In his weekly column, Conter editor David Jamieson argues that while Russiagate may seem silly, it represents a grave turn in our politics
In the end, the claims that the 2014 Scottish independence referendum was influenced by Russia, which have been promulgated for years from various quarters, amounted to little more than nothing.
The evidence for Russian influence is made up entirely of “credible open source commentary” – that is, articles in newspapers and so forth. The beauty of this kind of intelligence is its self-reinforcing quality. Claims of foreign interference, once made, then become evidence of foreign interference.
This primitive alchemy impresses no one outside of a few tiny worlds. The intelligence community itself knows this is thin soup – but its job is competition with rival states. The shrivelling ranks of the press are naturally over-excited, except for the few really talented individuals who hold on grimly. Politicians are angling to wield accusations against one another.
The SNP’s Stewart Hosie MP announced the claim of Russian interference in Scotland in 2014 (or at least complained it had not been investigated by the British state) in his role as a member of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee. Can a better demonstration of the twisted dialectic of seeking change through the ‘legitimacy’ of the British state be found?
He hoped to weaponise the Russia scare against the 2016 Brexit vote. Incredible that even now, with the People’s Vote ‘resistance’ to Brexit defeated, this fight still takes primacy for the party’s leadership – even when it involves smearing the memory of the 2014 movement.
Not to be left out, Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie also released a statement warning of the spread of “extreme views on social media”, allegedly a product of Russian efforts.
As we know from long history, the chief victims of paranoid campaigns against ‘foreign influence’ are always dissident movements opposed to the existing social settlement. The apparent belief in some quarters that febrile nationalist sentiments are most likely to hurt Tory donors betrays a catastrophic ignorance of power.
Of course, pro-union politicians were quick to press advantage, with Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray chiming in: “We need a full inquiry in Scotland to ensure our democracy isn’t compromised by outside state actors.”
Keir Starmer demanded Nicola Sturgeon distance herself from former First Minister Alex Salmond over his show, which airs on the Russia Today network. Many rushed to point out they aren’t even in the same party any more, but this rather misses the point. Smear campaigns don’t register truth; they measure success in their capacity to distract, demoralise and undermine. In any future independence referendum, claims of Russian or Chinese subterfuge will likely be ubiquitous.
Perhaps an assessment of how to undermine power is not the intended task here. One can easily suppose that the short and medium view of the SNP leadership is not an independence referendum, but a shift in global power to the ‘liberal’ wing of the western business classes. The new left in Europe and the US, including Corbyn, Sanders, Syriza and Podemos, have all been subdued and there are even some very early signs of centre-left resurgence in Spain and France.
Centrist commentators are stoking the quiet hope of a Biden Presidency to supplement the existing EU leadership. With forces like Starmer and Sturgeon on board, could they manage Brexit into its least offensive form?
Telling in this regard, the instances Hosie announced as requiring British state investigation against Russian influence – the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 US election, the 2016 EU referendum and the 2019 General Election (presumably because it sealed Brexit) – have all been treated as unmerited intrusions of popular sentiment into political life. As ever, the enemy without is really an enemy within.
The full gala-unveiling of Russiagate in Scotland and the UK coincided with the (probably even more significant) ramping up of tension with China. This marks the close of the western ‘unipolarity’ established at the end of the Cold War. It is not just another media controversy or ‘moment’, and it carries considerable consequences. A substantial layer of powerful and power-adjacent social elements will be drawn into the new political alignment, combining a defence of wealth and power at home with a new hostility to foreign competition.
We must be careful about what this does and doesn’t mean.
It does not mean that we are in a general move to the right comparable to the 1980s. The Thatcher-Reagan project benefited from several interconnected global events: the decline and final collapse of the USSR and the consolidation of a new global order around the US, the acceleration of ‘globalisation’ and the break-up and dispersal of working class organisation after profound assaults by leading states.
The project was of course further based upon the sale of state assets that cannot be resold, and important shifts in banking practices which cannot be repeated. The popular basis for a general shift to the right will therefore be more difficult to construct, and society remains deeply polarised. Hopes for a new stability will founder in a present dominated by economic and geopolitical dislocation.
But many new dangers emerge from this latest departure, from threats to democracy to the heightened possibility of international conflict. Russiagate should be resisted from the outset.