All politicians lie, it’s true, but few do so as shamelessly as Alex Salmond. In terms of sheer quantity of deceptions I’ll admit he’s far from the worst offender. Some political figures lie far more frequently. President Trump has, for example, turned the false statement from a political tactic into something approaching a compulsion. His dishonesty is so extreme that it has a curious honesty about it – we all know we can’t trust a word he says. But what makes Salmond stand out is the way in which his entire political philosophy is laced with blatant contradictions. This is the left-winger whose programme for Scottish independence included a three percent corporation tax cut. The anti-austerity activist who planned a £450 million cut to the Scottish NHS. The anti-nuclear weapons campaigner who wanted an independent Scotland to join a nuclear based alliance (NATO). And now the ‘progressive’ politician who’s shilling for the Putin regime.
At the risk of sounding like a disapproving parent when I heard Salmond had an RT show I was disappointed, but not surprised. RT is, to all intents and purposes, an extension of the Russian state. It was founded in 2005 by the Russian state news agency RIA-NOVOSTI with the initial aim of improving the international image of Russia. Overtime however the channels primary focus shifted, from promoting Russia to actively undermining her perceived adversaries. To understand why this is a problem we need to recognize that Russia is one of the few countries in the world to have a truly revolutionary foreign policy. It aims, at the very least, to upend the post-Cold War settlement in Eastern Europe. As much of Eastern Europe is now incorporated into the liberal-democratic (Western) alliance via NATO and the EU the primary Russian foreign policy goal is to breakup and immobilise that alliance, giving Russian policy its revolutionary character.
Once this is accepted RTs content, which otherwise looks eccentric bordering on the absurd, starts to make sense. RT promotes a bizarre and ideologically incompatible collection of viewpoints. What these groups and individuals have in common, indeed just about the only thing they have in common, is that if they acquire power they will weaken the Western alliance. Far-right, far-left or separatist, it doesn’t matter – RT really isn’t picky. It’s easy to see where Scottish nationalism fits into this equation. Britain is one of the most militarily powerful, and historically reliable, members of the Western alliance. A country which possesses nuclear weapons, is one of only five NATO members to spend more than two percent of GDP on defense and is prepared to use its military power. Clearly disrupting or breaking up such a state would help Putin with his objective of undermining liberal-democratic Europe.
Alex Salmond on Russia Today in June 2016
Thus when Salmond says RT have promised him editorial control, and won’t censure his views, I believe him. Salmond doesn’t have to become a Kremlin mouthpiece to be useful to the Russian state – indeed in many respects it’s preferable if he doesn’t. Salmond’s getting a show because they know that, short of a dramatic shift in his politics, he will act in the interests of the Kremlin without coercion. That he’s previously praised ‘certain aspects’ of Putin’s leadership is merely the cherry on top of an already very sweet cake.
Salmond does however offer RT something beyond the bizarre convergence of interests outlined above – legitimacy. RT, to be blunt, has quite a big problem in this department. In 2015 the channel was censured by Ofcom for misleading reporting over Syria and Ukraine – including a report which suggested the BBC had faked chemical attacks in Syria. More recently in February of this year French President Macron slammed the channel for spreading ‘fake news’ which is ‘weighing on our democratic life’ whilst in America it’s being compelled to register as a foreign agent. In such a context being able to associate with a respected and mainstream figure in British politics, the former First Minister of Scotland no less, has major reputational benefits for RT. Salmond certainly makes a change from the combination of far-right and hard-left fanatics and general cranks who make up a good proportion of RT’s talking heads.
So what exactly is Salmond giving credibility to? To RT of course, but as RT is funded and controlled by the Russian state he’s also giving a limited endorsement of that state more generally as he’s prepared to present a show on its behalf. This being the case its worth taking a look at the state of human rights, and in particular media freedom, in Russia. According to Freedom House’s 2017 report in Russia ‘The main national news agenda is firmly controlled by the Kremlin. The government sets editorial policy at state-owned television stations, which dominate the media landscape and generate propagandistic content’. The report also noted that in Russia ‘violence against journalists remained common in 2016’. In a similar vein Amnesty International claim that during 2016-17 ‘restrictions on rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly increased’. It’s strange that a self-styled ‘progressive’ should be going out of his way to be associated with such a journalistic culture.
Photos of Russian journalists who have been murdered or ‘disappeared’ since Putin came to power
The SNP’s claim to be a left-wing or progressive party has always been something of a sham. The rhetoric sounds convincing – but is rarely followed up with action. The party has failed to even use its powers to increase Scotland’s top rate of income tax, a pretty low bar in terms of social democratic policy. The kindest interpretation is that the SNP is essentially a centrist party, Blairites in kilts. Less charitably they are an empty husk, believing in little beyond the nationalist impulse and altering their other policies at will to make this central objective more attainable. Tartan Tories for a time, then progressive social-democrats when the political winds shifted. Salmond’s decision to become a foreign policy tool of Russia, an ultra-reactionary state, is merely the latest and perhaps most grotesque of the SNP’s ideological contortions. One of Britain’s most senior self-styled ‘progressives’ will soon be legitimizing the state media of a regime which could reasonably be termed far-right. I was planning to end this piece by saying Salmond’s been brought and sold for Kremlin gold, but on reflection I feel that would be unnecessarily charitable.