By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
Efforts to create the so-called “grassroots” anti-independence campaign group Vote No Borders began nearly two years ago, it has emerged, raising fresh questions over the controversial organisation.
Vote No Borders received national media attention earlier this month when it launched, but despite the group’s claims that it was a grassroots movement championing an emotional connection to the union, it quickly emerged in new media outlets that founder and director Malcolm Offord was actually a Conservative party donor who had donated more than £120,000 to Prime Minister David Cameron.
It also emerged that fellow director Fiona Gilmore is the CEO of PR company Acanchi, which specialises in ‘country branding’.
In the latest revelation of the saga, the discovery by the Wings Over Scotland (WOS) blog of a LinkedIn profile from a former intern at Acanchi revealed that work had been carried out by the PR company in 2012 to create an anti-independence project.
A segment from the profile showed the unnamed intern worked at Acanchi between June and September 2012. The profile read: “Collated and formatted material for a proposal document promoting the pro-union arguments in opposition to the SNP’s call for Scottish independence including development of narratives, a positioning strategy and a programme of micro-initiatives for this project.”
Soon after WOS made the discovery, details on the profile were changed in a bid to ‘hide’ it from view and all mention of the anti-independence projects was deleted. However, the WOS website provided screengrabs of the profile as evidence of the original.
“Making your profile harder to find it entirely understandably, if you fear that you might attract some unpleasant internet attention (even though your identity’s been protected),” wrote Wings’ Stuart Campbell. “But having done that, to ALSO airbrush a perfectly legitimate and legal piece of your career out of history looks a little more suspicious.
“The attempted rewriting of reality has been something of a theme of the No side in the referendum campaign. It’s a difficult thing to pull off in the internet age, but for some reason people keep trying, usually with the exactly opposite outcome.”
The news will bring fresh embarrassment for the Vote No Borders campaign. While mainstream media outlets were criticised for giving the campaign promotional coverage with little analysis of its background, the links uncovered by online media outlets between its directors and Westminster quickly led to concern that it was a sham organisation attempting to boost the crisis-hit No campaign.
Blogger Craig Murray – the former British ambassador who uncovered much of the group’s political background that was apparently missed by the country’s biggest broadcaster – slammed the BBC for reporting “entirely contrived state propaganda”. Murray’s criticism followed a lengthy promotional piece broadcast by the BBC.
The news comes amid a series of new problems for the No campaign after the UK government was this week accused of trying to cover up the results of an Ipsos Mori poll rumoured to have found a surge in support for independence.