REVELATIONS that the Iranian regime has been peddling disinformation on social media in an attempt to influence the outcome of the Scottish election should come as no surprise. Their fake posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter for at least the last 12 months and possibly dating as far back as 2013, have been in support of independence and the fracturing of the UK.

Like the Russians, the Iranian mullahs are keen to promote anything that might harm the West. Breaking up the UK is therefore a prime target for their cyber trolls, who have targeted social media relentlessly with fake separatist material, graphics, memes and cartoons, in an attempt to influence Scottish voters.

The Iranian regime’s malign activities have been studied for the past year by the Henry Jackson Society, a transatlantic think tank.

They reported that fake accounts and groups were set up by cyber-specialists from Tehran to fool Scottish internet users. The Henry Jackson Society described it as an attempt by the mullahs’ regime to “attack the constitutional integrity of the UK.”

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With Nicola Sturgeon back in the saddle as Scotland’s First Minister and an overall majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament who favour independence, it looks as if the theocratic regime may have scored a hit with their disinformation campaign.

The SNP may pause to reflect on the strange bedfellows they have accumulated during their endless separatist crusades, although they have stressed that they have never encouraged or endorsed such interference. Indeed, they claim to have worked “to counter the spread of disinformation.” That may be the case, but the Scottish Government does have a track record in kowtowing to the mullahs.

In November 2019, it was revealed that Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Chief Constable Iain Livingstone had agreed to be guest speakers at the Ahl Al Bait Society Peace & Unity Conference in Glasgow.

Opponents of the Iranian regime believe the Society is a front for the mullahs’ fundamentalist propaganda and it has even been rumoured that their headquarters in Woodside Crescent, Glasgow, has been used as an annex of the Iranian embassy in London.

The First Minister and Chief Constable had agreed to join Imam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali as keynote speakers at the conference. Dr Shomali is the resident Imam and director of the Islamic Centre of England. He has described homosexuality as "unlawful" and likened gay marriage to bestiality, claiming that “one day these countries will desire marriage with animals.”

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When Nicola Sturgeon and Iain Livingstone were informed by the media that many people were concerned they had agreed to share a platform with Imam Shomali, they both quickly announced that they had discovered diary clashes that would prevent their attendance. Nevertheless, the First Minister had attended the same conference alongside Imam Shomali in 2017 and 2018.

There is little doubt that Tehran has put a great deal of effort into courting closer relationships with Scottish political leaders who favour independence.

In December 2015, Alex Salmond was one of a six-person delegation who visited Tehran, meeting the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and other representatives of the mullahs’ regime, in an attempt to cement trade ties.

The serious implications of Iranian interference in the Scottish elections has triggered a robust response from James Cleverly MP, the UK Minister for the Middle East and Africa, who says that he will raise Britain’s concerns with international leaders at the G7 summit in Cornwall in June.

Mr Cleverly said that he will seek an agenda item at the summit meeting of foreign ministers, dealing with the Iranian regime’s “destabilising behaviour, not just in the region but also more broadly.” In March, Facebook removed 446 fake accounts that it traced back to the Iranian regime.

The cyberwar activities of the theocratic regime are simply the tip of a dangerous iceberg. The mullahs’ egregious abuse of human rights, their massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, their murder of 1,500 protesters during a nationwide uprising in 2019 and their history of torture, brutality, injustice and arbitrary executions, have turned Iran into a pariah state.

In addition, their policy of aggressive expansionism across the Middle East and their role as the Godfather of international terror, with repeated cases of so-called ‘diplomats’ involved in terror plots in the West, have radically altered international attitudes to Tehran.

The recent jailing of Assadollah Assadi, a "diplomat" from the Iranian embassy in Vienna, for attempted murder and terrorism, following his plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris, has focused attention on the menacing threats posed by the mullahs.

Perhaps anticipating the impending collapse of the regime, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has now been suspected of leaking a supposedly confidential and classified tape recording of an interview he gave, in which he openly criticises the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Listed as a terrorist organisation in the West, the IRGC is the equivalent of the regime’s Gestapo.

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In the leaked tape, which has caused a firestorm in Iran, Zarif can be heard to complain that he had to spend most of his time clearing up the diplomatic mess made by the IRGC. He claimed that he had no authority to take decisions and that all foreign policy was dictated by the IRGC acting on the direct instructions of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Many Iran-watchers now believe Zarif has contrived to expose the tape as a future defence against indictments in the international courts for his involvement in cyberwars, terror plots and crimes against humanity. But his efforts have backfired spectacularly, undermining his credibility as foreign minister and highlighting his close involvement as a willing puppet in the Iranian regime’s aggressive imperialist, expansionist and terrorist strategies.

The SNP Government should beware that it doesn’t find itself on the wrong side of history. There are growing signs that the fascist dictatorship ruling Iran is on its last legs, as 80 million Iranians clamour for change and long for the restoration of freedom, justice and democracy. Scotland should always be on the side of the oppressed. Misguided support for the mullahs would be grave error.

Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change (CiC). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).

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