‘Family friendly’ Scottish Parliament could do more – leader comment

Greater use of technology at Holyrood – to allow remote voting, for example – could be used to make life easier for MSPs in distant constituencies and with young families.

Gail Ross is to stand down as an MSP so she can 'watch my son grow up' (Picture: Peter Jolly)
Gail Ross is to stand down as an MSP so she can 'watch my son grow up' (Picture: Peter Jolly)

It’s not every day that an SNP and a Scottish Conservative politician find themselves in agreement. So, when it does happen, it’s worthwhile paying attention to what they are saying.

Gail Ross, who represents Caithness, Sutherland and Ross at the Scottish Parliament, has announced that she will not stand at next year’s election because of the amount of travelling demanded by her job – as it is currently set up – means she’s away from her young family for too long.

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She spoke about how she wanted to “watch my son grow up” and “to be more involved in local issues”. the Nationalist MSP added that the size of her constituency also meant she was unable to visit the places in it regularly enough.

Ruth Davidson, who stood down as Scottish Conservative leader for family reasons and also does not plan to stand in 2021, said she “completely” felt for Ross, adding that “if we want politics to be truly representative, including people with young children, we need to ensure impact on family life isn’t prohibitive”.

Both Ross and Davidson suggested greater use of technology could help elected representatives do their job while still having a personal life.

The Scottish Parliament is much more ‘family friendly’ that Westminster, but that does not mean it should rest on its laurels.

In this Age of the Internet, it should be relatively straightforward for MSPs to take part in parliamentary meeting by video link from their constituencies and for votes to be cast remotely.

If Holyrood currently lacks the technology to allow this to happen, it should at the very least look into getting it. Not only would it help MSPs who live far away, but those who were ill or unable to travel for whatever reason.

The sight of MPs voting in the recent Brexit debates in the Commons while seriously ill – one discharged herself from hospital and voted while dosed with morphine – demonstrated just how old-fashioned and wrong such procedures are. This simply should not happen in the 21st century.

And no one should be forced to choose between a political career and a reasonable family life because we need people with a broad range of experiences in the corridors of power.

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It is also profoundly undemocratic to make life as an MSP so unbearable that it effectively excludes large groups of people.

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