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PostPosted: Sat Apr 21, 2012 6:01 pm 
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http://www.scottishreview.net/AndrewHook256.shtml

In their different ways, James Robertson and Ian Rankin are two of our finest contemporary novelists. In terms of convention of course, they are not the same kind of writer.
Robertson, author of four highly-regarded novels, is identified as a 'literary' author – which means he is seen as a novelist writing within the cultural mainstream of English and Scottish fiction. Rankin, on the other hand, author of over 20 novels, is identified as a 'genre' author – meaning he is regarded as working within the boundaries (or expectations) of one specific kind of novel: in Rankin's case detective fiction. (The Inspector Rebus series ended after 17 appearances.)
Robertson and Rankin both write to entertain the reader, but in Robertson's case entertainment can involve seriousness of purpose, the imaginative illumination and interpretation of human experience in all its forms. Rankin has above all to satisfy the reader's expectations of the detective fiction genre: crime of some kind has to be committed, investigated, and finally resolved. If the genre writer has anything to say about the complexities of life and experience, it has to be achieved within the limits imposed by the genre's requirements.
Of course I recognise that the divide between the two kinds of writing can come under pressure. We live at a time when we are regularly told that the old barrier between high culture and pop culture no longer exists – that in such art forms as music, dance, painting, and cinema, such traditional discrimination survives only as cultural snobbery. In terms of literature, however, genre writing for whatever reason continues to be seen as existing; all bookshops keep separate shelves for 'crime', 'sci-fi', 'horror', 'chick lit' etc.
James Robertson’s 2011 novel 'And the Land Lay Still' (which I have praised here on a previous occasion), provides us with a wonderfully detailed but panoramic sweep of social and political change in Scotland between 1955 and 1995. As part of his analysis of that political change, Robertson charts the ups and downs of the Scottish nationalist movement throughout the period. This leads him to create characters who emerge from the shady world of semi-official counter-espionage and counter-terrorism. Their interest is in the surveillance and even penetration of fringe nationalist groups, which, unlike the SNP itself, believe in what they call direct action. However small and unrepresentative, such groups certainly did exist within the nationalist movement, and few would doubt today that Special Branch, for example, did take an interest in their existence. Key to Robertson’s account of this problematic episode in Scottish political history is the case of Willie MacRae.
Some readers – I suspect not too many – may recall the MacRae case. MacRae was a Glasgow lawyer with a long history of involvement in nationalist politics. He had been an SNP parliamentary candidate on several occasions. He had a considerable reputation as a political activist, campaigning effectively on the issue of the disposal of nuclear waste in Scotland. There is some suggestion that he was a member of the direct action Siol nan Gaidheal group. Robertson doesn't think he was an actual member, but suggests he sympathised with such groups and knew 'where they were coming from'.
Another of these groups, the so-called Scottish National Liberation Army, insisted that MacRae, if not a member, was a supporter and a source of funding. In any event, in April 1985, MacRae crashed off the road in his Volvo car between Fort William and Dornie, where he had a holiday cottage. Taken to hospital in Inverness, and transferred to Aberdeen, he died without ever regaining consciousness. The exact circumstances of his death have remained an issue ever since. A host of questions surrounding his accidental death/ suicide/ murder are still disputed. Unsurprisingly, the theory that MacRae was the victim of some form of state-sponsored conspiracy is widely believed.
Robertson uses the historical reality of MacRae's death to lend credibility to the existence and behaviour of his characters who are linked to the murky world of counter-terrorism agencies and their possible involvement in this controversial area of Scottish politics. We never know for sure that Robertson's imaginary character was responsible for MacRae's death. But recognition that MacRae was a real person who did die in questionable circumstances moves this section of Robertson's complex novel out of the world of Gothic mystery and into the mainstream of the Scottish story he is telling.
Robertson doesn't mention the case of Hilda Murrell, the 78-year-old anti-nuclear campaigner who died a year before MacRae in circumstances which have led conspiracy theorists to link the two cases over the issue of possible MI5 involvement. (Michael Mansfield, the well-known human rights lawyer, is currently asking for a fresh police investigation into Hilda Murrell's death.)
Should there be a demand for a new investigation of Willie MacRae's death, Ian Rankin might well be among those supporting it.
Rankin's latest novel, 'The Impossible Dead' (2011) belongs of course to the post-Rebus world. Its main character is Malcolm Fox, who heads 'the Complaints' – detectives whose job it is to investigate allegations of police corruption or improper behaviour. The novel opens in fairly leisurely fashion as the bad behaviour among the Fife constabulary that 'the Complaints' are investigating does not seem of great interest. The unresolved suicide or murder of a retired officer, however, changes everything, and Malcolm Fox's investigation enters new and more dramatic territory.
The dead officer turns out to have been re-investigating the case of Francis Vernal, a politically-active lawyer, who had died in problematic circumstances in his Volvo car in 1985. Vernal had been involved with the (historical) Dark Harvest Commando, a fringe nationalist group campaigning in 1981 for the decontamination of Gruinard Island which had been used for the testing of an anthrax biological weapon. Fox finds himself drawn more and more into an exploration of the Vernal case – which, despite the change of location to Fife, emerges in every detail as being modelled exactly on the narrative once again of the historical Willie MacRae.
In the end, the Vernal/MacRae story becomes what 'The Impossible Dead' is about. In James Robertson's novel, the MacRae material is linked to what becomes only a disturbing sub-text of its comprehensive Scottish narrative. And Robertson offers the reader no final answer to the issues involved in MacRae's life and death.
The presumably coincidental use of the same material in 'The Impossible Dead' (both authors must have been working on their 2011 novels at more or less the same time) is very different. Rankin here is on excellent form, writing at a level as high or perhaps higher than in his hugely successful past. But inevitably the mechanics of the genre of detective fiction remain in play. Inspector Fox finally successfully unravels the mystery of the Vernal case. Readers may well disagree over the implications of the novelist's solution. Its political dimension is not really explored. Perhaps Ian Rankin did not fancy sailing far into such choppy waters.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 22, 2012 6:40 pm 
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http://www.scottishreview.net/TheCafe257.shtml

I am puzzled by the comments of Andrew Hook (5 April) on the death of Willie McRae which he attributes to a car accident, and makes no mention of the bullet wound in the back of his head, or to the several strange circumstances of his death.
I personally interviewed a close friend of Willie's – John McGill of Kilmarnock – whose car was shot at a few days before Willie's death. He immediately called lawyer Willie, who seemed to have a good idea what was going on. That was just a minor incident, but together with several others it indicates that McRae's death was extremely suspicious.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 8:19 am 
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Never good to dig too deeply into the murder of Willie McRae - talk to Andrew Murray Scott sometime if you bump into him at Killiecrankie...

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 7:24 pm 
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Ian Rankin "one of our finest writers"? What crack was this guy smoking at the time? I can think of at least twenty better Scottish writers than that crime hack.

He also claims to be the heir of Robert Louis Stevenson! :barf:

James Robertson is a much better writer, but I think he's gone off the boil a bit. I loved his early short stories, and the Fanatic was okay, but a lot of his other stuff doesn't really reach out and grab me these days.

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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2012 10:42 pm 
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http://www.scottishreview.net/JamesWilkie260.shtml

I agree with David Thomson's remarks (17 April) on the death of Willie MacRae in April 1985. Of course he was investigated by MI5 and the other intelligence agencies because of his successful campaign against government nuclear plans, but there is another virtually unknown factor in the case – his very active membership of the Scotland-UN committee, where he was one of its two legal advisers. This is where the tie-up with his close confidant John McGill (FSA Scot) of Kilmarnock began to attract the attention of MI5 or whatever.
John McGill is an extremely energetic organiser, ex-SNP at the time, and was the founder, secretary and leading light in Scotland-UN at the height of its international diplomatic activities, to the severe embarrassment of Margaret Thatcher's regime in London. After her so-called 'repeal' of the 1979 Scotland Act, when the referendum had ended with a perfectly adequate majority and a perfect orgy of government corruption, Scotland-UN was formed to take the Scottish case to the United Nations and the international community generally. This it did to no small effect in the course of a relentless, no-holds-barred 18-year diplomatic war that it waged in the major international institutions all round the world.
For example, one of its successes, in the early 1980s, was its destruction of a Thatcherite attempt at a 'final solution of the Scottish question' by obtaining a declaration from the Council of Europe in Strasbourg that there was no demand for devolution within the UK. Scotland-UN killed that with a diplomatic offensive that went to the government of every CoE member state. That must have stung in Downing Street, and it was still a current issue in 1985. Thatcher had no answer to it, as can be seen from her replies to Dennis Canavan's relevant questions at Westminster. She could only bluff.
The campaign continued within the United Nations at its Geneva and New York headquarters. We circulated every UN member government with a dossier on the Scottish situation, we 'brainwashed' US President Reagan in Washington as well as the members of Congress on Capitol Hill. We brought a UN special committee in Paris openly onto Scotland's side on the Stone of Destiny issue, in order to force its return. And, of course, we never let up the pressure on the European institutions, especially the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which particularly angered Thatcher.
So there was good reason for the assassination attempts, first of all on John McGill, who was the target of an unsuccessful murder attempt on the A77 on the way to Kilmarnock. He drove straight to the police with large-calibre bullet holes in his car, but despite an ostensibly comprehensive forensic examination there have been no leads to this day.
This is a major part of the background to the death of Willie MacRae a few days later. No doubt the immediate need was to get the nuclear plans out of his possession, but within the overall context of his nationalist activities there is little doubt that he had overstepped certain bounds, and that some establishment figure, possibly in Downing Street itself, may have put the devout question, 'Will nobody rid me of this troublesome lawyer?'.
Action was taken against other Scotland-UN committee members at home and abroad, but mostly in the form of character assassination, interference with employment and university studies, public harassment, opening mail and phone tapping, etc. (there was still no general email system). I myself felt the full brunt of it only after the start of Scotland-UN's most successful action at the Council of Europe from 1993 onwards, which resulted in the establishment of the present devolved system. By then it was not MI5 or any government body that was responsible for the illegal repression, but the Labour Party leadership, who determinedly tried, with no success, to kill home rule for Scotland and Wales, before being forced to implement it with the international diplomatic corps breathing down their necks.

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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2012 8:12 am 
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I'd be a little cautious in accepting all of Wilkie's claims.

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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2012 2:02 pm 
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I would love to see all this cleared up, but the simple fact is that there will always be some mystery about this, and those responsible will probably never be charged. Nor will it bring the poor man back.

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PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2012 9:18 pm 
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I would agree there SR, many Nationalists and old mk 1 members like me would love to see the culprits sent to trial but as you say that will never happen!I am proud to have spent some time at meetings and social gatherings with Willie, a great man of courage,a patriot! :saltire:


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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 6:54 pm 
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The best consolation is that I doubt they will get away with it again, although I believe it is a little too quiet in the dirty tricks stake right now. The Orange Card and the Orkney/Shetland/Borders/Highlands etc ones will be pulled out again.

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PostPosted: Wed May 09, 2012 8:05 am 
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The Orange card is already being played in Glasgow by the Labour Party, according to various sources. That could become a little bit interesting...

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PostPosted: Wed May 09, 2012 4:52 pm 
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I haven't looked at their vote share, but a friend in Gala told me about the Borders Party. I did see their placards. Apparently they want to be united with Northumberland and away from Scotland.

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PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 11:07 pm 
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Would that be the same Northumberland that, along with Cumbria, was once regarded as part of Scotland? Which particular date are they using as the cut-off point?

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PostPosted: Wed May 23, 2012 10:17 pm 
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Scottish Republican wrote:
the Borders Party. I did see their placards. Apparently they want to be united with Northumberland and away from Scotland.


Settlers?

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PostPosted: Fri May 25, 2012 8:22 pm 
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Talorgan wrote:
Scottish Republican wrote:
the Borders Party. I did see their placards. Apparently they want to be united with Northumberland and away from Scotland.


Settlers?


Not necessarily, there is a very Tory element in the Borders always has been. I think Scottish nationalists have always had a blind spot with the Borders. The bit between Annan and Dunbar is neglected by us. Galloway has a fairly sturdy nationalist streak, but it seems to fade out somewhere round the middle of Dumfriesshire.

Of course the Borders have a distinct tradition, mill towns, common ridings, their own type of feudalism, rugby etc etc... and have genuinely been overlooked, but they'd actually stand to benefit from independence.

Of course the Northumberland argument can be played the other way. And the case for South Berwick (its old name) being Scottish is even stronger.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 08, 2012 10:43 pm 
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I wouldn't have a problem if Northumbria wanted to come with us in 2014. Newcastle would be a different matter.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 01, 2012 1:59 pm 
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Well at least we should get Berwick !


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 04, 2012 2:40 pm 
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The Express had an article in (or was it the Mail?) recently about Shetland. One of the main Shetland "nationalists" that they interviewed had the very "Shetland" surname of Bell. Yes, it's a Scottish name, but not one associated with the far north, let alone the Northern Isles.

That said, Cornwall has a much stronger nationalist movement than Shetland and it's not being pushed by the outside. In fact, the British media tends to ignore Cornwall, with its 50+ year old nationalist party, its burgeoning language revival (the entire Bible has been translated into Cornish within MY lifetime) and the disappearance of English Heritage signs. They only got excited when Jamie Oliver was threatened. In contrast, Shetland nationalism has failed to set up a long term party, let alone make any attempt to revive the Norn language.

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