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20 years on and has Holyrood ‘worked’?

20 years on and has Holyrood ‘worked’?

6 May 1999 was a mild day, but my then 16 week old son was having none of it and he seemed to find something to howl about every five minutes.  The fact that history was being made at Holyrood was lost on him. Even the gift of a yellow sticker (quickly shredded) from a kindly Lib Dem polling agent wasn’t enough to quieten him.

But thus poor Duncan became a metaphor for a new institution that this week turned 20.  Rather like the 150 or so children born on  that day in July 1999, Holyrood still has the odd teenage moments but the rules have changed as they got older.

At the time and even now, people are quick to compare Westminster with Holyrood.  A thousand years of history, not all of which went to plan, versus 20. 

But here we are, 20 years since those immortal words “There Shall be a Scottish Parliament” became a reality. I’ve worked in public affairs since the late 90s when Westminster MPs were rare animals whom we seldom saw.  Devolution promised much and some would argue has yet to deliver it all. It is certainly a more open and accessible organisation for those seeking to do business with it.

People are often still quick to criticise Holyrood, but is has achieved much in 20 years.  We have genuine economic growth and the highest level of employment in the UK – facts even the Tories grudgingly acknowledge.  Free personal care for our elderly and zero tuition fees are looked upon enviously by English MPs.

We’ve had six First Ministers – including Jim Wallace who covered twice for Donald Dewar whilst he was incapacitated.  Some 330 people have sat as MSPs. 16 or 17 have been there since the very start (Tavish Scott is the youngest veteran, although he is soon to leave for pastures new).  And some lasted barely a few weeks; Labour’s Lesley Brennan was a North East list MSP for just ten weeks in early 2016.

Ian Welsh (Lab) and Stefan Tymkewycz (SNP) both resigned within months of being elected as they just didn’t like the job.  And surprising number serve only one term, a consequence of the list system whose structure is unique to Holyrood and the Welsh Assembly.

Much has happened in those twenty years and gradually more and more powers have been devolved northwards from an increasingly discredited Westminster, suspended in its own inertia over Brexit.  We already had transport, planning, health, education and rural affairs. Soon additional powers over farming and fishing concessions come to Holyrood rather than Westminster if the Scottish Government get their way.  Many tend to forget that 85%+ of policy is already devolved and for that reason alone, Holyrood matters.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing of course.  Very few Members’ Bills have actually made it through to law and the committee system – intended to be a sort of ‘second chamber’ quickly became and has remained much more politicised than ever intended with the Government of the day’s view generally prevailing.

Holyrood is, however, still a very young institution.  20 years is a blink in time and the opportunities to engage are significant. Few MSPs will decline a meeting with a local business or organisation linked to their constituency, committee or spokesperson duties.  The opportunity to reach Ministers who make real decisions is dramatically better than those of us who remember ‘lobbying’ in the pre Holyrood days.

So perhaps the last words should go to Her Majesty who opened Holyrood this equivalent week in 1999 and returned last weekend to celebrate the first 20 years, concluding that for most of the last 20 years this striking chamber has provided a place to talk. But of course it must also be a place to listen – a place to hear views that inevitably may differ quite considerably, one from another – and a place to honour those views.

Roll on July 2039!

Political Insider – Friday 26 July 2019

Political Insider – Friday 26 July 2019

What a difference a week makes… On Wednesday, Theresa May delivered her farewell speech outside Downing Street before tendering her resignation to the Queen. She wished new Conservative leader Boris Johnson well and within hours he was sworn as the 55th UK Prime Minister.

Johnson then gave his first speech as Prime Minister to the gathered media outside No 10. As well as renewing his commitment to leaving the European Union on the 31st October, he made several domestic policy pledges. Mr Johnson said the Brexit “doomsters and gloomsters “were wrong and the UK would leave on 31 October”. He then went on to say that the UK would meet that deadline “no ifs, no buts”, adding: “The buck stops with me.”

The incoming Prime Minister has already given key cabinet roles to leading Brexiteers. Dominic Raab and Priti Patel who return to government as Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary respectively. Sajid Javid has been named as the new Chancellor as more than half of Theresa May’s old cabinet quit or were sacked.

It was announced yesterday that Alister Jack has also been appointed by Boris Johnson to be Scottish Secretary. The MP for Dumfries and Galloway takes over from David Mundell, who was sacked by Mr Johnson on Wednesday evening. Mr Jack said he was “honoured” to accept the job “at a time when we face very significant challenges as a country” and said, “We need to leave the EU in a way which works for Scotland and the whole of the UK.”  Although low profile, he has sat in the influential Treasury Committee.

Scotland’s First Minister has said an independence referendum is more important than ever as she urged Boris Johnson to “change course” on Brexit. In a letter to the new Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon congratulated Mr Johnson on his appointment. But she warned that leaving the EU on 31 October without an exit deal being agreed would cause “lasting harm”. And she said it was essential that Scotland was able to choose an “alternative option”.

As predicted last week, Jo Swinson was comfortably elected the first woman leader of the UK Liberal Democrats earlier on in the week. Celebrating her landslide victory, she told the party faithful that she was “delighted, honoured and absolutely over the moon” about the result.

And finally… Iain Gray, the local MSP for East Lothian, will be visiting flexible working space, The Lighthouse in North Berwick next Wednesday ahead of its sponsorship of the Fringe by the Sea festival starting on Friday 2nd August. The Lighthouse is a client of Perceptive’s and has gone from strength to strength since opening in March 2018. Mr Gray, a former Minister and former Scottish Labour leader, will be given a tour of the business centre, which is a first in the region, offering flexible office and pay-as-you-go desk space to small and medium-sized businesses in the area.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie Moulsdale on 07734 932 578 or    

Political Insider – Friday 19 July 2019

Political Insider – Friday 19 July 2019

This is the last Insider of Theresa May’s unremarkable premiership and, incidentally, of Sir Vince Cable’s arguably equally unremarkable couple of years at the helm of the Lib Dems.  This time next week, we predict, Prime Minister Johnson and Jo Swinson (set to beat Ed Davey and be confirmed on Monday) will be the new names in the frames.  For a while at any rate.

Yesterday, MPs backed a bid to stop a new Prime Minister suspending Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit. A majority of 41 approved an amendment that blocks suspension between 9 October and 18 December unless a Northern Ireland executive is formed. Four cabinet ministers, including Philip Hammond, abstained and 17 Tory MPs rebelled, including minister Margot James, who subsequently resigned as a Minister.

In her last speech as Prime Minister, Theresa May warned against the rise of “uncompromising absolutism”, which risks “poisoning” public debate. The Prime Minister said the “coarsening” of British politics had occurred as a result of rising technology use “without filter or accountability”. She expressed optimism regarding the decrease in extreme poverty, the increase in life expectancy and the rising interest in fighting climate change. Looking to the future, Theresa May called on her successor to “resolve the Brexit impasse” and said it was her greatest regret that she had been unable to deliver the result of the referendum in March.

Elsewhere and public borrowing could double next year if there is a no-deal Brexit, the UK’s spending watchdog says. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said borrowing would be almost £60bn if the UK leaves without a deal – up from £29.3bn if it does get a deal.

Closer to home again and the amount of income tax revenue raised by the Scottish Government in 2017/18 went up by 1.8% but was still £941m short of original forecasts. The HMRC figures are the first time revenue from Scottish taxpayers has been calculated since the new devolved powers over income tax began in 2017.

Scotland’s Finance Secretary (and potential next First Minister) Derek Mackay said he was creating a more progressive tax system. He said stronger growth for Scotland could have a positive impact on this risk-sharing “reconciliation” in future years.

The number of companies contacting Scotland’s national business advice service – Business Gateway – has fallen in the past year. A total of 9,083 start-up businesses used the service in 2018, down 0.5% on the previous year. There was also a 6.8% drop in the number of so-called growth firms using the service, down from 3,166 to 2,951. Business Gateway said the drop was the result of Brexit uncertainty and polarised position on global trade.

The new UK government hub in Edinburgh will be named after the Queen, it has been announced. The building near Waverley Station will be known as Queen Elizabeth House when it opens in March 2020. The seven storey, 190,000 square feet office space will bring together almost 3,000 civil servants and is designed to bring together 10 UK government departments and aims to “build a stronger civil service outside London”. Keys to the building were formally handed over to the UK government on 13 June and staff will start to move in next spring.

Shetland Lib Dems have selected veteran councillor Beatrice Wishart as their candidate in the forthcoming (and relatively rare) Holyrood by-election on 29 August. Cllr Wishart is Deputy Convener of Shetland Islands Council and a trustee of Women’s Aid in Shetland. The by-election has been triggered by the resignation of Tavish Scott who had held the constituency since Holyrood was reconvened in 1999 but stood down to accept a new position with the SRU.

And finally… Thanks to local MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse Christina McKelvie for visiting client Construction Scotland Innovation Centre this morning.  Although she has a busy day job the Minister for Older People and Equalities, her visit was ‘conditional’ on her being allowed to try out the Centre’s Virtual Reality technology set to be part of the construction industry’s transformation in future.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie Moulsdale on 07734 932578 or    

Political Insider – Friday 28 June 2019

Political Insider – Friday 28 June 2019

Tory leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are at loggerheads over how the UK should leave the EU. Both contenders claim they can renegotiate a Brexit deal that the EU says is closed. Mr Johnson said the UK must leave on 31 October “deal or no deal” but Mr Hunt called this a “fake deadline” that could trigger a general election if Parliament rejects a no-deal Brexit.

The winner of the contest will take over from Theresa May on 24 July, who has refused to promise unconditional support for her successor’s Brexit plan. Asked this week if she would back whichever Brexit outcome the next prime minister achieves, including a no-deal Brexit, she said that amounted to agreeing to “whatever happens in future”.

Both candidates in the Conservative leadership battle have set out their opposition to a second independence referendum at a digital hustings held this week. Boris Johnson has claimed Brexit “done right” could “cement and intensify” the union between the UK nations. Jeremy Hunt said his party had been complacent about the union and vowed never to allow the break up the UK.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has switched her support to Jeremy Hunt in the race to become PM. The foreign secretary is the third candidate to have been endorsed by Ms Davidson, who has previously supported Sajid Javid and Michael Gove. Ms Davidson tweeted that Mr Hunt has “always put the Union first” and would therefore get her vote.

At Holyrood this week, the Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, has told MSPs he is “cautiously optimistic” the BiFab fabrication yard in Fife will secure vital contracts.  With BiFab’s yards in Methil and Burntisland currently mothballed, unions are campaigning to secure work on a £2bn offshore wind farm off Fife. It is feared the contract could go to Indonesia. Giving evidence to Holyrood’s economy and energy committee, Derek Mackay said the Scottish government was now exploring legal routes that would compel companies to invest in Scotland.

And finally … Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott, one of the longest serving at Holyrood and a regular tour guide/fantastic dinner host for the annual visit to Holyrood as part of our Perceptive Directors’ is to quit Holyrood. The former Scottish Lib Dem leader, who was elected in the first Scottish Parliament election in 1999, will step down as the MSP for Shetland in July to take up a new job with Scottish Rugby. Everyone here at Perceptive wishes him the very best of luck!If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie Moulsdale on 07734 932578 or

Political Insider – Friday 5 July 2019

Political Insider – Friday 5 July 2019

The Queen was at Holyrood last weekend to address MSPs as part of celebrations to mark 20 years of the Scottish Parliament. Her Majesty said that in the last two decades it has been a pleasure to watch the Scottish Parliament “grow and prosper”.

Writing in The Scotsman this week, Perceptive’s political expert, Devin Scobie explained that since 1999, the country has had six First Ministers – including Jim Wallace, who covered twice for Donald Dewar whilst he was incapacitated. Some 330 people have sat as MSPs, and 16 or 17 have been there since the very start. A few lasted barely a few weeks; Labour’s Lesley Brennan was a North-east list MSP for just ten weeks in early 2016.

People are often still quick to criticise Holyrood but is has achieved much in 20 years. Scotland has had genuine economic growth over the years and the highest level of employment in the UK. Free personal care for our elderly and zero tuition fees are looked upon enviously by English MPs.

Perhaps the last words on Holyrood should go to Her Majesty herself, who concluded on Saturday that for most of this period this striking chamber has provided “a place to talk”. But of-course it must also be a place to listen – a place to hear views that inevitably may differ quite considerably, one from another – and a place to honour those views. Roll on July 2039!

Theresa May was in Scotland yesterday on her final visit as PM. She announced a review of UK government departments to make sure they work in the best interests of devolution, but Nicola Sturgeon predictably said that the review was “too little, too late” and would do nothing to prevent Scottish independence. In her speech, Mrs May told the two candidates vying to replace her as Prime Minister (in Scotland tonight for a members’ only hustings) that they must make strengthening the Union one of their top priorities. Mrs May also urged her successor to “think creatively” about how to ensure the UK stays together.

The final inquiry report of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work committee into the Construction Industry and the Scottish Economy was published this week. Several Perceptive clients including Construction Scotland and Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) submitted written evidence and three were invited to give oral evidence which formed a substantive part of the final report. The report concluded “A thriving construction sector is vital to our built environment and economy … The Scottish Government must continue to work together with industry to ensure that improvement is made in these key areas. Only with leadership, collaboration and cultural change, will the construction sector be able to realise its full potential contribution to Scotland’s economy.”

A link to the full report is available here:–Building-the-future-of-the-sector-in-Scotland/EJFWS052019R08.pdf

And finally … we were delighted to provide Parliamentary training this week with industry body, Homes for Scotland which recently unveiled its new branding, putting its aim of delivering more homes for Scotland front and centre. There is much backlash in public opinion about the development of new homes but the fact remains that Scotland remains in the grip of a desperate housing shortage.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie Moulsdale on 07734 932578 or

Political Insider – Friday 12 July 2019

Political Insider – Friday 12 July 2019

The Conservative leadership bandwagon made its only Scottish stop this week when the final two contenders, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, faced party members at a hustings event in Perth. Both men have pledged to protect the UK union after warnings from senior Tory politicians that it could be at risk.

The hustings in Perth was the latest in a series of (closed) events around the UK which see the two candidates make a speech to local members before taking questions from a host and the audience.  Comments to journalists suggested that Jeremy Hunt came across as being more ‘in control’ – but that seems unlikely to stop a Boris sprint to the finish line.

Party members are now receiving their ballots, with the winner to be announced on 23 July. A YouGov survey of Conservative members in June suggested that a majority would prefer Brexit to go ahead even if it caused Scottish independence, while another opinion poll suggested that a majority of Scots could back independence if Mr Johnson became Prime Minister. By co-incidence, the campaign to succeed Sir Vince Cable as leader of the UK Lib Dems also concludes that week. Scottish MP Jo Swinson is the clear favourite in a two horse race with former Cabinet minister Sir Ed Davey.  

The Scottish Affairs Committee has published the UK Government response to its report on the relationship between the UK and Scottish governments. The UK Government accepted the Committee’s recommendations on reviewing the role of the Scotland Office and said it will consider introducing third party involvement in dispute resolution proceedings.

The response was published ahead of an evidence session with David Mundell on Thursday (11 July). Chair Pete Wishart, said: “The Government response makes some welcome indications of support for updating intergovernmental structures, including a fairer dispute resolution process for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”  

Holyrood is in recess until 3 September but the Finance & Constitution Committee has launched a call for evidence on the estimated financial implications of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill. The aim of the Bill is to establish the office of Scottish Biometrics Commissioner and provide guidelines for the acquisition, retention and destruction of biometric data. The deadline to respond is Friday 30 August. 

All the parties have been using recess to focus on a relatively rare event, a Holyrood by-election, following Shetland Lib Dem MSP (and good friend to Perceptive) Tavish Scott’s resignation. Johan Adamson, a former community councillor and journalist at the Shetland Times, has been selected as the Labour candidate. Meanwhile, two other candidates have declared their candidacy. Ryan Thomson, a Shetland councillor, has announced he will run independently, with transport policy as his focus. Ian Scott has created his own party, ‘Fight Austerity, Save Our NHS, Save Our Welfare State’ and also intends to run for the seat. The SNP and Liberal Democrats will announce their candidates imminently. It has been one of the Lib Dems safest seats since 1999 and the party is expected to hold it.

And finally… Yesterday marked 30 days to go until P&J Live – the multi-million-pound new events venue in Aberdeen – opens to the public for the first time. A free, ticketed event called Preview @ P&J Live is being held on Saturday 10 August 2019 to showcase the new complex which is being delivered by one of our clients, Henry Boot Developments and Aberdeen City Council. Keep a close eye on our social media channels for new images and short videos which are being released over the next four weeks showing different parts of P&J Live and the two new on-site hotels.If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie Moulsdale on 07734 932578 or

Preparation is key for a successful media interview

Preparation is key for a successful media interview

Should I get some media training? Would my business benefit from it? Is it worth the time? If you or your business are asking these questions, then you’re off to a good start when it comes to dealing with the media.  But there’s a lot more to it than that. 

A bad interview will never leave you or your organisation. Just ask Jeff Fairburn.

What should have been a straight forward broadcast interview for the then Chief Executive of Persimmon Homes turned into a viral sensation for all the wrong reasons. His nightmare interview with BBC Look North took a turn for the worse when he was asked whether he had any regrets about taking his £75m bonus payout.

It was a tough, but entirely predictable question – a response should have been prepared.  A clip of the aborted interview was shared on Twitter and racked up over 1m views.   Cringeworthy right enough but, more crucially, has had a significant knock on impact on Persimmon’s reputation.

All avoidable, with the right training and preparation.

The most important point to remember is this: a media interview is not a normal conversation, even if you like and respect the interviewer.  It’s a skill you need to learn just like any other business skill.   

The journalist wants information to tell an interesting story and you want to provide key messages about your business activities that presents your company in a positive light – or fair light if you are dealing with a breaking issue.  The right balance will be somewhere in the middle – you get a fair hearing and the journalist gets a decent piece too.

Your focus is on getting your points across regardless of the question being asked.  That’s not to say you don’t answer the question – you should – but answer it quickly and move onto your key points.

So, who needs media training? Anyone who’s engaging with the media whether face to face, by email, or by phone. Depending on the size and structure of your company, you may have a single spokesperson, or several individuals who can represent the company on different projects or talking points – all should have some media training before they do so. And even experienced ‘hands’ need a refresher now and then. Social media has changed how we engage, and the lines are more blurred than they used to be.

A carefully crafted media training session conducted by an experienced facilitator will provide the necessary tools to navigate through the potential hiccups a media interview can present across print, broadcast or social channels.

The biggest fear we hear from clients is, “What happens if the interview isn’t going the way I want it to?”.  Knowing how to take back control is essential, and there are techniques that can be learned to address this.

Most media training sessions include a camera or a smart phone to record your practice interviews – even if you don’t anticipate doing any broadcast interviews in the near future.   Playing back this footage and observing your tone of voice and interview style is crucial to help shape the session- and you’ll get more out of it.

By your second or third run-through you should expect to face tougher questions – the ones you hope will not come up in real life.

The reality is, that any media interview is going to contain at least one tricky question that you don’t want to answer or didn’t anticipate being asked. Good journalists are trained to probe, especially if they see any sign of discomfort.

A good trainer will help you navigate these situations with more confidence so you can get back to shaping the story you want to tell.

And don’t be tempted to use in-house colleagues instead. The company culture kicks in and you will find yourself using shorthand and jargon, both of which can be confusing to external audiences.

It only takes one bad interview for media training to become your biggest priority—so you would be wise to invest in bringing in experts.

Good leadership is key to navigating a crisis

Good leadership is key to navigating a crisis

If recent crises and their aftermath have taught us anything, it is that a leader’s actions and comments before, during and after a crisis are absolutely critical to gaining support and understanding as the organisation works towards recovery or resolution.

Or to put it another way, you’re aiming for more Jacinda and rather less Theresa.

Good leaders understand that, while their teams may instinctively seek to batten down the hatches, their role is to ensure that the business is as prepared as possible, has an agreed response plan in place, and – crucially – a plan for recovery to allow the business to continue to operate.

This is even more important in this world of instant news consumption. The reality is that your audiences can be watching a crisis unfold before it is even on your organisation’s radar. These individuals may even be the ones to tell you about it. As result, expectations are now extremely high as to how a company responds to and communicates throughout a crisis.  And for most organisations that means they need a leader who can communicate quickly, clearly, and with empathy.

So what are the most common leadership mistakes during a crisis?  

Failing to have a plan in place is frighteningly common.  Almost half of businesses are guilty of sticking their head in the sand for crisis planning in the mistaken belief that you cannot plan for every crisis, so why bother?  But this is unwise when you consider the sobering fact that 82% of businesses report loss of revenue and loss of brand value as a result of a crisis.                                                 

Many businesses don’t think about what could go wrong.  Of course, you can never think of everything, but this exercise is important because it helps the business understand what they will need from both a communications and a business contingency planning perspective in the event of a crisis.  It also serves to educate your key managers on what types of issues could turn into a true crisis requiring external communications. This could be anything from delayed projects, accidents to staff, loss of investors, new legislation, disgruntled employees, data loss, through to more dramatic incidents such as fire or floods. Make that list.

Failure to identify and train spokespeople before a crisis hits is another common oversight. A wise leader has already selected the calmest heads and most credible spokespeople when the crisis chips are down.  It’s important to choose wisely and think about channels too.  Who is best for live TV and can think on their feet?  Who is great with detail and can brief a trade title?

Responding before you have all the facts should be avoided.  One of the best weapons in fighting potential reputational damage is arming your spokespeople and then your audiences with the facts.  The first task is to figure out what those are – or if you can’t get the answers quick enough, identify a process for getting them. Then, you have to decide how much of this information you can communicate publicly.   More is usually better, but you also have to consider legal and other restrictions.  If this applies, explain why and set out the timescales.

Failing to switch off marketing and sales activities can also land you in hot water.  We have all seen inappropriate or badly timed marketing messages from a company during a crisis.  Make sure you have a process in place to suppress all but essential messaging until the crisis is over.  It’s a good idea to have a stripped back website ready to be published quickly with all unnecessary promotional information removed.  This stays hidden from public view until it is needed.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of building up a bank of goodwill with key stakeholders and media. And do this before you’re in the eye of the storm.

By acting fairly and transparently, communicating a sense of your values and the benefits you offer your employees, customers and other key audiences, and showing a level of responsiveness on the small stuff, people will forgive you more quickly when something goes wrong.  Your teams will thank you too.

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