ALEX Salmond had a clear choice to make after he lost his Westminster seat to the Tories at the general election.

After holding the office of First Minister for seven years, he could have styled himself as an elder statesman, thrown himself into charity work and made occasional interventions that were above party politics. He could have chosen to be respected.

Salmond instead backed publicity over reputation by hosting a programme on a Russian propaganda station, RT, which is funded by one of the world’s most dangerous regimes.

Critics believe Salmond’s comments on the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury, and his subsequent failure to end his relationship with RT, compound his original folly.

According to Salmond, “overwhelming” evidence of Russian state involvement in the nerve agent attacks should be provided. Although a coalition of EU and NATO allies have since expelled over 150 of Vladimir Putin’s diplomats, the former SNP leader is sticking to his original line.

Long-term Salmond watchers won’t be surprised by his views on Russia. In early 2014, long after the mendacity and danger of Putin’s regime had been exposed, he was asked whether he admired the Russian President: "Certain aspects. He's restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing. There are aspects of Russian constitutionality and the inter-mesh with business and politics that are obviously difficult to admire.”

Salmond tried to clarify his “pride” remarks by claiming he had been referring to the Sochi Olympics, but his detractors were not convinced.

As Salmond should know, there is already “overwhelming” evidence that the so-called “wild east” is a mafia state. In Putin’s Russia, the politicians and gangsters are indistinguishable, nosey journalists wind up dead, and opposition leaders have a tendency to either get barred from standing, or shot.

We also know Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) was strongly linked to a previous assassination on UK soil. If Salmond is not convinced about Russia’s culpability over the Skripals, he should study the 328 page public inquiry report into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a Putin enemy who was poisoned in London 2006.

Sir Robert’s Owen’s inquiry concluded: “The FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by [the then FSB head] Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin.”

The findings were informed by CCTV and a bank of statements by witnesses, coroners and the dying Litvinenko. There was also an trail of polonium that followed the killers around like radioactive fingerprints. The evidence, to use a fashionable word, was “overwhelming”.

I emailed Salmond on Friday about whether he accepted the public inquiry conclusions into the Litvinenko murder. He told a colleague yesterday he had no comment to make.

Salmond’s links to RT, a station known for circulating conspiracy theories, have a wider significance beyond his own diminished standing. He is still a senior figure in the Yes movement and his softness on Russia gives license to the wilder, crankier elements on the independence side.

Robin McAlpine, director of the pro-independence think-tank Common Weal, claimed recently that Nicola Sturgeon had swallowed the “full, enthusiastic compliance with the establishment line” on Russia and the Skripal poisonings.

Not once in his article did McAlpine ever come close to criticising the Russian state or its authoritarian leader.

Craig Murray, an independence supporter who was was blocked from being an SNP candidate, also offered one of several “theories”. He wrote:

“And while I am struggling to see a Russian motive for damaging its own international reputation so grieviously [sic], Israel has a clear motivation for damaging the Russian reputation so grieviously [sic].”

And Wings over Scotland, an online independence supporting blog, added its voice to the chorus of sceptics: “SNP getting a lot of plaudits from metropolitan commentators for their Russia stance, usually a good sign they've got something wrong.”

In previous years, such views would have been dismissed as the ramblings of oddballs who can be seen in supermarket aisles muttering to themselves, but Salmond's behaviour creates the space for these wacky voices to be heard at full volume.

Allegations have surfaced about Kremlin trolls hounding the First Minister over her tough stance on Russia, but why would you need fake Twitter users from St Petersburg when there are so many gullible fools on the outer fringes of the independence movement?

Whataboutery on Russia should be seen in the same light as discredited claims on secret oil fields and so-called BBC bias. The former SNP leader has gone from being First Minister to the figurehead of Scotland's “alternative facts” brigade.

Salmond’s reputation may have nosedived over his poor judgement in hosting his show, but his colleagues should be alarmed that he is taking elements of the Yes movement down with him.