Lobbying is an essential part of democracy, not a threat to it

For an industry that earns its keep by making a case for others, the lobbying industry in the UK has been pretty poor overall at making the case for itself, writes Peter Duncan of APPC Scotland.

Don't relinquish ownership of the term 'lobbyist', warns Peter Duncan
We are communicators, that’s all, and our target audience just happens to be legislators and governments at all levels.

So, against that background, and with tin hats fastened in place, lobbyists in Scotland look forward in the coming months to a legislative process in Holyrood, from which will emerge a system for regulating the interaction between comms professionals and policymakers north of the border. 

I, for one, go into that process with nothing to hide and much to be proud of. 

I’ve always been of the view that transparency is to be welcomed and should do much to reassure the man on the street.

But how did we get to this position? 

How did we get to a point where print media were able to justify column inches, often just because the headline included the word "lobbyist"?

Our industry was too keen to relinquish ownership of the term "lobbyist". We were far too easily persuaded that "public affairs consultant" or "political consultant" were more appropriate and less controversial terms. And just as we gave up the term, so it became inherently shady.

I hope that the next few months of parliamentary processes in Scotland, as the Scottish Government’s Lobbying Bill is debated, can see a new consensus emerging. 

Lobbying is an essential part of delivering a properly functioning democracy, not a threat to it. 

That was the welcome starting point established by Scottish Government’s introduction to its consultation on draft legislation, and the Parliament’s committee report that preceded it.

From that encouraging starting point, the industry can respond positively to demands for a register of lobbying activity, particularly if the Scottish Parliament continues on its current course of seeking a level playing field that will regulate consultant lobbyists in exactly the same way as any other, and identically to in-house personnel working for charities and groups across the country. 

Frankly, Holyrood must not replicate the appalling legislative botch-up that is the UK Lobbying Act 2014.
However, new confidence in our role and identity should also put us in a strong position to resist demands for publication of the value of lobbying contracts, not least of all because comms is now such an interrelated discipline that splitting out lobbying costs would be as practically difficult as it is meaningless. 

Whisper it softly – we all know that some of the most expensive lobbying campaigns can be ineffective and ill-targeted, while the most effective ones can be cost-free.

So, while we prepare for the next skirmishes in the run-up to legislation in Scotland, let’s grasp a rediscovered pride in our role as lobbyists, that term we have cowered away from for so long, and seek only a level workable playing field for our industry.

Peter Duncan is the chairman of the APPC in Scotland

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