Tuesday 7 May 2019

The Scottish sockpuppet racket

Whenever the SNP proposes new restrictions on the food supply, you can rely on Obesity Action Scotland to (a) applaud it, and (b) call for the government to go further.

When the SNP took an interest in restricting price discounts on so-called 'junk food', Lorraine Tulloch, Obesity Action Scotland's programme lead, told the BBC that they should press ahead:

"We are calling for Scottish government to tackle these price promotions in their forthcoming diet and obesity strategy."

When the SNP investigated the possibility of banning so-called 'junk food' advertising, Obesity Action Scotland's programme lead was on hand to encourage them...

"It’s time for government to step up and take action...”

When the SNP proposed following Public Health England's lead by restricting the size of food products and introducing a calorie cap, Obesity Action Scotland produced some (dubious) research claiming that a portion of chips is 80 per cent larger than it was in 2002 and said...

"We are urging action to improve the out-of-home food environment to ensure people have access to smaller portions..."

All of these policies were included in the Scottish government's obesity strategy in 2018 and were warmly welcomed by Obesity Action Scotland who demanded immediate action and no compromises.

Lorraine Tulloch, who leads doctors’ campaign group Obesity Action Scotland, welcomed the publication, but warned it required action.

“If we want to ensure a healthier future for Scots we need the Scottish Government to implement the wide range of measures it is proposing,” she said.

“.. We must see urgent implementation of the proposals to restrict promotion, marketing and advertising of food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt."

Obesity Action Scotland's policy officer wrote an op-ed in the Scotsman applauding the idea of making food more expensive. Under the congratulatory, though ridiculous, headline 'SNP trying to stop Big Food manipulating us into obesity', she said...

The Scottish Government has now posed a question about whether we should make it easier for everyone to make the healthy choice. It’s the right thing to do.

There are countless other examples of this pressure group patting the SNP on the back while demanding 'bold' and 'tough' action.

But, as I mentioned in Still Hand In Glove?, Obesity Action Scotland is, to all intents and purposes, an arm of government. Founded in 2015, it is a classic sockpuppet pressure group. It has four members of staff and no grassroots. One of its main jobs is responding to public consultations. Its board is made up of serial tax-spongers, including Sheila Duffy from ASH Scotland and Peter Rice from the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, neither of whom have any obvious expertise in obesity research but a lot of expertise in lobbying.

It was always obvious that the group was set up with taxpayers' money, but we didn't know how much. Until now. Thanks to questions asked in parliament by the deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Jackson Carlow, we can see that Obesity Action Scotland was wholly funded by the taxpayer in 2015/16 and 2016/17 with a grant of £150,000. It was almost entirely funded by the taxpayer in 2017/18. Its grant rose last year to £185,000 and it managed to find £35,000 from other sources.

That's £635,000 so far to act as cheerleaders for the government. As Andrew Doyle said on a recent Last Orders podcast, this is basically a racket.

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