Thursday, 18 September 2014

Scottish Independence: Bombs and bullets in the 1970s

Members of the Army of the Provisional Government pose with the Wallace Sword which was stolen on 2 May 1972 from the Wallace Monument in Stirling and returned that September

During the Cheyne Walk talks of July 1972, when British Government representatives met with Irish Republican Army (IRA) Chief-of-Staff Seán MacStiofáin and other leading republicans in London, the British admitted that there was a real fear of separatist violence spreading to Scotland.

The first sign of such violence came in December 1972 when two homemade explosive devices were detonated against an electricity pylon at Wamphray in Dumfriesshire. The intention of the bombers was to knock out the power supply to the north of England. The two devices exploded in the middle of the night and caused moderate damage to the pylon, but did not succeed in downing the structure. An anonymous phone-call to The Scotsman newspaper claimed responsibility for the blast on behalf of a group calling itself The Border Clan. 

The group would strike again a few weeks later when a BBC Radio Mast was blown up in the first week of January 1973. Also in December 1972, bomb scares at Dounreay atomic reactor led to 2,000 staff being evacuated from the premises. Two other bomb warnings were phoned in to BP Grangemouth and Ayrshire explosives factory by a group calling itself the Jacobites. The tabloid media quickly seized on the story and fanciful tales claiming the Jacobites had mortars and had two columns active in Argyll and Pertshire appeared.

The pylon and radio mast bombings, coming within weeks of each other, and coupled with the blast at Edinburgh Castle a year earlier (with various sources blaming animal rights activists and others Scottish nationalists) had the security forces worried.

The Border Clan were followed by a group called the Army of the Provisional Government who were nicknamed the Tartan Army (TA) by newspapers at the time. It is probable that the Border Clan, the Tartan Army and another group, the Scottish Republican Army, were in fact simply different names for the same small organisation. 

In September 1973 the Earn Oil Pipeline was blasted with two bombs at 3am. On inspection of the scene the next morning the police noticed that the words "Tartan Army" were spray-painted nearby. The bombings caused the British government to panic. It was announced that Royal Marine Commandos had been drafted in to protect North Sea Oil platforms from IRA attack while undercover police officers would be used to counter the Tartan Army. 

Hysterical articles claiming the group had hundreds of members were splashed across newspapers. At a press conference following the bombing, the police claimed that the TA had 70 active members. The reality was that the organisation probably had only two small teams which probably consisted of between four to six people. 

In July 1974 the Tartan Army struck again, hitting an oil pipeline at Bo'ness, near Grangemouth. The attacks continued into 1975 with explosions at power pylons in Rocliffe and Cornhill in February. This was followed by a chilling report in a Scottish newspaper which claimed a female representative of the TA had said that "We are not taking any more from Westminster. We can assure you the IRA pub bombings will be just a picnic." The statement was in reference to the bombing of two Birmingham pubs in November 1974 which killed 21 civilians and injured over 108 others. The IRA denied they carried out the attack and a group called Red Flag 74, which had broken from the International Marxist Group, claimed responsibility. Red Flag 74 had previously bombed the Tower of London although police dismissed the claims in relation to the Birmingham attacks, citing Provisional IRA involvement.

In May 1975 the alleged leadership of the TA was arrested. The seven men included an ex-member of the British Army. All had previously been members of the Scottish National Party. On the day of their sentencing columnist Jim Hewitson described the men as "deserters of the SNP prepared to back up political argument with military muscle." Of the seven arrested, only four were in the dock on the last day of the 15-day trial. One of the men involved, William Anderson, was found guilty of possessing 109 sticks of gelignite explosive and 50 detonators. The men received sentences ranging from 1 to 12 years imprisonment.

The arrests did not stop the TA and that autumn two more oil pipelines were targeted in bomb attacks while an explosion in mid-September in Dumbarton halted trains in the region. This was followed on the 21 Septmeber with a bombing of Glasgow's Clyde Tunnel using a homemade fertilizer device. In claiming responsibility for the attack, which coincided with a meeting of Republicans, Nationalist and Socialist activists nearby, the Tartan Army said that "it's time people stopped talking and started acting"

The next day, in a press conference, the Assistant Chief Constable of Strathclyde police, James Binnie, announced the creation of the Scottish Bomb Squad. The following day the TA claimed responsibility for a small blast at an oil pipeline close to Perth. The attack would be the last claimed or carried out by the Tartan Army.

In the late 70s a number of new organisations, including the Scottish National Liberation Army (SNLA) and the Scottish Republican Socialist League (SRSL), appeared.

These organisations had always been described by the SNP as "counter productive" groups whose activities would only slow down the march towards self-government by democratic means.

  • Britain's Secret War: Tartan Terrorism and the Anglo-American State, Andrew Murray Scott and Iain Macleay (1990)
  • Celtic Dawn: The Dream of Celtic Unity, Peter Berresford Ellis (1993)
  • Inside a Terrorist Group: The Story of the SNLA, David Leslie, (2005)
  • Retired Terrorist, Gordon McShean (2010)
  • The Celtic Revolution: A Study in Anti-Imperialism, Peter Berresford Ellis (1985)
  • Firinn Albannach – The Nationalist Quarterly News and Views of the Síol nan Gaídheal
  • Forward Scotland – Scottish National Congress News Sheet


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