It's that time of year again: I’ll be extra glad after a long, hard election campaign to unwind with some seriously good Eurovision fun.

One of the favourites this year comes from an unlikely source: despite previous’ years entrants being booed on stage, and being on the wrong side of tactical voting from much of the continent, Russia has poured money and resources into making this year entrant Sergey Lazarev one of the early favourites.

While it may seem like they are gluttons for punishment, the slick production and songwriting – provided by a Scot, John Ballard, from Drumchapel – represents something of a sensitive side that Russia would like to present to the world, especially given all of the recent bad publicity. An event watched by an estimated 400 million viewers at home will provide the perfect opportunity to do that.

Picture: Vladimir Putin


The serious side to the fun comes in the fact that this type of media messaging is not a mistake. The Kremlin also seeks to get its own narrative across through directly-funded news services such as RT, formerly known as Russia Today; and Sputnik, an agency which has started broadcasting an English language radio station based in Edinburgh.

This brave new world of the Russian media is well depicted in Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, a spellbinding look at the system created by Putin to support his illiberal democracy.

Review: Peter Pomerantsev's Nothing is True and Everything is Possible

Pomerantsev, an Englishman, found himself working as a TV producer in Moscow, where media bosses were keen to use his London experience to create a uniquely Russian style: his conclusion is a rather depressing one, especially for those who hope we may be able to see a loosening of Mr Putin’s grip: “This isn’t a country in transition, but some sort of post-modern dictatorship that uses the language and institutions of democratic capitalism for authoritarian ends.”

The comments I gave to The Herald earlier this year about not wanting to appear on RT were seen to be controversial by some, given the views I have regarding the licence-payer funded BBC and how it represented the policies of my party around the referendum: surely the sympathetic stance of RT towards our cause would make it an ideal fit?

Well, it is true that if you go onto the RT website, and can click past the exaggerated stories of the refugee crisis in Europe; the maliciously fabricated ones about those of the Muslim faith raping ethnic Russians in Germany; or the truly bizarre reports of a genocide being perpetrated by the Ukrainian Government against its own people in the Donbass, it is possible to find a couple of stories which give a supportive slant on Scottish Independence.

Therein lies the problem. We can’t as Scottish Nationalists kid ourselves the support RT and Sputnik show for our cause is for any other reason than it misguidedly thinks that it will undermine Western institutions, and fundamentally the international rule of law: somewhat short-sightedly it has to be said, given an Independent Scotland would be an enthusiastic member of both the EU and Nato; and given the contribution that small, Northern European states have made to European security, through agreements like the Helsinki Accords, or in organisations such as the UN.

Picture: The war in Donbass

HeraldScotland: A pro-Russian rebel inspects the damage after shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. Ukraine has retaken control of much of its eastern territory bordering Russia in the last few weeks, but fierce fighting for the rebel-held cities o

What you won’t hear on the new Sputnik station, of course, is any examination of the situation of national independence movements inside Russia itself: difficult as that may be given the potential prison sentence that awaits anyone expressing a belief in independence from the Russian Federation. You won’t see much of an examination into how Russia’s LGBTI community reacts to its Eurovision entry, given the punishments that await anyone "actively promoting a homosexual lifestyle".

These are the groups inside Russia who I’d love to say I was speaking to if I went on RT or Sputnik, but I don’t ever think they’ll ask me for comment. Recent tensions between Russia and the West have underlined the need for a dialogue between the populations of our common and diverse Europe, and the proud and diverse culture and communities of Russia: but I remain to be convinced this will ever be the right forum to do that: instead of being a tool for dialogue, RT and Sputnik are a tool for disinformation.

These channels are happy to go with a lie if the lie fits; or with the truth if that truth proves to be inconvenient to Western institutions.

Picture: Sputnik news agency


Background: Herald story from March 2016 on SNP snubbing Sputnik and RT

When I spoke to The Herald in March, some were concerned my comments were seen as a little preachy, and for that I must apologise: I would not want to be seen to be telling people what to watch, or share on social media.

In that spirit, I’ll enjoy sitting down with my family and pals tonight for a celebration of some of the so-bad-it's-good telly and music Europe can offer: I’ll maybe even cheer on the Russian entry – it was written by a Scot after all.

Martin Docherty-Hughes is SNP MP for West Dunbartonshire.