FAKE Twitter accounts sent nearly 400,000 messages about independence in just 18 months, new research has revealed as concern mounts about Kremlin meddling in Scottish and UK politics.

So-called “bots” - many believed to be linked with a Russian effort to destabilise the West - have already been identified providing support for Donald Trump and Brexit last year.

Now experts at Swansea University say computer-generated accounts were also tweeting about independence, using key words like “SNP”, “Sturgeon” and “indyref”, the Sunday Post reported.

Ben Nimmo, of the Atlantic Council’s digital research lab, said it was “entirely plausible” these tweets were Russian.

He told the paper: “The model deployed by the

Russians is to target geo-political events where they can encourage division.

“For obvious reasons, the Kremlin is not keen on independence per se but the disruption would be appealing.”

Russian bots and propaganda outlets have been seen to champion division on both sides of controversial issues elsewhere.

A separate study, at Edinburgh University, also found references to Scottish independence from fake accounts backing Brexit, the Sunday Herald revealed.

This study focused on accounts proven to be linked to the Internet Research Agency - a Kremlin troll farm - and found small amounts of Scottish content.

Russia has developed a sophisticated disinformation and destabilisation machinery in recent years with propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik supported by intelligence operatives and both human and computer-generated social media campaigns.

Scottish political insiders, including those in the SNP, have long suspected that some social media accounts, especially on Twitter, were fake.

The SNP, whose Scottish Government shuns both RT and Sputnik, this weekend called for a security service investigation in to Twitter bot support for Brexit.

Theresa May last week warned of a concerted effort disseminate fake news through propaganda channels such as RT and social media.

Mrs May said Russia is seeking to “weaponise” information by “deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions.”

She was vocally backed by, among other people, the SNP MP Stewart McDonald. “The Prime Minister is spot on,” the Glasgow South member tweeted.

His colleague Brendan O’Hara told the Sunday Herald: “Theresa May was absolutely unequivocal in her speech last week about interference by Russian-backed accounts during the EU referendum campaign.

“If she has evidence that Russian sites did influence the referendum, it must be investigated because we’re talking about the undermining of our democracy here.”

Damian Collins MP, chairman of the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture Media and Sport Committee, has written to Facebook and Twitter to ask for information which could “link fake news, bot accounts and fake accounts to Russian-backed activity in the UK”.

He said: ““Some evidence has already emerged that known Russian accounts were active in UK politics around that time, that’s as a consequence of evidence that’s been discovered in America. But I want to see what was going on here and I think those companies owe it to us to produce that information for a parliamentary committee that’s requested it.”