IT has long been maintained by some members of the SNP that the security services have put prominent members of the party under surveillance in their attempts to preserve the British state.

Now it has emerged that these suspicions, which have always been dismissed as paranoia by Unionists, had a basis in fact for William Wolfe, the leader of the SNP in the 1970s. He was on a list of people who came under MI5 scrutiny in the 1960s because of their involvement with the Scotland-China Association (SCA).

The Times newspaper yesterday revealed that Wolfe and Whisky Galore author Sir Compton Mackenzie – a long-time campaigner for Scottish independence and co-founder of the SNP – were on a “list” obtained by MI5 after attention was turned to the SCA, which MI5 reportedly considered to be a potentially subversive.

Wolfe and Mackenzie were not the only ones on the list of sponsors. The radical poet Hamish Henderson, the then-Liberal MP David Steel, who is currently suspended from the party he once led, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lord Boyd Orr were all named in the files which have been put on display at the National Records Office in Kew, London.

According to The Times, the SCA was seen by MI5 as a possible front for Maoist activity.

A report marked secret stated: “You will be interested to see the composition of the SCA. I hope to let you have a summary of the information about those officials who are known to us. Meanwhile I shall be interested to know whether you have any overt information about them.”

MI5 held records on the four officers of the SCA, named as John Chinnery, the head of the Chinese department at the University of Edinburgh, Thomas Murray, the general secretary of the Scottish-USSR Society for Friendship and Co-operation, Elsie Collier and Marion Clegg.

Collier came under suspicion because her husband was involved in the pro-Communist Britain-China Friendship Association.

Even though SCA really was just about promoting friendship between Scotland and China, and still is, MI5 maintained their suspicions for years.

The Observer revealed in 1985 that the highly respected journalist Isabel Hilton had been refused a job with the BBC in 1976 because MI5 vetoed her as a result of earlier membership of the SCA.