But for one week in 1980, Inverness, Loch Ness and Skye were home to Stasi. While the hardiest caravanners and campers braved the climate to do a little roamin’ in the gloamin’ at Christmas time 23 years ago, senior figures in the feared East German secret police were working out how to gain a foothold in the nation’s academic elite.
Skye was chosen as the centre for the secret Cold War campaign to infiltrate Scotland’s brightest young things and recruit them into the ranks of the Stasi, it emerged last night.
A sensational new book lays bare the extent of the communist GDR’s attempts to gain access into the British establishment by trying to coax Scotland’s students into spying for them.
Anthony Glees, an intelligence expert from London’s Brunel University, has drawn on the enormous store of files left behind in Stasi headquarters when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, to draw up the most complete picture yet of the East Germans’ infiltration of Scottish academia during the height of the Cold War.
His revelations came as a Scots secretary admitted last night that she had spied for the Stasi for 12 years. Helen Anderson, from Arbroath, said she initially thought she was being recruited by anti-nuclear activists when she was approached while working in Berlin. But she soon fell in love with her Stasi handler.
Glees’s bookStasi Files details the remarkable extents to which students and lecturers were identified for their potential understanding of the communist bloc, targeted for recruitment or simply spied on because of their alleged ‘hostile’ attitudes.
Glees, who has exposed a series of establishment figures over the assistance they gave to the reviled regime of Erich Honecker - knowingly or otherwise - confirms that Edinburgh University was the centre of Stasi interest.
His account of the activities of Edinburgh student Robin Pearson, from his recruitment in 1978 to his eventual exposure while working as a lecturer in Hull 21 years later, reveals an unprecedented list of names and locations that show Scotland was a key target for penetration by Stasi leaders.
Pearson, who was sent to Leipzig on a student scheme supported by Edinburgh academic Karin McPherson, was swiftly recruited and became ‘Armin’ - a spy intended to be a "long-term penetration agent". He maintained a long-term connection with his handler, ‘Gerd’, who gave him lists of people to target, and received a steady stream of information on the activities of several individuals in return.
His first task, in summer 1978, involved "collecting information to provide insights into the motives, the course and the purpose of the UK’s policy of contacts with the GDR". He was told to investigate a list of academics, including "Michael Humble at St Andrews... Dr Tomaner at Aberdeen… Dr Mitchell at Stirling and Dr Jurgen Tomanek at Aberdeen", and to provide a list of all students and lecturers he knew with links to the GDR.
Barely three months later, he returned to East Berlin and delighted his new chiefs with a host of information.
Pearson, who was told to look for students who "were pursuing convert aims", later informed his handlers that former room-mate and fellow student Graham Watson, then deputy secretary of the Young Scottish Liberals, was "particularly worth looking at closely".
Watson, who went on to become an aide to David Steel and is now a Lib Dem MEP, has consistently demanded government action against alleged traitors since the first significant leaks began seeping from the Stasi archives through Glees’ research four years ago.
Watson said he was never approached at the time, but that he was when he worked for former Liberal leader Steel at Westminster during 1986-87.
"Clearly the government ought to consider prosecuting those who have been involved in treachery," he added.
Glees’ latest revelations reopen a long-running row over the extent of spying activity in Scotland during the Cold War. Professor John Erickson, former head of Edinburgh University’s Centre for Defence Studies, claimed the institution was "riddled" with spies in the 1970s.
Former Edinburgh student David Robb also told how he had been targeted for recruitment during a visit to East Germany in the 1980s, and how a friend later admitted that he had been informing on him.
Robb balked at claims that one in 10 of the students sent to Leipzig ended up as informants, and he defended McPherson's role in the scheme.
"Karin McPherson’s role was unimpeachable," he said. "She was a cultural facilitator, highly respected among all the students."
But Glees, who maintained that the recruits were "arguably put in harm’s way by tutors who came close to procuring recruits for the Stasi", was less charitable, after he uncovered a series of references to McPherson in the Stasi files.
The lecturer, who taught German, was described by the Stasi as "a progressive scholar, closely linked to us". She has been criticised for her "naivete" in co-operating with the Leipzig scheme.
The book has already caused a furore over Glees’ allegation that Liberal peer Lord Roper was an "agent of influence" for the Stasi - a claim strenuously denied by Roper.
Pearson, who maintained his contacts with Gerd until the dying days of the Honecker empire, left Edinburgh when he graduated, but not before he had treated his German minder to a tour around Scotland's most beautiful sites.
The ‘treff’, or rendezvous with a valued agent is lovingly recalled by the Stasi headquarters in Berlin in Pearson’s bulging files at the Stasi headquarters in Berlin.
"It was decided that the next treff should be in Scotland and the Stasi decided that Gerd and Pearson should then go on holiday together," Glees explained.
"In December 1980, a treff took place in Scotland, taking in Edinburgh, Inverness, Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye. As it was [Pearson’s] birthday, Gerd would bring him a gift from the ‘Centre’ (Stasi headquarters)."