Yesterday, we discovered a rather curious anti-independence “listicle” on the popular viral-meme website Buzzfeed. Entitled “Scotland. The UK. 10 Myths. 10 Facts.”, it describes itself as “myth busting” by an author identified only as “YouDecide2014”.
It was shared or retweeted by a variety of Conservative Party special advisers, the 10 Downing Street Facebook account, and even the UK Ministry of Defence.
The crude, extremely biased article gives no indication that it’s written by the UK government. The closest it comes to doing so is right at the end, where it says “Get the facts at www.gov.uk/scottishreferendum“
We decided to find out more.
The first clue to the government’s direct involvement was that the author page sent readers to @YouDecide2014, a Twitter account which has a link to the Scotland Office home page, but otherwise presents itself as a source of neutral information, saying only “The Scottish Referendum on 18th September 2014 is a massive decision that needs proper thought. You Decide is here to give you the facts ahead of the vote”.
It gives its location as “Edinburgh”, and offers no indications that it’s in any way connected to the UK Government or is on one side of the debate. As the story developed on Twitter, an alert reader noticed something strange:
You can’t get a verified Twitter account except by arrangement with Twitter.
Therefore, @YouDecide2014 must be an official account of the Scotland Office. That certainly explains why Tory special advisors were tweeting the Buzzfeed article.
Curious, we visited the Scotland Office website. The most recent press release is headlined “Scottish Independence Referendum: myths must be debunked”, and links straight to the BuzzFeed page.
So it’s official: the UK government has attacked the Scottish government on Buzzfeed. Is this a first in international (albeit intrastate) relations? Will it set a precedent? Will the next Ukraine crisis negotiations be carried out in the medium of ironic animated GIFs or viral video?
The absence of any clear statements of the UK government’s involvement looks like an attempt to mislead the public. But there are even more serious issues.
Presumably, someone at the Scotland Office wrote the article, as it’s been released through official Government channels. They couldn’t be an ordinary civil servant, who would be bound to impartiality – and if there’s one thing that’s had Unionist politicians and media in a froth of outrage throughout the independence campaign it’s the thought of civil servants being made to act in an improperly political manner.
So this kind of work would have to be carried out by a special adviser. Could it have been one of the special advisers who tweeted the article? Surely not, as that would breach their code of conduct:
They are employed to serve the objectives of the Government and the Department in which they work. It is this which justifies their being paid from public funds and being able to use public resources, and explains why their participation in party politics is carefully limited.
We’ve already asked the Scotland Office for clarification of who wrote the article and whether they were paid for it with taxpayers’ money. We’ll keep you updated.