Trust but verify- it’s time to open up lobbying in Scotland
Published on Oct 01, 2012
By Danny Zinkus, Unlock Democracy’s Council Member and Edinburgh and Lothian Purple People’s Group Co-ordinator
Lobbying is a an important part of a healthy democracy. Our public officials can’t be everywhere and they can’t know everything. It’s important that members of our community can bring problems to their attention and suggest solutions. Ordinary people should be able to lobby the officials they pay for. So should charities, trade unions, civic groups. So should businesses and industries. Problems and solutions that affect us all should be discussed in public so we all contribute our voices to the debate. It’s not just a right for folk to talk to their officials. It’s a democratic necessity.
Lots of organisations lobby their officials. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to correct an injustice, promote a business opportunity, change a regulation, improve a policy. I’m lobbying my MSP about lobbying right now. Where an individual is looking for a change in public policy, for a different decision to be made, for public money to spent, that’s public business. It should be conducted in public.
A citizen should be able to see what our officials are doing on our behalf. As tax payers we should be able to see, not only where our money is going, but how the decision to spend that money was made. We should be certain that there is no undue influence being exerted. We should be able to have trust and confidence in our politicians.
An old boss of mine, a wise accountant, used to do a quick check of every piece of work I did. He used to say, he trusted me to do a good job, but it was his job to verify that I had. To check the correctness of what I’d done. Trust, but verify, he used to say, Trust but Verify. As citizens it is our job to verify that our officials have done a good job. It’s our right too. After all it’s our money they are spending and our country they are running.
A register of lobbyists would allow us to verify that officials were doing the right thing for us. We could see who was talking to whom about what. No one is suggesting that every conversation between an official and a citizen should be recorded in a public register but where a large organisation is spending considerable time and money promoting its interests to our officials we should be able to see who they spoke to and what they spoke about. So we can verify that our officials are working for us and not for anybody else. So we can rebuild the trust in our officials that is so important in our democracy.
Neil Findlay MSP is proposing a Private Member’s Bill to establish just such a register of lobbyists in Scotland. The public consultation ends on the 29th of October. You can contribute to it here.
There is a public meeting at the Scottish Parliament at 6.30pm on Thursday 25th October. You can register to attend and speak to your elected officials about Lobbying here.