This loophole is letting lobbying go under the radar in Scotland

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 4th March 2021

A major loophole in Scotland’s lobbying register is undermining transparency – with voters left in the dark about lobbying during the pandemic.

Over the weekend, the Sunday Post reported on new Electoral Reform Society research showing that the official public record of lobbying of government ministers and senior figures is leaving a lot off the record.

While video calls and in-person meetings between ministers and lobbyists have to be listed on the books… they don’t if the cameras are turned off.

The pandemic has seen a shift form in-person meetings to phone calls. But that’s also brought this loophole to attention, with calls from big businesses or campaign groups not having to be listed on the register for voters to see.

As the Post reported, the ERS found that when Covid-19 hit Scotland last March the number of monthly calls taken by ministers rose from fewer than 10 to more than 100, according to analysis of ministerial diaries.

Willie Sullivan from ERS Scotland told the paper that the places without ­ information are where rumour and misinformation, distrust and then conspiracy can grow. “Those who govern have a duty to Scots citizens but also to the wider idea of democracy to work hard at being trustworthy and trusted. This calls for processes and systems that provide the utmost transparency and if that means lobbyists and campaigners taking a few extra hours a month to complete a public register then they should do so in the spirit of active citizenship and as small champions of democracy” Willie said.

A committee of MSPs is considering whether Scotland’s lobbying laws should be expanded to cover further communications such as emails and telephone calls. We hope they listen to the calls for transparency to ensure this loophole is fixed.

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