Did Putin interfere in the independence referendum? | Kevin McKenna

Kevin McKenna
Alex Salmond’s bid for independence may have been thwarted with the help of the Kremlin, the Russians claim. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA

When Theresa May admonished Vladimir Putin last week over Russia’s meddling in UK affairs she told him: “We know what you’re doing and it won’t succeed.” The Russian president might have replied that the Conservative party ought to make up its mind about just what internal UK matters it does require Moscow’s help with.

As David Cameron fought to prevent the break-up of the UK, he asked the Russian president to help him stop Alex Salmond and his vile independentistas, according to the official Russian news agency. Perhaps, having been invited to take an interest in UK domestic affairs, Downing Street simply forgot to tell him to desist once the Scots had been defeated. The thought of Putin’s involvement in the Scottish independence referendum might seem faintly preposterous, but not as preposterous as that assortment of English D-listers led by Dan Snow telling startled Scots how much they loved them.

Itar-Tass news agency, the Kremlin’s mouthpiece before and after the fall of communism, reported three years ago that Cameron had officially approached the Russian leader seeking his help with his little Scottish problem. The government denied this, but a year or so later the Russian president appeared to favour the unionist status quo in an interview with Andrew Marr. If Cameron had solicited Putin’s help over Scotland it looks like he succeeded. It came at a time when Cameron was pimping the unionist cause all over the world. Even the pope and Barack Obama were asked to, you know, put in a wee word about the stability of strong states and the value of sticking together during turbulent times.

Of course, Russia’s involvement in Britain’s EU referendum is entirely different in nature to what it might have been had Putin decided to interfere in the 2014 Scottish independence poll. In 2014, a serving UK prime minister, according to the Kremlin’s official mouthpiece, was inviting a foreign power to meddle in the democratic affairs of a constituent part of the United Kingdom. If the Russian state news agency is to be believed, I wonder what quid pro quo Cameron was offering in return.

Yet, it would also have suited Putin to have helped out with the Scottish nationalist cause as a means of destabilising a key member of Nato. Certainly, we must pay heed to the government’s denial, but these are the same people who told Scotland during the independence referendum that it was a valued and equal partner of the United Kingdom. Yet, throughout the chaos of Brexit, the Tories have done everything they can to ensure that Scotland will have no say whatsoever in our Brexit negotiations.

Nor can we be sure that Russia didn’t interfere in the Scottish referendum. Cameron was a desperate man at that late stage of the independence campaign and was deploying everything that the British state could throw at Scotland to prevent it leaving the UK. As potentates, princes and pontiffs were having their arms felt at home, all sorts of dodgy unionist propaganda was coming over the airwaves. Big business was threatening to leave the economy of an independent Scotland looking like Malawi’s and the entire UK press was suggesting that the co-ordinates of Edinburgh and Glasgow were being loaded into the inter-continental ballistic missile systems of dodgy foreign powers.

The notion that our intelligence agencies didn't know what was going on is an absurd one

Those of us who observed the way the British state behaved during the Scottish independence referendum were not shocked at the excesses of the Leave side during the EU vote. It makes sense for Russia to destabilise the EU by helping take one of its most constituent members right out of it. Would the Scottish independence referendum not have provided a nice wee dress rehearsal to refine a destabilisation strategy in the event of something much more critical to Russian foreign policy occurring a few years later?

I wonder, too, what role the British intelligence services played in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum. Would it be absurd to suggest that MI5 was involved in that campaign? The prospect of losing a quarter of the British state overnight and the geopolitical consequences of such would have left it with no choice, and it does have a station in the centre of Glasgow, the location of which is known to several national security players and to some journalists who have expertise in this area.

For years, we have been fed the line that our counter-intelligence agencies are among the most sophisticated and technologically best-equipped in the world. So, what were they all doing when Russia was engaging in its attempts to undermine the EU referendum? It’s all very well for May to say now that we all know what you are up to, Putin.

Isn’t that the job of our security agencies, with all that world-class counter-intelligence weaponry at their disposal? The notion that they didn’t know all this was going on is an absurd one. And if this technological, counter-intelligence powerhouse did know about Russia’s nefarious social media stratagems during the EU referendum, to what extent did they turn a blind eye to it because it may have suited their agenda?

And wouldn’t it be jolly good fun if MI6 deployed its vast resources to get involved in all this global, social media subterfuge malarkey? I’d love to see them attempt to sow confusion and chaos in North Korea by sending in some bots across social media to tell its citizens that Kim Jong-un did not win the gold medal for the marathon at the London Olympics and that Germany and not North Korea won the 2014 World Cup. US national security in its social media sector also seems a bit lax. So perhaps we could destabilise Trump and his supporters by telling its citizens that the Ku Klux Klan and the National Rifle Association are really a bunch of peacenik pinkos and not the friendly neighbourhood, gun-toting racists so beloved of midwest normalsville.

As for Putin and Russia, what better way to begin the process of destabilising them from within than by arranging for Salmond, the man who nearly wrecked Britain, to have his own show on the state broadcasting network?

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