November 10, 2017 / 1:08 PM / a month ago

Drawing flak, Scotland ex-first minister to host Russia Today chatshow

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Top Scottish nationalist Alex Salmond is under fire for agreeing to host a Russia Today talkshow, but the man who once sought to split Scotland from the United Kingdom rejects suggestions he is helping Moscow or perceived Kremlin mischief-making in Europe.

Asked whether he was supporting Russian-led propaganda, Salmond, who lost his seat as a Scottish National Party (SNP)lawmaker in Britain’s June election, said the public could judge for itself.

“If it turns out to be Kremlin propaganda, then people can slate me. But why don’t they watch the show first and then decide?” he told the BBC.

The news of his job drew a ticking off from Salmond’s successor at the head of Scotland’s devolved government, Nicola Sturgeon, amid concerns about alleged Russian funding links to Britain’s campaign to leave the European Union.

In the United States, a federal investigation is looking into reports of Russian meddling in the U.S. election campaign.

Moscow denies that it seeks to subvert Western democracies.

Sturgeon, also leader of the SNP, said the show would make “interesting viewing,” but added she would have advised against the choice of media.

“Of course, Alex is not currently an elected politician and is free to do as he wishes – but had I been asked, I would have advised against RT and suggested he seek a different channel,” she said, adding: “Neither myself nor the SNP will shy away from criticizing Russian policy when we believe it is merited.”

SALMOND REMAINS INFLUENTIAL

Scottish Liberal Democrat lawmaker Alex Cole-Hamilton challenged Salmond to interview opponents of President Vladimir Putin’s government on his show and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives expressed sympathy for her political opponent.

“It’s not often I feel sorry for Nicola Sturgeon, but Salmond taking the Kremlin’s rouble on Russia Today? Ooft....” Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said on Twitter.

Feelings for and against Scottish independence are still key to politics north of the English border, although the drive to sever 300-year old trading and political bonds has stalled as Britain negotiates its exit from the European Union.

Salmond, 63, is still very influential in the independence movement and is never far from the spotlight with outspoken comments on U.S. President Donald Trump, Brexit and the best way to manage the SNP’s drive for secession.

“I appeared on RT programs when I was still a member of parliament. It would be a bit strange if, now that I‘m no longer a member of parliament, I‘m refusing to make my own show with my own production company over which I have total editorial control,” he said.

The Russian media group says it covers “stories overlooked by the mainstream media, provides alternative perspectives on current affairs, and acquaints international audiences with a Russian viewpoint on major global events.”

Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary, Editing by William Maclean

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