A cross-party board set up by the Scottish Parliament to look at the representation and influence of women at Holyrood - which includes three experts on gender politics from the Centre on Constitutional Change and the University of Edinburgh - has published its recommendations for improvement.
The new report is the result of a year-long audit examining barriers to equal representation and participation, and makes a number of recommendations.
The board was set up in 2022 and includes the University of Edinburgh’s Dr Meryl Kenny, Co-Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change and Senior Lecturer in Gender and Politics; Professor Sarah Childs, Personal Chair of Politics and Gender; and Professor Fiona Mackay, Professor of Politics. All the experts work at the University's School of Social and Political Science.
The board’s suggestions include:
- 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.”
Dr Kenny 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.”
Professor Childs said: “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.
* Dr Fiona McKay conducted the audit and is a Lecturer at the University of Strathclyde. Professor Fiona Mackay of the University of Edinburgh is a member of the board.