The Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, has accused the SNP of using “dirty tricks” after it appeared that correspondence sent more than a decade ago to an SNP politician had been leaked to the press.
According to the Scottish Sun, Dugdale twice contacted the senior SNP MSP in 2003, when she was in her final year at university, asking by email if she could be his researcher and offering to take on unpaid work experience.
Dugdale insisted she had “absolutely zero recollection” of making the application.
The Information Commissioner’s Office confirmed on Wednesday that it would consider whether to take action over this potentially serious breach of data protection. The law requires all organisations to keep personal data safe and secure, including that belonging to employees and potential employees.
The Scottish Sun has not disclosed any source for the story or whether its journalists have seen the emails.
A breach of the Data Protection Act can be a criminal offence if the material has been stolen; otherwise, it is dealt with under civil law, resulting in a fine of up to £500,000.
John Bowers QC, an employment and data protection law specialist, said Dugdale’s communication would probably be treated as sensitive personal information for the purposes of the act.
He added that, if the information appeared in the media without the knowledge of the data controller, in this case the recipient of the application, then there might be a journalistic exemption if public interest could be proved. However, if the recipient knowingly leaked the information, that would be treated very seriously.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, wrote to the Information Commissioner’s Office urging an investigation into the alleged leak. The issue is a sensitive one for his party, many of whom believe their own MP Alistair Carmichael was hounded unfairly after he admitted leaking a memo about Nicola Sturgeon during last year’s general election campaign.
Rennie’s letter to the assistant commissioner for Scotland and Northern Ireland, Ken Macdonald, said: “Speculative applications for employment are often made with data frequently kept on file by employers for some time afterwards. But that application should have remained confidential and I believe that if it was released by the SNP to a journalist it amounts to a serious breach of data protection.”
A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office confirmed it was aware of Rennie’s letter, adding: “The law requires organisations to keep personal information secure, and to not keep it longer than is necessary. We’ll act where we see clear evidence that this hasn’t happened.”
Speaking at a lunch for Holyrood journalists on Wednesday, Dugdale seemed angered as well as amused by the Sun’s story, claiming she could not remember making the application 13 years ago.
“This is the start of a dirty tricks campaign,” she said. “Why is this happening? Because I’m the only one in this election prepared to take on the big issue of how we stop the cuts and end austerity in Scotland. The SNP aren’t prepared to match that.
“I will continue to make a fundamentally honest argument that if we want work class public services we have to pay for them, it’s no more complicated than that. The Labour party will ask the richest in society to pay a lot more, those earning less than £20,000 a year won’t pay a single penny more and, under our council tax plans, hundreds and thousands of that same group of people will be better off.”
She said she believed the release of the Panama Papers had tapped into an anger felt across the world about the richest not paying their share and argued that the SNP, who are putting forward far more modest proposals, had misjudged the public mood on tax.
“It’s about how we use the [new powers to the Scottish parliament] to stop the cuts. We are going to pursue the central contradiction at the heart of the SNP’s election campaign, to tell people rich and poor that they won’t pay a penny more on income tax than they do today, whilst telling them that you will raise an extra billion in income tax.
“Their tax plan is conservative, it’s contradictory, it’s a con. You can’t claim to want to change Scotland if you aren’t willing to do things differently.”
This article was written by Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 7th April 2016 00.08 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010