Scottish independence vote should have sounded alarm on Russia – report

The UK Government should have been aware of the risk from Russian disinformation and interference in the British democratic process following the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the parliamentary intelligence watchdog has said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

A long-awaited report from the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee says reports that Russia carried out “influence campaigns” around the independence referendum are “credible”.

And it cites “Russian state-owned international broadcasters such as RT and Sputnik” as tools of disinformation and malicious influence - which will raise new questions about former First Minister Alex Salmond’s programme for RT.

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Read more: Russia attempted to influence 2014 referendum

Members of the committee, which was reconstituted after a year earlier this month and immediately agreed to publish the report, said there was no reason for it to have been delayed ahead of the 2019 general election.

The report makes a damning assessment of a “lack of curiosity” about Russian interference in UK elections, with SNP committee member Stewart Hosie claiming "the UK Government have actively avoided seeking evidence as to whether Russia interfered" in the 2016 EU referendum.

No-one in Government wanted to touch the issue of Russian interference with a "10-foot pole", Mr Hosie said, "because they did not want to know".

He told reporters: "There has been no assessment of Russian interference in the EU referendum and this goes back to nobody wanting to touch the issue with a 10-foot pole.

"This is in stark contrast to the US response to reported interference in the 2016 presidential election.

"There should have been an assessment of Russian interference in the EU referendum and there must now be one, and the public must be told the results of that assessment."

Labour MP Kevan Jones said there was "no reason" for the delay in the publication, adding that claims by the Prime Minister it required six weeks to get his confirmation for the report were "categorically not true".

He also said that claims by Number 10 the report needed to be further circulated for comment in Government were "not true".

Describing Russian interference as “the new normal”, the committee found that “Russia's cyber capability, when combined with its willingness to deploy it in a malicious capacity, is a matter of grave concern, and poses an immediate and urgent threat to our national security."

The committee also found that Russians with "very close links" to Vladimir Putin were "well integrated into the UK business, political and social scene".

In relation to the 2014 independence referendum, the report cites “credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014”, adding that it was “potentially the first post-Soviet Russian interference in a Western democratic process”.

The report notes: “For example, it was widely reported shortly after the referendum that Russian election observers had suggested that there were irregularities in the conduct of the vote, and this position was widely pushed by Russian state media. We understand that HMG viewed this as being primarily aimed at discrediting the UK in the eyes of a domestic Russian audience.”

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