Childcare minister resigns over his past behaviour

Mark McDonald, former Minister for Childcare and Early Years
Mark McDonald, former Minister for Childcare and Early Years
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Mark McDonald last night resigned as Nicola Sturgeon’s children’s minister after admitting inappropriate behaviour.

The scandal over the conduct of UK politicians claimed its first Holyrood scalp when McDonald released a statement admitting his behaviour may have made others feel uncomfortable.

The Minister for Childcare and Early Years said he was quitting in the hope that “neither any particular woman or my family will be the focus of undue and unwarranted scrutiny”.

Formerly regarded as one of the SNP’s rising stars, McDonald issued an unreserved apology to those he had upset. His resignation will be a blow to the First Minister and John Swinney in whose education department McDonald served. His replacement will be announced in due course.

McDonald was one of two people under investigation by the SNP following allegations of inappropriate behaviour. The other individual is understood not to be a parliamentarian.

McDonald, 37, said he would remain as MSP for Aberdeen Donside, a constituency he has served since the 2011 Scottish election.

His statement said: “It has been brought to my attention that some of my previous actions have been considered to be inappropriate – where I have believed myself to have been merely humorous or attempting to be friendly, my behaviour might have made others uncomfortable or led them to question my intentions.

“My behaviour is entirely my responsibility and I apologise unreservedly to anyone I have upset or who might have found my behaviour inappropriate.

“In light of my position in government, I believe it would not be appropriate for me to continue to serve in my role in the Scottish Government at this time and I have tendered my resignation as a minister. I hope that in taking this step neither any particular woman or my family will be the focus of undue and unwarranted scrutiny.

“It has been an honour to serve in the Scottish Government and I will continue to serve my constituents in Aberdeen Donside.”

The SNP said no further details of McDonald’s behaviour would be provided to “ensure the privacy of individuals is respected and people can have confidence in the confidentiality of the complaints process”.

Sturgeon has signalled her determination to deal with any behaviour that falls short of the standards expected of politicians. Last week Swinney made a statement to Holyrood in which he said men across Scotland had to examine their behaviour if sexual harassment is to be tackled.

As sleaze allegations hit Westminster last week, Sturgeon wrote to all SNP MPs, MSPs, MEPs and their staff warning that sexual harassment “will not be tolerated” and urging victims to come forward.

She also ordered a review of the way the Scottish Government deals with complaints, which will be conducted by the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans.

A spokesman for Sturgeon said: “Mark has taken the right action in apologising and recognising that in his current role it would be inappropriate for him to remain in government. He will continue to make a valuable contribution to parliament as the MSP for Aberdeen Donside. As the Deputy First Minister told parliament earlier in the week it is right that men take responsibility for their behaviour and it is to Mark’s credit that he has done so.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Mr McDonald tendered his resignation to the First Minister. The Education Secretary is responsible for all aspects of the education portfolio including those led by the Minister for Childcare and Early Years. The First Minister will appoint a new minister in due course.”

Meanwhile, equality campaigners and MSPs have criticised the all-male make-up of a Scottish parliamentary management team overseeing the way sexual harassment is to be dealt with at Holyrood.

A gender equality group, supported by Sturgeon, said yesterday that women’s voices should be represented in the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB), which governs equality and staffing issues at Holyrood.

Women 50:50 has also urged the SPCB to seek expert advice from bodies such as Rape Crisis Scotland to ensure that harassment reporting mechanisms are appropriate.

The SPCB is chaired by Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh and consists of five other members elected by the parliament. The current members are: Gordon MacDonald of the SNP; Jackson Carlaw of the Tories; Labour’s David Stewart; Andy Wightman of the Greens and the Lib Dems’ Liam McArthur.

With allegations of sexual harassment dominating politics at Westminster and Holyrood last week, Macintosh announced a review of its procedures for dealing with inappropriate behaviour.

A hotline has been established for individuals to make complaints and an anonymised survey of all those working at Holyrood, including MSPs’ staff and other workers, is to be launched in an attempt to uncover the scale of the problem.

Yesterday Talat Yaqoob, chair and co-founder of Women 50:50, told Scotland on Sunday: “Women 50:50 highlighted the problem with an all-male Scottish Parliament Corporate Body in 2016. This is the group dealing with how MSPs fulfil their duties and which governs equality and HR in parliament. Now this is the group who will be assessing reporting procedures regarding sexual harassment. This is why we campaign for fair representation, because women’s voices and expertise should exist in every corner of our society, especially our democracy.”

“It is right that processes around reporting sexual harassment in the Scottish Parliament and in political parties are being scrutinised, I sincerely hope that the parliament will be looking to external expertise, particularly women’s organisations such as Rape Crisis Scotland to ensure that reporting mechanisms are appropriate, swift and are centred around the needs of the individual reporting the abuse.”

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “The Parliament’s diversity and inclusion board which includes representatives from our various equality networks will lead the review of our procedures for dealing with harassment. We are committed to creating a workplace which is characterised by equality, dignity and respect.”