Pressure groups in Scotland

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 designated 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.

Ways a pressure group may attempt to influence decision makers

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

  • Posting leaflets through doors or canvassing door to door.
  • Taking part in demonstrations, marches or attending rallies.
  • Organising petitions.
  • Lobbying (speaking directly to) MSPs or councillors.
  • Writing letters to politicians or to newspapers.
  • 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

Outsider and Insider groups

Outsider pressure groups are those whose aims do not have the support of the government. They tend to adopt media-based, high profile campaigns to capture public attention.

A protester with a placard during a demonstration

For example, in recent years a range of pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have organised protests in Scotland against the use of fracking as a way of getting gas from underground.

By contrast, insider pressure groups often have the support and attention of government and officials will often approach them for advice.

One example of an insider group is the Confederation of British Industry (CBI Scotland). Insider groups will rarely organise demonstrations or marches. Instead they may be involved in meetings with the Scottish government, often behind the scenes and away from the cameras, to influence decision making.