In 1985, British viewers were glued to what was immediately recognised as much more than a run-of-the-mill television mini-series. The Edge of Darkness was about a widowed police detective called Ronald Craven who suddenly has to investigate the shooting of his daughter, a radical student activist. As he grieves, he is soon drawn into the murky world of spooks, corporate cover-ups and nuclear espionage. The Rothesay-born screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin later acknowledged that it was drama driven by political pessimism:
Its unfashionable gloominess – ‘paranoid’ was the unkind description given by one critic – came about because it was written in paranoid times…The bitterly fought inquiry into Sizewell B and the problems at Sellafield contributed inexorably to the feeling of a country moving remorselessly towards a nuclear state, with all that meant to the loss of civil liberties.
Earlier this week we learned that such paranoia was perfectly justified, not least in Scotland. Documents surrendered to the ‘spycops’ inquiry confirmed that anti-nuclear groups north of the Border were infiltrated by undercover officers dispatched by the Metropolitan Police. The Scottish Campaign to Resist the Atomic Menace (SCRAM), Friends of the Earth and the Torness Alliance were all targeted by special units at the Met because of the vehemence of their opposition to a nuclear power station being built in East Lothian. Their campaign soon stretched to civil disobedience.
All these campaign groups came together to formulate and promote the Torness Declaration:
Our stand is in defence of the health and safety of ourselves, our future generations and of all living things on this planet. We announce that we are prepared to take all non-violent steps necessary to prevent the construction of a nuclear power station at Torness.
That’s the sort of statement young Emma Craven would have rushed to sign. One of the opening scenes in Edge of Darkness depicts her in a crammed campus meeting, applauding wildly as Michael Meacher, an actual Labour politician of the time, woos the students’ union with his impassioned oratory (those were the days of Tony Benn not Tony Blair). He reaches a crescendo with these words:
The nuclear state which they are engaged in constructing is a feudal state, and its effect on freedom of speech and association, upon democratic government and public accountability, cannot be overestimated.
Switching back from the reel world to the real word, we are now slowly discovering the abhorrent effects of such feudalism – Spycops stealing dead children’s identities to get up close and personal with anti-nuclear campaigners. The current inquiry has established that at least three of those undercover officers actually fathered children during affairs they started with targets of their politically-driven investigations. In the case of Scotland, that tactic was adopted by an operative called Bob Lambert, who masqueraded as a scruffy anarchist by the name of Bob Robinson.
We only know this because of an inquiry set up by David Cameron’s Conservative Government in 2015 after spycop activities became a public scandal. The Scottish Government resisted pressure for a similar probe within its jurisdiction. The most the Sturgeon regime was prepared to grant was a review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Policing in Scotland (HMICS), which victims of spycops boycotted. So we have English Tories to thank for any information now coming to light about Torness and the secret state.
We should also be grateful to Billy Briggs of The Ferret for bringing this whole scandal to some public attention this week. The director of that online investigative journalism platform is Rob Edwards, a freelance environmental reporter who has co-authored three books about nuclear power. I’m presuming that, as a pioneering journalist-activist, he signed up to the Torness Alliance. He would certainly have been as determined as anyone in that nationwide network to stop the then South of Scotland Electricity Board (SSEB) building a nuclear power station on the east coast south of Dunbar.
Mr Edwards and his fellow campaigners did not succeed in that effort. But at least none of those anti-Torness campaigners were shot at close range to shut them up, the fate of the fictitious Emma Craven. A real Scottish anti-nuclear campaigner did, however, die of a gunshot wound to the back of his head the same year Edge of Darkness was screened. Aye, we’re back to William MacRae. Early in the morning of April 5, 1985, the veteran nationalist politician set off for his holiday home in Skye, shortly after escaping a serious fire at his tenement flat on the south side of Glasgow. He never made it to his destination, being found unconscious at the wheel of his crashed Volvo off the A87 north of Invergarry. A revolver lay some distance from the vehicle.
Suspicion surrounding the solicitor’s death has been further stoked this week by the neighbour who saved him from being burned alive in his Balvicar Street abode. It took former forklift truck driver Pat Gallagher three and a half decades to finally break his silence. Here is what he told Norman Silvester in a lengthy report published in The National:
I had no idea who he was until I read about his death a few days later and it mentioned the fire in his home…I couldn’t understand why he wanted to go back. Mr McRae said something on the lines of ‘the bastards have been in there’.
Mr Gallagher has also spent more than three decades thinking about the boiler-suited man with a tan briefcase who swept by him on the stairwell as he raced up the steps to rescue his neighbour.
I thought it strange he was more concerned about being late for work rather than the fire in a neighbour’s flat…I gave my details to the police at the time but I never heard from them again. I wasn’t asked to give a statement or anything.
The Glaswegian claims he spotted this boiler-suited man parked in a car the middle of the road and speaking with another driver. Later that morning, his distinctive sky blue vehicle with a dark roof was sitting outside his workplace in Polmadie. Over the next few weeks he became convinced he was being closely followed by its shadowy driver. He came close to confronting his stalker at one point but was “worried about looking stupid.” A few weeks after the fire, the same car swerved onto the pavement as Mr Gallagher and a friend were exiting a pub. It then swiftly made off.
That certainly sobered me up. After that I always looked over my shoulder when walking home at night or standing in a bar. But I never saw the car again.
I have always wondered why Mr McRae wanted to go back into a burning flat after he had just been rescued and why a neighbour, if he was a neighbour, didn’t want to stop and help him.
I think there is definitely something suspicious about his death and I do not believe he committed suicide as has been suggested.
Tragedy befell Mr Gallagher himself in 1992 upstairs in his local bar. A pub customer sent him over a banister after tripping and bumping into him. In a coma for nine days, he has no recollection of the incident and was never capable of working again after suffering a stroke and being left with paralysis on one side of his body.
Prompted to speak out by recent reports in the Glasgow Times, Mr Gallagher believes there needs to be some sort of fresh investigation or inquiry into Willie MacRae’s deeply suspicious death. Despite his fragile condition, he is quite prepared to give evidence. Given the SNP chieftains’ earlier refusal to investigate what happened at Torness and their patent determination to disown their party’s old guard, there isn’t a cat in hell’s chance of that happening. Sturgeon’s Scotland really is now on the edge of darkness. Mr Gallagher’s story could only possibly be told by a screenwriter in the mould of Troy Kennedy Martin.