Scottish Conservative party adviser Sarah Stone and newly-elected Labour MSP Pauline McNeill were fighting to defeat each other’s parties in the Scottish Parliamentary elections. But within days of the polls closing, the two women are on the same side with a common goal - to enable equality of access to the political system for everyone.
The two political communication and engagement specialists met during the referendum and formed McNeill & Stone in 2015 after realising that there was nowhere that ordinary people and grassroots campaigners could go for professional support and advice about how the political system works.
The Scottish election was a success for both women, in different ways. Sarah was a key adviser to Conservative leader Ruth Davidson during the election campaign: coordinating some of those famous photos ops and recruiting key endorsers whose engagement was crucial in the Scottish Tories becoming the second largest party in Holyrood, winning 31 seats.
Meanwhile Pauline, who represented Glasgow Kelvin as an MSP until 2011 was re-elected to the Scottish Parliament on the Glasgow regional list. Now that Pauline is an MSP, she will take a back seat as a non-salaried and non-executive director, while campaigner, policy and parliamentary affairs specialist Juliet Swann will join Sarah as a director in the Edinburgh-based company.
Sarah Stone said:
Stakeholder engagement is about public participation, talking to real people and building relationships with them. This was vital in contributing to the Scottish Conservatives’ success in attracting new voters and it’s something the corporate world can learn from.
Most companies don’t think about stakeholder engagement – talking to their staff, customers, business partners and local community – until something goes wrong and then it becomes a case of crisis management. Yet it’s so important.
CSR is at the heart of McNeill & Stone’s ethos as a social enterprise. The company wants to expose decision-makers to the views of the general public, not just those with the money to hire professional lobbyists.
We want to enable individuals, community groups and others to access and influence the decisions being made by national and local government and other public bodies. We call the concept ‘Social Public Affairs’ and believe we are the first public affairs company of this kind anywhere in the world.
We operate as a social enterprise, which means we will use profits from our corporate work to represent individuals and communities who couldn’t normally afford such services, for free. At the moment those with the most money and personal contacts dominate political dialogue – and that isn’t healthy for democracy. By using a social enterprise supplier of public affairs services like McNeill & Stone, our business clients are doing their lobbying in a socially responsible way.
McNeill & Stone received advice and funding from Firstport. They are particularly keen to support other social enterprises like Bùth Bharraigh, a community-owned shop in the Western Isles selling locally produced items from over 80 suppliers. McNeill & Stone helped them negotiate with their local council and win community support when their leased building was earmarked for demolition, with no alternative premises available, and the business threatened with closure.
Sarah MacLean, manager of Bùth Bharraigh, said:
We are a small group with limited resources. Before McNeill & Stone got involved I felt powerless. They took the worry away and gave me the confidence and support to move forward. It was the background stuff, the behind the scenes research, that I didn’t know about and the knowledge of the political system and how it works. It’s about empowering people and that was the support they gave us.
More information about McNeill & Stone and their services can be found at www.mcneillandstone.co.uk