Magnus Gardham and Michael Settle

PRO-independence campaigners harnessed social media in a revolutionary way that brought them closer to victory than many thought possible in last year's referendum, a new study suggests.

Researchers at Glasgow University analysed 2.8million tweets in the run-up to the historic vote and found Yes supporters' use of various social media platforms has played a key role in changing the face of Scottish politics.

Their conclusions, outlined in The Herald's Agenda column today, were echoed by Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader, and Blair Jenkins, former head of the cross-party Yes Scotland campaign.

The Glasgow University team said the No campaign lost "the social media war".

Assessing the online impact of the Yes campaign, they wrote: "Its social media strategy undoubtedly helped the SNP and its allies in engaging people and building a momentum for change that has resulted in seismic shifts in the balance of political power in Scotland."

Mr Robertson said if the referendum had happened a decade ago it would have been impossible to have reached the levels of support the pro-independence camp attained last September.

Mr Robertson also noted that, given the increasing use of social media and its importance politically, then this boded well for the pro-independence campaign in the future.

Last year, Twitter, Facebook and the Internet saw massive volumes of traffic in and outwith Scotland as the referendum campaign galvanised the nation in political debate in an unprecedented way.

Mr Robertson said the Yes campaign could "almost certainly not" have polled 45 per cent without social media.

He explained: “People understand there has been very limited support in the mainstream media for the idea of Scottish independence being a sensible idea for Scotland. If the only prism that people have been able to get their news about a proposal in a referendum through is an extremely sceptical or hostile mainstream media, then had the referendum been held 10 or 20 years when there was not social media, it would have been unimaginable that we would have achieved the result which we did achieve.”

Figures released after the referendum showed the official Twitter account of the Yes campaign had 103,000 followers compared to just 42,000 for Better Together.

Ex-First Minister Alex Salmond boasted 95,000 Twitter followers and his successor Nicola Sturgeon 66,000 while Alistair Darling, who led the pro-Union campaign, had just 21,000.

On Facebook, the Yes campaign page attracted more than 320,000 likes while the No campaign had 218,000.

An opinion poll of more than 1260 people by YouGov, the polling organisation, showed that when asked about which information had influenced their decisions, more people, 39 per cent, said they used information from social media and other websites than newspapers, 34 per cent. TV and radio were the strongest source, 42 per cent, while 30 per cent said they had used information from the Yes and No campaigns when deciding how to vote.

Mr Robertson said the fact there were much more diverse sources of news allowed people to “make up their minds in a more informed way”.

While he accepted social media had played a major part in persuading people to vote Yes or No, it was the pro-independence camp which harnessed the lion’s share of support.

“The Yes side was significantly more successful in reaching and persuading and changing people’s minds; on the No side it reinforced people’s views,” he said.

Mr Jenkins said: "We knew the one way we could control our message and the way it was presented was to get to people directly.

"We consciously built up Facebook and Twitter followings.

"By the time we got close the referendum, if we put something out it would be seen very quickly by half a million people and up to a million with some."