BANNING the Kremlin-backed RT television channel is “counterproductive” and will do nothing to encourage internal opposition to Russia’s “illegal invasion” of Ukraine, Alex Salmond has insisted.
He made clear he had no regrets about fronting his “proper and balanced” current affairs show on RT and suggested it could be revived elsewhere. “That’s a distinct possibility,” he said.
In an exclusive interview with The Herald as Alba holds its conference in Glasgow, the former First Minister also reflected on the trial two years ago when he was acquitted of all charges of sexual misconduct brought against him.
Mr Salmond stressed how he had been “victorious” in both a civil and criminal court case and turned to the Scottish poet Robbie Burns to answer how, looking back, he now felt about his trial.
“‘There’s nane ever fear’d that the truth should be heard but they whom the truth would indite.’”
Mr Salmond fronted his show on RT from 2017 during which time he faced repeated criticism for appearing on what critics have called a “Kremlin propaganda channel”.
Asked what he thought of the decision by Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, to revoke RT’s licence, the ex-FM said: “I don’t accept RT has been a propaganda station…Ofcom hasn’t sanctioned RT in four years but they’ve sanctioned the BBC, Sky and many other stations over that period of time. If RT had been operating as what is claimed, then it would have been banned by Ofcom a long time ago.”
When it was pointed out RT’s licence was revoked over its impartiality on the Ukraine war, Mr Salmond replied: “Yes…I suspended my programme on RT on the day of the invasion. I didn’t wait for an Ofcom ruling.
“Look, I take the same view as the Spectator magazine, surprisingly enough, on the Ofcom ruling in that it’s counterproductive because all it does is to allow cover for banning information going into Russia from other sources and that achieves nothing because there are a number of ways to concentrate on how peace can be restored but one of these is the hope and belief that internal opposition to the war in Russia will grow. That is not going to be aided by bans on media, television stations and the rest of it.
“All the Russia Government has to say when people complain about the banning of media is that’s what’s been done to RT and, of course, RT didn’t broadcast in Russia or not to any extent. RT was, is an international station.”
Pressed on whether he now had any regrets about appearing on RT, Mr Salmond said: “No. Because the programme I fronted was produced by an independent Scottish media company. Certainly no one who has watched it could suggest that programme was anything other than proper and balanced and gave vent to points of view, which the mainstream media neglected. I believe it was a popular show.
“Interestingly, I just got the figures from the last programme we did with Sir Vince Cable on the day the Liberal Democrats attacked me for doing the programme but it was never broadcast on RT because it was the day of the invasion. But it was on Facebook with no RT branding. It got 1.1m views.”
Asked if the Alex Salmond Show could return on another channel, the party leader replied: “The decision to suspend RT is not just immediate and decisive, it’s final. That’s a reaction to an illegal invasion but it might return elsewhere. Yes, that’s a distinct possibility.”
On the Ukraine war, Mr Salmond was asked if he agreed with US President Joe Biden that Vladimir Putin was a “war criminal” and a “pure thug”.
The former SNP leader did not respond directly but said: “There is a strong case for war crimes being committed in Ukraine and it’s right and proper international courts examine that when the time comes.”
In 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea, Mr Salmond condemned Putin’s actions in Ukraine but came in for criticism by some for comments about how he admired “certain aspects” of the Russian President’s politics.
The ex-FM explained this came from an interview with Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former press chief, for GQ magazine, when he was asked which politician he most admired.
“I said Angela Merkel and then he asked if I admired aspects of President Putin. It was just after the winter Olympics and I said he restored Russia’s pride by which I meant that Russia in the 1990s was in total chaos, but then I went on to criticise the nature of the Russian state and particularly the relationship between politics and oligarchs and the lack of internal democracy. That’s not how it was written up.”
Asked if he had any regrets about his comments, Mr Salmond stressed: “I have opposed every illegal invasion during my entire time in politics regardless of the country involved. I have not picked and chosen which illegal invasion to support or decry, I have decried every single one of them. I’m totally consistent on this one. It’s an illegal invasion and it would be appropriate for the international tribunal to look at the issue of war crimes when the time comes.”
Two years on from the seismic court trial, the party leader was reticent to comment in any detail on it because of an ongoing police investigation into the leak of information to the Daily Record and a subsequent one to the Times.
“There’s a live criminal investigation which I wish well because the people who did that criminality should be exposed for having done so. There’s no doubt there was criminal behaviour, it’s just a question of finding who did it. I wish the police well in their investigation and I hope for a satisfactory result from it. Once that’s completed, the criminal process, then there’s the question of civil action and we will just take things in turn.”
He stressed: “It’s the people who are being investigated who should have concerns because these are the ones who the ‘truth will indite.’”
Asked if he thought the trial process had diminished him politically – one poll suggested he was the most unpopular politician in Scotland with a worse rating than Boris Johnson – Mr Salmond replied: “Well, let the people decide how they treat Alba and me when we have contested elections and we will take it from there.”
After many years at the top of Scottish politics, he was asked if at any point following the trial he was tempted to leave the political stage and enjoy a quiet retirement in Aberdeenshire.
“Well,” he said, “through my public life I’ve wanted to see the case for Scottish independence articulated and I want to see it brought to a conclusion and a successful conclusion.”
Mr Salmond insisted that Alba would, over time, have a growing and significant role and added: “It is a deeply necessary political development given the lack of progress over the last eight years and I’m heart and soul devoted to giving it every assistance to be successful.”