JIM Murphy's new spindoctor could face police questioning after discussing the content of secret postal votes in the referendum.

 

Within minutes of polls closing on September 18, Susan Dalgety boasted online that postal results were "very positive for No", even though it is a criminal offence to ascertain how people voted by post or to forward that information.

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Police have been investigating since October whether pro-Union campaigners broke electoral law by checking secret postal ballots, an inquiry prompted by Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson saying on live TV that "tallies" had been taken.

Davidson was later questioned by officers in her Holyrood office as a potential witness.

Dalgety, who was last week unveiled as the Scottish Labour leader's new Director of Communications, may now face the same process.

Her remark, which echoes Davidson's, was made in a political webcast 30 mins after polls closed.

Asked about the vote, she said: "I know that the early postal ballot results are very positive for No - and there was a huge number of postal ballots - anything could happen."

Around 800,000 people, or 19% of participants, voted by post in the referendum.

Ahead of September 18, sample openings were held to confirm that dates of birth and signatures on postal ballots matched official records, and agents from political parties and registered campaign groups were allowed to attend.

Ballots were meant to be kept face down, but inevitably some were briefly visible.

However observers were warned there was a strict "requirement for secrecy" and they would be committing a criminal offence if they tried to find out how individual votes had been cast.

They were also issued with a copy of Schedule 7 of the 2013 Scottish Referendum Act, which states that anyone convicted of trying to ascertain the outcome of a postal ballot "or communicate any information with respect thereto" faces a fine of up to £5000 or a year in prison.

Despite the secrecy rule, Davidson boasted on TV just 45 minutes after polling that the Unionist side had "people at every sample opening.. and we've been incredibly encouraged by the results".

She went on: "There's people in the room that have been sampling those ballot boxes that have been opened and have been taking tallies and the reports have been very positive for us."

Her remarks resulted in several complaints to the voting watchdog the Electoral Commission, who then submitted a report to the Crown Office.

In the first week of October, prosecutors told the police to launch an investigation.

Davidson was interviewed in person six days later and asked follow-up questions by email.

Dalgety, 58, has a history of controversy.

In 1998, while Edinburgh City Council's Labour deputy leader, she was forced to apologise after calling SNP supporters "oddballs, extremists and out and out racists" in a local newspaper column.

Referring to the Real IRA car bomb which had killed 28 people in Omagh a fortnight earlier, she also wrote: "We need look no further than the butchery of Omagh to see for ourselves what happens when nationalism gets out of hand."

Dalgety went on to be a government spindoctor for Labour First Minister Jack McConnell.

She quit days after the SNP win in 2007, and helped with Lord McConnell's charity work.

An SNP source said: "Jim Murphy should say whether he was aware of this issue when he employed Susan Dalgety. Ms Dalgety has the same questions to answer as Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson did."

Dalgety failed to respond to calls and emails. Scottish Labour refused to comment.