By Bob Duncan
Yesterday Evening, 5th April, I was reading a story in the online version of the Scotsman. It was a rather pointless little piece about the leader of the Western Isles council and how he had opined that the SNP would not do as well as they expected to in the May elections.
The comments were almost universally antagonistic to the content of the piece, so I refreshed the page a few times over the next couple of hours, just to see what else might appear.
While reading the comments, I noticed the online poll which was on the subject of “Should the independence referendum be brought forward from 2014?” It was running at about 61% NO vs 39% Yes, much as it had been for several days.
Interesting, I thought, how this seemed to directly contradict the claims of the UK consultation, which was published that same day and suggested 75% were in favour of an earlier referendum. Even the heavily unionist readership of the Scotsman appeared to be on the Scottish Government's side of this issue.
Later that evening, I refreshed the page again, and was astonished to see that, while the No vote had remained static (in numbers), the Yes vote had suddenly advanced by several thousand and now showed a majority in favour of an earlier referendum date.
By the following morning, this had climbed by thousands more, showing 72% support for Yes, and 28% for No. Amazingly, the poll had swung to support the assertions of the UK consultation in just a few hours, and overnight at that.
At first I checked the date, but All Fools Day had long passed so another explanation was required.
Had the poll been linked to a proforma on Labour Hame, perhaps? I searched, but I could find no such link.
Were Scottish Office staff putting in some overtime to keep Michael Moore happy? But no, the number of new votes were in the thousands and the slimmed down Scotland Office surely can't muster those numbers.
Had some Unionist hacker discovered a way to spam the poll and provide some much-needed evidence for the UK government's position? Possibly. This would need further investigation.
Then I discovered an insomniac blogger with sharper eyes than my own, A Sair Fecht. He had spotted that, during the wee small hours, the Yes vote count had been reset to zero for a couple of minutes. This makes it look much more likely that the fiddling, if that is what it was, took place inside the newspaper itself, as database access would be required to reset the count.
In truth, I don't recall witnessing such energetic fiddling since last year's Olympics. I mean the Whisky Olympics in Stornoway, of course, not the expensive distraction of similar name in London.
Whenever I suspect a conspiracy or fraud, I always look first to see who benefits from it. In this case, the Scotsman avoids the embarrassment of hosting a poll which contradicts the UK consultation “findings”. That apparent benefit, along with the resetting of the count, would seem to point squarely at the staff of the Scotsman as being the most likely suspects - if indeed impropriety has taken place.
Think about that for a second. A major national newspaper blatantly faking the results of its own poll to back up a discredited consultation, which the Scottish Secretary is selling as some sort of opinion poll. Has the whole anti-independence movement dropped to a new, and previously unplumbed depth? Or is it simply time for me to reach for the tin-foil hat?
You be the judge.