Businesses need to engage MSPs
Building relationships between businesses and MSPs opens the door to shared specialist knowledge, contacts and particular interests, according to Bill Bowman CA MSP.
If you don’t do politics, you don’t do much - so the saying goes. Across the world, businesses recognise the need to be politically engaged, but often such engagement begins and ends with government.
Many might wonder what else there is to engage with. Surely the point is to get the ear of someone in power to advance your ideas? Of course this is important, but it is just as important to have a relationship with those holding power to account.
That has not been easy in Scotland over the past decade. It would be foolish not to recognise that the Scottish political landscape has been dominated by the SNP. I should add here that I am a member of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.
We often hear that business loathes uncertainty, so why not give yourself an insurance policy against it?
The last few years have shown us that politics, especially Scottish politics, can change in the blink of an eye. The most obvious change has been the rise of the Scottish Conservatives under Ruth Davidson, who are now the official opposition at Holyrood.
In turn, that has seen a new debate open up over how the economy is managed, the old Labour-SNP consensus having been swept aside. Holyrood is more powerful than ever, with control over areas such as income tax and land and buildings transaction tax. Into that mix we have an ever-growing series of debates on everything from Brexit to education and our crumbling infrastructure.
Business now has a multitude of new issues to contend with. We often hear that business loathes uncertainty, so why not give yourself an insurance policy against it?
There are 129 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, each capable of asking questions, tabling motions and challenging the status quo.
Building relationships between businesses and MSPs opens the door to shared specialist knowledge, contacts and particular interests. With that in mind, relying on just the governing party to listen to your concerns would be to miss a huge opportunity to influence the debates going on around you.
Just as a cross-party approach can help smooth over PR concerns, so too can it signal to those in power that you are serious.
It also speaks to a more fundamental concern for businesses looking to engage with politics: not “being political”. The contradiction can be a difficult one to reconcile: how do you operate in a political sphere without being seen to take sides and potentially alienate clients and customers?
Again, an approach that seeks to engage with MSPs from across Parliament can reap rewards. Just as a cross-party approach can help smooth over PR concerns, so too can it signal to those in power that you are serious about getting things done, and that you are willing to work with whomever to make it happen. However, it is understandable that many are not keen to stick their heads above the parapet.
In public life we are used to hearing the views of the public sector and non-governmental organisations while the private sector is relegated to the business pages. I believe that must change, because business is the heart of Scottish politics, and underpins much of who we are as a country.
Jobs generate taxes, ideas produce opportunities and creating wealth improves living standards. These all stem from private enterprise, and it is time business found its voice, reached out and engaged with politicians.
Bill Bowman has been a member of ICAS since 1976. He was a Partner with KPMG in Aberdeen until 2001 and in Central and Eastern Europe until 2012. He became a list MSP for the North East of Scotland in 2016.