SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford backs boycott of Alex Salmond's RT show

Simon Johnson
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford - PA

The SNP’s Westminster leader has urged a boycott of Alex Salmond’s chat show on a Kremlin-funded channel as the former First Minister cast doubt on new evidence that Russia is responsible for the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

Ian Blackford said he would not “encourage” people to go on the RT (Russia Today) programme and attempted to distance the SNP from its most successful leader by describing him as a “private individual.”

The Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP hit out at the Alex Salmond Show as the former First Minister admitted it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

But he cast doubt on intelligence disclosed by Boris Johnson that Russia has stockpiled Novichok, the substance thought to have been used in the attack, within the past decade and has been investigating using nerve agents for assassinations.

The former SNP leader claimed this was contradicted by secretary-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), whom he said had praised last September “the completion of the verified destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons programme.”

Mr Salmond also argued there was a substantial difference between Theresa May’s conclusion that it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible and Mr Johnson’s statement that there was an “overwhelming likelihood” that Vladimir Putin personally ordered the attack.

Alex Salmond during the launch of his RT chat show The Alex Salmond Show Credit: PA

His latest intervention on his LBC phone-in programme came amid mounting criticism of his refusal to sever his links with RT following the Salisbury attack, with Ruth Davidson stating it was a “shameful stain on his reputation.”

Despite the controversial channel running a series of stories parroting the Putin regime’s line there is no evidence of Russian responsibility, he used last week’s edition of his programme to insist it is not a propaganda outlet and the proof must be “overwhelming.”

Pressed whether Mr Salmond should quit his RT show for the sake of the SNP’s reputation, Mr Blackford told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “Alex is a private individual. What he does is obviously his own responsibility.

“The fact remains that there are dozens of MPs that have appeared on RT over the course of the last couple of years and many MPs have been paid to be on that show

"I personally wouldn't go on it, I wouldn't encourage people to go on it but what Alex does is his own business."

Mr Blackford was also pressed whether Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a former MP and close friend of Mr Salmond who produces the programme, should be allowed to continue sitting on the SNP’s national executive committee.

Ms Ahmed-Sheikh is an elected office holder, serving as the party’s national women’s and equalities convener, a position that gives her a place on the ruling body. However, Mr Blackford said she played a “very valuable role” in the SNP.

Pressed on his relationship with RT by an LBC caller, Mr Salmond reiterated his programme is independently produced and “I say and do as I like.”

Asked whether he thought Russia was responsible for the attack, he said “highly likely would be a reasonable estimate of the position.”

However, he delivered an impassioned defence of Jeremy Corbyn, saying the Labour leader was “entitled” to ask the questions he had about the evidence amassed by the UK Government.