IT was a debate about the problems faced by parents having to juggle their childcare responsibilities with the demands of work.
But when Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale took a “simulator” baby into the chamber at the Scottish Parliament and held it in her arms as she made her speech, she got a ticking off from the Deputy Presiding Officer.
Campaigners from Save the Children had been at Holyrood with the robotic lifelike babies, which cry and “fill their nappies”, to stress the urgent need for easily-available, affordable childcare for low-income families.
Several MSPs were pictured with the babies to show their support.
Ms Dugdale went one step further and took one of the babies into the debate. As she rose to speak, she said: “I hope you do not mind, Presiding Officer, but I had to bring the baby into the chamber with me because I could not find a babysitter.”
She was allowed to make her speech, but deputy presiding officer Elaine Smith spoke to her afterwards.
Ms Dugdale said: “I held the baby all through the speech. I thought it made the point quite well, but I got a row from the Presiding Officer afterwards.
“She had a private word outside the chamber and said I might get a letter with a more serious reprimand.
“She said you’re not allowed to have props like that in the chamber. Apparently it goes back to a fox-hunting debate when one of the MSPs took in a Basil Brush and there were other MSPs at the back shouting ‘Boom, boom’ all the time.”
Ms Dugdale said she had made sure the baby was “switched off” so it did not start crying during the debate.
But she said: “I thought it was quite important to make the point that affordable childcare is in really short supply and some people are constantly having to battle to cope with both working and looking after their children.”
A recent survey by Save the Children and Daycare Trust found parents across the income range said they could not afford not to work, but struggled to pay for childcare. A quarter of parents in severe poverty had given up work and a third had turned down a job mainly because of high childcare costs.
Save the Children says average childcare costs in Scotland are more than half of average part-time weekly earnings – more than anywhere else in the world – and it is calling on the Scottish Government to boost support for the poorest families.
A parliament spokeswoman said the MSPs’ code of conduct stated nothing should be taken into the chamber which could interfere with proceedings, but she was not aware of any plans to send Ms Dugdale a letter.