Sturgeon open to inquiry on Russian interference in independence referendum

Scotland’s First Minister said she has “no objection” to an inquiry being launched into Russian interference in the Scottish independence referendum.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, hours after a heavily redacted report by Westminster’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) was published, Nicola Sturgeon said governments should not be “complacent” about the possibility of interference in democratic processes.

The UK Government response to such warnings could be viewed as “negligence”, she said.

The report, which was due to be published before the 2019 general election but faced months of delays, said there is “credible open source commentary” suggesting Russia used influence campaigns during the independence referendum campaign in 2014.

Evidence of the claims in the report were redacted by the committee.

The Scottish Tories and Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray have called for inquiries to be launched into the matter.

Ms Sturgeon clarified that as intelligence and security is a devolved matter, it will be for the UK Government to undertake an investigation.

She said: “If there’s to be an inquiry into that – and I would have no objections, to the contrary – it is for the UK Government to do.”

The First Minister said she hopes the report will lead to a “much more rigorous approach” by the UK Government in dealing with interference.

During a press conference after the publication of the report, SNP MP and ISC member Stewart Hosie said another Westminster committee recommended the UK Government look into interference in 2014.

“It wasn’t the case the Government weren’t told that they should be looking at this,” he said.

“The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee called on the Government to launch an investigation into foreign influence, disinformation funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data in relation to the Scottish independence referendum.

“So the Government were told by a Select Committee of the House to undertake precisely the work that would have identified the scale and scope of this threat.”

Fellow ISC member Kevan Jones said: “All the evidence was there from the Scottish referendum.

“Short of a large van outside Downing Street with a billboard on it saying ‘this is what was going on’ what more did the Government need?

“It does raise the question why the decision was taken not to look at the referendum?”

The 2014 referendum is mentioned in just one passage of the report and in a further two footnotes, leading Ms Sturgeon to question what can be gleaned from the findings.

She said: “I don’t think you can draw any conclusions from the three lines or thereabouts that the report has on the Scottish independence referendum.”

The First Minister added she does not think her values, along with those of the SNP and the wider independence movement “could be further removed from the values that Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime stand for”.