View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Scotland
10 November 2017updated 11 Mar 2018 4:26pm

Alex Salmond is the perfect fit for RT – all he needs to do is be himself

The former SNP leader's style is perfectly in tune with the Kremlin-backed broadaster's broader goals. 

By Jasper jackson

Alex Salmond is far from the first anti-establishment politician to have decided RT (as Russia Today has rebranded) is a good place to air his views – but he may one of the most perfectly suited to the Kremlin–backed news channel’s agenda.

The former Scottish first minister’s talk show will be airing on what has of course become a regular platform for politicians pitching themselves as outsiders. That includes everyone from Nigel Farage to Jeremy Corbyn.

For some supporters of the latter, RT’s slogan “question more” reflects a noble mission to challenge the orthodox narratives of a western media that has often failed to hold the powerful to account, from the Iraq War to the global financial crisis.  

RT has lent legitimacy to its operation by hiring some good journalists and doing decent reporting in areas where those western powers should be coming under more scrutiny.  When the topics it takes aim at have little bearing on the strategic interests of Russia, it even manages to deliver what might be considered balanced programming. Just don’t expect an unbiased analysis of what’s going on in Eastern Ukraine or Aleppo.

But the problem with RT isn’t primarily the pro-Vladimir Putin propaganda it churns out in between occasional acts of journalism. More worrying is the way its output fits into the broader goals of Russian disinformation.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Traditional conceptions of propaganda imagine a concerted effort to convince the public to believe in something. But modern Russian information warfare is as much about convincing populations to doubt everything. The purpose is to undermine consensus, to weaken the ability of Russia’s global competitors to take action by leaving their populations divided.

That is why the recent expose of Russian activity on Facebook in the US found Russian-backed accounts pushing seemingly contradictory political views. It’s not about whether the Black Lives Matter movement or the white nationalists end up victorious, but about ensuring they keep fighting and leaving a beleaguered middle unsure of what to believe from and about either side.

And that brings us back to Salmond. As the leader of Scotland’s push for independence, he was very literally at the head of a movement designed to divide the UK. Russia may not have a great deal of interest in the national identity of Scots, or the economic and social arguments that drive much of the independence movement.  But it sure as hell would like to see the UK smaller and less united.

Almost as importantly, the independence movement, and Salmond himself were deeply divisive. The anger on both sides, and Salmond’s ability to be both outrageous and devious in pursuit of his cause, helped drive one of the axes of polarisation that characterises and splits modern Britain. He also has one major advantage over Nigel Farage – unlike the Ukip leader he is not seen as a figure of the right. His particular dividing line cuts straight across the ideological spectrum. There’s also the added bonus that large numbers of those who support Salmond are deeply hostile to the BBC, an institution that has not only traditionally been the most trusted source of news in the UK, but through its entertainment programming regularly manages to bring the population together.

Much of the criticism of Salmond’s deal with RT assumes that he will become a puppet of a Russian propaganda effort. Amid the panic about Russian interference in various aspects of the democratic process on both sides of the Atlantic, that’s no surprise. But like much of that debate it misses the point of Russia’s forays into western media both online and over the airwaves. Salmond doesn’t have to say a thing about Russia to serve RT’s goals. All he has to do is remain the divisive, polarising figure he’s so far proved to be.

Content from our partners
Data science can help developers design future-proof infrastructure
How to tackle the UK's plastic pollution problem – with Coca-Cola
The hard truth about soft skills

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU