Hundreds of local government workers could be barred from political activity under rules about social media revealed in a new book.
The less-than-snappily-titled PR and Communication in Local Government and Public Services contains a clarification which could affect people who blog and tweet in their local government posts.
The book's authors sought clarification of the rules about so-called "politically restricted" posts.
Under the 1989 Local Government and Housing Act, anyone involved in communicating on behalf of a local council is politically restricted - they cannot stand for election, neither can they campaign for a political party.
It used to be that only workers employed at or over a certain salary faced such restrictions - but this was amended to focus rules on those disseminating information on behalf of a council to local and national newspapers and broadcasters. Crucially, the rules were written before the rise to dominance of the internet in communications and the revolution in use by public bodies of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
The man responsible for overseeing the impact of these laws in Scotland is John Marjoribanks, the (less-than snappily-titled) Local Government Political Restrictions Exemptions Adjudicator for Scotland.
The book's co-author John Brown, former PR chief for Strathclyde Region and Glasgow City Council, asked Mr Marjoribanks how he thought the internet would impact on his rulings.
The verdict from the adjudicator is interesting. His view, he says, is that political restrictions should apply to any local authority worker whose job involves the dissemination of council information to the general public, whether through traditional media or directly through social media.
That could bring hundreds of workers - possibly unknowingly - under the politically-restricted umbrella, Mr Brown believes. If your job entails updating the public on council news through social media, suddenly you may be banned from political campaigning. Party membership is still permitted to people deemed politically restricted, but active, pounding the streets involvement such as leafleting, canvassing and certainly standing for election in local or national elections are no longer open to you.
Could this apply to taking an active part in the independence referendum as well? Mr Brown thinks so, although it depends on whether you believe the two camps are strongly identified with political parties.
The question of numbers is where Mr Marjoribanks and Mr Brown part company. The adjudicator is doubtful that his verdict will affect up to 500 local council workers, as Mr Brown suggests, and argues that the people communicating council policy online are largely those already restricted, in PR teams. Mr Brown isn't so sure, and thinks many additional staff are actively encouraged to use social media. Either way, council workers with political ambitions may wish to seek further clarification.
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