Russia shows 'interest' in Scottish independence debate, says defence minister

Russia is “taking interest” in the fevered online Scottish independence as part of its push to “magnify division” in nationalist debates across Europe, the UK defence minister has said.

Ben Wallace also said an independent Scotland would be more vulnerable from terrorism due to the potential lack of intelligence that would come with being a separate country to the rest of the UK.

Last year, an official report by MPs into the scale of Russian interference found the Kremlin attempted to influence the 2014 independence referendum, labelling it “potentially the first post-Soviet Russian interference in a Western democratic process".

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Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Scotland would be more vulnerable if it was independent.

Asked whether there was evidence of Russian interference in the online independence debate today, Mr Wallace – who served in Holyrood as an MSP for four years between 1999 and 2003 – said there was “definitely an interest”.

He said: “I think what we have seen is Russia and other nations taking interest to magnify division in nationalist debates around Europe, including Scotland.

"I can't talk about the here and now, but I could say there is definitely an interest, more than that.”

Rejecting the suggestion the UK Government might scrap the nuclear submarine programme Trident, Mr Wallace said removing the nuclear weapons from Faslane in the event of independence could see increased Russian aggression against an independent Scotland.

He said: “I would certainly say that Russia’s aggression doesn’t know any boundaries when it comes to whether a country is big or small.

"Russia certainly exploits vulnerabilities in smaller countries, I notice, if you look at its role in corrupting political systems or indeed trying to weaken countries such as the Baltic states. It will try everything it can to do so to spread division.

"If you ask it this way, would [Russian president Vladimir] Putin respect Scotland more because it did not have nuclear weapons? No, I don’t think so.

"It doesn’t have any track record of leaving alone countries without nuclear weapons. In fact, sometimes it is quite the opposite.”

One of the major backers of the removal of Trident from the shores of the Clyde is Alex Salmond’s Alba Party.

At its inaugural conference in Greenock, the former SNP leader’s new party passed a motion calling for the weapons to be removed from Scotland on the first day of an independent Scotland.

Asked if Mr Salmond’s decision to front a TV show on Russia Today, Mr Wallace said no-one had their credibility boosted by such a move.

He said: “The public know what Russia Today does and what it is and it is really for Alex to answer why he did it.

"When I was in the Scottish Parliament, Alex Salmond was a consummate politician and he was a big beast of Scottish politics. Just like Donald Dewar, he was deeply respected, he was always very kind and considerate to me as a new boy.

"I suppose I’ll put it this way, I don’t think Alex Salmond needed to do that to be honest, to go on Russia Today.

"No-one’s credibility is served by going on Russia Today.”

Mr Wallace said an independent Scotland would be more vulnerable to terrorism due to a comparative lack of intelligence, with Scotland potentially not being part of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance that includes the UK, USA, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Mr Wallace said: “Scotland would not benefit from the heft the UK can deliver in delivering counter-terrorism overseas and domestically – so the ability to have an intelligence service embassies around the world and the scale of the foreign office that you need to reach global terrorism, which of course has now spanned numerous countries, means that on your own you would be lesser and [less] able to, therefore, share intelligence.

“You probably wouldn’t benefit from the Five Eyes because you would have left the UK and you would have left the Five Eyes treaties and arrangements that have been in existence since the late 1940s and without intelligence you are definitely more vulnerable.”

Mr Wallace also labelled reports that three army barracks in Scotland may close as “bollocks”, saying the army is yet to state what it wants to change as part of its plans to implement the defence command paper.

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