Leaders: New lobbying rules could hinder democracy

Small Scottish firms could lose their voice under new Scottish Government plans. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Small Scottish firms could lose their voice under new Scottish Government plans. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

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IN the culture of distrust that has stolen across political life, the practice of lobbying has attracted particular suspicion.

Campaigners for greater transparency believe there should be greater disclosure on which lobbyists have met which MSPs, on which issues and how often. Surely the public has a right to know whether MSPs have been subjected to the activities of lobbyists and whether, as a result, their contributions to debate in Holyrood may be unduly influenced by these professional persuaders?

This is the background to plans by the Scottish Government to tighten rules surrounding the lobbying of MSPs through a Lobbying Transparency Bill. Ministers are proposing legislation which would require lobbyists to sign up to a register.

The aim is laudable enough. Clearly there should be a public record kept of meetings that lobbyists have had with MSPs and the subject of these meetings in the interests of transparency. But such proposals should also be subject to considerations of practicality. And in this case particularly, care must be taken that the legislation does not result in unintended adverse consequences that may be detrimental to the functioning of parliamentary democracy and openness. A problem immediately arises on definitions. How is a lobbyist to be defined for the purposes of this legislation? What of member organisations where local branches may wish to lobby their local MSP?

One effect would be to oblige people to register in advance before meeting MSPs. This immediately introduces a regulatory barrier and could work to inhibit the exchange of views between MSPs and bodies seeking to put their concerns across.

What of the request for a meeting that is not lobbying as such but acquainting MSPs with information on subjects where they may be required to vote? In many cases the aim of such meetings is educational and informative.

Such problems have been brought sharply into focus by the Federation of Small Businesses. It warns that the plans will discourage member-led campaigning groups from raising concerns with MSPs.

Individual constituents representing a campaigning group could also find themselves barred from seeing their MSP because their visit is deemed to be lobbying. Another issue the FSB has raised is the proposal that trade unions and charities would be exempt from the legislation. So, for example, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities would not need to register while the FSB or the Taxpayers Alliance would have to comply with registration and disclosure rules: an immediate double standard that many would find objectionable.

The instinct for transparency may be right and good. But it must not conflict with democracy and public access.

Only thing to scare gulls: Trump

When you adopt Sammy the Seagull as one of your club mascots, Aberdeen Football Club was surely asking for trouble.

It might as well have invited the aggressive, dive-bombing, fish-supper attacking birds to the best seats in the stadium.

So acute has the problem now become with the stadium near the sea that the club has embarked on a range of gull-deterring policies. Some of the fans are not best pleased. But there is no doubt that aggressive seagulls have become a big problem in many urban areas, scaring pedestrians, swooping on open air restaurants and even attacking pets.

The problem is particularly acute in seaside towns and Aberdeen FC is besieged with gulls nesting in and around flats close to the ground. On some days the scenes at Pittodrie are reminiscent of the Alfred Hitchcock classic movie, The Birds.

Some fans say the club should be proud of the gulls and their display of guile, persistence and winning mentality. Others say they are little better than flying rats.

If only the birds could be trained to attack only the opponents’ goal, the club could be on to a winner. Alternatively, club officials could invoke the help of local golf course mogul Donald Trump. For now is not the time for half measures and mixed messages. A tasty fish supper hoisted on to the flagpole could be used as bait while a model aeroplane discreetly hidden under an outsize Donald Trump wig could be guided to buzz the gulls and give them the fright of their lives. After such a close encounter with something more terrifying than them, they would not be back.

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