ANAS Sarwar is right. At least, as we reporters like to say, up to a point. The Scottish Labour leader this week declared that it was “pretty obvious” that Vladimir Putin would be pleased by the SNP’s renewed push for independence.

And in doing so he rehearsed a well-worn and not implausible trope that the Russian leader welcomes any development which weakens his British adversary.

“I think he would support anything which is damaging to his enemies,” said Mr Sarwar.

Cue indignation from some Scottish nationalists, who scoff at the notion of somehow being on the same side as Europe’s bloodiest oppressor of separatism.

For them, Sarwar’s patter is low politics, like saying those who support indy are pro-cancer – or favour drowning all kittens.

READ MORE: Despots will cheer block on indyref2

But, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I wish folk would park their partisanship when it comes to how the world’s tyrants react to our politics.

Because it is perfectly possible that the Putin regime will try to stir things up over independence.

So we should be looking at ways of making our public debate on the topic resilient to any influence operation, by any authoritarian regime, for any motive.

First things first. Nobody actually knows whether the Russian strongman has any specific long-term strategic goals for Scotland or the UK or what tactics he might pursue to achieve them.

I wish I knew. Unfortunately, I don’t have any spies in the Kremlin. The op-ed budget – and ethical rules – of The Herald do no stretch to bugging world leaders or suborning their staff.

We may not know what Putin thinks. But we do know what he does. And that is that he – and his disinformation machinery – tries to exploit global wedge issues for two things: stirring, and whataboutery.

Let’s deal with the former first.

Stirring, as often as not, means amplifying extreme voices on either side of any dispute.

Take our own politics. Before it was taken off the air, Putin’s main propaganda mouthpiece in the UK, RT, paid the leaders of two political parties at opposite ends of our constitutional divide at the last Holyrood elections. Neither proved electable. This was a remarkable development which raised eyebrows among world Russia-watchers but barely registered here.

There are pro-independence voices who laugh off the idea of Putin supporting Scottish sovereignty.

As Mr Sarwar got his headlines this week they pointed out that the Russian leader is no friend of small EU-friendly new states. They add that independence for Scotland would partially reverse Brexit and the weakening of the Western alliance it brought.

That is all perfectly logical and plausible and sensible and maybe even right but it may just not matter. Why not? Because an authoritarian ruler does not need to worry about their critics thinking their actions are counter-productive, wrong-headed, muddled, inconsistent, hypocritical or arbitrary. These, after all, are among the defining traits of a despot.

Again, we should look at how the Putin regime acts rather than guess what it wants or what we think it should want.

Fact: the current Kremlin government has sought to encourage and even finance “separatists” abroad while oppressing them at home.

It has platformed whimsical cranks who claim to support the independence of California and Texas. But also, according to a scandal unfolding in Spain, made more serious overtures to some Catalan independentistes.

Given this track record, it would be extraordinarily naive to assume Putin would not try to mix it up in Scotland, even if this was just to troll Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon, both of whom his government has openly designated as foes.

He might interfere, or he might not. His capacity to do so has been reduced, his propaganda networks muzzled. But we should be bracing ourselves nevertheless. How? Well, for starters by avoiding shrill partisanship, policing disinformation and applying scepticism to anonymous social media accounts pushing extreme views.

But, what about, erm, whataboutery? We worry that authoritarians might meddle in our politics. We give far too little thought to how they will twist our stories for their own domestic propaganda needs.

Last week on this very page I was talking about how despots will welcome a long-term block on indyref2. It is a perfect diplomatic and propaganda cover for a crackdown on independence movements.

But expect the Putin regime to also find ways to exploit demands for a new vote in Scotland for its own ends.

This is not a merely theoretical risk. A decade ago, before the current war in Ukraine, I reported Russian demands for an indyref for Crimea, the now annexed Ukrainian peninsula.

Kremlin propagandists specifically cited Scotland’s then-coming vote. And they did so again after they held their own very dodgy plebiscite in Crimea in 2014.

We may now see fake referendums take place in other occupied regions of eastern and southern Ukraine, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson. In a free ballot more than 30 years ago these areas all voted overwhelmingly for Ukrainian independence. The expected fraudulent plebiscites will have very different results.

Putinists are already making the connection between these proposed referendums and the drive for indyref2. Indeed, there has even been speculation in Kremlin media that an independent Scotland would next year recognise the sham Donetsk and Luhansk republics. This is a fantasy, of course. But it is one we should be aware of.

Anas Sarwar might well be right about Putin wanting to weaken Britain. But for me the real question is how we raise our political discourse so that foreign despots cannot exploit it for their ends. The partisan row Mr Sarwar’s assertion sparked shows we are a long way from that.

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