The thorny question of political lobbying has raised its head again. It has always been controversial, yet surely it is what listening to the electorate is all about.
As Council Leader, I lobbied the Scottish Executive for the north-east to have a peripheral route round the city. I, along with Aberdeenshire Councillor Alison McInnes, spent a full day persuading MSP ministers to provide the cash for it. We were successful.
We ourselves had been lobbied by the Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Small Businesses and our constituents, who wanted relief from the constant traffic jams and massive trucks trundling through the city.
The Food Standards Agency was also brought to Aberdeen as a result of lobbying the Civil Service and Food experts. I recall three occasions when I gave presentations to Ross Finnie MSP and other officers on the merits of our case.
Not to mention a unique occasion when I lobbied to bring the Scottish Parliament to Aberdeen. The then Principal of Aberdeen University Duncan Rice played a key role, and was a driving force in this process, providing university premises for the duration.
Without lobbying we would never have started the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (Areg) which, at that time was led by a former reporter of The Press & Journal, Jeremy Cresswell. Areg is now leading the way in the north-east, with a formidable list of companies in its membership.
The general public have little faith in their elected representatives and don’t bother to turn out to vote. It breeds a feeling of: ‘What’s the point?’
In all of these examples there was involvement from officers and experts. Records were kept which were eventually shared with councillors, who scrutinised and approved the decisions.
Lobbying is necessary – cronyism is not
Every time a constituent came to me with a problem, they were lobbying for an issue which affected them. So, in my humble opinion lobbying is not wrong. It’s a necessary part of government. Public figures have to be accessible and accountable to the public.
What is not acceptable is people who have been elected into positions of authority handing out contracts and tax breaks by texts to old pals, relatives and friends who have specific interests, outside the normal rules of ethical standards.
Recently we have seen nepotism, favours for mates, contracts handed out that bypass normal procedures required by the UK Government – all of which is completely unacceptable. It has nothing to do with lobbying – that’s cronyism.
The public do care, rightly, about who spends their money and how those decisions are reached, which is why transparency is essential.
We are led by a Prime Minister who appears to be a stranger to the truth. Who says one thing then does the exact opposite. Who, when an independent enquiry finds his Home Secretary guilty of bullying and harassing staff, overrules the enquiry.
These things result in the general public believing that there is one rule for wealthy and privileged insiders and a different rule for the rest of us. In turn, this undermines the very process of government, when it appears decisions are based on who you know, rather than what you know.
Consequently, the general public have little faith in their elected representatives and don’t bother to turn out to vote. It breeds a feeling of: “What’s the point?”
Make sure to have your say
One of the reasons the elections for the Scottish Government is not gaining any traction is partially the result of the negative publicity we see emanating from Westminster. But Scotland’s Government is not without its own problems.
There is a crisis of credibility in the country’s governance, and the weakness of our institutions were exposed by the Sturgeon versus Salmond debacle. The way our MSPs played fast and loose politics with the situation, rather than get to the truth of the matter was disappointing.
And now our First Minister agrees she “took her eye off the ball” as Scotland reports the highest drug deaths in Europe. She has similarly failed to address her government’s catastrophic failures in the areas of health, education and poverty, merely offering the claim that independence will resolve all.
It’s little wonder the public are not excited by this election.
Nonetheless, you have a vote. People will get the government they deserve. So, whatever your political colour, it is important that you make a choice as to who can best lead us through the very difficult challenges ahead.
Surely it’s time to jettison the old politics and start a fresh with respect and honesty?
Which party has the integrity, the ambition and vision to take us forward in an honest way? The decision is up to you, folks.
Len Ironside is a former champion wrestler who served as an Aberdeen councillor for 35 years, four years as council leader