some of it was annoying stuff but he’d be up for it, like say it was picking new materials up from the printers, boxes of leaflets and posters and that, that was always a pain cause the printers was dead hard to get to if you didn’t have a car, one of these industrial estates, there wasn’t many of us had our own cars anyway but he volunteered to pick the stuff up for this weekend and that was another one we should’ve clicked cause he didn’t even have a car, he was aye on the bus or a train but he says he could get the stuff, his mate would give him a lift so that was fine and he did, so fair play. 

The other thing about him that put me on edge a bit was he was always splashing the cash. I mean, the rest of us were skint right, the subs were whatever you could afford and if you were skint that was okay, you could just leave it till you had a couple of quid. But right from the start this guy was handing over a twenty-note for his subs and he was making sure everyone could see it too. Far as we knew he was working casual, labouring, but we never found out where the jobs were, who he was working with. I even asked him one time if they were looking for anyone just cash-in-hand you know and he didn’t like it but he says he would ask the boss and that was the last I heard about that, didn’t ask him again. But he was always flush. 

The other thing was that he was always pissed. Always. I mean, I’m a boozer, right? I worked mostly in pubs, hotels, night clubs whatever, when I was younger, so I know a booze-bag when I see one and he definitely was. Didn’t even matter what time of day, it could be first thing in the morning, say we were doing a stall and you had to get there in the morning to set up so, depends how far you were going and what the parking was like you’re maybe meeting at nine on the Saturday morning and he’d be there at the pick-up and he would be reeking. I remember seeing him once at a meeting, it was in a lounge, he was buying two pints at a time cause the place was busy, it was taking a while to get served. Lager. Tennent’s lager. And that stuff goes right through ye, ye know, it just stinks if you’ve been on it all the time, comes out in your sweat. To be fair, he carried it pretty well, he could still speak and he wasn’t staggering about or anything but he was bad with the booze, it’s mibbe why he wasn’t driving. Lost his license? I don’t know. He was always on about how he could operate diggers and suchlike so he must’ve had a license at one time. 

So then it’s the referendum. Grim. I suppose we all just got hammered on the Friday and the Saturday, couldn’t believe it. But I phoned D**** on the Saturday night for a gab and he was in a bad way, really upset, but it was more anger than anything else, he was just fuming. 

So we says, come on, we can’t just chuck it, not after all that work. It was just so hard to see a way forward though, it was all black. But we set up a meeting for next day at his house and messaged round the group and it was amazing, everyone was up for it, a few couldn’t make it cause of work or whatever but there must’ve been about a dozen of us turned up at D*****’s house the Sunday afternoon and he got this carry out in and we had a smoke and it was okay, wasn’t as bad as I thought, we were having a laugh and kind of geeing each other up a bit, and you-know-who was there right enough but I remember he was kind of quiet that day, he was trying to take minutes and I remember D****’s wife snapping at him, she never did like him either and she says ‘for fucks sake, K*** it’s no a meeting, we’re here as pals, no need for that eh?’ and it was this wee kind of laptop thing he was using so he put it away and just sat there no saying anything. 

Can’t remember what happened that day, if we decided anything solid, it was just business as usual, we had a branch meeting coming up, not that week but the week after and that was amazing, the turnout. I mean, we would normally get maybe a dozen regulars, and that was just in the months before the referendum, it took that long to get the numbers up from the start, say back in 2011,12, we had maybe two or three, sometimes no-one would be there apart from the branch secretary. But this meeting, the first one after the referendum, must’ve been sixty folk easy, and I remember noticing it was almost all guys right enough, and quite young too, like family guys in their thirties forties. The place was packed. None of us saw that coming, it was brilliant. And a right buzz too, you could tell folk were really angry about losing, it was like they were all charged up. Pity we never saw most of them a few months earlier but there ye go. 

So it died down a bit after that, there was a few of them came to meetings but it pretty much went back to normal after a couple of months, same faces. And K*** was still there talking shite and he had all these big plans for the branch, like he was gonny expand it so we had 200 members and then we were gonny do this and that and it would be a revolution. Pie in the sky shite. No-one took him seriously. But he just kept banging on about how he should be an office-holder and it wasn’t all just about who’d been there the longest or who was the best at this or that, it was more about leadership and he had all these ideas. 

This was the same night we had a social night, it was his idea, we would have a quiz night and some food then mibbe some music. So we turn up quite early at the lounge we’d been using for the meetings and he was already there, he was half-cut as usual and he had all this food laid out, just yer normal buffet stuff but there was loads of it, must’ve cost a good few quid and he was rabbiting on about his master plans, boring shite. So anyway a few of the regulars turn up and then he does the quiz night thing, he was the quizmaster, aye, surprise surprise, and you want to have heard the questions, I mean, honest to god, yer university challenge guys wouldn’t have had a look-in, it was brutal, all this obscure shite. We were all sat there looking at each other, no-one could get any of the answers but he was quite happy trotting out all this guff. Just made us all feel so fuckin dense, you know. And now, looking back, I suppose that was the point. Just embarrass us all. No-one hung about for any music, the food hardly got touched. I was fuming.

But it was the night of Central, that was the end of it all, for me anyway. We were going up to have a shot at Scottish Labour cause they were having their Christmas dinner in the Central Hotel in Glasgow and people were so mad with them, seems a lifetime ago now but we were all still hurting after the referendum and Labour was getting a lot of the blame for getting in bed with the Tories and the polls were already predicting a wipe-out at the next general election so it was a good chance to tell them what we thought of them as they went in for this big dinner, it was like £250 a head or something. 

I wouldn’t even believe this unless I’d been there but they had a collection point set up outside for donations to a fuckin food bank. Can you believe that? Just incredible. There was a few camera crews turned up too, that Laura Bicker was there from the BBC, this was before she got promoted over to the States, and she was interviewing people, ‘So  why are you here?’, all that stuff. And someone brought a big banner it said ‘Labour - Yer Tea’s Oot!’ And that pretty much summed it up you know, just the general feeling. 

So some of us met up and went on the train and there was a few others there already, really busy, loads of folk from all different parties, wisny just us, then they started arriving, the guests, there was loads of cops right across the main entrance to the hotel but there was no vibe of trouble or anything. It was noisy, aye, but just shouting and the cops were good, they let us just do our thing, didn’t force us over the street or anything. 

Then Jim Murphy turned up and it kicked off a bit, the crowd pushed right forward and he was just laughing and waving and he was nearly in the hotel but then he turned back and he went over the the collection point for the food bank and handed them a bag of stuff, then he made his way back, he was still laughing and waving and folk went mental, it just looked like he was winding everybody up so we were really giving him both barrels. He wasn’t caring anyway, the cops huddled round him and got him to the steps, he went up and just as he was about to go out of view he turned around and gave us the finger. Cheeky bastard. So that was it, we went off to the pub and had a quick one, but it was getting on by this time, not long before the second last train and you never want to take a chance waiting for that last one just in case so we headed to the station.

It was me, D**** and L***. We were standing looking up at the big board for the times, then D**** says ‘Ach, ahm away back in for another, plenty of time’, so he went back to the pub. L*** and me got the train, went home, that was it. So I’m back in the house and there was loads of stuff online about the demo, it got great coverage, so I’m doing that and having a few cans, then I get a call from D****, must’ve been about two in the morning, I didn’t have a mobile then so it was the house phone and it would’ve woke up the weans so I jumped for it and it was D**** and he was just home. Must’ve missed his last train so he would’ve had to get a taxi and that must’ve been a right few quid. He sounded okay but he didn’t even let me say anything, just said, ‘That’s me done, I won’t be back. I’m finished with it all. Take care pal.’ And that was it. He was gone. That was the last I heard of him. 

So it would’ve been the following week we were out doing leafleting. We had a public meeting arranged in like a school or something later that week and it was just to let local folk know about it. We usually paired up for leafleting, just to keep a wee eye on each other, so I was with this lass S*****, I didn’t know her that well, she was always at branch, pretty quiet but nice enough. So we’re just walking back to the car to get more leaflets and we’re chatting away and she says ‘So what was the argument about anyway?’ and I’m like, ‘What argument?’ and she says ‘You and D****’

What? So, cut a long story short, what she heard was that me and D**** had a huge fight in the pub after the demo at Central and we had to get separated, chucked out and blah blah blah. I can remember just stopping dead, in the street, and I don’t know what kind of look I must’ve had on my face cause you could see from her expression she was like, oh-oh, shouldn’t have said anything, and I was trying to stay calm, I was like, ‘S*****, that’s a load of shite. There was no fight. There was nothing at all. Who told you that?’ So she says it was so-and-so. K*** wasn’t there for the leafleting that night. That was really unusual, like I says, he was always there. So I get back home and I called G**** cause he’d been out leafleting as well that night but he was away up the other side of the scheme and I never saw him and I told him what S***** says and he was like, ‘Aye, that’s what they’re saying, you and D****’. Who told him then? He’d got a call from K*** on the Sunday and K*** had said he’d heard it from someone else. Nightmare stuff. Course, I couldn’t even phone D**** cause he’d told me he was out and that was it. 

So then the meeting we’d been leafleting for comes up, this would’ve been the Thursday, it was always Thursdays we did stuff like that. M****** was there, he was the regional organiser, he was the main speaker that night. K*** was already in the school, he was chairing that night. We took turns doing that so’s the best speakers would be free to cover whatever it was we were on about, it wasn’t a big deal so long as you didn’t get too nervous and you knew the rules so this was K***’s first time doing it and he was in the hall getting the tables sorted so I hung about outside and met M****** as soon as he got there out his car and I told him what was going on, about all this shite about me and D**** fighting and he’d heard about it as well so I told him it was all pish and you could tell the way he reacted he already knew that and I says to him, this guy’s acting like a spook and M****** was nodding right away and he says aye, I know, turns out K*** had been phoning him all times, day and night, this is for months, keeping him on the phone for ages, talking shite, all the same stuff he was boring everyone to death with about expanding the branch and all that and I says to M******, was he drunk? I don’t know, he says, never noticed. It’s funny that, some folk just can’t tell when someone else is pissed, maybe it’s the same as finding it hard to tell when someone’s lying but anyway, M****** says ‘we’re keeping an eye on him, don’t worry about it’. 

Maybe they did keep an eye on him. I don’t know. I left after the general election that year, we got hammered, we all knew we were in for a doing anyway but a few of us hung on  ‘til then. Branch wisny the same after D**** chucked it. We were still doing stalls and stuff but the wind was out the sails. There was a lot of other shite going on, we had this group, I won’t say who they were cause they were alright you know, decent people, but they were getting used as well, it was like they just moved in, used our branches to save building up their own. It was meant to be some kind of a coalition but no-one ever asked us about it, not that I remember anyway, it was just a done deal and that was it. Usual story. 

Aye, I still get angry about it. I mean, we’re just ordinary folk trying to do something. Maybe we never had a chance anyway but you’ve got to try, eh? I mean, just to be happy in yourself and you don’t know if your weans mibbe pick up on it and it’ll make them think about it all. We were never about doing anything mental, we were never gonny kidnap anyone or go trying to blow things up for fucks sake. The only thing we ever done was sit down in the street that time, stopped the traffic, that was way back, I mean, we weren’t even doing it with the party, that was just a couple of us up at a rally and it was all spur of the moment, we went along with it, stopped the traffic for a while, point made, then we went to the pub. Aye, inconvenient for some folk but that’s about it. We weren’t terrorists. Aye, for sure, we would’ve been seen as ‘radicals’ by the likes of yer man and whoever he was working for but I know for a fact that we never ever discussed doing anything illegal. Never. And if there was anyone in our group was that way, I would’ve known. And it makes you feel stupid, you know, looking back, you think how? How did we get taken in by that guy? That pub quiz he did, just taking the piss. The lies about D**** and me fighting. I mean, I’ve never seen D**** since and if I did bump into him it would be really awkward, I don’t know what other rubbish K*** came out with to other folk. And I’ve never clapped eyes on him either. I don’t know if he ever did live where he said he did or that was just more shite. But that’s what, seven, eight years now? I’m down that way quite a lot and I’ve never seen him. Last I heard he’d had a major strop at a branch meeting because they wouldn’t let him be secretary or something, then he stormed out and slammed the door, pure drama queen stuff. Then the next week someone saw him at a ***** stall, he’d gone straight over to them. Wonder how they dealt with him.”


Ron Culley on Twitter: "A new report criticises police infiltration of entirely legal left-wing groups and enquires why no attempt was made to infiltrate right-wing groups. No enquiry appears to have been made into infiltration of Scottish organisations supporting Independence. https://t.co/0cNoBMgWa0" / Twitter

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