MSPs to get training to recognise when '˜banter' crosses line

MSPs will be given training on inappropriate behaviour and use of 'banter' as Holyrood chiefs seek to deal with the fall-out of the sexual misconduct row.

Parliamentarians, along with their staff, will be invited to take part in a training programme following a staff survey which showed that almost a third of women workers at Parliament had suffered some for of harassment. MSPs were found to have been responsible for up to 45% of incidents.

A Holyrood working group has been established to spearhead the Parliament’s response to the issue. Better reporting procedures have already been earmarked to make it easier for victims to come forward, with focus groups being held with staff in the coming months to establish this.

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Mark McDonald return may stop victims coming forward
The committee also heard that the return of MSP Mark McDonald could discourage future victims from coming forward.

The training regime will also be established as part of the response, Holyrood’s standards committee was told yesterday.

Labour MSP Elaine Smith questioned if MSPs, along with their staff, would be among those to get the training.

Holyrood Assistant Chief executive David McGill said: “We’re looking at covering all categories of people who work in the building and contribute to our culture.”

It is not clear at the moment whether the training will be compulsory or voluntary.

The committee also heard that the return of MSP Mark McDonald could discourage future victims from coming forward.

Vicky McSherry, Culture of Respect Team Leader, said even MSPs’ staff based in constituency offices across Scotland will be part of it.

“When we start our training programme that training is for all, so that’s people who are based all around the country.

“And we need to look at ways in which we can deliver that training and also, in terms of the focus groups, so we can ensure that everyone who wants to take part in that can do so.”

Nicola Sturgeon voiced her dismay at the findings of the Holyrood survey earlier this month. Holyrood’s Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh apologised and pledged to take action.

Susan Duffy, head of the working group, says the training will help MSPs and other Holyrood workers re-evaluate whether something is banter or not.

She said: “One of the things we’re hoping is that the fact that this is in the spotlight and we’re doing a lot of work and we will make a public declaration of what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable behaviour.

“So that people realise that something that they might have dismissed as banter in the past is something that’s not acceptable and will be treated seriously.

“A lot of what we’re hoping to do, and through the training as well, is about prevention, is about making people realise the impact their behaviour can have on other people.”

The emergence of a “zero tolerance” approach at Holyrood should mean that people can come forward and issues will be taken seriously.

The committee also heard that the return of MSP Mark McDonald could discourage future victims from coming forward. McDonald has returned to Holyrood after quitting the SNP to sit as an independent MSP after accusations of non-physical harassment. He has admitted that his behaviour fell below acceptable standards.

Nationalist MSP Tom Arthur asked Holyrood Assistant chief executive David McGill if a scenario like this could “hinder people coming forward to make a complaint?” 
Mr McGill said: I think there’s every chance that that would be the case.”