Devolve equality laws, SNP MSP urges Westminster

Shona Robison has called on Westminster to devolve equality legislation to Holyrood. Picture: John Devlin
Shona Robison has called on Westminster to devolve equality legislation to Holyrood. Picture: John Devlin
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WESTMINSTER has been urged to transfer responsibility for equality laws to Scotland to help the government there “smash the glass ceiling to smithereens”.

Shona Robison, Holyrood’s Cabinet Secretary for Equalities, made the plea the day after Nicola Sturgeon became the first female leader of the SNP.

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Ms Sturgeon will also become the first woman First Minister when she takes over that role next week following a vote at the Scottish Parliament.

Ms Robison hailed the first minister-in-waiting as a “great role model” but said more needed to be done to remove the barriers woman face in the workplace.

The Scottish Government wants women to make up a minimum of 40% of public boards, arguing that this is a “tipping point” in efforts for greater equality.

But Ms Robison told the SNP annual conference in Perth: “In order to do that, we need control of equality legislation - that is not something we can do under devolution as it stands.”

She said she had been pressing UK Government minister Jo Swinson to do this, adding that, while the Liberal Democrat MP was “sympathetic”, she wanted to wait for the outcome of talks on more devolution before any decisions are made.

Ms Robison demanded: “If she is sympathetic - we know that the Labour Party are sympathetic to this - we should just get on with it so we can make Scotland a fairer place.”

She went on: “As the Cabinet Secretary with responsible for equality, I am absolutely determined to ensure that the Scottish Government acts to take away the barriers women face in achieving their full potential.

“This weekend, Nicola Sturgeon has become the SNP’s first female leader. Next week, she is likely to become Scotland’s first female First Minister. This sends a strong message to young women and girls across the country - if you work hard enough you can achieve anything and there are no limits on your ambition.

“But we need to go further to ensure women are better represented at the highest levels of public life. The Scottish Government’s proposal to introduce quotas to public boards will help make much needed progress in this area.

“However, we need the necessary powers to introduce this. In our Smith Commission submission, we called for devolution of responsibility over equalities. Westminster must act now to devolve this legislation to bring about real and lasting change and enable women across Scotland to smash the glass ceiling to smithereens.”

She argued that having a minimum of 40% of women on public boards would be a “tipping point that breaks through the ceiling and that critical mass of women paves the way for others to come through”.

But SNP MSP Christine Grahame told her she did not back the introduction of quotas for female representation.

She said that while there were “huge barriers to women”, the way to tackle this was “not a blunt instrument of quotas, which does no favours to women and no favours to men”.

Ms Grahame said: “We do need to do things to encourage women and we do need role models. But Nicola Sturgeon didn’t get there because of quotas - she got there because she is damn good.

“When I look at our front bench, and I look at our group of MSPs, MEPS and MPs, I know that women got there because they’re good. I don’t think they got there to make up a quota. I find that patronising, I don’t want it to be done.

“I know it’s not PC (politically correct), I know people want to be seen to do the right thing, I absolutely want to do the right thing - but when you look at this party, what has ever stopped a woman in this party getting anywhere?”

The conference, however, voted in favour of “measures for achieving gender equality through gender quotas on public boards as proposed by the Scottish Government”, saying this would “help to make our public boards more representative of other under-represented groups within Scotland”.

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