By Bob Duncan
The Better Together campaign for a No vote to independence has for months been collecting personal information on thousands of voters, in a breach of data protection law.
The SNP said the credibility of the anti-independence campaign had been dealt a serious blow after it was revealed they been committing a criminal offence by gathering information on thousands of voters without registering to do so.
They claimed Better Together’s credibility had been shattered and urged it to destroy the “dodgy database” of supporters it has unlawfully accumulated.
The breach of data protection laws was revealed in the Sunday Herald, and could theoretically result in the criminal prosecution of its Directors, who include former Chancellor Alistair Darling.
Under the 1998 Data Protection Act (DPA), all large organisations processing people’s personal data must notify the ICO prior to handling the information. Failure to do so is an automatic offence.
On the Better Together website, it says: “The information you supply us will be treated in confidence in accordance with the Data Protection Act.”
However, the No campaign failed to register before starting to gather data on supportive voters during its launch on June 25. In fact, it was not until July 30, five weeks later, that Better Together (2012) Ltd even requested the notification forms.
Better Together (2012) Ltd’s directors are Alistair Darling, Tory MSP David McLetchie, Labour MSPs Jackie Baillie and Richard Baker, and Scottish Liberal Democrat convener, Craig Harrow.
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) commented “It may be sloppy paperwork but it’s still a criminal offence.”
The ICO also said that Better Together had ignored two ‘chaser’ letters, and that as such was still not officially registered as a data controller, as required by law.
“It’s a criminal offence not to notify the ICO. They [the anti-independence campaign] contacted us on July 30, confirming they needed to notify. They were sent out a pack. They need to fill in those forms and get them back to us as soon as possible. It’s a criminal offence. They should have notified. They haven’t done so so far.”
Angus Robertson MP, referendum campaign co-ordinator for the SNP said:
“This is a serious blow to the credibility of the No campaign, from which it will struggle to recover. We now know that – whether due to staggering complacency or incompetence – it has been engaged in illegal activity since its launch.
“As a director of Better Together, Alistair Darling along with its other board members bears personal responsibility for the No campaign’s failure to comply with data protection law – an extraordinary position for the former Chancellor to find himself in. If Better Together cannot run a campaign without breaking the law, why on earth should anyone take them seriously on the issue of Scotland’s constitutional future?
“The law must take its course and be applied. In the meantime, Mr Darling must make an immediate statement confirming that the No campaign will destroy the data which it has been unlawfully gathering over the past few months – and which it may well have shared with the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem parties.
“The three anti-independence parties have serious questions to answer about how they have found themselves in the position of ganging up together in an organisation which has been caught operating outside the law.”
MEANWHILE, it has emerged that a University recruitment drive by Better Together resulted in not one student signing up to the anti-independence campaign.
According to the Better Together website, a drive at Strathclyde University Fresher’s Fair aimed at signing up students to help with the pro-Union campaign resulted in not one student registering.
A similar drive at Aberdeen University resulted in the same lack of interest.
The message for each event on the campaign website states: “0 people have registered to attend this event”.