SNP president condemned for ‘crass’ comparison of Ukraine and Scottish independence

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Mike Russell, SNP - Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA

Mike Russell, SNP – Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA

The SNP’s president has been accused of drawing “utterly crass” parallels between Ukraine’s struggle to repel Vladimir Putin’s invasion and Scottish nationalists’ attempts to break away from the UK.

Mike Russell used a blog on the party’s website to argue that the past need not dictate the future, “whether that be rule from Moscow or the result of an eight-year-old referendum”.

The “Yes” campaign lost the 2014 vote by nearly 11 points, but Mr Russell, a former constitution secretary, suggested the Ukraine crisis bolstered the case for a re-run and said the “right of people to choose how they are governed and by whom is an absolute and universally applied”.

He also alleged that “dirty cash” from Russia had gone to the Tory party and been “used against Scotland in the 2014 referendum” as well as helping win the Brexit vote.

Amid criticism that the UK Government is doing too little to accept Ukrainian refugees, he claimed Britain would have “achieved more, and moved more rapidly” against Russia had it still been an EU member state.

But British troops have provided training to 22,000 members of the Ukrainian armed forces since 2015 to help them prepare for a Russian invasion, and the UK was among the first countries to send weapons before the conflict started. The EU made the same decision.

Mr Russell’s claims also appeared to be undermined by an intelligence and security committee investigation last year, which found “credible” evidence that the Putin regime tried to help the nationalist rather than Unionist side in the 2014 referendum.

It cited commentary that the Kremlin’s attempt to aid the break-up of the United Kingdom was “the first post-Soviet interference in a Western democratic election”.

Mr Russell said the right of people to choose how they are governed cannot be “circumscribed by history – just because something was doesn’t mean it will always continue to be so, whether that be rule from Moscow, or the result of an eight-year-old referendum.”

In an apparent dig at Alex Salmond, who suspended his chat show on a Kremlin-funded TV station last week, Mr Russell said Russian money funded “disinformation in both mainstream and social media and even those who believed they were editorially independent were in fact often being used – wittingly or unwittingly – only as shields or smokescreens”.

His intervention came the day after an SNP MSP was forced to apologise for making similar comparisons between Scotland and Ukraine.

Michelle Thomson responded to images of Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, signing an application for Ukraine to join the EU with a social media post stating: “Delighted for Ukraine. It just goes to show what political will can achieve. Remember this Scotland!”

Calling for Mr Russell to apologise, Willie Rennie, the former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: “Likening the longevity of the 2014 referendum result in any way to rule from Moscow is one of the stupider things I have heard from a senior SNP figure.

“It is utterly crass to draw any parallels between what is going on in Ukraine to Scotland’s situation, when people in Ukraine are fighting and dying to avoid falling under the yoke of the Kremlin.

“I am astounded that the president of the SNP, a long-standing politician, would seek to draw any parallels to the democratic decision of the people of Scotland.”

Ms Sturgeon wants to hold another separation referendum by the end of 2023 and has set out plans to stage her own vote if Boris Johnson refuses to transfer the necessary legal powers and challenge the UK Government to try and block it in the courts.

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