SNP defence chief gets accused of Russophobia and dodgy connections
We didn’t need the HMS Defender incident off the coast of Crimea to remind us about the current state of relations between London and Moscow. But, just in case we did, BBC News served up an exclusive fly-on-the-deck report of the British warship being shadowed by Russian aircraft and coastguard ships. Its correspondent, we were told, had been invited on board before this “trial of nerves” simply to observe routine “gunnery exercises”. So this mighty scoop was just an amazing stroke of luck? Hardly. Ministry of Defence media handlers aren’t known for dishing out such access these days. They knew something dramatic was about to occur and, to his credit, Jonathan Beale told us what it was. In the dispatch he filed from the Royal Navy vessel, he revealed that it had entered Crimean waters deliberately, fully anticipating a Russian response.
Black ops in the Black Sea? Most probably. This is exactly the sort of thing Peter Gabriel had in mind when he sang of “games without frontiers, war without tears”.
Anyone with an ounce of geopolitical nous – sadly, a minuscule proportion of the total UK TV news audience – knows that Russophobia is rampant again in London. Obviously this ‘exclusive’ news package could only serve to inflame it. Similar footage was served up two years ago of Typhoon fighter jets being “scrambled” from RAF Lossiemouth to “intercept” Russian aircraft over the North Sea. Different pictures. Same propaganda purpose.
MoD spin doctors are no worse than their Moscow counterparts in this regard, of course. The puzzling dimension, from a Scottish perspective, is that anti-Russian hostility is being fuelled by a political party meant to be bent on breaking up Britain (which, according to some, is part of Vladimir Putin’s grand masterplan). SNP chieftains have given unqualified backing to the New Cold War cultivated in Whitehall and Washington. None more so than Stewart McDonald, the party’s defence spokesperson. Accused of Russophobia, the Member for Glasgow South sits on the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee and has probably given more thought to Crimea than to Clydeside in the past few years. He’s certainly campaigned more fervently for Ukrainian than Scottish independence. Scarcely a day goes by when he doesn’t tweet about Moscow’s supposed meddling in other states. An entire team of Foreign Office ministers can’t keep up on social media with the school janitor’s son from Govan. He was straight back onto Twitter yesterday to retweet a message from Navy Lookout, a site originally launched as Save The Royal Navy:
‘The real story here is not the supposed “firing of shots” but the ongoing campaign of Russian disinformation’. Amazing how it was all just repeated as truth and still sits on some news websites even now.
Earlier this week, Mr McDonald published his “own assessment of how the threat of disinformation to Scotland currently manifests itself”. My natural, instinctive reaction on downloading his digital report was to wonder 1) who is this person? and 2) what is his personal agenda? Thankfully, unlike during the first Cold War, we now have this wonderful thing called the World Wide Web. A few clicks of the mouse is all it takes to discover that Mr McDonald is a fanatical believer in NATO – a Pentagon-controlled military alliance the SNP was for three decades steadfastly opposed to an independent Scotland joining. In March this year, he contributed an article to the US State Departmemt’s house-journal Foreign Policy, in which he stated:
As foreign affairs and defense spokespeople for the Scottish National Party in the UK Parliament, it is our duty to make our friends and allies aware of what is going on in Scotland and what it means for them.
So an independent Scotland will be a reliable and constructive partner, a staunch ally, and a fierce friend. The cornerstone of an independent Scotland’s foreign policy will be EU membership. The cornerstone of its defense policy will be NATO membership.
Something the SNP’s defence spokesman didn’t explain in this essay was his Damascene conversion to what some would see as Russophobia. According to a profile published on the RT website – headlined ‘Her Majesty’s useful idiot?’ – his intense aversion to the Kremlin only kicked in about three years ago. Sometimes content on this Russian-controlled news outlet is best preceded with a visit to a Siberian salt mine, but I think we can trust these brief excerpts:
Stewart McDonald’s interest in Russia is quite remarkable. Until 2018, he showed little or no interest in the country at all. Then, following an opaquely funded and organized jolly to Ukraine, he suddenly transformed into an ardent opponent of Moscow. He also became a passionate supporter of the British establishment position on foreign policy. Perhaps it was the chicken Kiev that turned the lawmaker’s head, or maybe something more organized.
He’s been a consistent and zealous advocate for Kiev in the Commons, making determined lobbying efforts for which he was awarded the Ukrainian Order of Merit by the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, in August 2019. Not too bad for 18 months’ work.
RT reckons Mr McDonald’s obsession with how the Putin regime is “infecting the planet with disinformation” may also have overseas origins. In February last year, apparently, he went off on a week-long jaunt to Washington for a conference about combating this online peril. All his expenses were picked up by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, an influential globalist think tank. This led to the Nats’ number one NATO groupie hanging a kilt on social media bots and trolls this week. Here are a few snatches of what he had to say in his highly personal assessment:
Scotland faces a range of disinformation actors who make use of a large and evolving toolbox of techniques to influence and corrupt the Scottish information ecosystem.
Russia, China and Iran have all been credibly accused of attempting to distort the information ecosystem in Scottish public life, using a range of platforms and media to manipulate public opinion.
Transparency, accountability and truth must be the foundations upon which a response to information operations in Scotland is built.
I hope he highlighted that last bit in the copy he doubtless sent to his beloved party leader. She, like him, has never been slow to have a public dig at Alex Salmond for presenting a harmless show on RT TV. Novichok agents aren’t needed for character assassination. Just lift the phone to the Daily Record for a front-page splash filled with false allegations. The Sturgeon regime could coach Putin’s people in what Mr McDonald calls “deliberate, often covert, spreading of false information to manipulate public opinion and distort the truth.”
Unfortunately, Mr McDonald commands a fair amount of coverage in the Scottish press. Part of that is down to the legacy media being so emaciated. Tossing stories to the papers these days is like feeding sprats to sea lions. But there is one wee snag for the SNP’s defence spokesman: not all of us are going to swallow wholesale whatever disinformation he dishes out. Uncomfortably for him, there are still a few auld sceptics like me who remember the first Cold War. We’re not going to be patsies for any bellicose propaganda in this new one, whether it comes from the MoD, the Kremlin, Capitol Hill – or Clydeside!