Pressure groups in United Kingdom

At elections the people decide which representatives they want to make decisions on their behalf. However, elections can be as much as four or five years apart so people must have other ways of influencing their representatives.

One way is through pressure groups. Pressure groups are organisations of people with similar opinions. Pressure groups do not want power for themselves instead they want to influence those in power. They also encourage responsible participation in the democratic process.

There are many pressure groups in Scotland who aim to influence political decision making, and because the Scottish Parliament has a number of devolved powers, UK-based pressure organisations will often have a separate Scottish section.

For example, pressure groups covering education or health will have to have a very strong focus on the Scottish Parliament as those policies in Scotland are now very different from the rest of the UK.

The way a pressure group works

Pressure groups use a number of different legal methods to put their views across:

  1. Posting leaflets through doors or knocking on doors and talking to people.
  2. Taking part in demonstrations, marches or attending rallies.
  3. Organising petitions.
  4. Lobbying (speaking directly to) MSPs or councillors.
  5. Writing letters to politicians or to newspapers.
  6. Giving interviews which are reported in the media (radio, TV and newspapers) or taking part in publicity stunts to gain media attention.
To show tactics used by pressure groups to try to enforce change

Developments such as Freedom of Information laws, the internet, social networking and a 24/7 media, mean pressure groups are aware of their power and are becoming increasingly professional in the way they work.

Outsider and Insider groups

Outsider pressure groups are those who do not have influence in the government. This means that they tend to use media-based, high profile campaigns to capture public attention.

A protester with a placard during a demonstration

For example, Save Whiteinch Library is a pressure group campaigning to keep a library in Glasgow open. They have organised protests at the library, started a petition and spoken to the media about their campaign, highlighting how important the library is to the local community.

On the other hand, insider groups are those that have the support and the attention of the government. They will often approach them for advice and have regular discussions about laws.

For example, the British Medical Association (BMA) is an insider group. They have worked with the Scottish Parliament on laws such as The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Act 2012 – which puts a minimum price on units of alcohol – and the Smoking, Health and Social Care Act 2005 which banned smoking in public places.