1 9 7 3 (UK)
5 x 45 minute episodes
This five-part BBC1 series was based on a 1971 novel by Douglas Hurd (then political secretary to Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath) and Andrew Osmond (one of the founders of Private Eye).
Set in Scotland in the near future (the early 1970s), the Scottish National Party (SNP) is emerging as a serious force for Scottish independence. A paramilitary organisation – the Scottish Liberation Army (SLA) – is operating on the fringes of the SNP.
Pro-establishment MI5 agent Graham Hart (Peter Cellier) and Chief Inspector Rennie of the Glasgow CID (Gerry Slevin) manage to covertly insert a demolition expert named MacNair (Bill Simpson) into the SLA.
Hart is trying to prove that John Mackie (John Cairney) – an SNP MP with socialist leanings – is involved with the SLA, while Rennie wants to arrest a vicious criminal named Brodie (Maurice Roëves) who is organising Glasgow youth gangs for the SLA.
They also hope MacNair can identify the SLA leader, a shadowy figure called “An Ceannard”.
A British general election takes place, resulting in a hung parliament, with the SNP failing to win an absolute majority of Scottish seats.
Mackie’s girlfriend Susan (“Sukey”) Dunmayne (Maria Aitken) – the daughter of a laird – briefs an SLA section in Stirling, consisting mainly of students and commanded by effete lecturer Donald Levi (Paul Whitsun-Jones) to act against any deal between James Henderson (Leonard Maguire), the moderate leader of the SNP, and the sitting Conservative Prime Minister Patrick Harvey (Anthony Nicholls).
A plan to kidnap SNP delegates is reported to the authorities by MacNair. The students are arrested, except one who is armed and is shot by soldiers led by notorious British Army hard-liner Colonel Cameron (Clinton Greyn).
Brodie discovers a paper trail left by Hart’s clumsy attempt to establish a cover story for MacNair’s past.
He, Sukey and Donald Levi then kidnap MacNair and take him to a castle in the Highlands where the SLA keep much of their arsenal.
Under duress, MacNair uses his expertise to carry out some demolitions.
Meanwhile, Henderson and Harvey have thrashed out a deal at Hexham, making several concessions to Scotland but stopping short of independence.
When the SNP meet to ratify the deal, Henderson is surprised that Mackie’s militant wing of the party is prepared to support it in return only for a letter from Henderson, which states that the SNP remains committed to obtaining independence for Scotland by any means.
At the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool, Mackie deliberately shows this letter to Anglo-Scottish Tory grandee Lord Thorganby (Cyril Luckham).
Although semi-retired, Thorganby still has influence, and when he reads out Mackie’s letter in front of the delegates, he thwarts any possibility of the Conservatives ratifying the deal worked out at Hexham.
As a publicity stunt, Brodie kidnaps the ineffectual Secretary of State for Scotland, George Scullard (Leon Sinden), but the kidnapping goes wrong, and Scullard is drowned.
Forced to reverse his policy on Scotland, Harvey appoints Thorganby to be the new Scottish Secretary.
Having belatedly discovered the link between Mackie and Sukey Dunmayne, MI5 sends Hart to France to investigate possible links between Sukey and French Communist Party leader Serge Bucholz (Leslie Glazer). Hart is betrayed by French security officials and is shot dead from a passing car.
Donald Levi tries to emigrate to Cuba via France but is forced to return to Scotland with a letter from Bucholz for Sukey. MacNair sees him pass the letter to SLA section leader Robert Duguid (Bill Henderson).
Following Thorganby’s appointment – and the promise of a hard line being taken with pro-independence agitation – Mackie decides that the time is right for the SLA to launch an armed insurrection.
Sukey takes Thorganby prisoner while he is on a brief walking holiday in the Highlands, and the SLA seizes Fort William while several Scottish units of the British Army defect to the SLA. Mackie openly joins the insurrection.
MacNair prepares the bridge at Ballachulish for demolition to forestall any counter-attack. Left alone briefly, he stuns Duguid and snatches Bucholz’s letter. Brodie seriously wounds him with a knife, but he breaks free.
Brodie then blows up the Ballachulish bridge to stop him, causing many SLA casualties.
Thorganby is stunned to discover that “An Ceannard” is in fact, Colonel Cameron.
Cameron believes that Scotland will become a nation only if blood is shed in a war of liberation. He forces Thorganby to walk to English lines in his pyjamas in full view of the press and TV cameras to ensure maximum humiliation and publicity.
The SLA then begins to advance south through Argyll.
In London, the Cabinet is prepared to capitulate, with Thorganby especially despondent.
But Brodie has deserted and takes Bucholz’s letter to London. He expects a reward, but Rennie arrests him for the murder of MacNair, whose body has been found under the ruined Ballachulish Bridge.
Prime Minister Harvey uses Bucholz’s letter to sway the Cabinet into decisive action. He then reads selected parts of the letter on television, stating that the avowed aim of Bucholz and Mackie was to establish a socialist dictatorship in Scotland.
When Cameron hears the broadcast, he forces Mackie to flee rather than face retribution.
The broadcast also induces many recent recruits to desert the SLA, taking advantage of an amnesty announced by Harvey.
Henderson has already disavowed the SLA, and he and Harvey negotiate a limited form of independence for Scotland.
The SLA tries to retreat into the Western Highlands but is defeated and scattered by an air assault. Cameron takes to the hills as a fugitive.
Two months later, an independence ceremony is held in Edinburgh.
Thorganby has died of pneumonia, Mackie and Bucholz have fled to the Soviet Union, while Sukey Dunmayne – who has been granted an amnesty – has given birth to Mackie’s child.
Cameron makes a sensational appearance at the ceremony and tries to hoist the Scottish flag. When the flag party tries to arrest him, he commits suicide, stabbing himself with a ceremonial Sgian Dubh.
The series was considered quite controversial and became the object of a running campaign and formal complaint by the Scottish National Party, who said it impugned the party.
Their complaint fell under four headings: 1. that the Scottish National Party is shown as having elements in it favouring violence for political ends, 2. that the Scottish National Party is shown as having extreme left-wing associations, 3. that the series suggests a link between the Scottish National Party and extremist groups or organisations deriving funds from foreign countries, 4. that the series constitutes propaganda against the Party calculated to damage the Party’s electoral prospects.
The BBC Programmes Complaints Commission upheld the complaint, and the BBC promised never to show it again, committing to erase the master tapes.
It was discovered in 2012 that the series had not been wiped and that the tapes are held in the archives of BBC Scotland.
Chief Inspector Rennie
Chief Constable Blair