Native Shore

Native Shore by Phil Mac Giolla Bháin, Front Line Noir Books, £12.99 paperback.

Author, playwright, blogger and journalist Phil Mac Giolla Bháin’s novel Native Shore is a fictional account of the security services role in a ‘near-future’ Scotland. The novel is a thriller in the Frederic Forsyth / John Buchan genre, though the author shares none of those writers politics.

The novel imagines a Scotland in which the opinion polls show a clear lead for independence, and the panic and black ops which ensue. Those of us who remember the dread as the poll in 2014 drew near and the polls showing a lead for Yes will find little of this outlandish.

The central plot centre’s around the British security forces creating False Flags by creating a re-born Scottish National Liberation Army to scare ordinary Scots against the move for sovereignty.

“SNLA campaign created by MI5 Officers in order to sabotage indyref2. Exclusive by Mary Feeney” reads one headline.

If that seems far-fetched you have to consider the lengths to which the British State has stooped in the period 2013-2023 and the desperation that has been exposed.

The plot is fast-paced, the dialogue is real-world and the book is immaculately researched from the intricacies of burner phones and intelligence etiquette to the floor plans of Queensberry House.

The author combines a deep knowledge of Scottish politics with an intimate knowledge of the security services operation in Ireland.

The question isn’t ‘Are there security forces operating in Scotland?’ There clearly are. The question isn’t ‘Has the British state got a history of Black Ops?’ They clearly have, from the Wilson plots to the Stalker Affair, from the Kincora Boys’ Home scandal to the Colin Wallace affair we have detailed history of some of it.

As Campbell Martin outlines in a guest post on Barrhead Boy here “In 1984, a woman called Cathy Massiter went public about her former work as an MI5 officer. One of the reasons Cathy Massiter gave for leaving MI5 was that the job had changed, she said it had become more political. She added that the role of MI5 had changed from counter-espionage to domestic surveillance.”

No doubt this is true. As the Cold War subsided the security forces turned inwards. ‘The Enemy Within’ became the focus of attention.

But Martin observes the SNP leadership at the time of the coronation: “How captured the SNP has become was encapsulated for me in the final letter Nicola Sturgeon wrote as First Minister of Scotland. It was a letter of resignation to the English King, Charles III. The final sentence of the letter, just above Nicola Sturgeon’s signature, read: ‘I have the honour to be, Sir, Your Majesty’s humble and obedient servant’.

“No-one who sees Scotland as a progressive, potentially independent country, could have signed their name to such a grovelling letter to the pinnacle of the English/British establishment. To also see Nicola and then Humza Yousaf bow their heads to the English King confirmed the total capture of the SNP by the British State.” He concludes: “The SNP is completely compromised, it has been captured and controlled by the British State.”

Clearly this is deranged but has become part of the narrative of the fringe of the movement.

Native Shore can be read as an enjoyable political thriller, but the question remains is it Fiction or Non-Fiction? The problem is not to identify the covert operations of the British state, or to be alert to disinformation propaganda and black ops. The problem is if you assert that the reason for failure in 2014 (or today) is down to the security services. This gets you onto dodgy ground because you cede agency and give-up responsibility. You literally make yourself powerless.

Without giving too much away the black ops SNLA campaign goes horribly wrong and Native Shore reaches a political crescendo imagining a fully-fledged Holyrood-based Easter Proclamation for Scotland. In a sense the political imaginings are more interesting than the security stuff and the reason the book is elevated from a thriller to a book of politics. It reminded me of Alasdair Gray’s line about ‘imagining Glasgow’ in Lanark: “Glasgow is a magnificent city,” said McAlpin. “Why do we hardly ever notice that?”

“Because nobody imagines living here…think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.”

Imagining real independence, imagining real radical politicians and real radical movements is an important act. Imagine living there.





Comments (37)

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  1. mark williamson says:

    Great read, page turner but concentration needed as so much going on. Felt I was back in Glasgow at times as so descriptive.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    As I may have mentioned before, drafting treason legislation will be crucial in facilitating a path to Scottish independence. Less ‘off with their heads’ but enforcing swift, efficient and just expulsions of agents and assets to the nations and corporate HQs of their pay- or puppet-masters. British imperial treason legislation, to the monarch rather than nation, people or living planet, is foul, absurd and grossly defective. Anglo-British secret services are far from the only group of concern. I wonder how many authors at the Edinburgh Book Festival have been CIA assets, for example, like their tool, the poet Stephen Spender.

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    The misinformation and lying of the Tory vermin is reaching new heights. Lies, smokescreens and the fascist vote are all they have left.
    Today we’ve got health secretary Barclay offering to “treat Scottish & Welsh patients in England” as if there’s nothing wrong down there.
    In Scotland the NHS waiting list is 625,000 (11.3% of the population), In England the NHS waiting list is 7.6 million (13.44% of population). Waiting lists are 19% higher in England and that will only get worse due to the strikes in England.

    Independence related articles on MSN since referendum date announced
    Anti-Neutral-Pro = 610-19-22

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      From STV News website. “New radiotherapy unit ‘game-changer’ for treating children with cancer.”
      [A national radiotherapy service described as ‘a total gamechanger’ has treated more young cancer patients in 12 months than was predicted in its first five years. The molecular radiotherapy suite opened at the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow following the multi-million-pound renovation of the Schiehallion unit. It is one of three centres in the UK delivering specialist treatment and the only one in a dedicated children’s hospital.
      Dr Diana McIntosh, consultant paediatric oncologist said: “When I first started seeing children with neuroblastoma 16 years ago, we weren’t able to offer treatment like this. “There were very few, if any, children who survived. MIBG radiotherapy is a world class treatment that we can offer in Scotland, in addition to all the other therapies, is a complete gamechanger. “We can only offer this targeted treatment to young people with relapsed neuroblastoma or where the conventional treatments like chemotherapy have not worked but this might potentially change in the future.”
      Bashaar Nafiu is the youngest patient so far to be treated in the suite. The four-year-old travelled with his family from Southampton to Glasgow for two rounds of MIBG therapy.]

    2. Tom Ultuous says:

      Doctors in Scotland have carried out a record number of heart transplants in the past year.
      Medics at the Scottish National Advanced Heart Failure Service (SNAHFS) at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank carried out 40 of the procedures in the year 2022-23.
      The previous record was 34 in a single year, recorded before the service moved to the Clydebank-based hospital in 1995-96.
      The Scottish Government said the advancements in technology and technique, as well as the change to an opt-out system for organ donation, had led to doctors being able to transplant hearts after the circulatory death of the donor, increasing the number of organs that can be used to save lives and increasing the 90-day survival rate to 95%.

    3. Tom Ultuous says:

      Scots robo surgeon eradicates waiting list for treatment at busy NHS hospital
      Around 400 patients have undergone robotic-assisted surgery since the technology was first introduced at the end of 2021 at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.
      A health board eradicated a waiting list for prostate cancer surgery – by using robots. NHS Tayside currently has no patients waiting for a prostate cancer op, and recorded the highest number of procedures using a single robot in Scotland.
      Around 400 patients have undergone robotic-assisted surgery since the technology was first introduced at the end of 2021 at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. As well as being used in prostate cancer surgery, it has been used to perform complex procedures in colorectal, upper gastrointestinal, urology, gynaecology and ear nose and throat specialities.

    4. Tom Ultuous says:

      Looking at the state of the NHS in England (strikes, charity Dental vans, waiting lists off the scale, record A&E waiting times) we can only be thankful we had the capable Humza Yousef in charge of our health service to alleviate the misery caused by Westminster’s lack of funding.
      Governance of the Scottish NHS is devolved, funding is not. Under the Barnett Formula the Scottish govt receive a percentage of what the English NHS receive. Since the Tories are privatising the English NHS by stealth that funding is being eroded.
      Despite that, the Scottish NHS receives more per-capita than elsewhere in the UK due to Scottish govt top-up.
      Scotland spends less than 1% of what the English NHS spends on private services.
      Staff are the best (or least bad) paid in the UK and the English NHS staff are striking because the Tories refuse to match the Scottish pay offers. Staff shortages have been compounded by Tory immigration policies.
      Scotland has 76 GPs per 100,000 people, compared to a national UK average of 60.
      Scotland also has more qualified nurses and midwives per 1,000 population than the UK, with 8.1 per 1,000 recorded in Scotland compared to 7.9 in the UK as a whole.
      Scotland’s NHS also provides 4.2 hospital beds per 1,000 of the population, while the UK as a whole only has 2.6 beds per 1,000. This is one of the worst bed-to-population rates in the OECD, placing the UK 30th place out of 35. Were Scotland an independent OECD country in 2015, it would have taken 19th place out of 36 in terms of beds-to-population.
      England’s Test & Trace system cost £30 billion almost 400 times what Scotland’s T&T cost (£83 mill).

  4. Joe Middleton says:

    It was a letter of resignation to the English King, Charles III. The final sentence of the letter, just above Nicola Sturgeon’s signature, read: ‘I have the honour to be, Sir, Your Majesty’s humble and obedient servant’.

    Unfortunately if you write an official letter to the king you have to abide by official protocol. That grovelling ending will have been dictated by civil servants and has zero to do with Nicola Sturgeon’s political convictions. Campbell Martin is an educated man and he should know better and repeating his rubbish in a review of a book doesn’t enhance the article writer’s credibility either.

    1. Hi Joe – I didn’t intend to endorse Martin’s views which are clearly deeply deluded

  5. Derek Thomson says:

    I’m hoping that someone can help me here. In the days after the referendum in 2014, there was a front page in either the Scotsman or the Herald which featured the SNLA having captured the young son of a prominent businessman and were threatening to kill him unless Scottish independence was granted. There was an accompanying photograph. Does anyone remember this? I know I’m not making it up, I remember being horrified at the time, as it was clearly hogwash, but I wondered why on earth they were doing it. After all, they won, didn’t they?

    1. 230814 says:

      I don’t remember it, and I can’t find any trace of the article. It’s clearly been erased from the newspapers’ archives. The Elders of the Union have the power to do that, you know.

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        I don’t know anything about the Elders of the Union. I assume you’re being sarcastic. I’ve had my integrity regarding remembered photographs questioned on this site before. I do not tell lies and my memory is clear.

        1. 230814 says:

          And yet there’s no evidence of the article of which you have a clear memory. Where has that evidence gone?

          The Elders of the Union is a conspiracy of politicians, business people, and media commentators, which met in the Old Calton Burial Ground in 2014 to thwart a ‘Yes’ vote in the forthcoming referendum on whether or not Scotland should be an independent country. The meeting is documented in The Protocols of the Elders of the Union, of which I have a clear memory, but which the Elders have since erased all record.

          1. Derek Thomson says:

            I’ll leave you, as I must (I really, really must) with a quote from the estimable Irvine Welsh – “naebody likes a smart cunt”.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Derek Thomson, if it was published online, you can check the captures at the Wayback Machine of the Web Archive. Here are the ones for the Herald during 2014:*/
      The pages can take a little while to load.

      Pages can indeed be removed from the indexes of search engines, this was openly enabled under ‘right to be forgotten’ legislation. I don’t know if it applies to archives.

      Another approach would be to contact an Independent person or organisation who takes systematic cuttings from the printed versions. In a slightly bizarre section of a documentary, someone who clipped articles from the royal court circular was approached by the royal authorities who apparently don’t bother keeping their own archive. Presumably academic media studies groups do this kind of work.

      It helps that this was a front-page story, since front page thumbnails are often captured by various news sites (the BBC has a record of newspaper front pages, for example, but their online collection only goes back to 2020-11-01 and doesn’t seem to include Scottish titles).

      If you are really desperate, look for a source which used newspapers as packing, wrapping, stain protection etc. over the period of interest.

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        I’m not desperate in any way, shape or form. I threw out a question that was relevant to the thread in all innocence. The result has been that I have been patronised, and my integrity questioned in a sleekit manner. I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition, but no-one does.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Derek Thomson, you asked for help, I tried to provide it. I even checked about a week’s worth of Herald web-captures to see if I could find your story. Which was going a little above and beyond. I tried to address some of the silly points of your interlocutor with facts. I used ‘desperate’ as a shortcut to mean if all other avenues had failed. If you don’t actually want help, I suggest you don’t ask for it.

    3. SleepingDog says:

      @Derek Thomson, you might also find what you are looking for in a library archive, although I couldn’t tell if those papers are in the NLS collection.

    4. SleepingDog says:

      @Derek Thomson, here is Google’s overview on Right to be Forgotten:
      I think that would only apply if you were searching on the personal name of a subject of an online article. Of course, there could be many less well-known practices of search delisting. If a page was taken down, Google’s cache would generally still have a copy for a short period of time. From the information provided, I guess that established hoaxes could meet the criteria for removal.

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        SD, I’ve no wish to start (or indeed continue) an argument, but I made it clear that I was asking if anyone remembered it, as I clearly did. It would have been a newspaper (not online) as most of the news I consumed (urgh) at that time wasn’t online. I appreciate your digging, but there seems to be an element of “I’ve looked online and it’s not there, so it can’t have happened”. This is an error. If some sharp mind hadn’t screengrabbed the BBC’s laughable (although it’s not funny)claim near the vote in 2014 that Scotland would be “without oil and gas in the next 5 years” there’s every chance that no-one would have been able to find that online either.

        1. 230815 says:

          /r/GlobalPowers is a realistic and diplomacy-focused spin on the nation-state text role-playing genre. Its community simulates plausible futures.

          In 2014, the community hosted the following ‘event’:

          Scottish National Liberation Army emerges!

          July 31st –

          Following four months of no response from the English government after demands from the Scottish National Party, the former terrorist group – the Scottish National Liberation Army, has begun firebombing the borders between England and Scotland, armed with weapons, and making malicious cheers. This is the first time in many years the Scottish National Liberation Army, or the SNLA, has made an appearance. Reportedly led by Adam Busby Jr., son of Adam Busby Sr., founder of the terrorist organisation, Mr. Busby has declared the English government ‘tyrants and thieves’ and declared that Scotland must secede from the United Kingdom.

          In Edinburgh, First Minister Stewart Hosie made no comment. Throughout the capital, armed gunman were seen walking the streets, and the city has been put under unofficial curfew. It is unclear what the First Minister plans to do, or how the UK will react.

          August 2nd –

          Adam Busby Jr.’s militant terrorist group’s area of control expands to the entirety of southern Scotland, with still no sign of police attack or a comment from the First Minister. Leaked reports appear to indicate Mr. Hosie is supportive of the group, but unaffiliated.

          August 4th –

          Four members of the Scottish Government deemed ‘Supportive of the Crown’ by the Scottish National Liberation Army have been kidnapped and are being held hostage in an unknown area. Following the kidnappings, SNLA leader Adam Busby Jr. released a short YouTube video, entitled ‘A Message to the English Government’. The video takes place in a dark, grey room, with four men chained to the ground with bags over their heads. Two armed gunmen are seen in the background, and Adam Busby Jr. is seen directly on camera. Below, a transcript of the short film.

          ‘Greetings, foul government of the English Crown. I am Adam Busby Jr., son of Adam Busby Sr., founder of the Scottish National Liberation Army. Since the death of my father last year, I have swelled with rage with my fellow countryman – and I made a promise. I promised to fulfil the goal he never could – bring about a free Scotland.”

          Adam Busby Jr. pauses to walk to the four prisoners, ripping off the masks of each four to reveal their identities. Two MSPs, the UK Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Chief Constable of Police Scotland. He holds a gun to the head of one of the MSPs and pulls the trigger. A scream fills the room, but then suddenly… Click. No bullet. He smiles, and walks back to the camera, all four men alive.

          “You have forty-eight hours to respond, Prime Minister Sewage. I kill one man every two days. It would be a shame to watch these family men die.”

          With that, the video ends, and Scotland watches in shock. Yet, from Bute House, there is only silence.

        2. SleepingDog says:

          @Derek Thomson, I agree with you. Online material can be removed and suppressed. Archives can be tampered with, and whole tranches of records destroyed or lost or kept in protective limbo. One of the reasons I haven’t switched to electronic texts is that they can be retrospectively and remotely edited without notice. Copies of mass-printed publications can escape mass pulping, selective destruction, indifference or the ravages of time in various ways. I’ve given an example recently, of Blackhearted Press’ Royal Descent comic series. Pity I no longer have any copies of those, but my memory of reading them is clear.

        3. 230815 says:

          One of Nietzsche’s great insights was that both remembering and forgetting are motivated and affective rather than passive acts. We tend to recall things that it suits our purposes to recall and to delete things that it suits our purposes to forget. Moreover, we never recall what actually happened; in recalling events, we spin them in ways that confirm what we need to believe in pursuit of our present projects.

          Those who are inspired by mantras like ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Be the Nation Again’ tend to have little patience for the niceties of truth, context, and nuance. Such delusional hope in the recurrence of ‘a better time’ is often accompanied by a disposition to accept as true (‘remember’ or ‘recall’) any recollection that confirms and/or serves that hope and to reject as false (‘forget’ or ‘delete’ or ‘cancel’) any recollection that doesn’t. That’s why millions of US citizens have a clear and sincere recollection of Donald Trump winning the US presidential election in 2020. That’s why millions of UK citizens commemorate events in ways that would forge and reinvigorate bonds between neighbours and generations in their imaginary communities or ‘nations’, but which always threaten to descend into an all-consuming nostalgia. That’s why hundreds of thousands of Scottish citizens like yourself nurse grudges and grievances against ‘the auld enemy’ that confirm their self-image as victims of an ‘Other’ rather than as agents of their own destiny, which is the real Scottish cringe.

          Maybe, out of a desire to denigrate ‘the auld enemy’ and to transfer responsibility for the injustices you suffer to this ‘Other’, you’ve unknowingly and unwittingly generated a false memory.

          1. Derek Thomson says:

            No. Patronising horseshit. I know what I saw.

          2. 230816 says:

            The subjective certainty of a memory is no reliable indicator of its objective veracity. I remember fondly and with certainty the long, hot summers of my youth. But the meteorological records show that it was mostly raining.

          3. Derek Thomson says:

            I know Mike will eventually censor my comments and I know I shouldn’t resort to bad language, but go fuck yourself, troll.

  6. Stephen O'Hanlon says:

    It is interesting that most of the comments above don’t actually address the real issues that this Novel seeks to address. I’m the single son of Irish parents that were forced to emigrate to london in the 1950’s. I’m not, and never have been, Scottish or a resident in Glasgow.
    For me the strongest story I recognised in these pages was the antipathy, of some, towards those of us with an Irish background. Not to mention the lengths the Govt in London will go to to demonise us.
    It is interesting that the review doesn’t mention that one of the central characters, Gerry, is actually a Glaswegian who has returned to that place where his parents came from originally. That’s not a criticism, just an observation.
    Anyway, it’s an excellent review which begs another question – why are Bella Caledonia the only publication in Scotland to actually review it so far?

    1. Derek Thomson says:

      Perhaps because it’s arguably the worst book ever committed to print? Mike, this site gets a mention in this abomination – is that why you reviewed it more or less favourably? Truman Capote said of Kerouac’s On the Road – “that’s not writing, that’s typing”. This is not even typing. I’m astonished at the grotesque misogyny on display in this book, but it’s the writing itself, it’s atrocious on every level. I’m sorry to offend other folks on here who have enjoyed the book, but be warned, if anyone comes back on this, I’ll start quoting things from the book. It’s a travesty. Go on, defend it’s literary merits. I dare you.

  7. Felicity McCall says:

    Compelling narrative , utterly believable characters especially the protagonist, and the fine writing style expected from a respected veteran journalist who knows and lives his subject . An ominous case one suspects if fiction being very close to a hidden and sinister truth . film/ TV to do it justice , please, if there are courageous fiunders out there …

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      If you haven’t seen Six Four get it on ITV player. Similar subject.

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        Thanks for that Tom. I remember a brilliant TV series called Brond, which also featured James Cosmo and a brilliant performance by Stratford Johns – this was in the 80s. Similar subject matter.

        1. Tom Ultuous says:

          I seen it Derek. A young John Hannah as well.

          1. Derek Thomson says:

            That’s the one! Couldn’t remember his name. Great performance from him too.

        2. SleepingDog says:

          @Derek Thomson, I read the novel too, Brond, by Frederic Lindsay, but too long ago to recommend it. Was it a bit different from the television series? I seem to remember a key difference, but anyway.

          1. Derek Thomson says:

            I read it too, after the TV series, and I thought the same, that there was a difference (not that’s there’s anything unusual in that.) There was more exploration of the nature of the politics in the book I seem to remember, whereas the tv programme presented it as more of a thriller with a bit of politics on the side. Subjective, of course.

  8. Michael Kearns says:

    A really captivating read. Being Irish and having relations in Donegal who have sought employment in Glasgow I have first hand experience of the worldview of the lead character, the cultural complexity of being Irish in Glasgow, the struggle for equality in Britain and their connection with the homeland. The desperation with which the British establishments continues to seek to cling to the status quo (self perceived rulers of the waves) has led it to implement the use of many forms of the dark arts of statecraft throughout the years and renders the narrative of the book adequate credibility. As well as being an edge of the seat thriller, the book subtly details the reasons for the intellectual decline and geographical dissemination of the British empire. As was the case with BoJo, Brexit etc. the jokes between the action put a smile on this Irishman’s face. The book is as entertaining as it is commensurate with the times we live in.

  9. Oliver Shilton says:

    I read this book last year, having enjoyed what might be called the prequel, The Squad. Both books are standalone and main character Gerry O’Donnell gets a deserved book to himself here. I was quite surprised he isn’t mentioned in this review! Gerry is the embodiment of the alienation of an entire community, and underpins the book’s strapline on the back cover “home”. Crucially, he brings another eye to the Scottish constitutional issue, as an Irish Republican more at home in Donegal, despite his Glaswegian upbringing. Neither is there mention of his wife Maria, a Colombian in love with Outlander Scotland with an amusing fetish for men in kilts, which Gerry reluctantly goes along with; part of the humour and warmth at both ends of the story. I agree with the review, the action reaches a crescendo in a true Forsythian mould, and the entire story is resolved beautifully. The author leaves the door open for Gerry O’Donnell to have further adventures as a sort of IRA George Smiley, in gentle retirement but still possessing a potent mind that can be called on by ex-comrades and new friends alike. It’s worth adding the strength of these characters, as the review here seems to focus only on the plot and reality comparison, rather than a character-driven work of entertaining fiction that nevertheless leaves the reader thinking.

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