New commission to investigate economic evidence on independence
CAMPAIGNERS are concerned that the leadership of the new commission on an independent Scotland’s economy could be undermined by conflicts of interest.
Andrew Wilson, an ex-SNP MSP tasked with chairing the commission, is a lobbyist for the Charlotte Street Partners firm, which does not disclose its clients.
The lack of transparency has raised concerns among democracy campaigners of secretive, corporate interests impacting on government decision making.
Charlotte Street previously hosted a dinner for Nicola Sturgeon and fifty of the country’s top business figures, including fossil fuel and aristocratic landowning interests. The firm also supported university bosses in their PR work against government education reforms.
Dr Will Dinan of Spinwatch, which closely watches the PR sector, told CommonSpace: “The appointment of Wilson to this role highlights the emergence of a new establishment in Scotland, comprising those well networked between the upper reaches of the SNP and the business and professional classes.
“Wilson was one of the first through the revolving door between the SNP and business. He is a well known conduit between the corporate sector in Scotland and the Scottish Government, and has enjoyed privileged access to senior ministers in his role as a lobbyist at Charlotte Street Partners. While some might say this profile makes him the ideal person to lead this new commission, others will rightly worry about potential conflicts of interest between his commercial work and policy influence.”
The Sunday Herald reported concerns from Willie Sullivan, of the Scottish Alliance on Lobbying Transparency (Salt), who questioned whether the public or corporate interest would be addressed by the commission. The Sunday Herald called for Wilson to make his firm’s client list public or step down from the role.
However, speaking to CommonSpace, Wilson rejected those charges against himself and the future work of the commission.
“Judge us on the quality of what we produce,” Wilson said, “We will do the best that we can. Everything that we do will be done in the public interest.”
He expressed frustration that his work with Charlotte Street was impacting on the commission role, which is voluntary: “Misrepresentations of me and questions of my integrity I find dispiriting but it does not reflect what I do for a living or how I do it.”
Victory for campaigners: Scottish Government will deliver greater lobbying transparency
The Scottish National Party hope that the commission will play a key role in revising its economic case for an independent Scotland, which faces multiple challenges concerning deficits, trade, growth, equity, and currency arrangements.
The challenge of addressing economic uncertainty has be made more difficult by the unanswered questions over the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Announcing the growth commission First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The commission will inform our thinking on how growth can be sustained in the here and now and during the period of uncertainty caused by Brexit.
“But it will also examine the projections for Scotland's finances in the context of independence and consider a policy programme – with social justice at its heart – to grow the economy and reduce Scotland's deficit to a sustainable level. It will also consider the monetary arrangements that would best support and underpin a strategy for sustainable growth.
“And while its work is intended to inform SNP policy, it will also seek views from across the political spectrum.”
The full membership of the commission is expected to be announced over the next fortnight.
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