Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of turning a blind eye to a “direct funnel of money and influence” from the Kremlin into the SNP amid growing controversy over Alex Salmond’s contentious show on state-funded broadcaster Russia Today (RT).
Opposition parties have demanded action over the position of former MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh on the SNP national executive committee at the same time as she produces and co-presents the Alex Salmond Show on RT.
Senior SNP figures voiced their disquiet after Mr Salmond defiantly rejected calls to end his association with the Russian broadcaster in the wake of the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, telling his critics: “I say what I want.”
RT, branded a propaganda tool for Vladimir Putin’s government, has questioned Theresa May’s claim that Moscow is “culpable” for the attempted murder of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
One SNP MP told The Scotsman that party members had the right to feel “resentful” over the way the former first minister has undermined Ms Sturgeon’s response to the Salisbury attack.
In a swipe at party colleagues who have appeared on RT, such as MP Douglas Chapman and MSP James Dornan, they added: “No serious politicians appear on RT. That should tell you something.”
Ms Ahmed-Sheikh is an elected office-holder of the SNP, serving as national women’s and equalities convener, a position that gives her a place on the party’s ruling body.
Ms Sturgeon was accused of hypocrisy after she used First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood to attack Ruth Davidson over donations to the Conservative Party from wealthy Russian nationals.
Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden said: “The SNP might like to manufacture outrage about donations from people who happen to be Russian. Yet at the same time a key decision-maker on their NEC is directly employed by Russia’s state broadcaster.
“That’s a direct funnel of money and influence going from the Kremlin straight into the SNP.”
An SNP spokesperson said: “The Tories accepted £20,000 from a Vladimir Putin crony to dine with Ruth Davidson – the hypocrisy is breathtaking.”
Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton has lodged a motion at Holyrood calling on all groups and individuals in public life “end any commercial relationships with Russian state-backed media outlets”.
“Nicola Sturgeon has rightly warned that Russia’s actions cannot be tolerated,” Mr Cole-Hamilton said.
“She and the wider public will doubtless be concerned that a conflict exists between Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh’s role as a member of the SNP national executive and her paid commerical relationship with RT.
“The SNP should consider whether this is appropriate for a member of their governing body.”
Yesterday former SNP candidate Gordon Guthrie called on Mr Salmond to quit RT, writing in an open letter posted online: “In the name of your legacy, and your reputation, you need to shift to the right side of that line.”
Answering the mounting pressure to quit RT, Mr Salmond said there was not “conclusive evidence” the Russian state was behind the poisoning.
On yesterday’s edition of his show, he said the Salisbury poisoning was a “heinous crime” that should be “universally condemned”, but expressed sympathy with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion that more evidence was required to link the attack to Russia.
Mr Salmond said: “To succeed, the evidence has to be overwhelming and the case cast iron – as the leader of the opposition correctly pointed out to the PM.
“He didn’t get much support for making that point in the House of Commons but that doesn’t make him wrong.”
He added: “I host this independently-produced television show, which is broadcast on RT International.
“Within the broadcasting laws that normally pertain to this country, I can say what I like about any issue and so can any one of my interviewed guests. Not a single one of them has complained about being silenced because not a single one of them has been.
“I hold no brief from the Kremlin, nor am I required to have. No-one has tried to influence the content of this show in any way, shape or form whatsoever.”
Mr Salmond said RT could not be a “propaganda station” because it is regulated by Ofcom.
The watchdog has said that it will carry out an urgent review of whether RT is fit and proper to hold a UK broadcast licence in light of the accusations against Russia.
Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman said calls to ban RT were neither “liberal” nor “democratic”. When faced with calls for Ms Sturgeon to condemn Mr Salmond’s link to RT, the spokesman would go no further than referring back to remarks made by the First Minister when it first became known that Mr Salmond was hosting a show on RT.
At the time, Ms Sturgeon said she would have advised Mr Salmond against appearing on the channel.