A Parliament for All - Reforms to strengthen representation and participation at Holyrood unveiled
3 March 2023
Over the last year, the Scottish Parliament has been carrying out an audit looking at barriers to equal representation and participation at Holyrood. Today, a cross-party board established in early 2022 to look at the representation and influence of women at Holyrood published its recommendations.
- Rule changes to guarantee women’s representation on key bodies and groups such as committees, the Parliamentary Bureau and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.
- A rule change to ensure there are no single sex parliamentary committees.
- The establishment of a forum for women MSPs to discuss issues of mutual interest.
- A review of the Parliament’s sitting time data to determine what changes need to be made to limit unpredictability of sitting times and maximise inclusion and wellbeing.
- The permanent introduction of a proxy voting scheme covering parental leave, illness and caring/bereavement leave.
- The establishment of an Advisory Group to oversee the implementation of the recommendations and make sure progress continues.
The report acknowledges that the Parliament has made good progress since 1999 in a number of areas. But the audit showed that there have been fluctuations over time in the number of women in leadership and decision-making roles. This suggests that equal representation of women is not yet embedded within the Parliament, nor is it guaranteed going forward.
The audit found that women are less likely than men to intervene in debates and to participate in First Minister’s Question Time. Other findings suggest that women tend to be under-represented in some committees such as Finance, Audit and Standards and Procedures.
Launching the report, Presiding Officer, Alison Johnstone MSP, said:
“We currently have the highest percentage of women elected to the Parliament since 1999, and women are well represented in some of our key positions. However, history shows us that progress cannot be taken for granted.
“The package of measures published today is designed to strengthen equal representation and participation at Holyrood.
“Having women in key roles and ensuring they are properly represented across the Parliament helps bring different voices and perspectives to decisions.
“This report is only the first step towards substantive reform. I believe that the recommendations will help drive institutional change over the short, medium and longer-term.
“I am very grateful to Dr Fiona McKay and the Board for all their work on the audit and report over this past year. I look forward to working closely with colleagues to make sure that these recommendations are implemented.”
Commenting on the report, Dr Meryl Kenny, a member of the board and the University of Edinburgh said;
“The recommendations together promise an inclusive Scottish Parliament for the twenty first century; one that in its work, procedures, and institutional culture is representative and effective.”
Her colleague, Professor Sarah Childs, another board member added,
“This report marks an important moment, with Scotland building on its record and joining a growing number of countries around the world committed to reforms that will gender sensitise its parliament.”
The report states that short, medium and long-term measures are needed to secure the lasting impact of cultural change and that further research, data collection, monitoring and adjustment of new rules and reforms, will be essential.
It also calls for an advisory body, made up of cross-party MSPs, to be appointed to oversee the effective delivery of the recommendations, drive forward the Parliament’s overall progress and ensure alignment with internationally recognised standards.
You can read the report with the full set of recommendations.
Presiding Officer, Alison Johnstone MSP
Karen Adam MSP, Scottish National Party
Jeremy Balfour MSP, Scottish Conservative Party
Maggie Chapman MSP, Scottish Green Party
Alex Cole Hamilton MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrats
Monica Lennon MSP, Scottish Labour Party
Prof Sarah Childs, Personal Chair of Politics & Gender at the University of Edinburgh
Susan Duffy, Head of Engagement & Communications, Scottish Parliament
Dr Meryl Kenny, Senior Lecturer in Gender & Politics, University of Edinburgh
Prof Fiona Mackay, Professor of Politics, University of Edinburgh
Catherine Murphy, Director, Engender Tracey White, Group Head of Legislation & Parliamentary Business, Scottish Parliament
Dr Fiona McKay conducted the Audit and is currently a Lecturer at the University of Strathclyde. She was formerly a lecturer at the Robert Gordon University.
The audit’s main findings were that:
- There have been fluctuations over time in the number of women in leadership and decision-making roles - for example on the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB), in the Parliamentary Bureau and in committee convenerships. This suggests that equal representation of women and men is not embedded within the Parliament, nor is it guaranteed going forward.
- The number of women and men on committees does not always reflect the balance of women and men in the Parliament. Men tend to be over-represented in a number of mandatory committees, such those dealing with Finance, Audit, Standards and Procedures and Delegated Powers. The one mandatory committee where women tend to be over-represented is the committee responsible for Equalities (currently the Equalities, Human Rights and Social Justice Committee).
- Data collected over a four-month period showed the level of participation by women in parliamentary business in the chamber is broadly equivalent to the percentage of women in the Parliament. However, women tend to make fewer contributions during First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) and are less likely to intervene in debates.
- Further analysis of interventions shows that men are more likely to have their interventions accepted (both by other men and by women). More information is set out below.
- There is a desire for further support for Members, building on existing induction and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes particularly around parliamentary norms and culture.
- While there appear to be positive shifts in terms of attitudes towards women in politics, women MSPs still encounter sexism in what is said to them and how they are perceived
- There were mixed attitudes about the sitting patterns and the policies of the Parliament being ‘family-friendly’. The retention of hybrid and remote systems was seen as increasing flexibility and access, including for those with caring responsibilities.
- There is good work being done by Members and parliamentary staff in mainstreaming equalities in scrutiny but the extent to which it is fully embedded and reviewed appears to be more ad hoc, and there may be scope to make improvements.
- Having more equal representation of Members across all committees can help with this, as can ensuring more diversity of witnesses appearing before committees. A lot of good work has been done to increase witness diversity, but this can be further developed.
- Data – and better data – need continually to be collected, monitored and reviewed. Ensuring more publicly available and accessible data ensures more accountability
The concept of a Gender Sensitive Parliament has become an international democratic standard and has been championed by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Both organisations have developed guidelines for Parliaments to use to determine how gender sensitive they are, and the CPA recommended that all member Parliaments conduct these audits.