SNP's former digital guru confirms he met Cambridge Analytica

Simon Johnson
Cambridge Analytica has been accused of harvesting up to 50 million Facebook profiles without permission - PA

The SNP’s former digital guru has announced that he held the party’s secret meeting with Cambridge Analytica shortly before the 2016 Holyrood election and Brexit referendum.

Kirk Torrance said that he was the “external consultant” the party employed to meet the firm at the centre of the data harvesting scandal, but he advised “not to touch the firm with a barge pole, as they were a bunch of cowboys.”

He said the SNP had followed his advice but Labour said there remained a series of unanswered questions about the meeting, including which political campaign it related to.

Neil Findlay, a Labour MSP, reiterated his demand that the Nationalists publish all documents associated with the talks and disclose who at SNP headquarters commissioned Mr Torrance.

He was the party’s new media strategist between 2009 and 2011, before he left to start his own consultancy. However, the SNP continued to employ his services and he played a role in the 2015 and 2016 election campaigns.

The identity of the consultant came the day after allegations that the February 2016 talks were about that June’s EU referendum, and not the Holyrood election, as Nicola Sturgeon’s spokesman indicated last week

The Nationalists described as “utter concoction and fantasy” claims in a Sunday newspaper that, while they publicly opposed Brexit, they told Cambridge Analytica they privately wanted a Leave vote to boost support for independence.

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.

Brittany Kaiser, its former director of program development, told MPs that Cambridge Analytica 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 and Ms Sturgeon refused to identify who attended, saying she did not want a “witch hunt.”

But Mr Torrance published a statement after he was named by a Left-wing website. He said: “I can confirm that I met Cambridge Analytica on 18 February 2016 on behalf of the SNP. My recommendation was not to touch the firm with a barge pole, as they were a bunch of cowboys.

“From what is known now about Cambridge Analytica, I am glad the SNP took my advice.”

Mr Findlay said: “Now that it’s been revealed that former SNP digital guru Kirk Torrance met with Cambridge Analytica on the party’s behalf, it is time for the SNP to come clean on this whole murky affair.”