‘Satan’s Little Helpers’ (7) ‘…There is still all to play for’
We should also note that the Scottish Parliament itself commissions the survey companies to conduct its research, including Ipsos MORI running the Scottish Social Policy Monitor. This is a “multi-client, quarterly survey designed for organisations to collect regular robust data on the characteristics of the Scottish population.” Ipsos MORI also compiled the report ‘Selling Alcohol Responsibly’ for the Home Office 24 September 2009, and although they carry out this work they are free to represent many of the players in the game while plying the decision-makers with money. Surely we should view this process with some suspicion.
To complicate things further, in the UK Parliament, ComRes also conducted a (2009) survey on lobbying the “Lobbying and the PASC [Commons Public Administration Select Committee] report… Views from within Parliament.” Its key recommendations were:
The creation of a statutory register listing all individual lobbyists and the names of all their clients;
That this statutory register should contain details of all contact between lobbyists and MPs, including diary records and minutes of meetings;
The establishment of an independent watchdog, funded by lobbyists, to monitor ethical behaviour in the industry.
Most of that could be obviated by the survey/lobby system.
The ComRes Parliamentary Panel (January 19 and February 9 by self-completion postal questionnaire) referred to earlier, which was claimed to be the largest of its kind ever established with 275 MPs who pre-agreed to take part, offers an explanation of how the survey works in its ‘”MPs Panel Explained” Information Sheet.’ This notes the connection with lobbying and guarantees media exposure:
Clients also use our panel to develop their public affairs and campaign strategy. Results show them what existing views on a particular issue in Parliament are, and whether there is a role, or a need, for public affairs work in a given area. The results themselves can be a powerful public affairs tool, securing targeted media coverage for an organisation’s issues.
Yet this is not regarded as lobbying. ComRes also state here that it has an established presence in all of the devolved regions and guarantees a response rate of 50 MSPs: it states that each of these multi-client surveys operates every six months, in June and November (emphasis added):
Clients commission question units on any one, or all three of the ComRes devolved legislature surveys, with each question unit testing up to four statements. The flat fee per question unit includes ComRes’s full service offering, with expert support at every stage of the research process and a fully actionable analysis.
Yet this is not regarded as lobbying. ComRes also studied the devolved Parliaments with the (2009) ‘The future of the lobbying industry…’ observing that: “ For those seeking to influence the future of the industry, there is still all to play for across the UK.” MSPs are said to be much more likely to support the current system of self regulation, to oppose a register containing details of their contact with lobbyists and are also supportive of the creation of a register and a watchdog (controlled by the industry).
Although as far as Scotland goes between a third and a half of MSPs “stay in the middle ground on these issues — indicating either a desire to steer clear of the debate, or a knowledge gap in this area.”
 See: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmregmem/091125/memi17.htm which lists surveys by Ipsos on why Edinburgh residents refused the congestion charge (probably with the purpose of changing their minds); and one on ‘adult entertainment’ up by Scottish Ministers to review the scope and impact of adult entertainment activity, see: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2006/04/24111914/5 ; other surveys explore the prevalence of driving under the influence of drugs, see: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/poll.aspx?oItemId=555