By Martin Kelly
Claims by Unionist politicians that the Yes Scotland campaign has been “rigging” numbers relating to their website have rebounded after it emerged that the platform used for the site was identical to that used by the Labour party both north and south of the border.
The attack on Yes Scotland followed comments by a Lib Dem blogger, Caron Lindsay, who had complained that settings on the site led to her image showing – implying that she supported independence.
Ms Lindsay accused the Yes Scotland campaign of trying to “massage” numbers by displaying social media credentials of people who had registered on the site.
Ms Lindsay, a Lib Dem supporter and pro-Union blogger, said: “The idea that I am somehow powering the independence campaign is ridiculous. Apart from anything else, we all know it's being financed by rich mainly men, some of whom don't even live here.”
She later added: “It takes some nerve to manipulate the intention of people who have legitimate professional or political reasons for keeping tabs on them.”
The attacks prompted Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie to accuse the Yes Scotland organisers of “rigging” the website.
In a statement, Mr Rennie said: “They tried to rig the referendum, now they are rigging the website. Following an individual or group on Twitter should not be misrepresented as support.
“The Yes Scotland website fails to make this distinction and implies that everyone who follows the campaign supports the campaign. This is an underhanded way to pad out numbers to make it look like more people support the break-up of the UK than is actually the case.”
Ms Lindsay’s attack on the Yes Scotland campaign prompted articles in the Scotsman newspaper and STV online news. In the Scotsman article, Labour MP Russell Brown accused the Yes Scotland campaign of operating a “scam”.
Mr Brown said: “To claim people support separation simply because they follow the Twitter account is deeply dishonest and purposefully designed to deceive.
“This is a scam and shows no one can believe any of the numbers of supposed ‘supporters’ the Yes campaign claim to have.”
However, despite claims by STV's Scotland Tonight and others, people do not appear as supporters of independence simply by following the site on Twitter.
The Nation Builder platform on which the Yes Scotland site is built, requires people to purposely enter their Facebook or Twitter account details before appearing on the site. Indeed, twitter then requires permission from each registered user before allowing access to their Twitter credentials.
A Yes Scotland spokesman, when asked about the Twitter claims said: "Nation Builder by default considers anybody who follows on Twitter as a 'Supporter' as can be seen in their documentation.
"Aware that this would be problematic, the development team made the necessary changes to the Yes Scotland Nation Builder instance to strengthen integrity."
Newsnet Scotland can also reveal that the Labour party also used the same platform on its own websites both in Scotland and England with settings that created the same profiles for users, but crucially does not appear to have made any changes to the default settings.
We can also reveal that following the attacks on the Yes Scotland website, that Scottish Labour party pulled the public profile pages from one of its own websites.
The ‘Putting Glasgow First’ website was one of at least two sites created by Labour using the same Nation Builder software. Glasgow Labour adopted the platform after the SNP's historic 2011 election win.
Labour also used the same default settings in order to create public profile pages for people who registered with the site using their Facebook or Twitter accounts.
One of those whose image and tweets appeared on a profile page on the Labour site, beneath the Labour slogan and alongside the UK Labour party logo, was SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter.
Clicking on the link for the page now brings up a message informing the user that the page cannot be found. Newsnet Scotland has managed to locate a link using google cache:
This wasn’t the only website to use Nation Builder. We can also reveal that Labour’s London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone also used the same platform. The site was reported to be offline earlier today.
The attacks on the Yes Scotland campaign website by the anti-independence alliance are similar to attacks on the Scottish Government’s referendum consultation.
However, claims that the Scottish Government had “rigged” their consultation were undermined after it emerged that the UK Government’s own consultation had received multiple submissions, with a large proportion coming from a Labour party website.
The Scottish Government, unlike their Westminster counterparts, have handed over all submissions for independent verification.