Scotland takes first steps towards lobbying transparency — with a little help from Sunlight


Scotland is now one step closer to shining light on the country’s influence industry. Last week, transparency advocates were invited to an oral evidence session in the Scottish parliament and made a strong case for lobbying disclosure. And while Westminster is pushing through a highly problematic bill on lobbying disclosure, the hearing in Scotland seems to be an encouraging part of a longer reform effort. Sunlight is also proud to have played a small role in the process: our draft international lobbying disclosure guidelines were referenced during the debate as a set of standards based in part on an international consensus about lobbying transparency.

MSP Findlay has been a vocal advocate for lobbying transparency. Screenshot: The Scottish Parliament.

Scotland, one of the many countries that entirely lacks lobbying disclosure, has been spurred to action by the debate in the UK. Instead of statutory disclosure or regulation, Scotland relies on an ad hoc collection of registration schemes and codes of conduct maintained by lobbying trade associations. The Association of Professional Political Consultants, for instance, has a public register of all the lobbying firms that are part of the association. These firms disclose the names of their staff lobbyists and clients — needless to say, however, on a strictly voluntary basis.

It’s unclear if there is sufficient political will to move this effort forward; however, after debate last summer about a proposed lobbying transparency bill, the ruling Scottish National Party made a commitment to introduce new legislation. While a lobbying disclosure bill has not yet been introduced, last week’s hearing demonstrates that the situation is ripe for reform.

Last week’s parliamentary hearing, which included testimonies from our fellow advocates at Spinwatch, Unlock Democracy and the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, resulted in a robust debate on a number of important topics, including what information should be disclosed, who should oversee a register and ensure compliance and who should be required to register.

Tamasin Cave of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, who spoke at the oral evidence session, said the following about the lobbying reform effort in Scotland: “The Scottish National Party deserve credit for taking this issue on. The devil, though, as ever will be in the detail. If the Scottish register is to be credible it must include all professional lobbyists and provide enough information for the public to see who is influencing whom and on what. It is a chance for Scotland to set the bar. They would be fools to follow Westminster’s pitiful example.”