The biggest political change in Scotland for 300 years takes place
in 11 weeks. Yet ask Scottish organisations what they are doing to
prepare for the devolution of power to the Scottish parliament, and the
standard response is: ’waiting to see what happens’.
An approach that is to their detriment, according to Michael Russell,
chief executive of the SNP and candidate for MSP in the May
He says: ’Organisations should have been talking a year ago in terms of
As a candidate, Russell says he is already being targeted with
information by the better prepared. He believes organisations which want
a stake in the new order should, at the very least, be going through
each individual who they think will be involved in the parliament. They
should scrutinise party policies so that they will know before voting
starts what is likely to happen in their particular sector.
But despite such criticism, Sheila Kennedy of Text 100 Scotland warns of
the pitfalls of being too involved with the three main parties. ’It is
only through partnerships between the public and private sector that the
new parliament can explore the possibilities of truly modern,
technologically enabled government,’ she says.
Despite being well positioned to supply a public affairs service in
Scotland Cameron Grant, deputy managing director of the Communications
Group says that so far the agency has received only a ’watching brief’
The Scottish Landowners’ Federation is another organisation which is
stepping up its communications activity. However, even with land reform
at the top of the agenda, activity so far amounts to little more than
building databases of MSP candidates.
One problem which may be leading to a lack of activity is that
businesses simply do not know enough about the parliament. A survey
carried out by Market Research Scotland revealed that two-thirds of
businesses are ’in the dark’ about the new political arena.
Shandwick commissioned the survey and although it does not currently
have a dedicated public affairs unit in Scotland, has teamed up with
leading law firm McGrigor Donald and Market Research Scotland, to offer
organisations a Scottish parliament healthcheck. The idea is that the
service will give organisations the information they need to operate in
the new political environment.
However, perhaps the laid-back approach of Scottish organisations is
more in keeping with the whole tone of the new parliament. With everyone
involved adamant that this will be completely different from
Westminster, and the emphasis on absolute transparency, there is
discussion that the term ’lobbying’ may no longer be appropriate. As
Russell says: ’We are happy to be informed, we are not happy to be
There will not be a great need for lobbyists for two reasons. While
those working in public affairs debate the merits of the APPC’s and
Association of Scottish Public Affair’s respective codes of conduct, the
reality is that Scotland is a small country, and there is the feeling
that everyone knows everybody already. And as it is a completely new
system, can anybody claim to know how it works better than anyone
Jane Saren, managing director of GPC Scotland, says: ’Access isn’t the
issue - any business could probably get a meeting with the Scottish
Instead, we will be needed to follow what’s happening with a degree of
depth and analysis which people in business don’t have time to do.
Because it’s a new political system, the product we’re offering is
fluid, and there’s scope for new approaches.’
Angela Casey of sister-company Countrywide Porter Novelli warns that
there simply won’t be the budgets for huge public affairs campaigns
which lobbying companies are used to seeing in Brussels and Westminster.
’Companies will want to know what’s going on - there will be monitoring,
advice on communications and report writing, but these will be additions
to existing programmes,’ says Casey.
Similarly, Shandwick’s chief executive of UK Regions, John Gerrie thinks
that initially it will be hiring public affairs staff in Scotland only
to monitor the goings on at parliament and make this information
available to all Shandwick Public Affairs’ clients.
But, some organisations are not content to sit back and watch. An
excellent example is BT Scotland, which has made an upfront commitment
to working alongside the parliament.
While BT has always had a significant presence in Scotland, in the last
18 months there has been major investment in the country. Press and
broadcast manager Barbara Clark says: ’BT Scotland is looking not just
at the business opportunities which will emerge, but for ways to work
with the new Parliament.’ She gives the example of its current work with
prospective MSPs to see how communications at Holyrood can be
As communication has already been highlighted as a vitally important
aspect of the parliament - for example, it has been widely publicised
that all MSPs will have an e-mail address through which the public can
contact them - BT Scotland’s proactive stance seems a very wise one, and
one wonders that more companies aren’t following in its footsteps.
It seems a lot of interest is coming from south of the border, with
London-based organisations eager to get a foot in the door, as it were,
by hiring a Scottish PR consultancy. Certainly Edinburgh-based Carnegie
PR reports that it has been asked to pitch for business where clients
want Scottish expertise. One client which it won recently was KLM UK,
for which it has already organised sponsorship of the Scotsman’s
parliamentary web site.
Surprisingly, according to Judith Dalton, account executive at Carnegie
PR, in a competitive pitch for the KLM account, the client reported that
Carnegie was the only agency to even mention the parliament - the
deciding factor in its appointment.
However, with professionals such as Casey predicting that ’Lots of
offices will open here, and probably close again in a short period of
time,’ and the high awareness of prospective MSPs of the way
organisations are approaching parliament, a mere foot in the door now
may be too little, too late to get ahead in the new Scotland.