Holyrood Exposed - new guide reveals the top lobbyists influencing the Scottish government


Press release: embargoed until 00:00 12/10/15

Statement from Spinwatch, Unlock Democracy and Electoral Reform Society Scotland

Contact: Alexandra Runswick (07739586666, alex.runswick@unlockdemocracy.org.uk) and Tamasin Cave (tamasin@spinwatch.org)

Spinwatch, Unlock Democracy and Electoral Reform Society Scotland will launch Holyrood Exposed, a new guide to lobbying in Scotland, at the SNP conference in Aberdeen this Thursday. Holyrood Exposed profiles the top lobbyists influencing the Scottish government and shines the spotlight on the tactics they use to get their way.

Inside Holyrood Exposed:

  • Take a walking tour of Edinburgh’s influence industry: commercial lobbying agencies; corporate in-house lobbying teams; industry bodies, think tanks, management consultants and well-funded charities

  • Find out which lobbyists have been hiring top SNP staff

  • Revealed: lobbyists’ wining and dining of special advisers

  • Discover the big guns lined up for policy battles on alcohol pricing, plain packaging for cigarettes and fracking in Scotland

As more powers are devolved to Scotland, Holyrood has become an increasingly attractive target for lobbyists. “This is an incredibly exciting time for Scottish politics and public affairs”, says lobbying firm PLMR. Jon McLeod, chief lobbyist at Weber Shandwick, puts it bluntly: “post-referendum... there are going to be winners and losers across all sectors. It's a lobbyist's dream.” Holyrood Exposed looks in detail at how lobbying firms plan to ensure their clients are among the winners.

The Scottish government has proposed a compulsory register of lobbyists, but their proposals don’t go far enough. They will only allow the public to see a fraction of the lobbying taking place in Scotland. Holyrood Exposed points to successful lobbying registers in the US, Canada and elsewhere to show that Scotland has an opportunity to create real transparency in lobbying.

Commenting on the launch of Holyrood Exposed, Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, said:

“The Scottish government is getting new powers and lobbyists are already planning a carve-up. The lobbying industry in Scotland is growing in size and influence but the vast majority of their activities remain hidden. The public have a right to know how lobbyists are trying to influence the decisions made in government.

The SNP have the chance to lead the UK on lobbying transparency, but their proposals for a lobbying register will only capture a fraction of the lobbying activity in and around Holyrood. If lobbying remains in the shadows, it is ordinary people who will live with the consequences of back-room deals.”

Tamasin Cave, Director of Spinwatch, said:

“Westminster's lobbyists are drooling at the opportunities Scottish politics presents. They are buying up anyone with an inside track to the SNP. The Scottish government must allow people to see exactly who it is talking to, not just the tiny proportion of the lobbying industry currently proposed.

A decent register of lobbyists – which would simply make public who is lobbying whom, about what, and how much they are spending in the process – is an essential feature of modern government, not a 'nice to have'.

Having watched the Westminster government bodge transparency rules for lobbyists down here, it's disheartening to see the Scottish government go down the same road. Their plans are a long way from the new politics Scotland was promised.”

Willie Sullivan, Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said:

Scotland is in danger of being complacent. It is no different from anywhere else when it comes to the potential for the rich and the powerful to short-circuit democracy should it becomes inconvenient. Lobbying is never fully democratic  unless it is open to public scrutiny.  

This guide is part of a wider campaign to make sure Scotland has a comprehensive register so that it is easy to see where big corporations are trying  to influence public policy and why. One worry  is that such a register only includes face to face meetings while everyone knows  that proper transparency needs to  show email and phone contacts as well.