• Statement from Electoral Reform Society Scotland on behalf of Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT)
  • For immediate release 28 January 2016
  • For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Willie Sullivan, ERS Scotland Director, on 07940523842 orWillie.Sullivan@electoral-reform.org.ukAlternatively, contact Katie Gallogly-Swan ERS Scotland Campaigns Organiser, on 07930862497 orkatie.galloglyswan@electoral-reform.org.uk

Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT) [1] welcomes progress as Scottish Government promises two-year review [2] today (28 January) to consider a stronger Lobbying Register, but warns against leaving ‘lobbyist loopholes’ for email or contact with senior civil servants.

Willie Sullivan, Director of Electoral Reform Scotland said:

“By ensuring that the framework of the Bill allows for it to be strengthened, the Government has shown a commitment to the ongoing improvement of transparency. However, by not implementing more robust registration now – by including more than just face-to-face communication, communications with SpAds and Civil Servants, and campaign expenditure - the two-year review will be missing crucial information.

“At the Stage 1 debate on 7 January 2016, the Scottish Government disappointed transparency campaigners by showing reluctance to close the loopholes in the Bill, despite recommendations from the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee [3] and overwhelming public support [4]. Their ‘cautious’ approach to the public demand for transparent politics has meant that any lobbying registration process will be missing vital information that could help level the playing field between wealthy, private interests, and community campaigns.

“While the review is important, not including email communications as part of the register makes the legislation out of date long before it is even enacted.”

Steve Goodrich, Senior Research Officer, Transparency International UK:

“We’re pleased to see the Scottish Government promising to review how transparent Scottish politics is after the new lobbying rules have had time to bed in. Westminster should take a leaf from their book. However, this review will be more fruitful if it has more evidence to draw from. That’s why the Scottish Government should introduce transparency now about who’s trying to influence its decisions and officials via email, letter and phone rather than leave it for years down the line. This is a golden opportunity for Holyrood to show Westminster what political openness really is. Ministers should take it rather than letting it pass them by.”

Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy:

"We welcome the commitment to a review of the lobbying register after two years in operation.  However, the government should not miss the opportunity to get it right first time round. The experience of lobbying registers around the world shows that these reviews recommend more, not less transparency. That transparency could start right now with a robust register.

“Lobbyists will always try find loopholes in the rules. Unfortunately, they’ve still got lots to work with in this Bill. Lobbyists should not be able to escape the register simply by talking to politicians on the phone or by email."

Robin McAlpine, Director of Common Weal said:

“It’s really good that the Scottish Government seems to be becoming more and more persuaded on the case for proper transparency over lobbying, not least because of the overwhelming public support. This commitment to an ongoing process to make this better regulation is a genuinely positive sign and as long as the Scottish Government doesn’t allow momentum to be lost after the election it will send out a message to the public that it’s their parliament, not the lobbyists.”

Notes:

[1] The Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT) is an alliance of civil society groups who are concerned about the growing influence of lobbying on decision-making in Scotland. We believe only increased transparency can begin to restore trust in policy making and make ministers, elected representatives, and officials more accountable to the public. 

[2] The Government response can be seen here:http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_StandardsProceduresandPublicAppointmentsCommittee/Stage_1_response_-_Lobbying_Bill.pdf

[3]In December 2015, SALT commissioned a YouGov poll on public opinion of the three suggestions to strengthen the Bill by:

1.     Expanding the definition of lobbying so multiple modes of communication trigger registration

2.     Expanding the definition so lobbying of civil servants and special advisers triggers registration

3.     Expand the information that should be disclosed by lobbyists to include spending on lobbying

Of those polled, 88% believed that lobbying posed a big or significant risk to the policy-making process, compared to only 12% who said there was not much or no risk. Only 9% said it was enough to have face-to-face meetings between politicians and lobbyists in any lobbying register, whereas91% believed that the register should include lobbying communications with Special Advisers and Civil Servants. While 13% agreed with the initial Bill that lobbying should include only face-to-face meetings, 87% agreed with the SALT recommendation to include more modes of communication like telephone calls and emails. Most significantly, 92% of those polled supported financial disclosure of lobbying expenditure, with only 8% saying this was not important.

[4] The Committee report can be read here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/94898.aspx