Allegations of a coordinated plan to swamp a UK polling organisation with Yes supporters in order to influence independence polls have been traced to a sole pro-Union activist.
Last weekend some newspapers reported that “online speculation” of an “organised sign-up” of Yes campaigners had led to polling firm Panelbase shutting its polls to new members.
The reports followed an announcement by Panelbase that it had had blocked new members from joining. In a statement the organisation confirmed it was aware of “some discussion on Twitter of an organised signup of Yes campaigners, hoping to influence Panelbase polls”
However, Newsnet Scotland has learned that the so called ‘online speculation’ of an organised sign-up was in fact based on a solitary Tweet from a pro-Union activist entitled “How can we trust Panelbase”.
According to polling firm Panelbase, its decision to block new members from taking part in future independence polls was prompted by a tweet from an individual called Andrew Skinner. Skinner, who sports the official Better Together logo on his twitter page, is part of an online group of Unionists formerly called British Unity, but renamed VoteNo2014.
He tweeted an image of a handful of online messages from apparent Yes supporters who were urging others to join the polling organisation. Some highlighted payments from Panelbase whilst others suggested joining up might improve results from independence surveys.
The allegations from Skinner followed a Panelbase poll that put support for Yes and No virtually neck and neck. Other surveys from rival organisations suggested the No campaign was well ahead.
The Panelbase poll also prompted Skinner’s group to publish online statements accusing pro-independence activists of “masquerading” as undecided voters and of carrying out their own survey’s.
A statement published on its Facebook page said: “We have seen a few nationalists masquerading as doubtful unionists to try and paint the picture that support for the Union is falling.” it added, “nats are self commissioning their own polls such as panel base (sic) to also suggest an increase in nationalist support while all other respectable polls have historically shown stagnant or declining support for independence.”
However, quizzed on the alleged organised ‘swamping’ by Yes activists, Panelbase dismissed the claims explaining that there was no evidence of any such campaign and that the decision to block new members was merely a precaution after the organisations monitoring software picked up Skinner’s original tweet.
Panelbase had earlier rubbished claims that its independence poll had been compromised by new registrants, insisting that: “… new joiners have had no significant effect on our results …”
Other statements published by Skinner’s Unionist group include claims that the SNP plans to “indoctrinate children“.
According to the group, the SNP have tried to change the history books in schools, “… they turn up in primary schools to give children speeches they can’t understand, they use children in politics adds on TV and media outlets. Now they want to use a government minder, whose job it will be to spy on children and make secret reports about the parents.”
The group add: “…how far away are we from SNP policemen patrolling the streets and reporting people that don’t preach their form of nationalism.”
Asked why a respected UK polling organisation would block new members and issue a public statement based on online accusations from an ultra-Unionist online group, a Panelbase official said: “The danger was that once that sort of conversation began online, it could gather momentum and have an impact. There was nothing for us to gain from allowing new members to take part in political polls, but plenty to lose.
“The responsible course of action therefore seemed to be to act as we have. This way we can be confident that any movement in our polls in the coming year is genuine, and not the result of either side having managed to exert undue influence.”
Commenting on the poll which prompted Skinner’s allegations, and criticism of the question order, the official said:
“As we said in our statement, it is possible that the question order in the SNP poll may have had some effect on the results but leaving that aside our polls are consistently showing a smaller gap between yes and no than other organisations are reporting – we are confident that the analysis of the data is a major factor in this difference (we’re not saying that this means we’ve got it right and they’ve got it wrong, just that the differing approaches to analysis have a large effect).
He added: “We will be expanding on this when we release our next poll in a week or two.”
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