THE scene: a deserted TV studio. Two empty leather chairs wait invitingly on a cold concrete set. Enter stage left a portly figure in a brown three-piece suit. His lilac face is buttery with make-up, red-rimmed eyes smarting under the lights. It looks as if someone has been using Mr Toad to test cosmetics. He waves his hammy mitts aloft and looms into the lens with a familiar, half-crazed chuckle: “Hello, and welcome to the Alex Salmond Show!”

Such was the promotional clip issued by RT, the Kremlin-funded propaganda channel formerly known as Russia Today, shortly after 7pm on Thursday. Within minutes it was one of the biggest stories of the week. He hasn’t been First Minister for three years, and hasn’t been an elected politician for five months, but Mr Salmond is still big news.

He also generates big emotions, and not just in Nyet voters. The loudest complaints about his Moscow-funded frolic have been from SNP politicians who now have to deal with the fallout.

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“He’s a liability,” one MSP spat. “This doesn’t help anything except the advancement of Alex Salmond.” Nationalist MEP Alyn Smith, who happened to be in the Holyrood bar at that moment, urged reporters to take down his reaction. “What the f*** is he thinking?” he dictated.

“It’s all about the buzz for him,” sighed someone else who had worked with Mr Salmond for years.

Whatever he was thinking about, it certainly wasn’t the best interests of the SNP or the independence movement. Working for a mouthpiece of Vladmir Putin, after Russian interference in the US election, is not likely to win any wavering converts to the Yes cause. Diehards may love it, but it doesn’t add a single vote where it counts.

RT hopes it will lead to cross-pollination. Mr Salmond could lend it some missing credibility. He is well known, commands a loyal following, and is a former national leader, not to mention an occasional house guest of the Queen.

Many MPs have appeared on the channel, but building him into the schedule is something extra.

In theory, RT’s other output could gain respectability by association, something far more valuable to the Russians than mere ratings.

Whether it happens is a different matter. The backlash has been intense. Nicola Sturgeon wasted little time expressing her annoyance.

“Had I been asked,” she said, making it abundantly clear she wasn’t, “I would have advised against RT and suggested he seek a different channel.”

This is new territory for the SNP. There have been tensions between its two most powerful figures before, but not a public reprimand like this.

Forced to clean up after his errors in office, biting her tongue over scores of unhelpful interventions, and even making light of some sexist dross in his fringe show, it seems Ms Sturgeon has finally had enough.

Mr Salmond and his allies - and he has more than Ms Sturgeon through being more attentive and sociable than her - may not take it well.

Besides the risk of infighting and briefing, the party also faces cross-contamination from the RT affair.

What will the public think now of the man who might have been PM of an independent Scotland, of the causes he espoused, and of the party he fashioned, now that he is in bed with an industrial lie machine?

What will they think of the White Paper he promoted, and of the deputy who promoted it with him? What will they think the next time they are offered a vote on the issue?

There will also be cross-contamination of Mr Salmond’s attempt to become chair of Johnston Press, publishers of the Scotsman, Yorkshire Post and 200 small titles.

The businessman who owns a fifth of the stock and wants to take over the board with Mr Salmond’s help has said the RT show is irrelevant. But that’s not the case. If Mr Salmond were both chair and working for RT, the papers would be perceived as being part of the same toxic nexus, especially as Mr Salmond is an inveterate meddler.

He may have told Newsnight he has no ambition to tell editors what to do, but that is not his nature.

He is notorious in the Scottish media for calling up papers to complain about stories he doesn’t like. Many a tale has withered on the vine after he whispered in an editor’s ear. That is is not a good context for journalism or sales.

There’s another aspect to this ill-considered enterprise that has been overlooked.

Mr Salmond’s collaborator and co-presenter on the RT project, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, is not merely a failed MP. She is a member of the SNP’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee.

In other words, there is now a very short chain linking the Kremlin and Scotland’s party of government.

From Moscow to RT to Ms Ahmed-Sheikh to the SNP. This doesn’t, of course, mean she is a signed-up Putin puppet. But the optics are appalling. It is hard to see how she can continue in the role.

In the promotional clip for his new channel, Mr Salmond, as is his wont, quoted Robert Burns.

Without irony, he chose the famous line from To A Louse: “O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!”

Ithers see him very clearly, but I doubt he will ever possess the gift.