Was MI5 spying on the SNP? Let’s look at the evidence

A former SNP MP stepped out of the shadows and claimed – without any evidence whatsoever – that British intelligence had “captured and controlled” Scotland’s ruling party.

Forgive my sarcasm, but as someone who has spent 30 years investigating the workings of British intelligence around the world and at home, I can say with certainty that the SNP is screwing things up quite well with no MI5 intervention.

However, Campbell Martin, elected MSP in 2003 and expelled a year later, claims that the SNP’s focus on “gender politics” stemmed from intruders trying to damage independence and make the nats unelected.

Now I know a few things about exposing spies and their double agents. I once named British Intelligence’s top-ranking spy within the IRA: Freddie Scappaticci aka Agent Stakeknife. I uncovered the operations of British intelligence to make the case for war against Iraq.

I know many spies and ex-spies. So believe me, I’ve asked members of the intelligence community on every occasion if they know of any espionage activities against the SNP or the broader Yes movement. The clear answer is “No”.

Apparently, readers have every right to think, “Well, they would say so, wouldn’t they – they’re spies.” True, but some of these spies are sources I’ve trusted for decades and who previously gave me extremely damaging information have. So I see no good reason why they should lie. But maybe they lied here too.

Certainly many of my senior SNP contacts – though definitely not all – believe that there has been surveillance or infiltration over the years. Not long ago, a well-known nationalist politician told me he was “pretty sure” the party had been spied on.

Was there evidence? No.

It is understandable that some think the SNP, the yes movement, has been spied on. For example, there are persistent claims that Prime Minister Harold Wilson was under surveillance.

The Director-General of MI5 insisted in the 1980s that there was no conspiracy intended to “undermine or discredit” Wilson, nor was he “the subject of an investigation by the Security Service or of any form of electronic or other surveillance”.

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Again, people have every right to think, “Well, that’s what they’d say, wouldn’t they?” The fact that undercover police have infiltrated environmental and animal rights groups certainly doesn’t alleviate suspicion. Unionists have insisted the NUM was infiltrated during the miners’ strike.

There are apparently reasons to spy on the SNP – the party wants to crush Britain. This could clearly be construed as a threat to national security. But would such espionage be allowed? It sounds counterintuitive, but spying on political parties would need high-level sanctions. Would any minister authorize such an operation and risk the hell that would follow the revelation? Perhaps. Maybe not.

I once had a rare, confidential discussion with an intelligence chief about the SNP and espionage. Ciaran Martin was a member of the GCHQ board, making him one of the leading figures in British intelligence.

He told me: ‘I totally reject any of the so-called cybernat conspiracy theories about British intelligence and Scottish politics… Such activities would be totally illegal. No one I know has joined anything like that.”


Would a man of his standing deliberately and openly lie? No, is my answer.

Could MI5 have been spying on the SNP? Possibly, but there’s no proof. What is perhaps more likely is that some of the more feral elements of the Yes movement could be used as harmful agent provocateurs. But there is no evidence here either.

For definitive answers, we’ll have to wait decades for classified papers to be made public. By that time, however, most of us will be dead.

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Grace Reader

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