WHEN we put up a website poll asking our readers who they backed in the SNP leadership, we didn’t exactly expect hundreds of thousands of votes courtesy of a ballot-stuffing scandal. 

Now, we’re revealing what we know so far about the vote-rigging that went on – and the source of those votes, stretching from Holyrood to Algeria and beyond. 

The National has run many similar polls before – including ahead of the most recent Holyrood election – and these have gone without incident, only sparking debate in our comments and letters pages around the result. Not this time. 

What happened?

The three leadership candidates on our poll were Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf. 

Regan took an early lead in our poll, with Forbes starting in third place – before overtaking Yousaf to go neck-and-neck for the top spot. 

Then, it all changed dramatically. 

The National: Kate Forbes

Suddenly, Yousaf received a surge of votes – sweeping past both his rivals at a rate that simply wasn’t the organic actions of website voters. 

That continued and the debate on social media started over what was causing the shift. 

This was the first of three unnatural surges. The second saw both Forbes and Regan shoot up – again due to voting that was not organic – and when they caught up with Yousaf, his numbers then went through the roof. 

By the end of it, more than 600,000 votes had been cast. 

READ MORE: Ash Regan: I'm not afraid of Scottish Greens leaving Bute House deal

So, what do we know so far? 

We asked one of our website tech experts to look into the details. 

There was clear organised and co-ordinated activity both for and against Yousaf. 

The top voter for Yousaf had 168,000 votes, stemming from a server with a central Edinburgh IP address very near Holyrood. It voted once per second until it was blocked out – roughly when we put a paywall up on the article. 

The anti-Yousaf activity – which saw mass votes in favour of Forbes and Regan – came from several addresses. 

READ MORE: Mhairi Black accuses Kate Forbes of 'intolerance'

Top of the charts were 166,000 votes from an address in Karachi, Pakistan and 51,000 from an Algerian location. 

There were 17,000 votes from a Virgin Media customer in Croydon and 8000 votes from a Virgin Media customer in Kirkcaldy.  

Forbes scored 35,000 votes from an address in Copenhagen. Bizarrely, we registered that same address trying to cast 71,000 votes for a non-existent fourth option. 

"A professional operation"

Our tech guy concluded: “There are really interesting ballot-stuffing patterns going on here. 

“The pro-Yousaf stuff looks amateurish. The anti-Humza votes look more like a professional operation.”  

It should also be noted that virtual private networks and other anonymising strategies mean that these locations may not be where the votes really stemmed from – but that’s where they were routed through.