2nd May 2021

How to know if there is little to fear from Scotland’s Lobbying Act

As the March 12th deadline approaches, more than a few businesses are concerned about the implications of the new Scottish Parliament Lobbying Act.

That’s understandable. For market leaders concerned about their reputation, the combination of scrutiny and some very significant penalties are a worrying combination. Allied to that is the challenge for larger businesses of how to develop systems so people outside the public affairs division don’t inadvertently get them in trouble. It starts to sound like a serious headache. It’s true there are some challenges. No doubt the newspapers will gleefully report at first on which business has met with the most MSPs. More cruelly it’s likely they’ll also report on MSPs who have had very few meetings as well.
But responsible businesses should have little to worry about.

The Act is not designed to stop regulated lobbying.

In fact, officials at the Scottish Parliament have been clear they recognise it’s essential MSPs continue to meet with businesses, charities, trades union and representative organisations. The information, and even the campaigning, by these organisations are part of a healthy democratic debate.

The big difference is that that lobbying is going to be recorded in a transparent manner. Whenever anyone engaged in regulated lobbying meets face-to-face with an MSP, Minister, Special Advisor, or the Permanent Secretary; they will have to report on the meeting, and the main points.

However, there are a number of exemptions.

Discussions on constituency matters are exempt, as are discussions involving sensitive commercial information regarding employment. Similarly the formal proceedings of the Parliament, along with Cross Party Group meetings are exempt.

The Scottish Parliament’s Lobbying Registrar, Billy McLaren, has been clear he is keen to speak with businesses and sectors to ensure they understand and are compliant with the new regulations. His team have produced guidance already, and they have a hub here:  http://www.parliament.scot/gettinginvolved/101810.aspx which covers everything you need to know.

Dialogue Scotland will be working with our clients to ensure they’re ready for commencement in March. That’s a detailed process, which will understand where engagement takes place with Parliamentarians, and how to ensure there is a coherent and effective internal reporting system, as well as a nominated officer who will take responsibility for reporting to Parliament.

Businesses may be worried about the consequences of this transparency. In fact, they should embrace it. Responsible businesses who engage positively and ethically in lobbying will be able to demonstrate exactly what their activity is. As the US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Those businesses who are working in the sunlight have little to concern themselves about with the new Lobbying Act.

Concerned? Dialogue Scotland helps organisations navigate the changes and implications Contact us

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