Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Rogue Nation: Alan Clements, October 28—November 7, 2016
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
As topical political thrillers go, this turned out to be scarily close to the truth.
Written in 2009, Rogue Nation predicts a 2014 with a Tory majority, Republican president and victory for the Yes side in the Scottish independence referendum. Despite all three of those predictions turning out to be smack bang wrong, it’s a very recognisable world.
The book is set in the 100 days between the Yes vote and Scotland’s independence beginning. The First Minister and his advisor have to successfully manage diplomatic affairs between England, the USA and Russia. Naturally, edge-of-your-seat drama is not far behind.
Without giving away the plot, a medley of twists leave Holyrood with enormous ethical dilemmas. Before long, we’re talking war, assassination and terrorism. The most interesting question, though, is who is the bad guy? Is it Scotland, Russia or the States who are really the rogue nation? An argument can be put forward for each: you’ll change your mind, if you ever make it up.
The story is told mostly by George, the First Minister’s advisor and basically Alastair Campbell equivalent. He’s got his own family dramas, of course, and wants to do the right thing without making First Minister and long-time friend(?) Ross look like what us Scots call a bawbag. His moral struggle is very real and the game is extremely dangerous.
The First Minister, American President and Russian President all make devastating decisions that are ultimately the best for their own country, and have to spin them as being not horrific. Think Bush’s Iraq with bells on.
The first two-thirds up the ante constantly with new twists and layers, but once all the set pieces are revealed, there’s a bit of a lull until the denouement. But the lag is still enjoyable and it soon ramps up again.
If you started at the end, you’d think it melodramatic and insane, but reading from the start there can be no other way for it to unfold. It’s so terrifyingly plausible, and given that Clements is married to BBC Scotland newsreader Kirsty Work, it’s not surprising that there’s a realism to the story. There’s something chilling about reading a book set in the White House, Kremlin, Downing Street, BBC Scotland, Edinburgh Castle, Glasgow’s Argyle Street and Paisley’s Paisley Road West.
Rogue Nation is a tense and exciting exploration of what could have been and what could still be. The fragility of 21st century Western politics is laid bare, and one question is never really answered: how close are we to being a rogue nation?