WHEN it comes to expressing surprise, the average Scot has a wide choice of sayings to hand.

There is the simple but classic “Och”. The Oor Wullie option, “Jings, crivvens, help ma boab” remains popular among those of a certain age, while younger Scots may prefer a more colourful expression suggesting that the speaker is taking such liberties with the truth that their posterior is well and truly hanging out of the window.

SNP MP Brendan O’Hara reached for none of the above on finding out that Cambridge Analytica (CA), the data harvesting firm his party had spent weeks taking others to task over, had met with an external consultant for, er, the SNP.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon claims SNP "completely transparent" in data firm row

The occasion was a hearing of a Commons committee of which Mr O’Hara is a member, and the person giving evidence was Brittany Kaiser, a former employee of CA.

Mr O’Hara’s questioning was going well until Ms Kaiser told him that CA had been in pitches and negotiations with UK parties in the past, “such as the SNP”. She further claimed that meetings had taken place in London, at the firm’s Mayfair HQ, and in Edinburgh.

Noises off of “oh” and “ah” could be heard before the camera turned its lens on Mr O’Hara, who was by now performing the kind of frantic shuffling of his papers usually undertaken by newsreaders when everything goes to pot on a live broadcast. Obviously surprised, he had to say something. He opted for: “Allow me to follow that particular stag into the forest then.”

Sweet, but somehow I do not think the saying will catch on. You have to hand it to Mr O’Hara, though. He has only been an MP for three years, but he ploughed on with all the giddy confidence of a member of many decades’ standing, asking Ms Kaiser if she knew the individuals concerned in the meetings, and what the pitch was. The real question was why he did not know there had been any contact.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon claims SNP "completely transparent" in data firm row

An SNP spokesperson emerged later to say: “The SNP has never worked with Cambridge Analytica. An external consultant had one meeting in London. His assessment was that they were ‘a bunch of cowboys’ which turned out to be true. No further meetings were held.”

In short, nothing to see here folks, move along. A meeting took place (though we do not know when or the personnel involved). No action followed.

All parties have questions to answer about any dealings they have had with CA and other such firms. Given the public interest, they should do so.

But in this particular instance there is something to see: the red faces of those SNP representatives, foremost among them Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who have spent the past few weeks attacking others on the subject. As The Herald revealed yesterday, the first Mr Blackford heard about the meeting was when it was revealed at the Committee hearing on Tuesday.

The affair has all the markings of a cock-up, not a conspiracy, of the Edinburgh hand of the party not knowing what the London hand was doing and vice versa. Even so, as an illustration of the way communication takes place within the SNP, or rather does not take place, the incident should sound an alarm.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon claims SNP "completely transparent" in data firm row

Let us explore the possibilities here. An external consultant had one meeting in London. Did they do so off their own bat, informing no-one in the party leadership before or after? If they did inform someone, would it not have been a good idea for that someone to pick up the phone to Mr Blackford, ideally before he laid into other parties for talking to CA, but definitely after? The story has been running for weeks. Surely someone should have raised a flag?

One explanation might be that the SNP in London and Edinburgh have become so security conscious they have ditched all modern methods of communication and have taken to using a ouija board. Alternatively, they do not talk to each other as much as they should, and they ought to be asking themselves why.

The SNP is led from the top down. Most parties are. Most parties, however, do not have a husband and wife team, in this case Ms Sturgeon and chief executive Peter Murrell, in charge. Organisations shy away from such an arrangement because it is plainly not a good idea. It does not matter how supremely qualified the individuals, or how well intentioned, it is a closed system of management and thus open to criticism when things go wrong.

Moreover, it cultivates a certain atmosphere, a “don’t talk amongst yourselves” culture in which criticism, or any kind of feedback, risks being seen as disloyal. But no-one should mark their own homework. Nor should they have their spouse wielding the red pen. The last husband and wife team to exert such control over a party were the Clintons, and look how that turned out.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon claims SNP "completely transparent" in data firm row

There is another lesson to be drawn from the CA saga, and it is one for all parties to heed. Since Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, parties have regarded voter targeting as the holy grail, and data harvesting companies have been only too keen to tell them they are right. Targeting has its uses. It directs resources where they are needed and avoids wasted effort. Crucially, it gets messages out to those who might act on them. It does not change minds that are already made up.

The Obama campaign targeted its message at the young, women, and people who had never voted before; folk who were likely to listen. The party kept in touch, right up to election day. Lo and behold, the voters turned out. Jeremy Corbyn did the same at the last General Election.

It is what successful parties have been doing since they were formed. Yet some politicians have allowed themselves to be seduced by the idea that they can contract out contact with voters to the internet. They cannot. Labour did better than the pundits expected in 2017 because it married YouTube with shoe leather. It made a few videos, certainly, but more importantly it knocked on doors, reaped the benefits of years of old school organisation at grassroots level, got the vote out. It takes bold women and men to win elections, not mice.