Sometimes people really don’t appreciate the consequences of what they wish for. Such is the case with the Scottish Conservatives and Ian Murray who have been calling for an enquiry into interference in the Scottish referendum of 2014. Or more specifically, they want an enquiry into Russian interference, not any of the British state sanctioned interference that involved putting pressure on foreign governments in order to get them to weigh in on the Scottish debate. And they don’t want an enquiry into any other Russian interference, because the British Government has already ruled that out as it’s afraid of calling the result of the 2016 EU referendum into question.
It’s very odd on a day when the British state has been exposed doing its utmost to hide from the extent of Russian influence on the Conservative party and exposed just how weak British democratic standards and safeguards are and how wilfully negligent the British Government is that the Scotsman newspaper leads with a call for an enquiry into the Scottish referendum. Bring it on. Please. Even if the Scottish Tories and their pal Ian Murray got their wish and managed to restrict the enquiry to looking only at Russian meddling, the strongest evidence that we have for Russian meddling is the report that David Cameron pleaded with Vladimir Putin to get involved in the referendum campaign on the No side.
There is no solid evidence that the yes vote was boosted by Russian interference. Indeed the only reports of Russian bot activity point to efforts to discredit the result of the referendum after the fact of the vote. And as Nicola Sturgeon pointed out yesterday, the ethos and aims of the Scottish independence movement is diametrically opposed to everything that Vladimir Putin stands for. Russia has its own issues with minority nationalities who would prefer to escape from Russian rule, most prominently among them the Chechens, yet British nationalists want us to believe that Russia is a big supporter of Scottish independence while for the exact same set of reasons Spain is going to oppose it.
Then there’s the vast amount of other meddling, such as Cameron pleading with Obama to make an intervention in the debate. Or there’s that time that Cameron got the Queen to intervene. Or that time that the British Government via its embassy in Madrid asked Spanish newspapers to print stories that were helpful to the no campaign, or the meetings that the Conservatives had with representatives of the Spanish Partido Popular in order to discuss the creation of a European wide anti-independence front. Then there’s the suspiciously well funded popping up of, ahem, ‘grassroots’ organisations on the no side which managed to garner the kind of publicity from the BBC that long established grass roots organisations on the yes side never came remotely close to. So yeah, if we want to talk about meddling, let’s talk about all the meddling. There was considerably more meddling that was beneficial to the Better Together campaign than anything that was helpful to the Yes movement.
But even if the British nationalists were successful with their ploy and managed to get an enquiry which looked solely at the meddling that they want us to consider – alleged online activity from Russian bots and trolls which they claim was helpful to the yes movement – all that they are succeeding in doing is to undermine the credibilty of the result of the vote. That’s the exact reason why the Tories in London are so desperate to avoid any investigation into Russian meddling in the EU referendum and the large amount of donations that the Conservatives receive from Russian oligarchs. If the vote is to be called into question because of alleged Russian interference, then that means that there is no need to ‘respect the result of the referendum’. Yet it would appear that the British nationalists want us to believe simultaneously that the result of the Scottish referendum was affected by Russian interference and that we must also continue to respect the outcome. Those are mutually contradictory positions.
The real issue here is the weakness of British democracy, that’s what British nationalists in Scotland are trying to hide behind a convenient smokescreen of outrage about the Scottish referendum. The Conservatives regularly rake in hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from Russian oligarchs, some of whom are close to Putin, and it’s no coincidence that London has become the global laundromat for Russian dirty money and the proceeds of corruption. The British Government took a deliberate decision that it didn’t want to know whether there was interference from Russia in the EU referendum, because it is terrified that the outcome of that vote might be called into question. So instead of ensuring that British democratic processes are robust and safe from external interference, the Conservative Government decided to close its eyes and ears, meaning that such interference becomes more likely in future.
That same Conservative government then sat on a report on Russian involvement carried out by the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee and refused to allow it to be published because it was afraid that the report might damage the election prospects of the Conservatives in the December 2019 General Election. The report found that the threat of Russian meddling in British democracy is “immediate and urgent” and yet Boris Johnson did nothing about it for ten months. He’d still be doing nothing about it if he had succeeded in getting his placeman Chris Grayling elected as the chair of the Commons committee. Indeed Johnson went so far as to expel from the party the Conservative MP Julian Lewis who was elected as the chair of the committee and who authorised the report’s publication, ensuring that Lewis cannot stand for reelection as a Conservative in the next General Election. When it comes to protecting and defending his own position Johnson takes swift and decisive action. When it comes to protecting and defending democracy in the UK, not so much.
So yes, let’s have a proper enquiry into meddling in the Scottish referendum. Because if that enquiry ever does take place, it’s not the yes movement that will be found to have benefited from external interference. Let’s have an enquiry into how the British state attempted to undermine and pervert Scottish democracy by doing its utmost to get foreign powers involved in the debate. Let’s have an enquiry into the suspicious amount of pro-British propaganda that was pumped out by a supposedly impartial state broadcaster that both yes and no voters pay for equally while the yes movement struggled to be heard. Let’s have an enquiry into how the British Government and Better Together cobbled together the infamous Vow in the last week of the campaign, after many postal votes had already been cast, making a substantial change in what they were promising the electorate – promises which they later broke.
What the Scottish independence movement promises is a Scotland where democratic standards are robust, transparent, and the public can trust in them. What the Scottish independence movement promises is a Scotland where politicians are accountable and can be held to account. What we’ve seen from the fall out from the Russian report is that we can’t be certain of any of those things in the UK.
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