The news that yet another former parliamentarian has turned their hand to advising someone on how to represent themselves at Parliament isn’t really that surprising.

Nigel Don was an SNP MSP until May and this week The Herald reported six months later he was advising NHS Tayside on how to give evidence to the Public Audit Committee at Holyrood which he previously sat on.

Politicians who retire, or who are retired by the electorate, regularly turn to lobbying or public affairs as a new career.

After the 2015 general election, former Labour MP Tom Harris turned his lobbying hand to running the victorious Leave campaign in Scotland and is a regular media commentator as well as running his own PR consultancy.

Marco Biagi left his role as Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment in May and now provides senior counsel to one of Scotland’s leading PR consultancies while ex-Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson advises another communications firm.

Former Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ballard is now Director of Strategy and Communications at Chest Hearts & Stroke Scotland. Labour MSP Richard Baker resigned to join Age Scotland as Policy and Communications Manager.

Jim Mather, an Enterprise Minister under Alex Salmond, maintains his commercial credentials as chairman of housing industry lobby group Homes for Scotland. I could go on.

The Scottish Parliament is at an age now where Pauline McNeil served two terms as a Labour MSP, lost her seat and so used her political knowledge to move into community engagement consultancy, and has now returned to Holyrood. Former Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick was previously a housing charity lobbyist, as was the late and much-respected Margo MacDonald. Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton moved directly from working as a lobbyists for a children’s charity straight into Parliament last year. Much of the lobbying at Holyrood is carried out by the third sector.

Do we expect former parliamentarians to observe a self-denying ordinance that having worked in one part of the political world they should leave that universe altogether in professional terms?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with past MPs, MSPs or even councillors embarking on new careers as public affairs or government relations advisers as long as they do so in an ethical and regulated fashion.

Under the Lobbying Act passed in March last year Holyrood now has a Lobbying Registrar who has to deliver a register of lobbyists and a record of the face-to-face meetings they have with MSPs, ministers and their special advisers. Lobbying Registrar Billy McLaren intends to publish guidance on the new regulatory regime in the Spring ahead of the implementation of the Lobbying Act which is expected to happen by March 2018.

We await the details of what lobbyists will be required to register, and how the rules will be applied as they could extend to anyone who comes into direct contact with an MSP, Scottish minister or their special adviser during the course of their work. Everyone from chief executives and board members discussing confidential matters to shopfloor workers meeting the first minister on a walkabout visit may have to fill in a form to declare their conversations.

It’s worth noting that if the regulations were already in effect then Mr Don’s advice would not need to be disclosed as it did not involve him having face-to-face contact with his former MSP colleagues on behalf of NHS Tayside or any payment to him in a professional capacity.

However until that regime comes into effect lobbyists of any creed need to show they operate responsibility by committing themselves to a code of conduct setting out their ethical and professional standards. You can view the Association for Scottish Public Affairs code on our website ( and others are available from bodies including the Chartered Institute for Public Relations, the Association of Professional Political Consultants and the Public Relations Consultants Association.

If you’re considering employing any former politician who has set themselves up in business as a lobbyist, public affairs adviser, government relations professional or other kind of consultant you should be asking them whether they adhere to a code of conduct which sets out how they do business. They may be acting as your representative and so their conduct can have a direct effect on your reputation. If your lobbyist does not belong to a body which operates a code of conduct, then do you really want to risk working with them?

Alastair Ross is Convenor of the Association for Scottish Public Affairs.