Nicola Sturgeon has expressed fears that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is trying to influence the debate on Scottish independence by potentially distorting both sides of the argument.
In comments to international journalists the SNP leader said politicians had to be “very vigilant” about misinformation on social media and the effect it could have on any referendum campaign.
In a briefing to the London Foreign Press Association during the COP26 talks, the First Minister said: “I’m afraid I think it is credible that Russia may well try to through misinformation and misuse of social media influence the debate on Scottish independence.”
According to La Republica newspaper, she added: “I don’t know at any particular moment in which direction Russia would deem it to be in its interest to exercise that influence for Scottish independence or against Scottish independence.”
The powerful Westminster Intelligence and Security committee, which has oversight of the security services, concluded last year that there was “credible open-source commentary” that Russia “undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum” in 2014.
Ben Wallace, the UK Defence Secretary, recently said that Russia keen to influence the debate over Scottish independence as part of wider attempts to “magnify division” across Europe.
Wallace said Vladimir Putin’s regime was “definitely” interested in sowing discord, suggesting that its aim was contributing to the break up of the United Kingdom.
In her briefing to journalists, Sturgeon said: “The problem of misinformation in our social media and therefore in our wider political debates is a very real one. I think all democratic politicians should be very vigilant about that and very willing to call that out.”
She added:”It’s not just here in Scotland or the UK. This is one of the biggest risks to our democracies that I think exist globally. I think all responsible politicians have to be aware of that. I’m not just talking about the independence debate.
“I think democrats across the world have to take it seriously, and governments, social media companies, everybody with some influence here has to take that reality and risk for the future much more seriously because it is a real and present danger to our democracy.”
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