July 27, 2015 : Jenny Bloomfield

Whose job is it anyway?

If politicians want greater transparency on lobbying, then they need to make the first move

In the month that the best slur the Sun could come up with against the Labour leadership contenders was that Andy Burnham spent £39 over 4 years on petrol, SCVO responded to the Scottish Government’s Lobbying Bill consultation.

We said that, as with expenses, it is ultimately the politicians’ duty to behave as upright public servants, rather than us as a sector being obliged to log every single meeting we have with them.

There is no doubting that the third sector behaves impeccably in all of its advocacy and campaigning activity. Even if we were to bung an MSP, I don’t know, a few hundred quid to get our favourite amendment in to a new Bill, he or she would have to be seriously dodgy to accept that money (and by the way, in doing so would break codes of conducts which are already in place to stop such things from happening).

“How hard can it be for Parliament to set up a register of public engagements for MSPs?”

So, I wonder why we need a lobbying bill in Scotland to stop such activity. Isn’t it a bit like making lobbyists the ‘parent’ of the lobbyist-MSP relationship, there to hold naughty-MSPs to account?

As we’ve stated many times, we firmly believe that lobbying transparency and protecting the integrity of the Scottish Parliament should be the responsibility of MSPs and officials, not lobbyists.

We’re concerned that a register would create a barrier, making it much harder for charities and third sector organisations to give vulnerable people a voice at the Scottish Parliament and ensure that public policy in Scotland takes their needs into account. This would be a disaster for all the wonderful campaigning the sector does – from securing the smoking ban, to pushing for minimum pricing on alcohol, to getting the Climate Change Act introduced.

It doesn’t mean that the public don’t have a right to know who our public servants are meeting and when – but this can be done in a straightforward manner by each MSP and public servant publishing a regular list of meetings and appointments, just like Ministers currently do. How hard can it be for Parliament to set up a register of public engagements for MSPs?

Let’s not tie ourselves in knots trying to stop our politicians breaking the rules – they’re responsible adults, let them act like it.

Read our full response to the consultation.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Jenny Bloomfield