Guest blogger Unlock Democracy member Danny Zinkus-Sutton
Scots are keen to see their democracy protected and improved. They see lobbying and transparent access to their elected representatives as an important part of their democracy. That’s the message I get from the recent packed public meeting on Neil Findlay MSP’s Lobbying Transparency (Scotland) Bill. 75 people gathered in Committee Room 4 of the Scottish Parliament last Thursday to hear experts talk about the proposal to create a register of lobbyists in Scotland and to put their questions to the panel. The room was full, the meeting over-subscribed and the questions non-stop. Strong evidence of the concerns that lobbying raises for ordinary people.
The public meeting is part of the wider consultation on the Lobbying Transparency (Scotland) Bill. Neil Findlay MSP, Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy, Willie Sullivan of the Electoral Reform Society and Will Dinan of Spinwatch all spoke in favour of the creation of a register of lobbyists. Lobbying is an important part of our democratic process. It puts public decision makers in contact with those affected by their decisions. It allows those with expertise or a unique view on an issue to influence decisions for the better. Nobody wants to prevent lobbying. What we need is to ensure that when lobbying happens it is seen to be honest, open and clean. What is proposed is a simple register of who spoke to whom about what and how much money they spent doing so. It took Peter Facey 20 minutes to complete the entry he would have to sign on behalf of Unlock Democracy. That’s not an onerous obligation, even for a small charity. In exchange what organisations that lobby get, what we all get, is the assurance that our political process is clean and democratic. In the words of Neil Findlay, a process of open government, democratic accountability and transparency.
As a member of the Edinburgh and Lothian’s local reform group it was great to be involved in planning this meeting. It shows how groups of local activists can bring influence to bear on the political process. How we can act as a focal point for our wider community when issues arise that affect us all. We’re not a London think tank or a body of academics. We’re ordinary people interested in making our democracy work for every citizen. When groups such as the Edinburgh reform group work with organisations like Unlock Democracy, the Electoral Reform Society and Spinwatch we are able to combine our voices as ordinary citizens with the expertise of people like Peter Facey, Willie Sullivan and Will Dinan.
The most important question asked at the meeting was, “Why not have a register?” If it takes 20 minutes to complete why not have a register? If you have nothing to hide why not have a register? I think that is the most important question to ask any organisation that objects to this proposal. Why are YOU against a register of lobbyists?
The consultation runs until 7th November and can be found here (now closed).