Men across Scotland must examine their behaviour in all aspects of their lives if sexual harassment is to be halted, the country’s most senior male politician warned yesterday.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said men must improve their conduct as he demanded an end to the sexual harassment and abuse of women amid rising concern about claims of inappropriate behaviour.
Mr Swinney made his remarks in response to a string of allegations involving UK politicians, including complaints made against two parliamentarians in the SNP.
A series of measures were announced yesterday to tackle the problem. Nicola Sturgeon has charged her most senior civil servant Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans with reviewing the Scottish Government’s processes for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment.
Similar exercises are to be undertaken by Scotland’s political parties while Holyrood Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh said those working at the Scottish Parliament would be asked to undertake an anonymised survey in an attempt to uncover the extent of the problem.
Mr Macintosh chaired a meeting of party leaders last night at which a zero tolerance approach to sexual misconduct and sexual harassment was unanimously agreed.
Ms Sturgeon, Alex Rowley, Labour’s interim leader, were at the meeting which was also attended by Jackson Carlaw of the Tories and Liam McArthur of the Lib Dems, who stood in for Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie. Ms Davidson and Mr Rennie had family commitments.
Controversy over sexual harassment in Scottish public life erupted at the weekend when the Human Rights lawyer Aamer Anwar claimed women ranging from MSPs to interns had complained of sexual abuse in the Scottish Parliament.
Since then the SNP has launched an investigation into two complaints of inappropriate behaviour. The two allegations are unconnected. They came to light as allegations over the behaviour of Westminster MPs were made.
Mr Swinney’s plea to Scottish men came when he took the place of Equalities Secretary Angela Constance at Holyrood to answer a question on what the Scottish Government was doing about the problem.
Mr Swinney said: “The government wants to make clear that it is the conduct and behaviour of men that needs to change if we are to end the sexual harassment and abuse of women, whether that be in their workplace, their social life or in their home.
“Therefore, as the most senior male minister in the Scottish Government, I wanted to answer this question and to make clear that it is up to men to make these changes and men must examine their own behaviour.
“Sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace or anywhere else is completely unacceptable and must stop, just as the underlying attitudes and inequalities that perpetuate it must also stop.”
He called on the parliament to unite to send “a strong message that there is no place in Scottish politics or in this Parliament or in our constituency offices for any form of harassment or abuse”, and urged anyone who had experienced any form of harassment to report it.
Labour MSP Monica Lennon said the allegations of sexism and harassment were “sickening but unfortunately not surprising”.
She said the parliament’s decision to launch a confidential phone-line for those affected was well-intentioned but urged authorities to go further and set up an independent review of the procedures and culture of parliament, informed by women’s organisations and trade unions.
“Unless we understand how difficult it is for women to come forward with complaints for fear that they will not be believed or supported and recognise that this is a cultural problem that requires a cultural change, then we will never fully resolve this,” she said.
Tory MSP Annie Wells said her party took the issue “very seriously” and had committed to review its procedures for dealing with sexual harassment complaints.
Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie said the problem was “deeply ingrained in our society” and educating children on consent was crucial to help bring about cultural change while Mr McArthur said clarity was needed on the procedures for staff who wanted to make a report.