TL;DR - No more than existing, publicly available documents already show Russian interference in UK democracy.
Brief mention is made of the Scottish Independence referendum (pg 13) in that, "Credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014." In regards to the EU referendum of June 2016, the report explicitly points out that the committee did not attempt to assess the impact of Russian interference.
(Note, all quotations taken directly from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Russia Report, which has been redacted in places)
There have been widespread public allegations that Russia sought to
influence the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. The
impact of any such attempts would be difficult – if not impossible –
to assess, and we have not sought to do so. However, it is important
to establish whether a hostile state took deliberate action with the
aim of influencing a UK democratic process, irrespective of whether it
was successful or not.
They did look at active attempts by the Russian state to sway public opinion, mostly through disinformation spread through social media, both organically and via paid advertising. Their findings were that this was indeed the case and that existing research in the public domain demonstrates that official Russian parties have been involved in numerous attempts to sway Western democratic processes and that the UK was a prime target for such manipulation.
...general poisoning of the political narrative in the West by fomenting
political extremism and ‘wedge issues’, and by the ‘astroturfing’ of
Western public opinion; and general discrediting of the West.
The UK is clearly a target for Russia’s disinformation campaigns and
political influence operations35 and must therefore equip itself to
counter such efforts.
Open source studies have pointed to the preponderance of pro-Brexit or
anti-EU stories on RT and Sputnik, and the use of ‘bots’ and ‘trolls’,
as evidence of Russian attempts to influence the process.
The committee highlights the fact that no official investigations were carried out by either the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS, whose remit includes the internet) or by the security apparatus of the United Kingdom after these allegations began to get support and that the UK government did not take the accusations seriously until the Hack-and-Leak of DNC emails affected the US election.
We have not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of
Russian attempts at interference, [redacted]. This situation is in
stark contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian
interference in the 2016 presidential election, where an intelligence
community assessment was produced within two months of the vote, with
an unclassified summary being made public.
The conclusion is that the UK government did not perceive Russia to be a threat to UK democracy prior to strong allegations of Russian interference in the US elections.
The committee concludes that the UK government ignored the threat of Russian interference until it was too late, despite hostile actions (such as the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006) and continue to focus state intelligence agencies on the threat of Islamist terrorism.
If we consider the Russian threat to have been clearly indicated in
2006 with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, and then take events
such as the annexation of Crimea in 2014 as firmly underlining Russian
intent on the global stage, the question is whether the Intelligence
Community should – and could – have reacted more quickly and increased
operational effort on Russia.
Among the recommendations of the report (which include reviews into the tasking and coordination between ministers, committees, and the intelligence agencies of the UK) there are suggestions that legislation is needed to properly protect the United Kingdom's democratic processes from hostile, external influence. The committee stresses that it finds the electoral process itself is difficult or even impossible to manipulate directly, but public opinion is open to being swayed by disinformation.
We note – and, again, agree with the DCMS Select Committee – that “the
UK is clearly vulnerable to covert digital influence campaigns”. In
this respect, we have already questioned whether the Electoral
Commission has sufficient powers to ensure the security of democratic
processes where hostile state threats are involved; if it is to tackle
foreign interference, then it must be given the necessary legislative
Most striking is that the committee could not be provided with detailed analysis of alleged Russian interference in 2016 by MI5 (the UK's internal security service tasked with counter-espionage and counter-terrorism) or by GCHQ (the UK agency tasked with communications interception, electronic surveillance and security, equivalent of the NSA) due, apparently, to no investigation being carried out (further to the point already quoted in paragraph 47).
However, it is important to establish whether a hostile state took
deliberate action with the aim of influencing a UK democratic process,
irrespective of whether it was successful or not.
In response to our request for written evidence at the outset of the
Inquiry, MI5 initially provided just six lines of text. It stated that
[redacted], before referring to academic studies.43 This was noteworthy in terms of the way it was couched ([redacted]) and the
reference to open source studies [redacted]. The brevity was also,
to us, again, indicative of the extreme caution amongst the
intelligence and security Agencies at the thought that they might have
any role in relation to the UK’s democratic processes, and
particularly one as contentious as the EU referendum. We repeat that
this attitude is illogical; this is about the protection of the
process and mechanism from hostile state interference, which should
fall to our intelligence and security Agencies.
In essence, the committee have found that the UK authorities just don't know the extent of Russian interference, but the available evidence suggests that it existed. UK authorities don't know the impact of the probable Russian interference. UK authorities don't (four years later) have procedures in place to prevent it happening again.