ALARMS are being sounded about a loophole in the rules around the lobbying of MSPs by private interests that leaves the system “open to abuse”.

The think tank Common Weal has described as “bonkers” the gap in legislation that lets any lobbying of Scottish parliamentarians go unrecorded so long as it was done by an unpaid volunteer.

Volunteer members of organisations’ boards or unpaid “ambassadors” would also be able to lobby MSPs without any public register.

Firms also do not have to register their lobbying of MSPs if they have less than 10 paid employees, or if it is done over the phone.

The rules mean that a Zoom call in which a Scottish politician is lobbied will not need to be recorded – as long as the camera remains off.

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Amanda Burgauer, Common Weal’s executive director, described it as “bonkers”.

She told The National: “There is no real logic to any of this.

“We have assumed that there is a Lobbying Register and therefore there is a level of transparency that actually we now have discovered doesn’t exist. We think that we’ve got this transparent system but in reality there is no record.

“You can’t go and see who has lobbied your MSP about a new development up the road, because most of the lobbying events won’t be recorded.”

“There is a big loophole that is now open to abuse,” Burgauer (below) added.

The National:

Common Weal said it was told it had to delete records of events with MSPs when it was a volunteer, not a paid member of staff, who had undertaken the lobbying.

The think tank’s head of policy, Craig Dalzell, wrote on their website: “Common Weal has been forced, by the letter of the law, to be less politically transparent than we have been up until now.

“We have been forced to delete from the public domain instances where we have explicitly and deliberately lobbied members of the Scottish Parliament.”

He added in an email: “This is a major loophole in the Lobbying Register that clearly must be closed urgently.

“We have no idea how many other lobbying organisations have also been told to delete records like this or have been prevented from entering them.

“More worryingly, we have no idea how many organisations have used this loophole to deliberately hide their lobbying by simply just sending the intern to the meeting instead of anyone who's a paid staffer.”

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The UK Parliament’s website describes lobbying as when “an individual or a group tries to persuade someone in parliament to support a particular policy or campaign”.

The Scottish register was created in 2016 by the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016. The legislation aimed “to make provision about lobbying, including provision for establishing and maintaining a lobbying register and the publication of a code of conduct”.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Parliament, which maintains the Lobbying Register, said: “The purpose of the Lobbying Register is to record regulated lobbying as set out in the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016.

“The act explicitly excludes those who are unpaid from regulated lobbying.”