Cambridge Analytica: SNP was 'very keen' to start working with us

Simon Johnson
Cambridge Analytica spokesperson Clarence Mitchell speaks during a press conference in London - AP

The SNP was “very keen” to start working with Cambridge Analytica and the firm has phone and email records of their talks, the controversial firm at the centre of the data harvesting scandal has said.

Clarence Mitchell, a spokesman for the company, said at least two SNP representatives met the firm in London and the talks were followed up with further phone calls and emails “with a view to a business relationship.”

He said the Nationalists wanted the company to develop a digital “platform to help them manage their data” but the EU referendum put the talks on hold indefinitely.

His outspoken intervention came the day after Kirk Torrance, the SNP’s former digital guru, admitted he met the company on behalf of the party in February 2016, four months before the Brexit vote.

Mr Torrance said he advised the party, for whom he was working as a consultant, “not to touch the firm with a barge pole, as they were a bunch of cowboys.”

But Mr Mitchell dismissed his comments as “quite insulting and frankly ill-advised” and warned the party that “we’re cowboys that keep phone and email records”.

The SNP said that Cambridge Analytica “simply can’t keep their story straight” and reiterated there was a single meeting in London, with the party rebuffing the company’s attempts to initiate a follow-up.

However, Labour’s Neil Findlay said “enough was enough”, repeating his demand that the SNP start answering “basic questions” and publish all documentation related to the meeting.

The data firm, which worked on President Donald Trump's election campaign, has been accused of harvesting up to 50 million Facebook profiles without permission.

Although there was no suggestion any work was carried for the SNP, the disclosure last week of the meeting was highly embarrassing as the Nationalists had urged other parties to come clean about their dealings with the firm.

Dismissing the Nationalists’ claims on Sky News, Mr Mitchell said: “There were at least two SNP representatives that had one meeting in London and phone calls, followed up by further phone calls and email with a view to a business relationship beginning to help them with their data analysis.

“They were very keen to have that association with Cambridge Analytica. It was only the timing of the European referendum that put the project on hold.

“So for the SNP to portray us as cowboys, well we’re cowboys that keep phone and email records and it’s really unfair for them to begin to characterise us that way.”

Cambridge Analytica spokesperson Clarence Mitchell speaks during a press conference in London Credit: AP

The furore broke out after Brittany Kaiser, the firm’s former director of program development, told MPs last week that held talks with the Nationalists at its Mayfair headquarters and near the Scottish Parliament. 

The SNP said an external consultant had held only one meeting in London, with the First Minister’s official spokesman indicating last week the talks were about the May 2016 Holyrood election. However, claims emerged at the weekend the talks were about the EU referendum.

An SNP spokesman said: “Cambridge Analytica simply can’t keep their story straight. Last week they falsely claimed multiple meetings with the SNP in London and Edinburgh. 

“At the weekend they ludicrously claimed the SNP secretly supported Brexit. And today in parliament the firm was accused of lying about not using data sourced from Facebook profiles.

“To confirm again, a meeting was set up in London. One person attended it on our behalf. Attempts by Cambridge Analytica to follow up the meeting were not reciprocated.”

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