Scotland needs a strong lobbying register

The growing influence of lobbying on decision-making in Scotland has the potential to undermine public confidence in politicians. 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.

We welcome the Scottish government’s proposals for a lobbying register, but the government needs to go further to close the loopholes in the Bill and bring lobbying out into the open. We want to make Scotland a beacon of transparency. That’s why we are supporting the Standards Committee’s recommendations for a stronger lobbying register:

1. Include all communication, not just face-to-face meetings

In the Bill as drafted, lobbyists would only have to register their lobbying if they meet politicians face-to-face. As the Standards Committee points out, this would “leave a great deal of important information unrecorded and create a loophole for those wishing to conceal their activity.”

We agree with the Committee that the definition of lobbying should be expanded to include all forms of communication, including emails or telephone calls.

2. Include lobbying of all public officials, not just MSPs and Ministers

In the current Bill, only lobbying of Ministers and MSPs triggers registration. This ignores lobbying of senior civil servants and special advisers, who can be valuable contacts for lobbyists.

We agree with the Standards Committee that the Government should widen the scope of the register beyond ministers and MSPs to include special advisers, senior civil servants and other key public officials.

3. Require lobbyists to declare how much they spend

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.

We agree with the Standards Committee that the Scottish Parliament should consider expanding the information that lobbyists are required to declare to include how much is being spent on lobbying. More details on how this could work.

There is now a strong consensus building for a transparent Scottish politics. The Stage 1 debate on 7 January will give MSPs the opportunity to support their colleagues’ recommendations for changes to the Bill, and show that Scotland is dedicated to politics for the people.