For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Willie Sullivan, ERS Scotland Director, on 07940523842  or Willie.Sullivan@electoral-reform.org.uk. Alternatively, contact Katie Gallogly-Swan ERS Scotland Campaigns Organiser, on 07930862497 or katie.galloglyswan@electoral-reform.org.uk

Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT) welcomes strong polling results in favour of closing the loopholes in the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill to be debated today  (Thursday 7 January).

What was considered the least likely change to the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill is now building support between both the wider public and the Parliamentary Committee.  Poll figures revealed today show that 92% of the Scottish public want lobbyists to disclose their lobbying budgets.

In the current Bill, lobbyists must disclose who they are, whom they are lobbying; and the purpose of the lobbying. The only piece of the puzzle that is missing is how much is being spent to lobby politicians. Not all lobbying campaigns are created equal. To get the full picture of lobbying activity the public need to know whether a campaign is spending £5,000 or £500,000 to influence decisions.

The poll conducted by YouGov in December shows overwhelming public support for all three of SALT’s recommendations to:

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

2.       Expand 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, whereas 91% 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.

In the wake of the support for the SALT recommendations in the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s Stage 1 report on the draft Bill, there is now growing consensus on the need to close the loopholes. The Stage 1 debate on Thursday 7 January will be Parliamentarians’ opportunity to discuss the building consensus around these changes, supported not only by the Committee, but also by the public, as shown in these results.

In the days leading up to the Stage 1 debate, the members of SALT urged the public to show their support by taking two minutes to visit closetheloopholes.scot and write to their MSPs.

Will Dinan, Director of Spinwatch

“These latest poll results are consistent with many other surveys of public opinion in the UK around transparency, trust and probity in public life. There is clear public demand for greater disclosure of contacts and communications between lobbyists, politicians, civil servants and political advisers. The scope and detail of the proposed lobbying register should reflect this. It is also clear that this is a non-partisan issue, with supporters of all political parties in Scotland clearly recognising the need for lobbying transparency. It is now up to the Scottish government to legislate for a meaningful disclosure regime that will match the expectations of the Scottish public.”

Steve Goodrich, Senior Research Officer at Transparency International UK:

“We’re living in an age where trust in politicians and Ministers is at an all-time low. This survey shows that there is overwhelming public support for MSPs to operate to the highest standards of transparency and do away with the perception of shady deals carried out behind closed doors. The government could make this transparency a reality, but only if MSPs amend the current lobbying bill to reflect the concerns this survey highlights.”

Robin McAlpine, Director at Common Weal:

“This all comes down to one overwhelming message - the public want more transparency over the way money and lobbying influence politics in Scotland. It’s really important that Scotland’s politicians listen to this message and strengthen the lobbying bill in the ways Scottish citizens are asking them to.”

Katie Gallogly-Swan, Campaigns Organiser at Electoral Reform Society

“Democracy, like justice, must be seen to be done. It only works well if the public trust decision are being made in their broad interest and not for narrow private ones.  We can see from this YouGov poll that they are deeply suspicious of big money and secret lobbying. Scots want openness and transparency in their government. We all have a duty to meet that expectation but our MSPs should feel that duty more strongly than anyone else. They have a choice on this Lobbying Bill, let in the light and build some trust, or keep it in the dark and harm democracy.”

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.