Public affairs firms 'exposed' by campaigners in Scottish lobbying report

Campaigners have published a critical report into lobbying in Scotland ahead of the SNP's annual conference this Thursday.

Holyrood: The Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh
Holyrood: The Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh
A raft of public affairs firms are listed in the report as having offices in Edinburgh within a short walk of Holyrood, the Scottish Parliament.

'Holyrood Exposed', by Spinwatch, Unlock Democracy and the Electoral Reform Society, lists Charlotte Street Partners, Bellenden and Weber Shandwick in its guide to lobbying in Edinburgh.

The report is divided into sections on planning, alcohol, tobacco and fracking and takes a critical stance on the relationship between politicians and lobbyists, adding that "access doesn’t always equate to influence, but deals can only be cooked up once in the kitchen".

Charities are also mentioned in the report, which names the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations for its opposition to the Scottish Government’s proposals for a register of lobbyists.

Alexandra Runswick, director of Unlock Democracy, said: "The Scottish Government has the chance to lead the way on lobbying transparency and introduce a register which shows who is lobbying whom, about what, and how much they are spending in the process. The Westminster register is a sham, criticised by campaigners and the industry alike for capturing virtually no lobbying activity. Scotland must not be complacent; lobbying transparency is an essential feature of modern governance not an optional extra. The lobbying industry in Scotland is growing in size and influence but the vast majority of their activities remain hidden. The public has a right to know how lobbyists are trying to influence the decisions made in government."

But the Association for Scottish Public Affairs said public affairs firms and companies carried out the minority of lobbying compared with other lobbyists.

Alastair Ross, convener of the ASPA, said: "Any study of lobbying in Scotland needs to be viewed in perspective and consider the whole picture. Lobbying in Scotland includes businesses and consultancies, but it’s also carried out by charities and good causes in the third sector, trades unions, churches, professional bodies, local authorities, public bodies, campaign groups and organisations like Spinwatch and Unlock Democracy too. ASPA has consistently called for a level playing field in any lobbying regulation as there should be no distinction between different types of lobbyists and their organisations – there should be no exemptions or special treatment for anyone."

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