A STRING of former senior SNP staffers who have moved into private sector public relations will not have to sign up to a new register of lobbyists after ministers significantly watered down their plans.
The Scottish Government has also come under fire from transparency campaigners after it confirmed that its proposals would cover only face-to-face meetings, with paid lobbyists under no obligation to declare contact with politicians by email, phone or letter.
Spinwatch, an organisation that published an expose of the influence of lobbyists and their close links to Scottish politicians earlier this month, said the register would now be "almost pointless."
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The Electoral Reform Society, campaign group Unlock Democracy, the think tank Common Weal and Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who initially proposed new laws over lobbying, also expressed disappointment with the Bill, which was published yesterday.
The Scottish Government had initially proposed that individuals paid to influence politicians would be responsible for signing up to the new register, in a move it said would ensure maximum accountability and clarity.
However, ministers have performed a U-turn over the measure, with the burden being placed on organisations that engage in lobbying rather than individuals. Under the revised plans, those who lobby as employees will see their communications instead treated as being from their employers, while firms will also not have to state how much they spend in attempts to influence MSPs and ministers.
Tamasin Cave, of Spinwatch, said: "This is really disappointing from the Scottish Government and a missed opportunity. As drafted, the register of lobbyists will only allow people a glimpse of the lobbying activity taking place in Scotland.
"A decent register needs to include all contact with lobbyists, not just face to face meetings. It needs to cover lobbying of civil servants, special advisers and regulators, not just ministers and MSPs. And it should require lobbyists to disclose how much they are spending trying to bend the government to their will."
Government sources said that individual lobbyists making contact with politicians would have their names provided by their companies in bi-annual returns of activity, while placing the burden on organisations was backed in a consultation and recommended by a Holyrood committee.
However, the change means a series of high profile former SNP employees, who have recently taken lucrative lobbying or public affairs jobs will not personally join on the register. They include Kevin Pringle, a former SNP communications chief who recently joined Charlotte Street Partners, Luke Skipper, the party's former chief of Staff at Westminster who recently joined Weber Shandwick and Geoff Aberdein, Alex Salmond's former chief of staff and now Head of European Public Affairs at Aberdeen Asset Management.
It also comes after Jennifer Dempsie, a former special advisor to Alex Salmond, became embroiled in a cronyism row after it emerged that she brokered a meeting with culture secretary Fiona Hyslop on behalf on DF Concerts, the T in the Park promoter, which led to the profitable firm being awarded £150,000 in state aid. Her activities would not have had to be declared even if the new rules were in force.
Mr Findlay, whose members bill on lobbying was taken over by the Scottish Government in the wake of a lobbying scandal at Westminster, accused ministers of diluting his proposals and called for a rethink.
He said: "They have sought to make sure that the revolving door is camouflaged by focusing on organisations and not on individuals, while there is no compulsion to include the employment history of the lobbyist."
The Electoral Reform Society said said the Bill was a "small move" in the right direction but said it should also cover spending, email, phone and written communications.
Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, said: "The SNP said they wanted to make Scotland more transparent than the rest of the UK. Instead they have published a Bill which is full of handy loopholes for lobbyists. With these proposals, the government has wasted a golden opportunity to bring lobbying out into the open."
In a policy note, The Scottish Government said it had ditched its initial proposals because it would save cash for lobbying firms, Holyrood and others who seek to influence ministers. It argued that only including face-to-face communication was "proportionate".
A spokeswoman added: "Details of meetings Ministers have with company representatives are already published on the Government website.
"Those who in return for payment communicate with MSPs or Ministers in relation to parliamentary or Governmental business would be engaging in regulated lobbying, and would therefore be covered by this bill."