Saltire Public Affairs
Saltire Court in Edinburgh, they felt themselves vulnerable to attack during the week of the G8 summit in July 2005. This appears to be why the board outside the office listing the occupants was rendered blank for G8 week.
Privileged access to the Scottish Parliament
- Elaine Thomson was revealed not to have known that the ‘lawyer’ shadowing her had no legal qualifications, and was in fact a lobbyist working for Saltire Public Affairs, the lobbying subsidiary of law firm Shepherd & Wedderburn. Thomson’s failure to even inquire which clients her shadow worked for shows an alarming naivety. She along with four other MSPs is on the board of the SPBE... Defending the Exchange before the Standards committee recently Grice rejected criticism of his pet project. He claimed that the undertaking by participants not to lobby is a sufficient safeguard, despite any clear definition of what lobbying might entail. In fact, Grice is on record recommending the lack of rules and regulations as a positive feature of the Exchange. As lobbying is the full time function of the Exchange’s corporate members it is rather like suggesting that a fox can shadow the chicken house so long as it acts like a mouse. Grice’s defence required him to dissemble in the worst traditions of Sir Humphrey and the British civil service. In the Grice lexicon words can apparently be stretched to mean the opposite of their dictionary definition. The Exchange does not allow privileged access to big business because "The rules of the Exchange give the members safeguards so that they can have a constructive exchange. There is no privileged access in any sense of the word" (my emphasis). But the fact is that the scheme is dominated by multinationals and that there is no comparable access to MSPs (up to 26 days a year or a day a fortnight) for any other interests. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the following synonyms for privileged: favoured, advantaged, indulged, special. Readers can judge for themselves which of these senses apply to the scheme.
- On the question of openness Grice noted that "The MSPs knew exactly whom they were dealing with. We put a press notice out saying who the people were. In no sense was anything hidden. That openness is another safeguard" (my emphasis). A press notice there certainly was, but it noted only that Fiona Burns was a ‘policy adviser’ at Shepherd & Wedderburn the law firm. Actually, she works for Saltire Public Affairs, its lobbying subsidiary. Such lack of transparency is par for the course in the world of lobbying, but it is worrying that the Chief Executive feels the need to endorse the lobbyists slippery use of language. Moreover the MSP involved in the exchange, Elaine Thomson, who also sits on the board of the SPBE, appeared to be slightly less than ‘exactly’ aware of who she was dealing with. Here is what she said to BBC Newsnight:
- Elaine Thomson MSP: One of the things that was done when the inward Parliament programme was organised was that all the names, positions and companies of those involved were all published and was quite open.
- Gordon Brewer (Newsnight): So you were aware that this woman was not a lawyer, but in fact worked for a division of Shepherd and Wedderburn, which from what it says about itself looks very much like a lobbying company?
- ET: It’s a company that deals in information and it is the public affairs arm of that company. I mean the individual in question is professionally, as I understand it, a solicitor, though she is currently employed in the public...
- GB: She isn’t actually.
- ET: Isn’t she?
- GB: We asked the company today and they said she has no legal training.
- ET: Right... I thought she was professionally qualified but obviously I should have read her CV a little more effectively. (7 October 2002)
- Again, readers can judge for themselves the extent to which this MSP knew ‘exactly’ with whom she was dealing.