Is this the death knell of the SNP’s ‘national survey’?

After 4-5 days I confess I am rapidly becoming bored with the farce that is the SNP’s ill-named and ill-thought out ’National Survey.’

It seems the whole world, or at least the whole sovereign Scottish people, know it’s a farce.

Why would protagonists on both sides of the only divide that matters in Scottish politics queue up on social media to tell the world how they’ve subverted it? From the nationalist side, punters boast that they’ve filled in multiple copies to give Nicola that extra boost in the inexorable march towards you-know-where. From the unionist side there’s the same enthusiasm to complete multiple copies to achieve exactly the opposite effect, with people discussing openly the best false names to use and sharing knowledge of how Freepost can be used to incur extra expense for the SNP.

I had originally noted that a less than alert citizen might not even realise the survey was the SNP’s. This prompted some comments that led me to ask whether the survey (at least the online version – there’s a paper version I’ve not seen) might be in breach of data protection rules. I then received two helpful contributions related to that question, the first on this blog, the second on Twitter. Both are clearly people who know their stuff. I quote them in full:

There are two areas where the website version of the survey falls down – the privacy policy and the approach to marketing. The privacy policy link on the website is too small, and the wording of the policy (if you can find it) is too vague. The first Data Protection principle states that information must be processed fairly, which means people need to know who is gathering their data, and the purposes for which it is being used. Neither of these is dealt with properly – it’s not clear how data will be used, and I’ve seen people on Twitter who think the survey is being carried out by the Scottish Government rather than the SNP.

The other problem is from legislation related to Data Protection called the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which set out rules for marketing. Regulation 22 states that marketing can only be sent by email if consent has been obtained. Consent cannot be opt-out, it has to be opt-in. The SNP cannot be under any illusion that their communications are marketing, because they lost a case against enforcement action under PECR in the 2006 case you linked to above [in my previous article]. They claimed then that their communications were not marketing, and they lost on that specific claim. Any political or campaigning emails sent as a result of filling in the survey will be unlawful (from Tim Turner, who runs the 2040 Information Law blog. He was also quoted in a Scottish Daily Express article on the subject)


I’ve seen some confusion around what the “national survey’ is, who gets the information and how it will be used. Even comments from people who didn’t know it was SNP party run rather than Scottish Government run.

Having worked for years in direct and database marketing, and having done my fair share of political canvassing, I think it’s clear;

SNP/yes recruitment tactics under Stephen Noon [former SNP employee] were “evangelical”; in methods lifted right from evangelical churches recruiters were tasked with scaling people on a scale of 1 to 10 as to how in favour of independence they were, then they would talk people through “natural conversation” to move them up the scale.

This isn’t a national survey, it is a political party canvassing.

They will then cross reference with their direct mail team. Then when spending on election materials they can spend more efficiently. They won’t bother with the views of the 10’s who are already converted, or the 1’s they will never convince. They will instead use the other information in the questionnaire to target specific messages to people to move them “up the scale” and giving them an advantage in effectiveness of limited campaign budgets over the other parties they won’t share the information with.

It would have been far more credible to get the civil service to hold something like a public consultation, accountable and open. Or to task an independent company to report back to Parliament. As it is the SNP will have your data and can share it with who they like.

This isn’t about a noble democratic national conversation where the majority opinion will guide policy; it’s about identifying the people who will never vote yes, and ignoring them *and identifying all the people who have already decided to vote yes in any indyref2 and ignoring them*, then concentrating their marketing spend to tailor propaganda to a narrow spectrum of voters with niche minority causes and targeting promises to them to win votes regardless of the majority views on those topics.

In evidence based decision making, you gather data then make a decision. We already know the SNP have decided independence is the answer.

Socially engineering information on line to manipulate you.

This isn’t listening; it’s grooming (from @SteamPrepp on Twitter).

I noticed this morning that another political party (the Scottish Conservatives) has raised a number of issues about the survey with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and I suspect some individuals have too.

I also spoke to the ICO today. They advised me that if I had concerns about data protection aspects of the survey I had two options:

  1. I could raise them with their office in which case my concerns would be forwarded to their intelligence team for possible action: I would not receive a response if I did this, or
  2. I could raise them with the SNP directly, in which case they would have 28 days to reply. If they did not respond within that timescale or I was not satisfied with their response I could raise the matter with the ICO so they could make an assessment of whether the SNP was complying with their data protection responsibilities.

I’m swithering at the moment but will probably take the first option as it seems the ICO has at least one complaint already and should be working on it. My interest is in early action (if it’s justified) not any personal response. Writing to the SNP with the inevitable delay that would incur doesn’t appeal at all, especially when the survey is only going to be open for a limited period.

Meantime, I dipped into the survey web site yesterday to see if they had attended to the two problems that Tim Turner identified – ‘the privacy policy and the approach to marketing.’ Here is the only change to the relevant pages of the site:


Spot the difference? It’s the words ‘How we use your information.’ That takes you through to the same ‘Privacy and Data Protection’ page as before, text completely unchanged – you still have to write them that snail-mail letter if you don’t want them to use your information.

As @SteamPrepp says, the SNP will get some marketing information from the exercise. But that’s all, and at what cost to such reputation as they still have on the subject?

It’s all a gazillion miles from a national conversation and has probably gone past the stage of farce. Are we about to see the death knell of the ill-named and ill-thought out ’National Survey’?

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6 Responses to Is this the death knell of the SNP’s ‘national survey’?

  1. Another shambolic farce from this inept excuse for a government who gave us “the named person” debacle. It can only be anti English supporters keeping them in power, no one in their right mind would vote for these clowns.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lewis Finnie says:

    If there is a legal case and the thought of costs is a factor in not proceeding please contact me as I’m willing to consider funding.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger White says:

      That’s an interesting thought and a kind offer although a legal case is unlikely to be something I personally would pursue. I e-mailed the Information Commissioner’s Office this morning with my concerns about the survey. I’ve no doubt they’ve received other complaints and I look forward to seeing any ruling/decision they make. If there are folk unhappy with that I guess there might eventually be some sort of legal case, at which point your offer might be helpful to whoever’s pursuing it. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sam Duncan says:

    “SNP/yes recruitment tactics under Stephen Noon [former SNP employee] were “evangelical”; in methods lifted right from evangelical churches recruiters were tasked with scaling people on a scale of 1 to 10 as to how in favour of independence they were, then they would talk people through “natural conversation” to move them up the scale.”

    Interesting. That kind of thing doesn’t have a noble history in politics, to say the least.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. wujeanty says:

    Well done, Roger – I wouldn’t write to the SNP either – there is not a cat in hell’s chance I would give them my information!

    It’s interesting that, if your correspondent is correct, the SNP is going to go down the Better Together route of not going after their core vote, but instead concentrating on undecideds. Without wishing to give the separatists tips, an ‘undecideds’ strategy – which will inevitably involve timidity and caution and negativity – is a sure-fire way of hemorrhaging their core support, which is built on flag-waving hysteria. But if they want to do that, fine – it will be fun seeing them tank to 30%.


    • Surely targeting undecided and “soft” No voters is the only sensible way forward? As for your predictions of SNP support “tanking to 30%” I suppose time will tell; wishing ardently for it to happen won’t make it so. It’s perfectly possible that *some* former Yes voters will vote No in indyref2 because they are anti EU, just as it is that some former No voters will vote Yes because they want to stay in the EU.

      The % of people supporting indy (on average of 45 polls) is 3.5% higher now than it was in 2014, that for remianing in the UK is 3.5 % lower. The SNP’s support levels can hardly be said to be reducing either, can they? You may of course be right; >50% support for 1 party may not be sustainable long term, and circa 48% may be the high water mark for pro-indy support….but then again, it may not. It may be subjective, but I’ve seen plenty of evidence of former No voters switching to Yes, particularly post brexit; I’ve seen vanishingly few say they’ve switched from Yes to No.

      The average of the 5 polls since brexit show an increase in support for Yes to 50.2%, and increase of 1.5% from the average of all 2016 polls. It will be interesting to see where that figure goes as the details of the brexit settlement become clearer over the next few years.

      Given the high turnout in indyref1, the potential for increasing vote share by persuading non-voters to turn out is limited. Whether the IC finds anything amiss with the survey remains to be seen; ideological animus aside, isn’t it a good thing for a party (whether SNP, Labour or Tories) to seek feedback and reach out to “all” voters, not just their core support?


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