Devin Scobie: Building bridges between business and politics

Almost two weeks on from the most unnecessary general ­election of modern times, and as the dust settles, you could be forgiven for thinking, what was that all about?

Now the votes have been counted, Devin Scobie says it's 'essential' for firms to engage with politicians. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Now the votes have been counted, Devin Scobie says it's 'essential' for firms to engage with politicians. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Elections tend to be a disruptive ­business and no more so than when they are held against the ­backdrop of such crushing uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations.

About a third of my working life involves direct engagement with Westminster – ­literally everything from arranging a local MP site visit to working with all-party pParliamentary groups on issues as diverse as funeral poverty to alcohol tax.

As a self-confessed anorak, I cannot remember an election I enjoyed less than this one.

• READ MORE: General election news

During a campaign, most of my day-to-day consultancy work slows to a snail’s pace. There are no elected members and technically, even in the safest of so-called safe seats (Moray anyone?), every ­candidate must be treated equally until the ballot boxes are opened and the results announced.

But, like summer showers, every ­election eventually comes to an end. Weary ­winners feign surprise as they politely thank the police and their ­fellow ­candidates, and sullen losers grit their teeth and wish the victor – who is ­usually their successor – well as they face ­unemployment.

For many, it is not just an election lost but a job, possibly even a career, and new rules mean that a redundant MP will receive no more than twice the state redundancy minimum.

For the clutch of SNP MPs who were unseated after just over two years, they will receive barely £2,000. And, as one defeated ex-MP, John Nicolson, observed, a framed Victorian floor tile as well. Just the thing that the ­unemployed man about town needs.

So what should the next steps be for businesses? Engagement with politicians across the spectrum should be an ­essential activity for any Scottish company – 21 of our 59 MPs are new, albeit some have experience as councillors or in three Tory cases, as MSPs.

Sometimes a good old-fashioned letter will be better than an email in these early weeks, but don’t expect to get an immediate reply unless your issue is genuinely urgent – and even then there are scales of urgency. I met one new MP on Friday who was struggling to find enough desk space in her former ­campaign office, amongst the detritus of a busy campaign, to sit down, deal with her hundreds of emails, and actually meet some of her ­constituents. Glamorous it most ­definitely ain’t.

If your MP gained the seat from another party (24 out of 59 Scottish seats changed hands) and you knew the previous incumbent, I would recommend dropping him or her a courtesy note.

Defeated MPs will receive far fewer such notes and if the runes are correct, we may well have another election on our hands within 18 months.

Given how marginal many seats have become, it is highly likely that a few unseated MPs could be back in office – and possibly sooner than the next scheduled election in 2022.

But, for now, my advice as always remains to adopt the reverse onion approach. Keep it local and maintain contact with your local councillors (bear in mind also that many of them were newly elected just last month), and reach out to your constituency MSP and MP.

Just be realistic about your MP’s diary if he or she is newly elected. Only in the Mother of Parliaments can you get an iPad and email address on day one – but no office till month three or four. If you are lucky.

• Devin Scobie is public affairs director with Perceptive Communicators and a former councillor and parliamentary candidate