A FORMER director at Better Together has admitted revealing the Unionist campaign's infamous nickname for itself was "Project Fear".

Rob Shorthouse, who was Better Together's director of communications for more than two years, confirmed he introduced the phrase to the wider world by joking about it at a Tory conference.

When the Sunday Herald subsequently reported the name, it went viral on social media.

The Yes campaign latched on to it, saying it perfectly encapsulated Better Together's attitude to the referendum and its constant stream of negative stories about independence.

Then First Minister Alex Salmond also used it to taunt Better Together chairman Alistair Darling. In the first televised debate between the two men, Salmond asked Daring: "Why does the No campaign call itself Project Fear?" Darling replied: "It doesn't."

However, Shorthouse, who was effectively number two to Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall, yesterday conceded he had used the name.

In line with standard journalistic ethics, the Sunday Herald refuses to name its sources. However, in his new book about the referendum, The Telegraph's Scottish editor Alan Cochrane blithely outs Shorthouse as the culprit.

In a diary entry dated July 1, 2013, about 10 days after the Sunday Herald's first story referring to Project fear, Cochrane wrote: "Rob Shorthouse is in deepest doo-doo for coming up with the ridiculous Project Fear name for the campaign.

"He really is a stupid boy. I've never rated him and always thought he was massively over-promoted."

Shorthouse, a former head of communications for Strathclyde Police, has since wryly altered his Twitter profile to include Cochrane's picture and the phrase "massively over-promoted".

The term Project Fear was coined by a volunteer at Better Together's Glasgow HQ as an ironic suggestion for Yes Scotland - a handy name it could use in its constant complaints about Better Together's alleged Unionist scaremongering. The word fear was repeatedly used by members of Better Together's focus groups when discussing the prospect of an independent Scotland.

Shorthouse subsequently mentioned the phrase in front of journalists over drinks at the Scottish Tory conference in Stirling in June 2013.

He said last night: "This was a joke phrase that was all about poking fun at the Nats and their constant dismissal of every legitimate point raised by anyone and everyone as scaremongering.

"It was never anything more than a joke in our office. That the SNP tried to describe it as something more than that was pretty pathetic.

"The irony is that the more senior Nats used it, the more it reminded voters how ill-conceived and ill thought out the plans for separation were."

An SNP spokesman said: "The Project Fear agenda of the No campaign turned off huge numbers of Labour and other voters who have now switched to the SNP - so it seems we have much to raise a glass to Mr Shorthouse for this festive season!"