Alex Salmond has been branded an “utter disgrace” following an extraordinary radio interview in which he appeared to downplay actions by the Russian government and criticised Nicola Sturgeon over independence.
The Alba party leader has been criticised by other politicians after he told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Wednesday that evidence of Russian interference in US elections is “very slight”.
Mr Salmond, whose eponymous television programme was picked up by the Kremlin-backed RT station, also said that “contested” evidence had been put forward about the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in 2018, adding that “people can see it for what it is”.
The Alex Salmond Show has been suspended during the Scottish Parliament election campaign but the former first minister has come in for increasing scrutiny over his decision to work with the broadcaster.
Mr Salmond also appeared to deflect questions about Russian state involvement in UK and US political matters by hitting out at former US president Barack Obama over his intervention in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
Asked whether he believed Russia had interfered in US elections or Scotland’s ballot on independence, Mr Salmond said: “Well, certainly not in the 2014 referendum.
“The only publicity I saw in the 2014 referendum was the suggestion that David Cameron had asked Vladimir Putin to interfere on the No side in the campaign and president Putin had refused to do so, which of course was exactly the proper thing to do – unlike some others.”
Salmond can’t bring himself to agree on #bbcgms that Russia was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on British soil for fear of his Kremlin backed TV gig.
He could be a member of the Scottish cabinet in 4 weeks.
What a time to be alive 🤯.
— Alex Cole-Hamilton 🔶 (@agcolehamilton) April 7, 2021
The Alba leader said evidence of Russian influence campaigns at the 2014 referendum but forward by Westminster’s Intelligence and Security Committee was “laughable”.
“Of course other heads of state did interfere, president Obama for example,” he said. “But again other heads of state, Angela Merkel, refused to accept David Cameron’s invitation to intervene.
“My view is that states shouldn’t interfere in other states’ elections.”
Asked directly whether he believed Russia had interfered in US elections, he said the evidence for that and the level of examination done was “very slight”.
Mr Salmond said it was a “fundamental misunderstanding” to claim that he works for RT and insisted “not a single word of editorial instruction or even suggestion has been made to me by anyone” at the station.
The former SNP leader had to be asked three times whether he believes Russia was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the British intelligence agencies, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal.
He said: “Evidence came forward that was contested. I said it should go to the international tribunals and courts, I said that at the time, and I think the evidence came forward and people can see it for what it is.”
Mr Salmond’s answers were branded an “utter disgrace” by Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Alex Cole-Hamilton.
His party colleague, Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael, claimed the former first minister had been “reduced to an apologist for the Putin regime”.
“Alex Salmond was once hailed as the most effective politician in Scotland but has now been reduced to an apologist for the Putin regime,” Mr Carmichael said.
“He has been paid by the Russian state broadcaster for years and the result is his change from respected leader to spinning Russian propaganda lines.
“This is an incredibly important moment for voters. A summer of arguments between this man and other nationalist factions over the future of our country would be chaotic and poisonous.”
Scottish Conservative candidate Annie Wells said the “car crash” interview served to “highlight again that Alex Salmond is not fit to hold public office”.
“His appalling refusal to condemn Russia for the Salisbury poisonings shows how deep in the pocket he is to his Kremlin paymasters,” she said.
“Alex Salmond may not have seen the relevance of being questioned about his links with Russia but voters will be astonished at his continued lack of moral judgement.”
Mr Salmond also used the interview to claim his successor as first minister and SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, could have done more to pursue Scottish independence over the term of the past five years.
He was asked why a “supermajority” of pro-independence MSPs would make a difference when Holyrood already had a majority of SNP and Green MSPs over the duration of the previous parliament.
“I think in terms of urgency, of getting on with that job,” Mr Salmond said. “I’m not certain why the case hasn’t been pursued as urgently as it should have been over the last five years but it should be pursued now.
“I think there is a growing realisation in Scotland that it should be done. People will get very frustrated if we return pro-independence majorities and nothing happens.”
Mr Salmond said the Scottish Parliament could take legal action domestically and internationally if Boris Johnson refuses to grant another independence referendum.
Asked what options are on the table if Mr Johnson does not approve a new vote, he said: “The idea of a plebiscite is open.
“I proposed that back in 2011/12 and that was very much an option for us then if David Cameron had not agreed to a section 30.
“You can then point to domestic legal action, international legal action, international pressure, diplomatic pressure and we believe in popular and peaceful demonstration.
“We must cast this debate as a Tory prime minister against a Scottish Parliament and a Scottish nation. The whole community of the realm of Scotland – if I can use a phrase from history.”
RT alum George Galloway hedges his bets on Russian involvement
George Galloway, who has also hosted a show on RT, was asked who he held responsible for the Salisbury poisoning.
“I think the Russians that were photographed there,” he replied during his Alliance4Unity launch.
Asked if he thought they worked for the Russian state, Mr Galloway added: “I don’t know who they work for.”
The former MP said Salisbury and Russia are “beyond the purview of the Holyrood elections”.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey was among those reacting angrily to the comments.
On Mr Salmond, and his potential return to Holyrood, the MP said: “The idea that you have Mr Putin’s spokesperson in Holyrood should send shivers down the spines of people, it is quite shocking.”