By a Newsnet reporter
Moves by anti-independence campaign group Better Together to smear rivals Yes Scotland have emerged today after more details of the alleged email hacking of a Yes Scotland email account were released.
Yesterday morning it was revealed that police were investigating claims that an email account belonging to the pro-independence group had been illegally accessed after Yes Scotland became suspicious when a journalist contacted the campaign group with a media inquiry.
Suspicions were raised after the journalist was found to be in the possession of confidential information that could only have been obtained by accessing the email account. The information related to an article written by constitutional expert Dr Elliot Bulmer.
Late last night Yes Scotland released a statement which gave more details behind the alleged unauthorised hacking and the inquiry that alerted them to the possible email security breach.
The statement said: “This matter was first brought to our attention last Wednesday when we were asked for comment on Dr Bulmer and the article in question.
“We responded quickly, confirming that a small fee had been paid to Dr Bulmer at his request. We were perfectly relaxed and transparent about this.
“However, later that day it became apparent that an email account at Yes Scotland had been accessed illegally and that the information relating to this matter had been gleaned as a result.”
The statement added: “We would now ask that this serious criminal investigation is allowed to continue unhindered by further unhelpful speculation, accusation and misinformation.”
Newsnet Scotland can also reveal that a day prior to this information being released by Yes Scotland, Dr Bulmer was himself contacted by a journalist working for a well-known UK national newspaper who asked about a piece the academic had written for the Herald newspaper.
According to copies of emails seen by Newsnet Scotland, the journalist contacted Dr Bulmer at 16:23 on Tuesday – the day the hacking claims emerged and before any public reference to the academic had been made.
The journalist, who we will not name, asked Dr Bulmer:
“I hope you can help me with a piece I’m looking at writing. I understand that you were paid by Yes Scotland to write an opinion piece for the Herald newspaper. Can you let me know if that is the case and what the remit for the article was?”
After a further prompt from the journalist, Dr Bulmer who is a constitutional expert, responded saying:
“I was asked to write a piece based on my constitutional expertise. I accepted fair payment for my work – as I, as a freelance academic and contributor, have every right to do. I would do the same if anyone else asked for a working day of my time. I had full editorial control and was not given any direction on what to say, neither by Yes Scotland nor by my Constitutional Commission colleagues.
“Although my position as Research Director of the Constitutional Commission was mentioned in the author bio, the article was written in a personal capacity. That said, there was nothing in the article that would compromise the Constitutional Commission’s position, nor conflict with its charitable remit.
“Moreover, while my own preference for independence is a matter of public record – I’ve never been shy about it – the Constitutional Commission exists to provide well-researched information to the public about constitutional choices, and its membership contains divergent views on a range of constitutional questions, including the question of whether Scotland should be an independent state.”
The article – A Scottish constitution to serve the common weal – appeared in the Herald in July and gave Dr Bulmer’s views on how an independent Scotland could benefit from a written constitution.
Newsnet Scotland understands that there are now attempts underway by the Better Together campaign and elements within the media to try to deflect from the hacking claims by smearing both Dr Bulmer and Yes Scotland.
In a statement issued late on Wednesday, Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall said: “How can we believe what they say if they are secretly paying supposedly impartial experts? The leadership of Yes Scotland must take responsibility for this and answer these accusations.
“Who else received payment? Who knew that this kind of payment was being authorised by the campaign’s chief executive?
“What other supposedly independent voices are being paid to say what the nationalists want? What else are they willing to do to deceive the people of Scotland?”
A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: “Blair Jenkins has called for an honest debate, yet his organisation appears to be guilty of deep dishonesty and deception. Perhaps one way of ensuring an honest debate would be if Blair Jenkins stepped down and removed himself from it.”
However there will now be growing suspicions that the attack on Dr Bulmer’s integrity and the attempt to smear Yes Scotland head Blair Jenkins was already being planned and that the media inquiry which alerted Yes Scotland to the alleged security breach, was in fact the precursor to the campaign.
On Tuesday First Minister Alex Salmond said the hacking allegations, if true, were “very, very serious”.
Mr Salmond said: “What I would say is this: If it turns out, and of course it’s still to be determined, that a newspaper has been involved in some way, given everything that’s happened over the last few years with illegal hacking and the whole scandal that erupted from that; if that turns out to be the case then it would be a very, very serious matter indeed.”