ROGUE NATION Alan Clements Mainstream, £9.99
IT'S 2014. The Tories are running the UK, having won the election in 2010. An SNP government is re-elected in 2011. They hold a referendum on independence, and Scottish hostility to the Tories generates a yes vote. Alex Salmond and Michael Russell's less-than-secret plan? No, it's the opening of Alan Clements' excellent thriller Rogue Nation.
The novel opens on 2 May, 2014, the morning after the Scottish people have voted by the slimmest of margins – 2,000 votes – to leave the United Kingdom. We are introduced to the main characters as they react to the news. Nick Jones, the modernising Tory prime minister, accepts the people's verdict and pledges a swift move to a "velvet divorce". Todd Macfarlane, the new Republican president who had consigned Obama to one term, ponders the impact on the US of losing the nuclear base at Faslane. Sammy Wilson, ultra-unionist hard man from Dennistoun, denounces yet one more betrayal of the loyalist working-class. George Wallace, senior special adviser to Ross Johnston, Scotland's SNP First Minister, with a hangover and too little sleep, starts to plan that morning's press briefing. And president Igor Churov of the Russian Federation calls on his top British specialist to initiate "Operation Braveheart".
Clements economically establishes these characters and then the story unfolds over the days until 31 July – Independence Day – with an utterly credible inevitability. As Scotland heads for a quick separation from Britain the threat of a run on the Scottish pound becomes clear. Who has the wealth to underpin this small economy? The UK – but they're not playing. The US – but they see an ally becoming a neutral country. Step forward the Russian Federation. Only too happy to use the newfound wealth generated by their oil, gas and minerals to support a small country from the depredations of the market. There's just one thing they'd like… Russian nuclear weapons at Faslane in place of Trident. And so a 21st-century Cuban crisis begins.
Of course, this is a thriller. Very little turns out as the reader anticipates. There are plot twists at every turn that manage to satisfy the reader without destroying the plausibility of the tale. It's quite a shock to realise this is Clements' first novel – the pace and cinematic quality of the scenes are worthy of a far more established writer.
At the centre of the book is George Wallace. And as someone who has been there, I can confirm he captures very well the relationship between the First Minister and his senior adviser. Wallace is a decent man attracted back to politics from a successful business when his close friend Ross Johnston reminds him of Schopenhauer's aphorism: "the first 40 years of life furnish the text, while the remaining 30 supply the commentary". This challenge, and the chance to change his country, bring him back to the game he loves so much. As the narrative drives on, Wallace finds that the ability to juggle facts and spin lines has not prepared him for the world of secrets and lies he enters. For all his political sophistication, he is an innocent abroad in the word of geo-politics.
This sense that Clements is writing about what he knows comes across in all the scenes. He is widely read, but wears his learning lightly with pithy and amusing quotations dropped into the writing throughout the book. He delivers the briskness that the genre requires. And he writes with enough definition to evoke clearly places and individuals but without the heavy-handed, over-written prose that substitutes quantity for quality – dumping brand-names and adjectives all over the page while neglecting the plot.
This switch-back page-turner is an instant Scottish classic. It supplants Scotch On The Rocks as the definitive thriller about independence. (Ironically, that novel was co-written by Douglas Hurd, at the time Edward Heath's political secretary, or senior special adviser). And it bears comparison with Chris Mullin's A Very British Coup. I hope three things for this novel. Firstly, that it appears on airport stands across the country – by which I mean the UK – and that it sells well. Secondly, that it is filmed as effectively as Hurd's and Mullin's books were in their time. This could be a new Scottish TV classic. And finally, above all, that every element of it remains fiction. v
John McTernan is special adviser to the Secretary of State for Scotland