A political organisation described as the grassroots campaign for Scotland’s place in the UK has been forced to defend links to controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica.
William Ramsay, deputy chairman of Scotland in Union, announced at a fundraising dinner in November last year the group had been in talks with the company, which is now at the heart of an alleged Facebook data-mining scandal.
Mr Ramsay said that Cambridge Analytica had told him about the SNP’s “army of supporters” and “sophisticated database” and joked about hacking SNP data, Open Democracy reported.
The comments were reportedly made during a Scotland in Union fundraising dinner in the Caledonian club in London.
Mr Ramsay said in a speech: “The SNP have an army of supporters, and a sophisticated database - I know that from speaking to Cambridge Analytica the other day, who are not working for them, thank goodness.”
But a Scotland in Union spokesman denied the organisation had ever worked with Cambridge Analytica. They added a request for a meeting with Pamela Nash, the former Labour MP who is now chief executive of Scotland in Union, was turned down.
Mr Ramsay is employed in a voluntary role with a specific focus on fundraising. The Scotsman understands he was introduced to a representative of Cambridge Analytica at a business mentoring event in London, and an informal discussion followed.
The revelation is awkward for Scotland in Union, coming days after the SNP was first forced to defend its links to the firm.
Cambridge Analytica claimed the SNP was “very keen to maintain an association” following a meeting in February 2016.
The comments are at odds with the account given by the SNP and Kirk Torrance, the former digital strategist revealed on Monday as the party representative who met Cambridge Analytica.
An SNP spokesman said “attempts by Cambridge Analytica to follow up the meeting were not reciprocated”.
A Scotland in Union spokesman said: “We have never worked with Cambridge Analytica or any other organisation of its kind. Indeed, a request to meet with our chief executive Pamela Nash was declined because of our concerns about Cambridge Analytica and the nature of its work.”
Scotland in Union suffered a damaging data breach in December last year when a detailed list of donors and their contact details was leaked to several pro-independence blogs. The incident was reported to police and is subject to an on-going investigation.
While the leaked data remains subject to strict confidentiality laws, meaning newspapers are restricted in what can be reported, it was swiftly shared across social media. One commentator described the list as containing “so many members of the British aristocracy that for a moment you find yourself wondering if this isn’t the list for Kate Middleton’s latest baby shower”.