ALMOST a third of the cross-party group of MSPs who signed a letter calling for a delay to the Scottish Government’s short-term lets scheme have been lobbied by AirBnB, The National can reveal.

A total of 37 MSPs, including all 31 Conservatives and party leader Douglas Ross, three frontbench Labour MSPs, two LibDems, and SNP MSP Fergus Ewing signed a letter to Humza Yousaf calling for a pause to the scheme on Wednesday.

Now, an analysis of the Scottish Parliament's lobbying register has found that 12 of the 37 have been lobbied at least once by the American multinational. 

In total, they have been lobbied a combined 26 times between 2018-2023, either directly or via a company on behalf of AirBnB – including communications firms Charlotte Street Partners and Halogen.

To note, Halogen’s partners are John Crawford, a former Scottish Conservative chief of staff, and Raymond Robertson, a former chair of the Scottish Conservative Party.

The full list of meetings is below:

It's important to add that it sometimes takes several months for lobbying meetings to be logged, so more recent efforts might not yet have appeared in the register. 

Those who have been lobbied on the short-term lets scheme include 8 of the Scottish Conservatives who signed the letter, deputy party leader Meghan Gallacher among them.

Scottish Labour MSPs Daniel Johnson and Mark Griffin have also been lobbied by the company, as has Scottish Lib Dem former leader and current MSP Willie Rennie.

Finally, SNP MSP Fergus Ewing was also lobbied by AirBnB in December of last year.

During the meeting, a representative from the company, Carl Thomson, “outlined the negative impacts of the Scottish Government's licensing regulations for short-term lets and the effect on the Scottish tourism economy.”

This was the topic of discussion during many of the meetings logged in the register.

Tory MSP Donald Cameron even highlighted one such meeting in a tweet that same month, saying: "Great to meet with Carl Thomson from @Airbnb_uk to discuss the impact of the SNP Government's Short Term Let regulations ahead of the review next year."

The  three MSPs lobbied the most by AirBnB about short-term lets legislation specifically are all from the Scottish Conservative party.

MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire Rachael Hamilton - who is also a member of the Cross-Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on Tourism – has met with representatives of the company five times about the topic.

Tory MSPs Miles Briggs and Graham Simpson – both members of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee – have been lobbied four times.

Of note, SNP MSP Kate Forbes has also met with AirBnB five times but only twice about short-term lets legislation specifically. 

Commenting, Ewing – the MSP for Inverness and Nairn – said he speaks with business representative bodies of all kinds as it is “a sensible and useful thing to do”.

He added: “I represent a part of Scotland where small accommodation providers are the lifeblood of the visitor economy. “And I have been the longest serving tourism minister so have been fortunate in that role to meet and get to know many of the people involved.

“However I am speaking out for what I think is right - in order to try to prevent the destruction of thousands of small businesses for no gain and the overwhelming majority of whom are hard-working, law-abiding and not wealthy.

“The STL regulations may drive thousands of these businesses out of business. It’s affected the mental health of many. I urge the FM to halt and review the regulations and adopt a registration scheme like other countries.”

A Scottish Conservatives spokesperson didn't address the lobbying from AirBnB but said of the decision to sign the letter: “Our MSPs have been inundated with correspondence from constituents opposed to the SNP-Green government’s flawed short-term lets scheme.

“By signing this cross-party letter, our MSPs were standing up for the huge concerns raised by small business owners, many of whom will potentially be shutting their doors next month as a result.

“We hope that MSPs from all parties at Holyrood will send a clear message to SNP-Green ministers when we force a vote on this issue, that it must urgently be re-thought.”

Eilidh Keay, chair of the Living Rent short term lets campaign, said it “was appalling that MSPs have given in to the huge lobbying powers of AirBnB”.

She added: “Big corporations have no business in our political system. For a third of the MSPs who called for an extension to allow them into our political process makes a laughing stock of our democracy.

“This is just yet another example of how the STL landlord lobby has been able to sway the political process towards their interests.

“Whether that be the £300,000 raised to challenge STL licensing regulation in Edinburgh, the judicial review of the emergency protections for tenants or the lobbying of MSPs. Those with property and money continue to try to shape the corridors of power to their advantage.

“Landlords were given an extension in March, and they have had more than enough time to apply for licences. There is a real danger that these 37 MSPs will use their power to try and postpone the licensing scheme indefinitely at the expense of our cities and our housing.”

READ MORE: See the list of MSPs with links to rental sector who backed short-term lets delay

AirBnB has a history of attempting to influence the regulation of short-term lets.

The Times revealed in an investigation in 2016 that the company built “fake grassroots campaigns” to target key politicians, hiring dozens of community organisers to create the impression of overwhelming public support and fight the threat of regulatory action.

Research by the University of Manchester in 2021 also found that Airbnb resources, mobilises and coordinates its landlords as political advocates to lobby for its preferred forms of regulation.

This also comes as The National also revealed that alarms are being sounded about a loophole in the rules around the lobbying of MSPs by private interests which means volunteer members of organisations’ boards or unpaid “ambassadors” are able to lobby MSPs without any public register.

Firms also do not have to register their lobbying of MSPs if they have less than 10 paid employees, or if it is done over the phone.

Meanwhile, several of those who have been lobbied by AirBnB also have interests in the housing and rental sector.

The National revealed on Friday that a total of 15 (40.5%) of the MSPs who signed the letter called for the delay to the scheme have a relevant interest in the industry on their parliamentary register.

Ewing, for example, is the landlord of a property in Lossiemouth, but told The National he did not consider it a relevant interest as it is a long-term let and has been for 16 years.

12 Tory MSPs also have links to the sector including Donald Cameron and Sandesh Gulhane, who were lobbied by AirBnB and have registered rental properties as an interest.

Scottish Labour sent over the exact same comment given for The National story mentioned above, with no reference to lobbying from AirBnB.

A Scottish Labour spokesperson said: “Scottish Labour voted against these regulations when they came to parliament over concerns about how they were drafted and their failure to take account of the diversity of local housing needs. 

“This one-size-fits-all approach fails to benefit people caught in the housing crisis or short term let providers. The threat of further legal challenge in Dundee suggests these issues with the SNP Government’s licensing scheme remain unresolved. 

“The insinuation that, despite neither member being landlords, Labour MSPs stand to gain something from supporting this letter is simply untrue. 

“Scottish Labour does not believe that the regulations tackle the real problems we face in a meaningful or proportionate way, which is why Scottish Labour is now considering how the forthcoming housing bill may provide opportunities to deliver a system of regulation that works for both local communities and the sector.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have not responded to a request for comment.