IT’S time to come clean. As someone who worked for the only paper that actiely supported the Yes campaign in 2014, the Sunday Herald, I must have been an unwitting tool of the Kremlin. My payment through the London oligarch “laundromat” would have been channelled through Lord [redacted] and Lord [redacted] who had been [redacted].

It’s all there between the lines of yesterday’s Russia Report. Though curiously, none of this Moscow gold ever found its way into my bank account. Perhaps I should head across and demand payment.

At any rate, we were told by all news sources yesterday, that involvement of the Russians in the independence referendum was “confirmed” by the report of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee. The evidence lay in “open source commentary” it said, which was “credible”.

The UK Government scandalously ignored evidence of similar Russian involvement in the Brexit referendum, said MPs on the committee, because it didn’t want to know. Surprise, surprise.

But how come the committee was so sure about Russkie meddling in the Indyref, about which the Government also apparently did not want to know? Why was the “open source commentary “so compelling? After all, such commentary is just what people had been saying in published sources.

There was no shortage of “open source commentary” during Brexit from any number of commentators, such as the prolific Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer, who reported that senior Brexiters were in regular contact with Russian diplomats and business interests. Why did the committee disown all that?

The implication was that the true Indyref smoking gun was in the classified annex to yesterday’s report. According to the former UK National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Lyell Grant, interviewed on BBC World At One, it was “well known” that the Russians were “amplifying social media messages during the 2014 campaign”. Well known by whom?

The published report refers only to claims about voting irregularities made after the 2014 referendum and designed to discredit the result. It also referred obliquely to newspaper speculation about cybernat “McBots” punting Russian propaganda.

It rather looked as if the Labour and Conservative MPs on the committee were only able to agree on one thing: that the Russians were obviously all over the Scottish independence referendum and that the Government should have taken better note.

According to the Labour MP, Kevan Jones, at yesterday’s ISC press conference, the UK Government ignored the “flashing lights” from 2014 and turned a blind eye to evidence that similar Russian “meddling” had occurred in the Brexit referendum in 2016. Perhaps surprisingly, SNP MP Steward Hosie, who is also on the committee, took up the theme with alacrity. He chastised successive UK governments for not acting on known Russian involvement in the Scottish independence referendum: “It must have been clear that had they looked for similar evidence [in Brexit] it would have been extraordinary if they had not reached the same conclusions”.

Questioned later about this on BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Hosie said that he was only able to talk about what was in the unredacted report, not the secret annex. That’s all very well, but it leaves a nasty smell over the entire referendum campaign.

I think we can all agree that the UK is – as the report put it – “a top target” for Russian security and intelligence services. But the activities of the IRA, the Internet Research Agency, which is assumed to be the perpetrator of these electoral dirty tricks, are almost incidental to the more serious activities of the Russian state. After all, it is widely assumed to have been conducting assassinations on UK soil using some of the most toxic agents known. This was against former KGB spies Alexander Litvinov and Sergei Skripal. These were terrorist actions and clearly a priority for the UK’s intelligence and security forces.

But social media influencing is a rather different kettle of spooks. What I mainly recall from 2014 were the widespread claims of vote-rigging and dirty tricks, not by the Kremlin but by MI5. Many SNP supporters on Twitter believe the Alex Salmond sex case was orchestrated by the UK secret service.

If, as the ISC committee recommended yesterday, MI5 spooks should now be actively investigating and judging social media posts during election campaigns, then yet more mistrust and paranoia will assuredly be the result. Why so sure? Because they are already doing this.

It was revealed in 2018 that the Institute for Statecraft, and its protege the Integrity Initiative, funded by the UK Foreign Office, was already battling Vladimir Putin’s social media meddling from the improbable location of a disused mill in Fife. The Integrity Initiative is all about countering “disinformation and malign influence” from Russia, which increasingly originates online.

However, these hapless hacktivists strayed disastrously into domestic politics. The Integrity Initiative had to apologise to the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for retweeting messages suggesting that he was one of Mr Putin’s “useful idiots”. It’s not clear which of the institute’s 26,000 tweets were alleging this, but we can guess.

Ms Cadwalladr had claimed in 2018 that senior members of the Labour Party including Jeremy Corbyn’s communications director, Seumas Milne, were Russian patsies. “Milne’s support of Russia is like Farage’s,” she tweeted in December 2018. “There’s nothing hidden. It’s completely overt”.

This is the problem with trying to fight a propaganda war on social media. Even more than conventional spying it is a hall of mirrors. Paranoia feeds paranoia. In calling for the intelligence services to start investigating election campaigns, the ISC committee is asking for something the spooks dearly want to avoid.

Take Labour’s “NHS for sale” dossier, which became a major story in the 2019 General Election campaign. This first appeared on the Reddit website. That website’s own security analysts claimed that, while the documents on Britain’s trade negotiations with the US were genuine, they were put into the public domain by Russian sources.

Do we seriously want MI5 judging the veracity and origins of every election issue? Arguably, yesterday’s ISC report was itself an exercise in political propaganda serving to taint the 2014 referendum with Russian involvement. Yet there is precisely no evidence, compelling or otherwise, that this had any impact on the result. Keep spooks out of politics.

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Read more: The key points from the ISC report