The polling referred to in this Sunday Herald article does not show that “lobbyists should be subjected to greater scrutiny” (my emphasis). It shows only that the idea of “greater scrutiny” is popular with the public, not that it would be a necessarily good thing as assessed by any objective criteria. We are entitled to wonder, for example, if this greater scrutiny would have been just as popular had those asked been aware that it would greatly increase the cost. Would they have considered it worth a doubling or trebling of the expense involved in maintaining that level of scrutiny?
Personally, I regard the estimated cost as relatively trivial if one considers the size of the Scottish budget, and absolutely trivial if it brings the greater openness and accountability that is claimed. I’m not entirely convinced that it will. But if it’s only going to cost £1m a year to find out then arguing against the measure on the basis of cost, even as an experiment, seems rather petty.
What concerns me more is the issue of access. Not all lobbying is bad. Not all lobbyists are “evil”. Lobbying is part of the democratic process. It is perfectly fitting that there should exist a method by which the case for and against a particular policy can be put directly to our elected representatives. It is essential that they should be aware of these arguments and as fully informed as possible on issues that can be complex and technical as well as contentious.
There is already a tendency for politicians to exist in a bubble, with a phalanx of aides, advisers and spin-doctors coming between them and the real world. Should we be doing anything that might reinforce that bubble?
I would like to think, for example, that the Scottish Government is being very effectively lobbied about the issue of fracking – from both sides. I would be concerned that strict regulation of lobbying might be something of a double-edged sword in that it would restrict access to government for those representing the public conscience at least as much as for those representing corporate avarice.
Perhaps regulation is being pursued as an easy solution. Maybe what is needed is, not so much that professional lobbyists should be reined in, as that the people should get more professional at lobbying. This would not be effortless, of course. Nor would it be without cost. It would require of individuals engagement, participation and, perhaps, some small expense. Modern communication facilities provide the means. All that remains to be found is the will.
If we accept that lobbying is part of the game, wouldn’t it be a good idea to become better players?