SNP lobbying row mounts as new transparency campaign launched
The Herald Scotland, by Tom Gordon
A campaign to oust the corporate lobbyist who chairs the SNP’s new economic policy commission is being launched tomorrow.
Activists are calling on Nicola Sturgeon to reverse her decision to put Andrew Wilson in charge of the party’s Growth Commission.
A petition setting out the demands goes live at the closetheloopholes.scot website run by the Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT).
Wilson, a former Nationalist MSP and RBS spindoctor, is the founder and managing partner of Charlotte Street Partners (CSP), which has deep links to the SNP and the financial sector.
Helping businesses engage with “policymakers, politicians and regulators”, its past clients include Cluff Natural Resources, which wanted to burn coal under the Firth of Forth.
Former SNP communications chief Kevin Pringle became a CSP partner last year.
Despite possible conflicts of interests with CSP clients, Sturgeon made Wilson chair of the Commission when she launched the SNP’s listening exercise on independence.
The Commission will “consider a policy programme – with social justice at its heart – to grow the economy and reduce Scotland’s deficit to a sustainable level,” the First Minister said.
The SNP defended Wilson as a “very experienced and skilled choice”.
However critics said his appointment seemed a clear case of “corporate capture”.
CSP is not in the Association of Professional Political Consultants or Chartered Institute of Public Relations, which publish client registers, and so does not volunteer its clients.
The new petition says the SNP has “a significant responsibility to uphold confidence in our democratic system” and the public deserves transparency in government policy making.
It says either CSP should reveal its clients or Wilson should be replaced “with a chair whose interests are transparent”.
The petition also urges the SNP government to speed up the register of lobbying activity at Holyrood which MSPs voted for earlier this year.
SALT member Willie Sullivan, director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: “There is a ‘sunlight’ solution to this problem – CSP can join one of the lobbying professional bodies and publish their clients. This will show the public there is no conflict of interest.”
Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who drove the law on lobbying at Holyrood, said: “CSP are headed up by key players in the SNP such as Kevin Pringle and Andrew Wilson.
“They also have John Swinney’s mentor Sir Angus Grossart as their chairman. These people have direct access to the First Minister and senior Government Ministers and officials. There is a clear conflict of interest here and CSP should in the interest of openness and transparency immediately publish their client list or Mr Wilson should resign from his position.”