LOBBYING is a legitimate activity that can enrich a country’s democratic process and decision-making. Companies, non-governmental organisation and trade unions are affected by Government actions, so it only right that a system of advocacy is available. The quality of political debate is also enhanced when MSPs are well-briefed by stake-holders, which is another benefit of lobbying.

However, the flip side is transparency. Given that government makes decisions that affect citizens, it is only right that the public can see which interests have influenced the decision-making process. The Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 was not the greatest piece of legislation ever passed, but it was an improvement on the status quo. Under the law’s provision, certain types of lobbying has to registered on an online system, which can be accessed by voters.

In three months, over 700 entries have been entered into the lobbying register and the results are unsurprising. Given the extent of Holyrood’s powers, a range of interests have been in contact with MSPs and ministers about causes they, or their clients, care about.

However, the public should be vigilant about the extent of the corporate lobbying of Holyrood. Big companies should be free to make their case in front of politicians, but they clearly doing so for their own commercial purposes.

Big Tobacco, for instance, is responsible for cancerous products that contribute to the deaths of thousands of people every year. When tobacco firms lobby MSPs, even if it is in relation to electronic cigarettes, the public should be asking questions.

The current law should be given time to bed in, but there is an overwhelming case for post-legislative scrutiny in around two years time. Why? The register provides a fascinating glimpse into the extent of lobbying at Holyrood, but the examples are only cover face-to-face meetings. If a lobbyist calls, texts or writes to an MSP, the activity does not have to be declared.

The sweeping exemptions in the legislation should also be reviewed in due course. Public authorities lobby MSPs, so it seems odd that any public body covered by freedom of information legislation should be explicitly excluded. Perhaps the biggest elephant in the room is money. Companies pay huge sums to hire professional lobbyists, but the fees do not have to be declared. In time, requiring the declaration of fee bandings would be an obvious way of improving the system.

Holyrood should be congratulated for devising a scheme that shines a light onto the lobbying world, but modest progress is no substitute for root-and- branch reform.