Where is the SNP’s rebuttal unit?
The announcement that the SNP would launch a “rebuttal unit” to counter “disinformation” about independence was broadly welcomed by members back in October.
SNP depute leader Keith Brown told party loyalists at conference in Aberdeen said the unit “will launch next week”.
“You’ll see much more content on the party’s website and on social media in the coming months, clearly marked as coming from the rebuttal unit,” he added.
Yet more than three months later, members and other independence supporters are still left wondering where it is.
A tweet from MP Pete Wishart at the start of this week warned there would be “a new high point in unionist/media attacks on the SNP” in light of a raft of senior politicians, including former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, giving evidence to the Covid-19 Inquiry.
Many of those responding to Wishart’s tweet agreed with the sentiment, but also wondered why the rebuttal unit had not been established. One user said the unit was “completely MIA”; another said it had been “entirely absent from any means I follow”; a third asked: “Why is the rebuttal unit not responding to these in any way at all?”
So, where is it then?
Independence minister Jamie Hepburn recently appeared on the online pro-independence channel The TNT Show and insisted that unit does in fact exist.
“That unit is now effectively established at headquarters. It is undertaking activity, it is undertaking the work.
“With the best will in the world, though, it’s not going to be possible for that unit to rebut every single accusation that’s made about every single thing that either the SNP has done, or hasn’t done, or the Scottish Government has or hasn’t done. It’s not going to be possible.
“It is there, is it doing its work. And I suppose what I would urge is SNP members, SNP supporters, to tune into that and actually take some of that information and utilise it themselves.”
But clearly its existence is not apparent to all. Indeed, the SNP’s website does include a “Research and Rebuttal Unit” tag but at the moment only two items appear on it – both authored pieces by MSPs dating from November.
And in a piece for The National in December, Brown announced the relaunch of the Yes campaign website. Previously the cross-party vehicle to push for a Yes vote ahead of the 2014 referendum, it is now exclusively managed by the party.
On that website, Brown said, there would be a range of new resources to “empower us all to make the case for independence”, and the party’s “research and rebuttal unit” would be supporting that work by adding new leaflets and expanding the Q&A section.
No new videos appear to have been posted on the site since February last year, and there is little in the ‘news’ section either – aside from republishing the Scottish Government’s ‘Building a New Scotland’ papers.
There is a new ‘Independence Q&A’ section, which does seek to answer some of the major questions that many voters felt went unanswered at the time of the last referendum. That covers topics ranging from pensions to the border to currency.
This does seem to fall short of what many members were expecting the new unit to do, especially since during the leadership contest Yousaf had pledged to create a “round-the-clock rebuttal service”.
An SNP spokesperson said: “The Research and Rebuttal Unit is up and running - alongside the new SNP WhatsApp channel and the new Yes website containing resources for activists to use to campaign for the better future we know is possible as an independent country, the Research and Rebuttal Unit has been producing material which is regularly published on the SNP website and promoted through our social media channels."