UK must wise up to Russian election interference – leader comment

The full extent of Vladimir Putin’s attempts to influence the Scottish independence and Brexit referendums needs to be established, but his support for both movements should not cast doubt on the sincerity of their supporters.

Vladimir Putin's regime is hostile to the EU and Nato partly because of paranoia, according to a Commons' committee report (Picture: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

It is obvious that Vladimir Putin is in favour of both Scottish independence and Brexit. One would weaken the UK, a key Nato member, not least by raising questions about its nuclear submarine fleet based at Faslane, while the other has already weakened the European Union.

The Intelligence and Security Committee’s long-awaited report into the Putin regime’s interference in UK democracy says that Moscow’s attitude – “seemingly fed by paranoia” and the idea that Nato and the EU are “far more aggressive” towards Russia than they actually are – appeared to be “fundamentally nihilistic”, with anything that damages the West regarded as “good for Russia”.

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However, Putin’s motives are also obviously different to those of independence and Brexit supporters, who believe their causes will benefit the people of Scotland and the UK respectively. While it is embarrassing for both camps to have such an ill-intentioned ‘ally’, this should not be used to cast doubt on their sincerity.

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Nicola Sturgeon: UK government ‘negligent’ over Russian interference

With that in mind, it was good to hear that Nicola Sturgeon has “no objections” to the idea of an inquiry into Russian interference in the independence referendum and there should also be an inquiry into Moscow’s actions during the Brexit vote. The reason is simple. If the Russian state is actively trying to subvert democracy in the UK for its own ends, the public needs to know. We need to wise up, to learn how to spot disinformation.

The ISC report said it had tried to establish whether the UK had intelligence to support suggestions that “the preponderance of pro-Brexit or anti-EU stories on [media organisations] RT and Sputnik, and the use of ‘bots’ and ‘trolls’” was evidence the Russian government had attempted to influence the Brexit vote. It received a six-line reply from MI5 – a “brevity” that was “indicative of the extreme caution amongst the intelligence and security agencies at the thought that they might have any role in relation to the UK’s democratic processes”. Quite rightly, the ISC said this attitude was “illogical” as the security agencies must help to protect democracy from “hostile state interference”.

The pro-independence Scottish Government and the pro-Brexit Westminster Government must not allow the prospect of any embarrassing revelations being uncovered to get in the way of establishing the truth for all to see. Democracy is far too important.

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