Scottish lobbying register urged to emphasise 'positive' aspects of the trade

The nascent Scottish Parliament Lobbying Register has been urged to raise awareness of what lobbying is and highlight the positive aspects of it, in a report by a University of Edinburgh lecturer.

Scottish lobbying register urged to emphasise 'positive' aspects of the trade

Dr Eve Hepburn, who is also MD of policy research consultancy Policy Scribe, was tasked by the Scottish Parliament (chamber pictured above) with producing a report to assist its preparations with launching the new register in Holyrood next year. Her report was published yesterday.

Hepburn's research included interviews with those running lobbying or transparency registers in Brussels, Dublin, Westminster, several Canadian provinces and New South Wales.

In all of those cases, the report notes that some regulated organisations were resistant to their new frameworks and "did not readily identify as 'lobbyists' in the narrow definition of the word".

It goes on to say: "In particular, third-sector organisations in different jurisdictions have often felt uncomfortable with being termed as ‘lobbyists’ or their influence-seeking activities as 'lobbying'. Instead, non-profit organisations have preferred the language of advocacy, public affairs and interest-representation."

It says there should be a campaign to clarify what lobbying is. Hepburn's report says: "If the Scottish Parliament is to proceed with its broad definition of lobbying - which harkens back to the original meaning of the work of 'communicating with public officials' and 'the right to petition' - then it is necessary to organise a public education campaign that makes clear what lobbying is, and what it isn't.

'Reclaim the word'

"In particular, there is a need to stress the positive aspects of lobbying (i.e. organisations making their views heard to public officials in a transparent and open way to help inform decision-making). As one registrar told me, 'we need to reclaim and rehabilitate the word'. If organisations and individuals have a more positive understanding of the term lobbying, they are more likely to feel positively about identifying with the term."

The report argues that negativity towards lobbying should not harm parliament's "openness", saying: "There is a need to ensure that there is no chilling effect on the willingness of organisations to engage with policy-making. The openness of the Scottish Parliament towards the citizenry of Scotland, and to listening to the voices of a wide variety of sectors, is an important strength.

"Throughout the public outreach campaign, there is a need to emphasise that efforts to ensure transparency around lobbying activities should in no way act as a disincentive to people and organisations wishing to engage with the parliament."

The Holyrood register goes beyond the provisions for the Westminster register in a number of ways, including the inclusion of in-house lobbyists, which campaign group Unlock Democracy says puts pressure on the London register to toughen up.

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