A cross-party coalition has called for Holyrood’s all-male management group of MSPs to resign in the wake of accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct across British politics.
Holyrood has already implemented measures to deal with concerns about sexual harassment, including an anonymous survey of all building users, a dedicated phone line for complaints and a proposed inquiry by The Standards Procedures and Public Appointments Committee into the MSP Code of Conduct in relation to protecting individuals from harassment.
However, Gillian Martin, the SNP MSP for Aberdeenshire East, and former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale have led calls for the all-male group to resign.
Dugdale wrote to each member of the group saying, “the parliament simply cannot take a lead on issues of gender equality authentically and realistically with an all-male team”.
She said at least three of the positions should be held by women after the harassment allegations “made it no longer tenable for it to be an all-male domain”.
Since these calls, two male members of the committee have stepped down to make way for female representation. The SNP’s Gordon Macdonald resigned, with confirmation already in place that his replacement would be a woman. The Scottish Green’s Andy Wightman announced he would step down as soon as Holyrood came up with a mechanism to ensure a fairer gender balance.
Holyrood is now being hit with the same allegations that have been concerning Westminster. So far, two SNP MSPs have been accused of inappropriate behaviour.
Willie Coffey, MSP for Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley, was reported to Holyrood chiefs following a complaint from a member of staff of inappropriate language and unsolicited attention. The approaches were allegedly made in person and via email.
Meanwhile, Aberdeen Donside MSP Mark McDonald has stepped down as Childcare Minister after also being accused of inappropriate behaviour.
In a press release, he said that his behaviour may have made others “uncomfortable” when he was “attempting to be friendly.” McDonald said it “would not be appropriate to continue to serve in my role in the Scottish Government at this time.”
Monica Lennon, the Labour MSP for Central Scotland, has said she was sexually assaulted in 2013 at a Labour Party social event witnessed by others in the party.
Ms Lennon was a South Lanarkshire councillor at the time and told The Sunday Mail that the assault by a senior male colleague left her feeling “hurt, embarrassed and let down.”
She also said that one witness, who was a senior Labour politician, joked “that’s your fault” after the assault occurred.
In response to the allegations, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told The Guardian that “no women should feel like they have to put up with sexual harassment or behaviour or language that makes them feel uncomfortable in any way.
“We shouldn’t assume that Holyrood or any other institution or organisation is immune from this.”
However, women’s rights organisations have raised concerns about the way the first minister has responded to allegations.
After Ms Sturgeon suggested that “others” may not have thought Mark McDonald’s behaviour was “serious enough to resign”, Alys Mumford, from the lobbying organisation Engender, told The Guardian, “we were surprised that the First Minister chose to comment in this way.
“While we don’t know details of the specific complaint, to suggest that some people may not have regarded his resignation as necessary downplays the accusations against him.”
After First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon appeared to back the calls for resignations, branding the all-male board “unacceptable.”
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