Was JK Rowling Twitter abuse work of British spies?

Christina McKelvie MSP said there were ‘interesting’ theories to suggest secret service plants wereto blame for messages calling Harry Potter author a ‘whore’, ‘b****’ and ‘traitor’

Conspiracy theories to the effect that online abuse aimed at the Harry Potter author JK Rowling after she donated £1 million to the Better Together campaign may have actually been the work of British spies, have been described as ‘interesting’ by a senior Scottish politician.

The backlash against Rowling saw Twitter users call her a “whore”, “b****”, “traitor” and “c***”, with the comments largely attributed to apparent supporters of Scottish independence.

But writing in a local newspaper, the SNP’s Christina McKelvie suggested that there was no link whatsoever between the accounts which sent the author abuse and “anything to do with the Yes campaign”.

Instead, Ms McKelvie appeared to give credence to what she described as “interesting” theories of MI5 attempts to discredit nationalists, in comments closely resembling those of veteran campaigner Jim Sillars earlier this month.

Writing in the Hamilton Advertiser Ms McKelvie said: “The attacks on JK Rowling for her donation to Better Together were, in fact, down to a very few people whose accounts no one could trace back to having anything to do with the Yes campaign.

The MSP, who chairs Holyrood's European and External Relations Committee, added: “Whoever made them – there are interesting conspiracy theorists who think it might all have been down to secret service plants – should be totally condemned. I have no time for this kind of small-minded viciousness.”

However, Ms McKelvie subsequently stated that her reference to the conspiracy theories was not an endorsement of them. “What I have written is not, by any stretch of even the most febrile imagination, a suggestion that British secret services were involved.” 

One of the abusive posts against Rowling appeared on the official profile of an Edinburgh-based charity, which was reportedly investigated by regulators following the incident that it said was a result of its Twitter account being “hacked”.

The “personal insults” were condemned by leading figures on both sides of the independence debate, and the head of the Church of Scotland called for everyone to “turn the volume down”.

But Mr Sillars claimed that it was “naïve” to think that the security forces were not involved in seeking to influence the outcome of September’s ballot which could see the break-up of the UK.

• This article has been amended to reflect the fact that Christina McKelvie has disputed the notion that her reference to conspiracy theories amounted to an endorsement. Ms McKelvie has asked us to make clear that she referred to tweets about secret service involvement in cyber abuse regarding JK Rowling was to highlight the reality that politicians have a responsibility to discourage people behaving badly on twitter. We are happy to set out Ms McKelvie’s position.

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