Last week, the Scottish Parliament debated the government’s proposals for a lobbying register. These plans have been a long time coming - we started campaigning for a lobbying register back in 2013! Last year we joined the Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency to push for tougher rules on lobbying.
The debate was encouraging but underlined the work still to be done to secure a strong register. The strong public support for lobbying transparency came up again and again. According to a recent SALT poll, nine out of ten Scots want tougher rules on lobbying. Many MSPs mentioned the large number of emails they had received urging them to bring lobbying out into the open.
Despite this support, the Scottish government is still reluctant to close some of the loopholes in the Bill. It is vital that the register covers when lobbyists contact politicians by phone or email, rather than just face-to-face meetings. It should include contact with special advisers or senior civil servants, who play a vital role in the decision-making process, and lobbyists should be required to declare how much they are spending to influence our politicians.
As the Lobbying Bill passes to the next stage in February, we will need to reassure the government that it will be quick and simple to register. The main concern is that registering lobbying activities will be a burden to small organisations. We believe that a register can give the public a clear picture of lobbying activity without much extra paperwork for lobbyists. Despite what one MSP said in the debate, we don’t actually want lobbyists to declare their Christmas card list!
A proper register would be a big step forward for transparent politics, letting ordinary people know when lobbyists are trying to influence politicians. Who knows - if Holyrood leads the way on transparency, Westminster may be forced to reconsider the woeful UK Lobbying Act.