Act on MSP lobbying, urge campaigners amid inquiry

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A CRACKDOWN on lobbying of MSPs at Holyrood is needed to avoid the Scottish Parliament facing the same cash-for-access problems as Westminster, it was claimed today.

Campaigners demanded a formal register be set up for MSPs as an inquiry began to look at whether there is a problem with access to politicians in Scotland.

Campaigners have called for a crackdown on lobbying of MSPs at Holyrood. Picture: TSPL

Campaigners have called for a crackdown on lobbying of MSPs at Holyrood. Picture: TSPL

Alexandra Runswick, director of constitutional reform campaign Unlock Democracy, said pre-emptive action should be taken.

“You can look at Westminster and see what happens when you don’t act,” she told Holyrood’s standards, procedures and public appointments committee.

“We have a cycle that goes on, which is there is a scandal, there’s an outcry, there’s an investigation, and once again alienation from politics increases.

“Nothing happens and you get back into that cycle of scandal and investigation.

“We see the level of alienation from politics increases each time there is a scandal.”

Tamasin Cave, a campaigner with the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, said Westminster had the third largest lobbying industry behind Washington and Brussels.

“There is a head of steam behind this,” she said, urging MSPs to back a register in line with other countries around the world. “If Scotland chooses to join that crowd, it sends a certain signal.”

William Dinan, director of Spinwatch, suggested a register should begin by shining a light on finances.

“I think the very obvious one is finance, cash, how much is actually being spent – the resources devoted to influencing the political process – that’s the metric most of the public will easily understand,” he said.

The Association for Scottish Public Affairs, in its submission, opposed any formal register.

Officials told MSPs: “We believe a register of lobbyists would be of very limited value. We do not see how a register of lobbyists will help the public to understand or quantify lobbying activity.

“Accessibility is one of the founding principles of the Scottish Parliament and we would oppose any measure to treat lobbyists differently to any other member of the public looking to engage with the Scottish Parliament.”

In a written submission, the Association of Professional Political Consultants Scotland offered support for a register, saying: “It is important to recognise that scandals around actual lobbying activity have been extremely rare in the UK, and that most – primarily at Westminster – have been about broader issues of ethical standards and behaviour, most of which have not involved lobbyists.”