WE disagree that scrutinising only MSPs and not lobbyists would be preferable for democracy. MSPs are subject to regulation of their conduct and rightly so. Similar standards should obtain for those attempting to influence MSPs and ministers. A valuable first step is to require that vested interests such as lobbyists declare their clients and disclose how much they are paid to influence MSPs.
The Scottish Council for Development and Industry apparently sides with the vested interest on this matter. But we were somewhat perplexed at your editorial statement (August 20) that the SCDI has no particular axe to grind. The SCDI executive committee and board are predominantly made up of some of the largest corporations in Scotland. Readers might like to peruse their website (www.scdi.org.uk) and check out the numbers of lobbying interests.
The PR industry is represented by Countrywide Porter Novelli, the same multinational corporation which is a leading member of the lobbyists' trade association ASPA. The PR directors of Railtrack, Shell, and EW&S Railway are members, as are a number of accountancy and law firms with lobbying interests. There is only a smattering of trade unions (seven out of 80 on the executive board). Corporations and lobbying consultancies have legitimate interests, but it is less than honest to describe the SCDI as having no axe to grind.
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Curiously, only last week, the SCDI called for increased openness and less secrecy at the Scottish Parliament. Now it is lobbying the Standards Committee to keep secrecy in place and to stop even the modest transparency which the Standards Committee would require.
The SCDI also raises the old chestnut that forcing lobbyists to disclose their clients and fees would somehow decrease openness. This is a fallacy. Regulating lobbyists will not create an elite of powerful lobbyists and nor will it hinder smaller groups from lobbying. Precisely the opposite is true. First of all, small campaigns and groups would not be required to register unless they want to. Second, if the lobbying industry really will become more powerful after regulation, why do all the lobbying trade associations and most corporations oppose regulation? The obvious answer is that it would shed a little democratic light on their hitherto secretive and opaque activities.
It has become evident that vested interests in the lobbying/PR industry, large corporations, and newcomers to lobbying (such as accountants) have adopted a strategy of trying to pressure the Standards Committee. We hope that the committee will not be deflected from its valuable attempt take a decisive step towards an Open Scotland.
Dr David Miller, William Dinan,
Professor Philip Schlesinger,
Stirling Media Research Institute,