This website uses cookies for anonymised analytics and for account authentication. See our privacy and cookies policies for more information.

The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

“Warped” lobbying rules will stifle campaign groups

This news post is over 8 years old

​MSPs must get their own house in order before clamping down on lobbying, it has been argued

MSPs should make their own affairs more transparent rather than applying stringent rules to lobby groups if levels of public engagement with politics are to be increased.

That’s the view of a senior third sector figure, who says proposals to regulate how organisations try to influence politicians are “warped” and will hinder the campaigning ability of charities.

A group of MSPs has recommended setting up an online register of “significant” lobbying groups which spend cash and employ people to influence Holyrood politicians.

The Scottish Parliament’s standards committee this week said such groups would need to provide information on meetings, events and hospitality involving MSPs and clear details of what the lobbying aimed to achieve.

John Downie, SCVO

It’s simply wrong that the onus is on lobbyists to ensure transparency when responsibility should lie firmly with the people being lobbied

John Downie, SCVO

Ministers have said they want to implement lobbying laws in the wake of cash for access scandals which have rocked Westminster.

However, legitimate lobbying – such as that carried out by charities and trade unions – could be hampered by any such moves.

John Downie, director of public affairs at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, insisted that rather than promoting democracy and transparency, the rules could erect barriers to campaign groups.

He said politicians should get their own house in order if they want to increase public trust and engagement.

Downie said: “The starting point of this proposal is fundamentally flawed. It’s based on a warped view that the lack of political engagement is due to the public’s perception of external lobbyists wielding influence over MSPs rather than the self-interested politicking between politicians themselves.

“It’s simply wrong that the onus is on lobbyists to ensure transparency when responsibility should lie firmly with the people being lobbied. This really is the wrong call and it fails to set out what exactly would even fall under the category of “significant” lobbying activity covered by the proposed register.

“We’d welcome any move which would actually increase the transparency of the Scottish Parliament but these proposals fall far off the mark. If we really want to bring about better transparency, MSPs should publish their diaries and the MSPs’ Code of Conduct should be strengthened.

“We strongly oppose any barriers, like this register, which would threaten the free flow of information and ideas between third sector organisations and the Scottish Parliament, and ultimately make it harder for the best interests of vulnerable people to shape public policy in Scotland.”

Stewart Stevenson, an SNP MSP and convener of the cross party standards committee, said: "Lobbying is a legitimate, valuable and necessary part of a healthy democracy.

"But a parliament founded on openness must seek to make clear who is lobbying, on what issues, and why."

A Scottish Government spokesman welcomed the committee's report, saying: "We have repeatedly said that the standards committee's inquiry into lobbying is central to determining the best way forward and we will now take the time to carefully consider its findings.

"The Scottish government remains committed to take forward the development of a lobbying transparency bill."



Be the first to comment.