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Holyrood must not be ‘complacent’ on women’s representation, says Johnstone

Holyrood Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)
Holyrood Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Holyrood’s Presiding Officer has said the parliament must not become “complacent” in the fight to improve female representation, despite having a record number of female MSPs elected.

Last year’s Scottish Parliament elections produced the most diverse ever group of MSPs, with Holyrood now having 58 female MSPs – 45% of all elected members – including the first women of colour.

But speaking as she marked a year since becoming Presiding Officer, Alison Johnstone stressed the importance of not simply assuming that this progress would continue.

Speaking about efforts to get more women elected to Holyrood, Ms Johnstone said “progress hasn’t been linear”, adding that “we have had a bit of a roller coaster”.

She added: “Now that we have reached 45% it is very important we are not complacent, that we don’t assume that that will just continue to progress.

“Because it won’t if we are not very alive to the fact that, as has happened previously, that can slip back.”

Since becoming Presiding Officer, Ms Johnstone has set up a gender sensitive audit of work at Holyrood – making clear she wants to see change come from this work.

She told PA Scotland: “I certainly don’t want it to be another report that sits on a shelf, but one that informs.”

Speaking about the audit, Ms Johnstone said: “We’re all delighted the parliament is the most diverse parliament we have ever returned, with 45% women, but we want to dig a little deeper and understand if, for example, 45% of contributions are made by women, what topics are people speaking on, who is making and taking interventions.”

That data is being analysed, with an expert academic also being brought in as part of the project, which should report back before the end of this year.

SNP MSP Kaukab Stewart was one of two women of colour elected in May 2021 (Russell Cheyne/PA)

Ms Johnstone said: “We should have a series of recommendations following that work. And it is just about understanding any barriers there are to equal participation.

“It is about making the parliament somewhere that takes those issues into account.”

She stressed: “It has taken the parliament till last year to return our first women of colour. We have had that breakthrough, but we cannot be complacent.”