As the ludicrous Scotsman Independence Referendum online poll continues to further drag the reputation of the newspaper through the mud, attention is turning to whether this is, in fact, a cynical attempt to drive traffic to their website and create some advertising revenue.
The Scotsman used to regularly have a circulation over 100,000 in the 1980s - these days it is well under 40,000 and falling. This has prompted suspicions that their clearly rigged online poll was merely a device to deliberately create controversy and drive up those visitor numbers.
When the, let's just call them 'unusual' voting patterns were picked up by eagle-eyed observers, the only explanation coming from The Scotsman was an unofficial one, Deputy Editor Kenny Farquharson deriding conspiracy theorists in a number of tweets and claiming the paper's large readership in the US-based Scots diaspora were the ones responsible for thousands of votes pouring in to the poll in the early hours of the morning. These 'votes' turning a fairly consistent 60/40 lead for the Scottish Government position into a 70/30 lead for the UK Government position. This, incidentally, reflecting the results of the UK Government's Consultation exercise on the Referendum which, embarrassingly for the Scotsman, was prominently featured right next to their online poll.
It is more than a little hypocritical of a newspaper which demands answers from politicians at any whiff of controversy to resort to sullen silence when something of this nature occurs.
Naturally, newspapers have political leanings. It is the nature of journalism and we expect nothing less. Stories will be slanted and editorials will be supportive of the newspaper's position. Readers though, and the wider public, must expect a higher standard of behaviour than what can only be described as chicanery.
Another of Farquharson's tweets made the strange claim that because the Scotsman rarely uses it's online poll in the printed newspaper then the poll results are largely irrelevant anyway. This is, at best, ignorance or more likely, wilful dissembling - especially when the votes in this poll far outnumber the circulation of the paper. The Deputy Editor is an intelligent man. He knows that the obvious lack of balance shown towards the SNP Scottish Government in the Scottish media (especially in the run-up to the Independence Referendum) is creating a constant drip-drip of 'bad news' stories to support their Unionist agenda. This 'poll' is but the latest attempt to distort the facts and influence the people of Scotland.
The Scotsman, though, rather than show any remorse continues its attacks unabated. The last two days have seen a particularly strange campaign by its journalists over £10 million of funding given by the Scottish Government to attract online-retailer Amazon to open a site in Scotland that currently supports almost one thousand jobs and, it is hoped, will lead to thousands more. Rather than be happy that Scotland attracted this employment, The Scotsman wants the Scottish Government to answer for the fact that Amazon are using loopholes in the UK tax system to avoid paying Corporation Tax to the UK Exchequer.
Their inference seems to be that Alex Salmond somehow engineered this situation for them. I'm not sure how many friends and how much influence they believe that the First Minister has in the Unionist parties in London who would have to consent to such a deal but it seems unlikely to say the least. The thought that the previous Labour administration or the current ConDem one would do anything to benefit the SNP Scottish Government is almost laughable.
The question they should be asking, but won't: Why have successive Westminster governments allowed a system to develop that allows companies like Amazon to legally avoid UK taxes like this?
Instead what they are, in effect, asking is: How does Alex Salmond and the SNP manage to control UK tax policy?
You couldn't make it up. But they do.