MSPs fail to attend sexual harassment training

James Dornan was one of 11 MSPs who failed to attend any of the sexual harassment workshops at the Scottish Parliament.
James Dornan was one of 11 MSPs who failed to attend any of the sexual harassment workshops at the Scottish Parliament.
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Eleven MSPs failed to attend sexual harassment training as the Scottish Parliament aims to tackle the sexist culture of Holyrood - including the SNP politician who alleged his employee was harassed by his former colleague Mark McDonald.

SNP politicians James Dornan, Kenneth Gibson, Stewart Stevenson and Christine Grahame did not attend any of the 78 sessions run in Holyrood over a period of six months. Their colleagues Colin Beattie and Gordon MacDonald were also absent but it is understood they were both ill during the time they were due to attend a workshop.

Scottish Labour's Pauline McNeill also failed to attend, as did Scottish Conservatives Murdo Fraser, Gordon Lindhurst and Ruth Davidson, although the latter was on maternity leave. Mike Rumbles of the Scottish Liberal Democrats was also absent from all courses.

The 11 were the only MSPs not to attend according to a list of names released by the Scottish Parliament today.

The workshops, which were also attended by 94 per cent of Parliamentary staff but just 47 per cent of MSP staff, were established as part of a programme of work to "influence cultural change" in Holyrood, and address issues highlighted by a 2018 survey which found that one in five parliamentary staff had experienced harassment or sexism.

Holyrood's problems with sexual harassment came to light in 2017 when MSP Mark McDonald, quit as a government minister and then from the SNP after admitting sending an "inappropriate" text message to a woman. His former colleague James Dornan also complained to Holyrood’s standards committee about Mr McDonald's behaviour towards a member of his staff. The Aberdeen Donside MSP was later suspended from the Parliament for a month without pay.

After the McDonald case, the Parliament set up a confidential reporting phone line, and commissioned a survey of all staff who use the Holyrood building, which more than 1,000 people took part in. One fifth of staff - including one in three women - said they had experienced harassment or sexist behaviour, with those responsible for such behaviour "predominantly male and in a position of authority over those experiencing it".

The figures come a fortnight after the Parliament published a new sexual harassment policy aimed at stamping out sexist and inappropriate behaviour at Holyrood and beyond. This was part of the review launched amid the #MeToo movement and high-profile complaints at Holyrood and Westminster.

The workshops, which were also held in Aberdeen, Dumfries, Glasgow and Inverness, covered the fundamental principles of a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment, the law and definitions of sexual harassment and sexist behaviour, how to deal with inappropriate behaviour if you see or experience it and understanding the impact of behaviours on other people.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives said that the MSPs who had not attended "recognise the importance of these workshops but were unable to attend them due to diary commitments. Should the workshops be rescheduled they would, of course, attend.”

Commenting on today's figures, a Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “Almost 1100 people - including 90 per cent of MSPs - attended culture of respect training that focused on zero tolerance and what constitutes unacceptable behaviour."

Former health minister Shona Robison was originally in the list of absent MSPs but she has said she did attend and is seeking a correction from the Scottish Parliament.

An SNP spokesperson added: “The parliament’s Culture of Respect training was successful and well attended by both parliamentarians and staff. The SNP take issues of harassment very seriously and 9 out of 10 of our MSPs attended one of the sessions.”

A Scottish Labour spokesperson said that in Pauline McNeill's case it was a "diary oversight" and "Pauline will take the training as soon as new dates are available.”