HIS combat shirt was gringo green, his trademark fedora cocked at the slightest angle. A fortnight ago tonight George Galloway, long-time socialist firebrand, now self-described social conservative, went on TV to deliver some of his customary political zingers.

A champion of a united Ireland, the former MP has reinvented himself as a staunch defender of the UK.

Yet he had come in front of the cameras to speak up for a man whose life’s work had been to break up Britain: Alex Salmond.

The former SNP leader, Galloway declared, had been “framed by his own party, which wanted to stop him coming back in to power”.

His interviewer hurriedly distanced herself from this conspiracy theory – for which no evidence was presented. “We are not going to back that,” she said.

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The channel? RT, the premier Western mouthpiece of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian and kleptocratic regime. John Kerry, the former US secretary of state, summed up the station in two words: it is, he said, a “propaganda bullhorn”.

George Galloway is a regular RT host. And so is Alex Salmond.

I think it is worth pausing for a moment to think about this episode. Because this – however used to it we have become – is not OK.

A Kremlin TV personality who is running for Holyrood on an ultra-unionist ticket is defending another Kremlin TV personality who is the darling of ultra-nationalists. And he is doing this on, yes, Kremlin TV.

How did this happen?

The short answer: our polarised political eco-system makes us vulnerable to disinformation, and not just from Putin.

RT and sister operation Sputnik – where another former radical, Tommy Sheridan, has been editorialising in favour of Salmond – are far from the only threats to reality-based political discourse in Scotland. But they are the easiest to spot.

After almost a decade of endless constitutional politics, we now have tribalists – unionist and nationalist – who are prepared to give their heroes a pass on working for Putin media.

What else are they ready to forgive? Do they care about what is true? Or just about winning?

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This is a huge red flag, and not the kind that once fluttered over the Kremlin.

Putin TV has usually been seen – wrongly – as a Yes problem, not least after Salmond started a show on RT in 2017.

And a few “very online” Yessers have fallen for a core message; that RT was no worse than the BBC they loathed.

The Herald:

Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP has proved harder to dupe. Party insiders whisper their leader did not need to conspire against her predecessor, as his RT colleague Galloway claimed. Why? Because Salmond’s career was over the moment he signed up for the channel.

There are still a few Yessers who shrug off worries about Kremlin outlets – despite them representing a regime which harasses supporters of independence movements.

But with Galloway standing for Holyrood, for a list-only party called Alliance for Unity, some unionists are now sharing RT clips and links on social media.

How has this come about?

“They fear that another referendum will bring a different result,” explained David Clark, a former advisor to Labour Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and an expert in Kremlin influence campaigns. “So there is a sense that ‘anything goes’ to try and prevent the outcome they fear…..This is an environment in which disinformation is able to flourish.”

There is a scent of desperation about unionism. I think propagandists, disinformation actors and plain grifters of all kinds have sniffed an opportunity. Just as they did when nationalism was struggling.

“Unionism is turning into a political wild west,” explained Andy Maciver, a former Scottish Conservative strategist and Herald columnist.

“They have become so emotional in their hatred of nationalism that they no longer seem capable of rational thought. So they are now content to jump into bed with someone who they’ve been calling a Communist for the last umpteen years, because at least he’s a unionist Communist.”

Galloway is no Communist. He does, however, like his employer. Speaking to the Sunday Times last week, he rubbished concerns that the Russian president was an autocrat or that RT was propaganda.

Why does he not criticise Putin, he was asked. “Because I like him,” Galloway replied. “I wouldn’t rant and rave about him because I agree with him. I agree with him on Syria. I agree with him on the geopolitical issues of the day.”

Galloway has been censured by the UK’s media watchdog because of his coverage of the 2018 Salisbury attacks. He has cast doubts on whether the Putin regime attempted to assassinate anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny. And he has denied any suggestion of Kremlin interference in UK politics. He did all of this on RT, while preparing for an election campaign.

I don’t believe many unionists will think these are credible positions. So why tolerate them just because they think “anything goes” to stop the SNP?

Disinformation watchers stress that there is nothing uniquely Scottish in any of this. Russian government media have been giving voice – and wages – to has-beens and divisive fringe figures for years.

Why does RT want both Salmond and Galloway?

“To fan flames,’ said Elisabeth Braw, a Swedish expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. “They are not trying to stir up a completely new feeling, they exploit whatever is already there.”

I doubt Putin media is backing a side. I think it is encouraging rancour – and looking for opportunities to tell its stories on topics it cares about, such as Salisbury, Ukraine, Navalny and Syria.

Nina Jankowicz has long watched Kremlin outlets launder the reputations of old politicians. A fellow at America’s Wilson Center, she wrote a book called How to Lose the Information War.

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Asked what she thought of those who back Putin over Navalny or Salisbury, she said: “I hope we would never see Western politicians supporting a regime that used a military-grade chemical weapon to poison a dissident.

“Those who choose to appear on networks like RT should understand that their reputations are giving cover to a network that is the mouthpiece of such a regime.”

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