PLANS to introduce a tougher regime for monitoring the activities of political lobbyists at the Scottish Parliament have won overwhelming backing.
A member’s bill that proposes that lobbyists should have to be registered, declare who they are meeting and disclose fees – as well as face strict penalties for failing to comply – has been put forward by Labour MSP Neil Findlay.
Now a consultation exercise, which produced 500 replies, reveals that nine out of ten respondents back Findlay’s bill, which is aimed at regulating lobbying in and around the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Government and government agencies.
Supporters say the bill will bring a greater transparency to Holyrood activity – forcing, for example, figures such as Donald Trump to publicly reveal details of all his firm’s meetings and communications with Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government related to his controversial golf resort in Aberdeenshire. Those opposed argue that the new restrictions are unnecessary.
The bill will go before the Scottish Parliament in the second half of next year if it can secure the backing of 18 MSPs.
Findlay, a Lothian MSP, said he was “delighted” with the response: “The size of the response and the results so far give a ringing endorsement for the aims of the bill.
“To open up lobbying and improve transparency in politics can only be a good thing for Scottish governance and democracy. Of course, I do note the concerns of those who oppose the bill and will use their comments constructively to improve the final proposals.”
Findlay’s bill follows a series of lobbying scandals, mainly at Westminster. Executives from PR firm Bell Pottinger were caught last year boasting of access to senior Tory politicians. The chairman of the firm is Tim Collins, a former Tory MP and communications director for the Conservative Party.
His plan would create a register covering in-house lobbyists, public affairs firms, voluntary groups, trades unions and associations and campaign bodies. The register would apply to lobbyists who contact MSPs, ministers, civil servants and executive agencies. They would have to declare “relevant” information, such as the names of clients and the identities of the politicians and officials who had been approached, and outline the purpose of the meetings. The bill also suggests lobbyists should declare fees in excess of £2,000 over a six-month period.
Backers of the bill include Unison, the Electoral Reform Society and Glasgow City Council.
Unison said: “As an organisation which does lobby on behalf of our members and their interests, we have no problem with the idea of a register.”
A spokesman for the Unlock Democracy campaign suggested that the register proposed by Findlay would have shed more light on any approaches by businessmen such as Trump to the Scottish Government.
A campaign spokesman said: “If there was a register of lobbyists, we’d get to see details of every meeting, who was at them, what was discussed.”
However, the creation of a register of lobbyists is opposed by the British Medical Association, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.
Stuart Crawford, who runs a political consultancy in Edinburgh, claimed that Findlay’s bill was “completely unnecessary and a potential waste of parliamentary time”.
He said: “It seeks to deal with a problem that does not exist, it seeks to regulate the wrong sector and it would be virtually impossible to enforce in any meaningful way.”