By a Newsnet reporter
Claims by the Scottish Labour party that “certain individuals” may have flooded the Scottish Government’s referendum consultation with “multiple submissions” have been ruled out following the publication of official figures.
The accusations, from Labour MP Anas Sarwar, were undermined after it emerged that there was no evidence of multiple submissions from the same person and that anonymous submissions made up only 3.5% of the almost 12,000 total.
The publication of figures follow widely reported accusations by Scottish Labour Deputy leader Anas Sarwar who had claimed the Scottish Government’s consultation had been deliberately designed for abuse.
Speaking on Radio Scotland earlier today Labour MP Sarwar suggested that there may have been “hundreds of submissions by individuals”.
Claiming that there was evidence of “flooding” on social media sites and blogs from “certain individuals and certain groups” Mr Sarwar said:
“It clearly looks like the SNP have been trying from the start to get their own way so that they can try to rig or fix this referendum,”
“and what they’ve tried to do is use this submission process in the exact same way to let their cybernats [sic] loose on this process to try and fix it and make great play of the responses”
Pressed on whether the UK Government’s own consultation is to be independently verified Mr Sarwar refused to say, insisting only that each submission had required an email address along with a name.
However the Labour MP was forced to concede that the process used by the Westminster consultation itself could not guarantee no multiple submissions.
“You can never guarantee that there’s going to be no multiple submissions” he said when pressed.
The attack on the integrity of the Scottish Government referendum consultation followed the publication of the UK government’s version.
The accusations by Labour is based on the fact that there have been around four times as many responses to the Scottish Government process than to the London controlled consultation.
However the Scottish Government published details of the referendum consultation responses first thing this morning, which show that only 414 responses out of a total of 11,986 were anonymous – just 3.5 per cent of the total.
The figures demonstrate there is no evidence that the process is being skewed by anonymous contributions, Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business Bruce Crawford said.
Neither is there any evidence of multiple identical responses from the same person.
The Scottish Government’s consultation will be independently analysed in order to underline the robustness of the process, and the contract was advertised last Friday. The contract for the analysis is being competitively tendered in the usual way for large consultations, using standard Scottish Government procurement procedures.
In response to the media coverage of the Labour attack, the Scottish government have decided not to include anonymous responses in the finalised set of results.
Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business Bruce Crawford said:
“The Scottish Government’s referendum consultation is gathering huge levels of public interest as we debate and discuss Scotland’s future – and the robustness of the process is demonstrated by the fact that the consultation will be subject to independent analysis. This stands in stark contrast to the much smaller UK Government consultation, which was not put to independent analysis.
“As the figures we have published demonstrate, there is absolutely no evidence of anonymous responses skewing the process – quite the reverse – but we can and will make the process stronger still by requiring all submissions to have personal identification details before they are taken into account. While anonymous contributions would always have been separately identified, we will now ensure that no anonymous submissions are included in the analysis at all. And while there is no evidence of duplicate identical responses from the same person, we can and will ensure that any received are also excluded from the independent analysis so that their view is only represented once.
“These changes address any conceivable concerns about the Scottish Government consultation – while there still remain questions about the Westminster exercise.
“Our public consultation is going from strength to strength, and I encourage everyone with an interest to make their contribution to this vitally important discussion on Scotland’s future.”
The criticism of the UK consultation follows claims from at least one academic that his views had been misrepresented by the Scotland Office.
The Scotland Office listed Alan Trench as one of the 70% of respondents it claimed wanted the referendum to be held before the SNP’s scheduled date of Autumn 2014.
Speaking to the Scotsman newspaper, Mr Trench said: ““I wish they [the Scotland Office] had read my submission properly.”
Responding to the Scottish Government’s announcement, a Scottish Labour spokesman said: “This is a humiliating climbdown for the SNP government, which appears to have lost control over its own consultation and now appears to be making it up as it goes along.
“It is only appropriate the Scottish government now strip out the anonymous submissions and we welcome the belated acceptance that this process is flawed and open to abuse.”
With the Scottish Government now having addressed the issue of multiple submissions, attention will turn to the UK Government to provide the same verification.