Holyrood ‘is unlikely to be free of abuse’ admit MSPs
Politicians from across the party divide in Scotland have urged potential victims of sexual harassment at Holyrood to come forward and report abuse.
Leading figures admitted the Scottish Parliament is unlikely to be free from the type of abuse which has increasingly come to light in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in the US.
UK trade minister Mark Garnier is facing an official Cabinet Office investigation into claims of inappropriate conduct towards a member of his House of Commons staff, as a string of allegations emerged against MPs at the weekend.
And human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar said women at all levels of the Scottish Parliament had been subjected to sexual harassment.
Health secretary Shona Robison said yesterday she was “very concerned” by the reports.
“There is clearly a focus at the moment about sexual harassment in a number of institutions and I would find it hard to believe that the Scottish Parliament is immune from that,” she said.
“It’s really important these issues are brought out and people obviously should report it to the parliamentary authorities, to the police possibly, and also if it’s a party issue, to the political party.
“We need to bring these things out into the open.”
Former Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Mary Scanlon said she had faced inappropriate comments during her time as an MSP.
She said: “Throughout my life, and including being an MSP, comments are made and you don’t want to be difficult, you don’t want to be too precious, you don’t want to be too politically correct, and I think I probably turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to things that maybe, mildly, or just a wee bit more, upset me.
“And I just thought that’s part and parcel of the job.”
Tory MSP Annie Wells said any allegation of sexual assault or harassment must be taken seriously.
“I would encourage staff at Holyrood, past or present, who have experienced this to come forward and contact the police,” she added.
“Like any industry or workplace, politics is not immune to issues of sexual assault and harassment and it is important that we use momentum now to root it out from all areas of life.
“If staff members at Holyrood have reported improper behaviour in the past only to be ignored then there should be an examination of how this is handled. There is no place for this type of behaviour at Holyrood and it is important that we ensure both men and women are protected from unwarranted advances in the workplace.”
Mr Anwar said at the weekend that he had spoken to “a number of women” over the past two years about their treatment by men at Holyrood.
He said: “It’s a catalogue of sexual harassment, stalking, social media abuse, sexual innuendos, verbal sexual abuse, touching, sexual assaults, requests for sex, cover-up, isolation and bullying.”
He said it was an issue that went across all parties.
Labour’s justice spokeswoman Claire Baker said: “The allegations against Harvey Weinstein have exposed the disgusting actions of powerful men and it is clear that it is a problem not just in Hollywood but in all aspects of society, including here in Scotland.
“Victims of sexual harassment are understandably cautious about coming out publicly with their experiences.
“However, I urge anybody who has been a victim of sexual harassment to report it to the police in order that we find and prosecute anybody who has committed this vile crime.”
A spokeswoman for the SNP said last night that the party condemns all forms of “sexual harassment or abuse” in any workplace.
“It is not acceptable and we have a zero tolerance approach to this,” she added.
“If anyone has any complaints to make they should contact the police, parliamentary authorities or their party.
“For the SNP, anyone that wants to speak to party HQ can be assured that their reports will be taken seriously and dealt with confidentially and sensitively.”
The Scottish Parliament insists it has “robust procedures” in place to investigate harassment claims and called for any victims to report their abuse.
A spokesman said: “Sexual harassment is unacceptable and we take any allegation of sexual harassment in the workplace very seriously.
“The parliament has robust procedures in place to investigate and deal with any reports of sexual harassment in the workplace. If any individuals were to witness or experience such behaviour, we would encourage them to report it.”