There’s news management, and then there’s a transparently desperate attempt at distraction. The headline in the Daily Telegraph on the day that the long delayed report into Russian interference in British politics is an example of the latter. According to the in-house newspaper of the Conservatives’ Boris Johnson fan-club, the big take away from the Russian meddling report is that Vladimir Putin tried to influence the result of the Scottish referendum. This is a bit like claiming that when you got your take away order of lamb bhuna, chicken korma, pilau rice, chicken pakora, onion bhajis, two peshwari nan, and some fried chicken and chips for your cousin who’s not that keen on Indian food that the really, *really*, important bit is the onion relish that came with the poppadums that always goes into the bin uneaten.
Of course we all know that the Russians attempted to meddle in the Scottish referendum. We’ve known that for years, and we’ve known it because during the campaign David Cameron himself asked Vladimir Putin to get involved. In January 2014 the Russian news agency Itar-Tass revealed that Cameron’s office had contacted Putin in order to inform the Russian leader that the British were “extremely interested” in getting support from Russia in the referendum. https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13140055.camerons-plea-to-putin-help-me-stop-salmond/
Downing Street denied the claims, but their denials would have had more credibility were it for for the fact that the British state had also appealed to many other governments for their help in defeating Scottish independence. Just a month after the Russian news agency revealed that Cameron had asked Putin for help, a newspaper in Tenerife in Spain published a letter from the British Embassy asking the press in Spain to publish reports critical of Scottish independence. It was a part of a concerted campaign by the British foreign office to whip up opposition to Scottish independence around the world. https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13144836.foreign-office-caught-asking-spanish-press-to-undermine-scottish-independence/
Then there was the incident back in 2012 when representatives of the Spanish Partido Popular met with the Conservatives, including Ruth Davidson, at their conference in Birmingham in order to hammer out an anti-independence European alliance of centre right parties. https://www.thenational.scot/politics/15211795.wee-ginger-dug-no-secret-anti-independence-eu-support-for-the-tories-this-time/ There was a concerted campaign from European figures on the centre right, associated with the British Conservatives, to undermine the Scottish independence campaign. This foreign interference came with the connivance and encouragement of the Conservatives and the British nationalist parties.
Despite Scotland being assured by Westminster that ours was a Scottish election which would be decided by the people of Scotland, there was massive interference in the referendum campaign by the British state, the British media, and the BBC. To pick just one example, there was the huge publicity given to the suspiciously well funded, ahem, ‘grassroots’ anti-independence organisation Vote No Borders. This campaign vehicle was given headline news on the BBC, yet that same BBC failed throughout the entire campaign to report on any genuine grassroots intiative from the Yes side. There was meddling aplenty in the Scottish referendum. It’s just that the vast majority of it came from supporters of the No campaign.
Of course if the sole content of the report into Russian meddling in British politics was that Vladimir Putin had tried to influence the outcome of the Scottish referendum, the report would have been published the week after it was completed. The Johnson government would not have made such strenuous efforts to try and prevent it ever seeing the light of day.
The report does contain some mention of the Scottish referendum campaign, but what it says is so heavily redacted that it doesn’t tell us anything useful. There’s just one paragraph in the 50 page report about the Scottish referendum and it refers solely to information which is already in the public domain. This would appear to be an article by David Leask which was published in the Herald which claimed to identify a number of Scottish Twitter accounts as belonging to pro-Russian bots and trolls. This article was based on a single report by a certain Ben Nimmo, whom Craig Murray identifies as being associated with Integrity Initiative The Herald story would appear to be the full extent of claims of Russian meddling in a pro-indy direction in the independence referendum. https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/16601798.meet-the-mcbots-how-scottish-cyber-activists-try-to-game-twitter/
It’s the rest of the report and what it has to say about the British Government’s reaction to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 EU referendum that is so damning. There is considerable evidence that Russia tried to influence the EU referendum in order to produce a pro-Brexit result. The Intelligence and Security Committee notes that academic and other studies have pointed to the preponderance of pro-Brexit stories on Russian news outlets, and reports of the use of bots and trolls on social media attempting to influence the debate in a pro-Brexit direction. It is widely believed that Brexit serves the wider interests of the Russian state by creating uncertainty and instability in Europe. Despite this, the British Government has refused to investigate and still refuses to investigate any allegation of Russian interference.
Last night on Sky News the arch-Brexiteer Clare Fox said how pleased she was that the report had not found evidence of Russian interference in the EU referendum, but what she either didn’t know or didn’t say was that the only reason there’s no evidence of Russian interference is because the British Government has refused to look for any. Today we have learned that the British Government’s refusal to publish the report before last December’s election was based on a lie. The only reason that the report was witheld was because it was politically damaging to the Conservatives.
The British state wants us to believe that the Russians tried to influence the outcome of the Scottish referendum but there’s no reason to worry our pretty little heads about Kremlin involvement in the EU referendum. We now learn that the British Government has refused to investigate Russian meddling in the EU referendum, and that it continues to reject calls for a proper enquiry.
According to Stewart Hosie, the SNP MP who is one of the committee members on the Intelligence and Security Committee responsible for the report, the UK Government has actively avoided looking for evidence of Russian involvement. He said that the British Government didn’t know if the Russians had meddled in the EU referendum, because it didn’t want to know. The British Government has refused to carry out any assessment into Russian meddling in 2016’s EU referendum. The report notes “[Committee members] have not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference … This situation is in stark contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, where an intelligence community assessment was produced within two months of the vote, with an unclassified summary being made public.”
This is of course giving the Kremlin carte-blanche to do it again. We can only come to the conclusion that this is because when Russian meddling results in an outcome that’s favourable to Johnson and the Brextremist Conservatives, he’s actually rather keen on it. Just as he’s rather keen on the Conservative party accepting large donations from shady Russian oligarchs who have links to Vladimir Putin. London has become a laundromat for dirty Russian money. Naturally the Conservatives don’t want any investigations into that. It’s what they plan basing the British economy on post-Brexit.
A government which refuses to investigate serious and credible allegations of foreign interference in the exercise of democracy is a government which has abandoned any pretence of accountability. The British Government stands unmasked as a band of shameless opportunists who have no respect for democracy. This report has revealed the moral bankruptcy of the British Conservatives. We now know that it’s only with independence that Scotland can enjoy democracy and accountable governance. Far from undermining the reasons for Scottish independence, this report has only reinforced them. The British Conservative Party, made in England, bought by Russia, telling Scotland what to do.
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