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Presiding Officer: Holyrood has not made any progress on number of female MSPs

HOLYROOD has not made any progress at all when it comes to boosting the number of women in frontline politics, the Scottish Parliament's figurehead has said – as he called the recent sexual harassment scandals a "wake-up call".

Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh said he wrongly thought the glass ceiling had been smashed when he was elected as one of the first intake of MSPs 20 years ago this month.

It came as he admitted he worries about the growing cynicism around politics and the rise of populism, and argued the Scottish Parliament should be a "bastion of trust" in an age of fake news.

Nicola Sturgeon: Parliament has been a success and force for good

Speaking to The Herald to mark two decades of devolution, he said: "When I first was elected, we were part of an intake in which almost two-fifths, 37 per cent, of the new MSPs were women.

"And I genuinely thought that we had done it – we had broken the glass ceiling, we'd made the real breakthrough.

"At that point Westminster was still heavily dominated by men – there had been a big intake in '97, but heavily dominated by men.

"I thought the only way was to progress from that. And here we are 20 years [later], and the statistic is exactly the same. We haven't progressed at all.

"We've got exactly the same number of women MSPs to men that we had then. And that just shows you.

"And not only that, we then had the allegations of sexual harassment, that all of us must have been just horrified by, just the idea that in this day and age this kind of behaviour is still prevalent. And I think it was a real wake-up call."

He added: "But what I'm pleased about, if I can, in such a situation, is the way the parties and the politicians and the people have united in reaction to that, in response to that.

"We've surveyed all our members. We've put in place a new policy. We've set up an independent advice line for members and for staff.

"We've encouraged people to go a respect course. We've done so much, which I think shows we recognise there is an issue and we have embraced the solution if we can – the idea that we have to change and address our behaviours."

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon warns devolution is under threat

Former SNP childcare minister Mark McDonald was banned for a month last year after he was found to have harassed a member of staff working for another MSP.

A survey later found a fifth of Scottish Parliament staff had experienced sexual harassment or sexist behaviour.

Meanwhile, former first minister Alex Salmond is facing a string of criminal charges, including attempted rape. He strongly denies any criminality.

Holyrood had the third highest number of female politicians in Europe when it was reconvened in 1999, behind Sweden and Denmark.

Out of the current crop of MSPs, 36% are women, compared with 42% in the Welsh Assembly and 32% of MPs.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's Cabinet is gender balanced.

Elsewhere, Mr Macintosh said the parliament should be a bastion of trust in an age of fake news and cynicism.

READ MORE: Over two decades, how Holyrood's powers grew

Asked if he worried about populism and the growing cynicism towards politics, he said: "I worry about all these things because, in the end, politics is passionate but it also has to have reason in it. You can't just take emotional positions all the time.

"So you should act with your heart and your head. The parliament has to be able to accommodate both.

"The parliament itself should be a very rational place in the sense of providing good, robust information, sound facts."

Mr Macintosh was a long-standing Labour MSP before being elected Presiding Officer in 2016.

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