UK Government consultation “discredited” as questions raised over a third of submissions


By G.A.Ponsonby
The UK Government’s referendum consultation is in tatters today after questions were raised over a third of its submissions.
The integrity of the Westminster led process was seriously undermined after it emerged that 959 of the submissions were either anonymous, duplicates or were posted using auto generated text from a Labour party website.

The controversy follows revelations reported by Newsnet Scotland on Tuesday that hundreds of duplicate and anonymous responses had been made.  This was in contrast to claims by leaders of the Scottish Labour party that no such problems existed with the UK consultation.

The doubts over the integrity of the coalition led process increased yesterday after Scottish Secretary Michael Moore was forced to admit that one quarter of all submissions had been sent from a Labour party website and contained text pre-inserted by Labour.

The revelations are acutely embarrassing for Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont and her deputy Anas Sarwar who have both claimed that the UK consultation was far more robust than the Scottish Government’s more popular version.

Earlier this week Mr Sarwar described the Scottish based consultation as having been designed to be abused and openly accused the SNP of allowing independence supporters to “flood” it with responses.

His leader Johann Lamont even called for the Scottish Parliament to be recalled, to debate what she suggested was a deliberately rigged process.

However figures released by the Scottish Government indicated that its consultation was in fact no more open to abuse from anonymous replies than the UK process and in fact showed no evidence of multiple submissions.

The news that the UK Government’s own process was itself open to abuse will strengthen calls for it to be subjected to the same level of independent scrutiny as has been promised by the SNP for the Scottish consultation.

However speaking yesterday morning, Michael Moore rejected the calls and claimed that the less than three thousand replies represented an “overwhelming” example of public opinion.

The Lib Dem MP said: “The consultation has also produced a resounding endorsement for the referendum having a single, clear question on independence.  The reasons given are compelling.

“The Scottish government was elected on a manifesto commitment to hold an independence referendum – it is not at all clear what a second question would be about.”

A total of 2857 replies have been allowed following the removal of 101 anonymous and 118 multiple submissions.

Mr Moore also admitted that 740 of the 2857 submissions had come from a Labour party website and contained text already inserted by Labour.

However in an embarrassing blunder, the Lib Dem MP claimed that a similar online form produced by the SNP contained text urging respondents to endorse a second question on the ballot paper. 

Mr Moore said the SNP has a standard text on its website “that talks about wanting to have two questions and allowing the timetable to run to 2014”.

However it later emerged that the SNP form contained no such reference to two questions. 

First Minister Alex Salmond described the UK consultation as “puny” and claimed the questions over almost 1000 submissions left it “discredited”.

An under pressure Michael Moore refused to appear on Newsnight Scotland to answer questions on the UK Government’s own consultation.

Newsnet Scotland contacted the Scotland Office on Tuesday with our own questions relating to the consultation.  However to date we have received no reply.