A public relations industry body has condemned as “wholly unethical” the decision by PR company Tulchan Communications to employ former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson while she continues to sit in the Holyrood parliament.
Tulchan announced on Wednesday that it was employing Ms Davidson as a “senior adviser”. The former BBC journalist was once touted as a potential UK Conservative leader but stepped down as head of the Scottish party in August, citing the pressures of Brexit and a desire to spend more time with her family.
Ms Davidson remains a member of the Scottish parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh and her appointment was sharply criticised by the Public Relations and Communications Association industry group.
“It is simply wrong for lobbying agencies to employ legislators. The possible conflict of interest in doing so is clear, and damages the reputation of both our industry, and of the political process,” said Francis Ingham, PRCA director-general.
Tulchan is not a member of the PRCA but the company should still reconsider the appointment, Mr Ingham said.
In an interview with Ms Davidson, the Evening Standard newspaper quoted her as saying she would not be lobbying or talking to ministers as part of her new role, for which she would be paid £50,000 for 24 days work a year.
Instead she would advise companies on the changing climate of opinion on business. “It’s about . . . letting them know what government thinking is, what campaigns are brewing outside of that,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
George McGregor, chair of the PRCA’s public affairs board, said the appointment was unacceptable. “[Ruth Davidson] is welcome in the public affairs community but only after she has stood down as an MSP,” Mr McGregor tweeted.
The appointment is likely to fuel debate within Scottish political circles on second jobs for members of the Scottish parliament, who have a base annual salary of £63,579. Ms Davidson has suggested she intends to remain an MSP until 2021.
The extent of corporate influence on MSPs has also been a sensitive issue, with the parliament in 2016 approving a law intended to increase transparency through a lobbying register.
Controversy over Ms Davidson’s new job could add to the troubles of the Scottish Conservative party, which polls suggest could suffer heavy losses in any early UK general election.
In an opinion piece in the Financial Times this week, Ms Davidson said businesses needed to consider the opinions and interests of a wider range of stakeholders and to put more importance on environmental sustainability.
“Companies failing to respond to this new reality may face a turbulent future,” she wrote.
Andrew Feldman, Tulchan Communication managing partner and a former Conservative UK party chairman, said the company was delighted to employ Ms Davidson.
The company’s clients would benefit from her “insight and unique perspective on the rapidly developing evolving relationship between business and politics and the need to navigate the shifting demands of a broader range of stakeholders”, he said.
“Tulchan Communications is not a member of the PRCA and we do not share their views on this matter,” the firm said in a statement on Thursday. “It is specifically contracted that Ruth Davidson will neither be asked to, nor will, carry out any lobbying activities and that she will, in all things, act in accordance with her role as an MSP.”
Ms Davidson did not respond to comment.
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