Concerns mount over the role of No-friendly pollster Ipsos-Mori in hand-picking the audience for the STV leaders' debate.
Ipsos-Mori are not merely one of the two most No-friendly pollsters in this campaign. They've also played two other unique roles. Firstly, they've secretly carried out internal polling on behalf of the UK government and paid for by the tax-payer, the results of which were disgracefully shared with the No campaign, effectively meaning that the No campaign's private polling has been subsidised by the public purse. And secondly, in spite of the rather obvious conflict of interest, they were commissioned by STV to hand-pick an audience for Monday night's debate between Alastair Darling and Alex Salmond. The idea that nobody is entitled to raise the odd eyebrow about this is risible - can you imagine what the reaction would have been if STV had used Panelbase, a pollster which tends to produce Yes-friendly results and which counts both the SNP and Yes Scotland among its clients?
Since Monday, a number of specific allegations have been made about Ipsos-Mori's conduct, and other related shenanigans -
* Yes supporters who were originally selected for the audience were turned away at the venue, after being told that the paperwork had not been cleared by Ipsos-Mori. Some were reduced to tears. They were replaced by No supporters.
* Ipsos-Mori have pinned the blame on STV's own security.
* No campaigners were present at the queue, offering helpful "suggestions" for questions that audience members might like to ask Alex Salmond.
* Some of the No supporters in the audience were "bussed in" and have no vote in the referendum itself.
* At least one of the five-strong panel of "undecided voters" that appeared on ITV News after the debate to give their verdict is a known No campaign activist.
* Ipsos-Mori made determined efforts to contact a particular teenager by telephone, because they were short of people in his age group for their sample. When they finally made contact, they asked him for his voting intention, and immediately after he said he was voting Yes he overheard the interviewer being told to terminate the call and to use a "technical fault" as an excuse.
It's obviously impossible to know how much of this true - the suggestions of audience members being bussed in from south of the border do seem rather fanciful. But given the sheer number of complaints that STV have apparently received, it does seem likely that there's at least some truth in the claims of audience members being turned away at the venue. And just from observation, a good number of the questions that were asked could easily have been scripted by No campaign staffers.
It goes without saying that it is incumbent on the BBC to ensure that there is no repeat in the second debate at the end of this month.
Shared by Alex Thomson