Charlotte’s Web


The murky word of corporate lobbying took a stumble this week as the Association for Scottish Public Affairs (ASPA) banned Charlotte Street Partners – the “strategic communications” machine funded by Angus Grossart – for breaking its code of conduct by hiring a sitting politician. Last week, the strategic communications consultancy appointed the Conservative Lord Duncan of Springbank to its team as a consulting partner.

You’re not allowed to do that.

The firm boasted:



But Peter Duncan from ASPA issued a statement saying: “ASPA is absolutely clear – you can be a lobbyist or you can be a law maker, but you cannot be both.”

“Our code of conduct makes the position completely clear, and as a result Charlotte Street Partners will no longer be entitled to membership of our Association.

“Their details are being removed from our website – we will not compromise on our high standards.”

The move is an embarrassment for the firm which boasts Andrew “We don’t lobby Government” Wilson and other luminaries.

It is the nexus for corporate Scotland, the point where Corporate Scotland links to the SNP and to the Scottish Government.

Charlotte Street Partners responded that the appointment has been approved by the UK government’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA). They issued a statement saying:

“His work for us, as a strategic consultancy, will focus on analysis and advice relating to the European Union, and on environmental matters.”

“This is fully compliant with ACOBA guidance, which makes clear that he is not permitted to undertake any lobbying, which was never the intention.”

So it’s a case of who has hierarchy: ACOBA or ASPA?

The truth is these trade bodies are used to give a veneer of respectability and the pretense of regulation to corporate lobbying.

The reality is a bit darker. As I wrote of Steve Bannon’s secret visit to Scotland in 2018 (‘Bannon, Grossart and Charlotte’):

“In December 2017 he was invited to a secretive gathering of the think-tank Scotland International Ltd (SIL) in Gleneagles by Sir Angus Grossart (standing in the photo right). On this trip he also met Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg to discuss developing their political agenda.

Bella can reveal that the pixelated people are Financial Times editor Lionel Barber (on the left) and ex head of Goldman Sachs International and chairman of the Brookings Institute John Thornton (on the right).

But Grossart’s role in this is worth exploring, as well as being chair of the Scotland International he is also chair of Charlotte Street Partners. Grossart works alongside managing partners and founders Andrew Wilson and Malcolm Robertson (the son of former Scottish secretary Lord Robertson) as well as Kevin Pringle and Chris Deerin.

Charlotte Street Partners have lobbied on behalf of Rupert Murdoch-owned newspapers in Scotland, as well as being involved in the campaign to bring fracking to Scotland, working on behalf of Cluff Natural Resources (CNS).”

Scottish politics and media is dynastic.

The swirling mass of PR, media, lobbying and politics in Scotland is putrid.

Noticing that Charlotte Street Partners handle STV’s public relations John Cawley asks (‘Silence Listening to Silence’):

“How willing would STV be to reveal malpractice or wrongdoing at CSP when the broadcaster has a commercial relationship with the PR and lobbying firm which employs ex- journalists, ex BBC staff or, as with Chris Deerin, ex journalists on well-paid sabbaticals with CSP?”

“Chris is well-connected and now CSP benefit from those connections at the Statesman. Does the public benefit? What have the public got to do with it? CSP recently got the gig handling Rupert Murdoch’s public relations in Scotland according to The Ferret. CSP are probably the most influential lobbying and PR firm in Scotland. Lobbying is the apotheosis of the art of politics- insiders doing deals behind closed doors- while we, the electorate, well, we’re on the wrong side of the door. Inside, Andrew Wilson, former MSP, Times journalist and member of the Scottish government’s Growth Commission is doing deals accompanied by Kevin Pringle, former SNP communications chief and Times journalist. Both busily monetising their political contacts and their political expertise to the benefit of the clients who are paying Wilson and Pringle for the access to the power and influence they offer. Ask about their client list, that’s for Kevin and Andrew to know, not for the Scottish people to find out.”

Revolving Doors

Is this a media story or a political one? A corporate story or a PR one? In truth it’s all four as the industries have blurred into a schmoozy blend of glad-handing and well-heeled spin.

The revolving doors between politics and commentariat are at the heart of a closed world where media, public relations firms and politicians rule over a broken system.

The system is cross-party and ubiquitous. Nor is it confined to Charlotte Street Partners.

As Jo Lo revealed in 2019 (‘Revealed: the ‘revolving door’ between politics and lobbying in Scotland’):

“One of those who has gone through the revolving door is Raymond Robertson. He was a minister in the Scotland Office under John Major between 1995 and 1997. After losing his Aberdeen South seat in 1997, he became the chair of the Scottish Conservative Party. After failing to return to parliament in Eastwood in 2001, he set up an Edinburgh-based lobbying agency called Halogen Communications. The firm’s clients now include the world’s seventh biggest arms company, Airbus, tobacco firm, Philip Morris, the short-term letting agency, Airbnb, and food and drink giant, Nestlé. On Nestlé’s behalf, Robertson had meetings in July with Scottish Government political advisers, Leanne Dobson and Davie Hutchison, to give the company’s views on recycling and healthy food.”

“Another Edinburgh-based lobbying agency led by former senior Scottish Tories is Message Matters. Its directors are Peter Duncan, who was MP for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale between 2001 and 2005, and Andy Maciver, a former Scottish Conservative head of communications who worked on MSP Murdo Fraser’s bid to be Scottish Tory leader. Until July 2018, Duncan was also a trustee of a ‘dark money’ trust funding the Scottish Conservatives. After The Ferret revealed his role in the trust, he resigned his position.”

So what will happen about the top lobbying firm in Scotland hiring a sitting politician, the current Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords?

Absolutely nothing.

What consequences will there be for this?

Absolutely none.

Why has this story not seen a far bigger impact in the media? Because they’re all friends.

The media in Scotland are dazed and confused. If they weren’t hopelessly complacent and brutally under-funded they’d be well-lunched by their friends and family from these firms.

Scotland is riddled with cronyism.




Comments (21)

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  1. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Excellent piece, Mike. This is surely the type of material that Bella ought to be concentrating on i.e. the hidden world of the Scottish establishment and its pervading influence re: the body-politic thus the lives of the vast majority of Scots. A personal opinion, of course, not to mention a huge ask.

    1. Wul says:

      Aye, good suggestion.

      We often hear about how a small number of people control most of our land. Just how many (or few) people control our mass media landscape?

    2. Thanks Josef. We intend to.

  2. Wul says:

    Yuk! What a bunch of creepy, sleazy parasites.

    Their clients are our supposedly “great businesspeople”. What kind of shite must they be making and selling if they have to pay tens/hundreds of thousands of pounds to professional sleaze-balls to hoodwink the public into allowing their activities to continue?

    I’d love to see much stricter rules about who can and cannot be a politician. I’d pay all politicians the current median wage and bar them from taking up any other employment, or having a single source of external income, whilst in office. How would we attract the “high caliber people” we need? Well, it turns out that high calibre people are more interested in public service than cash.

    I wouldn’t let CSP or their ilk within a country mile of where important decisions are made. These companies have no place inside our democratic bodies. What could we do to make them redundant?

    1. Liz Summerfield says:

      How would you sanction their spouses/families so that they couldn’t rely on the goodwill of relatives? How would you stop their friends from subbing them in return for favours?

  3. Blair says:

    Mike, I had to go back and take a look.
    An interesting read.

    “This doesn’t mean that a strategy doesn’t need to take people with it, it does. Any strategy needs international credibility and recognition. But we need to be insurgent, imaginative and dynamic, we needed to start several years ago and we need to reject this manifesto of inertia.”

    2026 is just too long to wait.

    We are all these, have faith in God’s word. His Heart is in His Earth. God created everything for Free, giving us all free choice.

    The vision, Bella has recorded through my comments. Scotland has been led a merry dance latterly by the cunning elite and elected who’s plan to rule the world through their conniving corrupting ways.

    The Old British Empire is being reformed by a New World Order and the English are just mere migrants who continue to this day, they hang on to Scotland because they know that this is God’s Kingdom full of natural resources.

    They came up with BREXIT without even a plan, they still don’t really know what it means!

    Today, we must go back to the heart of the matter. Englands leaders must be told that Scotland is not going to put up with their penny pinching ways. They have resided on Scottish soil long enough, we are happy for them to stay but they must provide for the People everthing as God intended for us, i. e. Scot Free with Free choices.

    God should work through everyone. The system has been broken a long time.

    A good rule of thumb:

    If it’s not FREE then it belongs to the Anti-Christ system. Christ in a project is working for Scotland.

    “The Christina Project: RI Systems.”

  4. Ken Hare says:

    very murky

  5. David Younger says:

    Question: Do ASPA actually have any powers to bar CSP from lobbying in the Scottish parliament/government?

  6. John Cawley says:

    Thanks for the hat tip, Mike. Regarding the influence of CSP, with the above relationships in mind, have another look at BBC Scotland’s Children of the Devolution, broadcast last year to mark twenty years of , well, devolution. It was produced by Two Rivers Media Sir Angus Grossart is the director of Two Rivers Media. Have a look for any reference to the first great scandal of devolved government. It is literally a case of blink and you’ll miss it.
    Lobbying is simply legalised cronyism. Even in a country where the lobbying industry regulates itself, CSP will not even adhere to the pathetically light touch of self-regulation. If you hope the national broadcaster will send Mark Daly after this scandal, no luck. The national broadcaster basically has a production deal with the chairman of Scotland’s most influential lobbying company. If you want to subject CSP to scurrilous satire, still nae luck – Frankie Boyle’s programmes are produced by Two Rivers Media, too.
    Bella and The Ferret are the only real independent voices in Scottish media.
    In Scotland, our media is compromised by exactly the relationships you outline above, Mike. We are a nation desperately in need of a Scottish Private Eye. We need scrutiny and we need satire and if you think Breaking the News is the answer , have a word with yourself.

    1. LOL – Breaking the News. Yeah.

      I completely agree John. We’re now in a circular situation – this news story should have more exposure but wont because the very people the story about shape your news agenda.

  7. florian albert says:

    ‘Scotland is riddled with cronyism’

    A good point. For the past 40 years, Angus Grossart has been one of the most significant figures in Scottish society. During this time, he has been hiding in plain sight. Very few people in Scotland would even recognize the name. His wikipedia entry is a dozen lines long. Neil Lennon’s is about twenty times as long.

  8. Michelle Shortt says:

    A dark and murky world indeed. There needs to be a reform of how cosy these lobbyists can get to government. Keep calling them out.

  9. John Blair says:

    You should do some more, very basic, research before publishing anything. You repeatedly state that Chris Deerin works at Charlotte Street Partners, when in fact he hasn’t worked there since early 2016.

    Should I really be surprised though?

    1. No I don’t. I refer to previous articles which refer to previous times. Keep up.

      1. John Cawley says:

        Regarding Chris Deerin, one of the trustees of right wing ‘think tank’ Reform Scotland is Kevin Pringle, one of Chris Deerin’s old muckers at Charlotte Street Partners. Guess who’s going to have a tete a tete at CSP this very week? Tim Davie, the new DG of the BBC. Maybe they can talk about some more work for Two Rivers Media or finesse this latest uoleasantness with Lord Duncan.
        Add this cosy relationship between the national broadcaster and Scotland’s top grifters, sorry public relations specialists, to the list of lobbyists/journalists linked to CSP.
        There’s Deerin, formerly at the Herald, now at Reform Scotland,but with a sideline at The Spectator. There’s Alex Massie, Pringle and Andrew Wilson at The Times.
        Then there’s Sir Angus at the BBC with Two Rivers Media with Lord McConnell’s best pals, Kirsty Wark and Alan Clemens. Then there’s Lord McConnell of Lobbygate’s pal, Malcolm Robertson back at Charlotte Street Partners! And people wonder why this scandal is not getting traction in mainstream media. Charlotte Street Partners are the mainstream media In Scotland. BBC Scotland’s news and current affairs department is almost an arm of the lobbying industry in Scotland.
        How many of Scotland’s political commentators are also grifters, sorry engage in paid employment with lobbyists such as CSP. Well, Peter Duncan, Tom Harris and Andy McIver are at Message Matters; there’s Moray Macdonald at Weber Shandwick . He just needs to nip upstairs at Pacific Quay to do his regular Saturday shift with Shereen. Geoff Aberdein is another talking head.
        Dark money, the Brexit money to the DUP from Richard Cook and the latest lobbying shenanigans at Charlotte Street Partners are just a couple of scandals that illustrate just how much Scotland’s democracy and it’s media has been captured by corporate interests.
        Two Rivers Media produced Children of the Devolution. Andrew, Chris,Jack and their mates were spared the embarrassment of Lobbygate being dragged up again by the programme. Now these journalist/lobbyists (jobbyists?) are now making programmes about Scotland’s modern history and appearing as commentators. Orwell said, ‘Who controls the past controls the future’. If nothing is done, then tomorrow’s Scotland belongs to Messrs Wilson and Pringle and Lords Duncan and Grossart.

  10. MBC says:

    Really depressing Mike but fantastic journalism. It would be good to get this made into a map, or diagram, and printed. Showing all the cronyism links across Scotland with faces attached.

    Will we ever be free?

  11. SleepingDog says:

    Are not many of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Groups lobbyists of sorts?
    I am aware that the Scottish Parliament has cross-party groups too, although fewer stand out as obvious fronts.

  12. Graeme Purves says:

    Spot on Mike!

  13. W. Ellis says:

    The Scottish Conservative Party is not a political party registered with the Electorial Commission and is misleading the people of Scotland and voters. It should not be used in poltickin

  14. Isobel Hunter says:

    This is profoundly depressing. It leaves me wondering if anything will change if Independence is achieved or if such people are so entrenched already that we will just end up a small carbon copy of our larger neighbour.

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