THE “external consultant” who met the data firm Cambridge Analytica on behalf of the SNP was a key figure in the party’s digital operations, it has emerged.

Kirk J Torrance heard a general sales pitch from Cambridge Analytica (CA) as a courtesy while in London on other business in early 2016, after the firm had pushed to meet the party.

Mr Torrance was the SNP’s New Media Strategist from 2009 to 2011, then helped the its election efforts through his company Industrial New Media from 2011 to 2016.

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He confirmed his role to the Herald after being named by the CommonSpace website.

The SNP has taken flak for a week over the meeting after former CA director Brittany Kaiser told a Westminster committee the firm had met the party.

The revelation blindsided SNP MPs, who had been demanding other parties detail their contacts with CA, which is linked to a privacy breach affecting 87m Facebook users.

Only after Ms Kaiser’s evidence did the SNP issue a statement: "The SNP has never worked with Cambridge Analytica. An external consultant had one meeting in London.”

Nicola Sturgeon said the SNP had shown “complete transparency”, but refused to name the consultant when pressed by Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson last week.

The First Minister said she did not want to name someone blameless and start a “witch hunt”.

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Mr Torrance told The Herald: “I'd like to commend the SNP for their professionalism and decency in respecting my confidence as a consultant contractor. However I can confirm that I met Cambridge Analytica on 18 February 2016 on behalf of the SNP.

“My recommendation was to not touch the firm with a barge pole, as they were a bunch of cowboys. From what is known now about CA, I am glad the SNP took my advice."

Mr Torrance, 37, has been a linchpin of SNP online campaigning for many years.

His online CV says he was “part of the core strategy team” for the SNP before the 2011 election and “orchestrated the most advanced social media campaign since Obama 2008”.

He said Industrial New Media’s successes included helping the SNP “win 56 of 59 seats at Westminster in 2015”, then win “another historic success” at Holyrood in 2016.

In early 2016, Mr Torrance’s SNP email address was the contact in a party job advert for a computer programmer to work on a “new phase of our ambitious digital strategy”.

Public records show the SNP paid Industrial New Media £17,500 between June and August 2016 in three monthly “retainer” fees for “strategic and new-media advisory services” and work on the "SNP infrastructure project".

The Industrial New Media website was recently mothballed.

However an archive copy includes a testimonial from SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, who said the firm's services had "propelled the SNP forward and been of huge value. We enjoy a great relationship with INM.”

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Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “Now it’s been revealed former SNP digital guru Kirk Torrance met CA on the party’s behalf, it is time for the SNP to come clean on this whole murky affair. There has been no transparency around this despite what Nicola Sturgeon might claim.

“The SNP now needs to disclose any documentation around these meetings between Mr Torrance and CA, including what campaign they related to, who commissioned Mr Torrance and which politician, if any, had oversight of his work and his report.”

The SNP declined to go beyond Ms Sturgeon’s comments to MSPs last week.