MacKay Hannah

ONLINE CONFERENCE Understanding Scotland's Government, Parliament and MSPs: How they work and how to influence them


Vonnie Sandlan

Communications and Public Affairs Manager, Equality and Human Rights Commission (Scotland)

Self-confessed political geek Vonnie Sandlan is the Public Affairs and Communications Manager for Scotland at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Britain’s national equality body and an A-rated National Human Rights Institution. Before joining the Commission two years ago, Vonnie was the first woman president of the National Union of Students Scotland in a decade, where – amongst other work – she served as a member of several government-initiated reviews including the Commission on Widening Access, the Gadhia review of Student Support and the review of the Enterprise and Skills agencies.

Since leaving NUS in 2017, Vonnie worked across the post-16 education sector with responsibility for learner-focused policy and for preparing the college sector for Brexit. She also served as a co-Chair of the Independent Care Review which reported in 2020, examining the intersection for young people in care who come into contact with the justice system.

Vonnie doesn’t have free time as she has four children and two dogs but if she did, she would enjoy reading stacks of paperbacks, listening to very loud 70s disco music and open water swimming (Summer only).


Andy Maciver

Director, Message Matters

With nearly 15 years in communications in banking and politics, Andy’s areas of expertise are corporate positioning, reputation management, strategic campaigns and writing.

He also has a background in branding and corporate ID renewal and is a regular contributor to political discussion on TV and radio.

MessageTweet AKMaciver

Ross Laird

Head of Scotland, Grayling

Ross Laird has over 20 years’ experience as a political and public policy campaigner. Ross advises clients on strategic repositioning, political and public affairs campaigns and wider communications.

A former Council Group Leader, parliamentary candidate and Researcher, Ross can draw on a wealth of experience. Ross specialises in energy, infrastructure and healthcare, working for a range of organisations from charities to global companies.

Ross has delivered a number of award-winning campaigns across the UK, including integrated communications for some of the largest rail engineering projects in the UK, and public affairs campaigns for Councils, energy, healthcare and housing organisations.

Ross is currently a board member on City of Edinburgh College, is former Vice-Chairman of YMCA Scotland and has held a variety of board positions on charitable organisations.

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Billy McLaren

Lobbying Registrar, Scottish Parliament

Billy McLaren was appointed as Lobbying Registrar in October 2016 following the passing of the Lobbying (Scotland) Act in the Scottish Parliament in 2016.

The Act is intended to increase public transparency of lobbying with an MSP or a Minister, Special Adviser or the Permanent Secretary within the Scottish Government, by introducing a register of lobbyists and monitoring compliance. The post of Lobbying Registrar has been created to assume operational responsibility for this work.

Previously Billy worked in Westminster, supporting the UK’s Attorney General as Assistant Private Secretary and then in Whitehall and Edinburgh, as part of Donald Dewar’s private office team when Secretary of State for Scotland and then Scotland’s First Minister.

He led a project team coaching civil servants to provide focused briefings for Scottish Ministers, creating, updating and storing this key material on an IT system developed and implemented to operate across all Scottish Government departments.

Following that, he worked in Glasgow on policy, evaluation and IT projects delivering programmes under a £350 million package of European regional development and social funds for Scotland.

Billy was recruited in 2009 to the Scottish Parliament, as Head of the International Relations Team.

From 2011 to 2016 he served as the Principal Private Secretary to the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer (Speaker) during the Parliament's first ever five-year session.

ScotParl SP_LobbyingScot

Lynda Gauld

Director, Baccus Consulting

Prior to establishing Baccus Consulting, Lynda was Head of External Affairs at Pfizer with responsibility for all aspects of External Affairs for Scotland and Northern Ireland. During her ten years with Pfizer, Lynda managed a number of highly successful partnership relationships and sought to identify new approaches to policy development in her field. She has obtained considerable experience in managing issues and corporate change.

Before working in the pharmaceutical sector with Pfizer, Lynda spent twenty years in the NHS as a nurse and a manager and three years as Regional Manager of the Institute of Health Services Managers (now Institute of Healthcare Managers) and has a strong working knowledge of the NHS and the public sector, its successes and challenges.


Graeme Downie

Director, Orbit Communications

Graeme is a public affairs, stakeholder networks and media relations specialist with over 10 years experience. He began his career as policy officer in the Scottish Government before moving to London where he worked agency-side on a number of high profile campaigns with the UK Government, as well as on EU issues in Brussels. During that time Graeme worked with a diverse range of clients including airlines, foreign governments, tourism boards, transport organisations and major multi-nationals such as 3M.

Graeme moved back to Scotland in 2006 where he worked in sectors including telecommunications, renewable energy, construction and sports. This included advising Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) as part of their successful campaign to permit the responsible sale of alcohol at home internationals at Murrayfield Stadium.

Immediately prior to joining, Graeme headed up the communications activity in Scotland and Northern Ireland for innovation charity Nesta, working across a wide variety of devolved policy areas including economic growth and public services. In particular, this experience has given Graeme an excellent network of media and political contacts.

Graeme is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (MCIPR).

Orbit_Agency Graeme Downie

Donald Anderson

Director, Playfair Scotland

Prior to setting up the company, Donald worked as Director of the PPS Scotland Office for nine and a half years, as a company with specific expertise in inward investment, government and public service issues. Donald has worked on projects with an investment value more than £4billion in recent years. His work has covered most of Scotland working in 28 of the 32 local authority areas.

Donald was a councillor for over 20 years, working extensively on delivering economic development and investment and was one of the key public sector figures who helped Edinburgh become the strongest city economy in the UK outside London. Donald helped the city’s Festivals to thrive and conceived and created Edinburgh’s Christmas Festival which brings nearly £200million into the city each year. Donald was unashamedly pro-development during his period in office.

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Good day, left me with lots to think about and new contacts.

Janet Owens, Angus Council,
Care of Older People in Scotland 2016