Kezia Dugdale has called for Holyrood’s governing body to resign to allow gender equality in the wake of the sexual harassment scandal gripping parliaments north and south of the border.
The former Scottish Labour leader said on Monday the parliament “simply cannot take a lead” on equality issues with only men serving on the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB).
The Lothians MSP added: “If we don’t end the all male dominance of parliament decision making bodies now, we never will”.
She argued the current five-man team must step aside so a new process can be adopted which ensures female representation. Under the present system, each party nominates an MSP to join the Holyrood management group at the start of the parliamentary term.
They work alongside presiding officer Ken Macintosh to oversee the running, staffing and financing of the Scottish Parliament.
Ms Dugdale’s intervention came on the same day it was announced a confidential phone line for victims of sexual harassment is to open in the wake of allegations of sleaze and sexual misconduct at Holyrood and Westminster.
The service is being launched to provide advice and support to everyone working at the Scottish Parliament and in constituency and regional offices following the scandal.
In a letter to SPCB members, Ms Dugdale said: “I have long held view that the gender composition of the parliament matters.
“I think the revelations of the past fortnight however bring a sharper focus to the decision making bodies within the parliament, notably the SPCB and the parliamentary bureau.
“Given these are the bodies which set the parliament’s policy on a whole range of issues related to the day to day the running of the parliament, I think it’s no longer tenable for it to be an all-male domain.
“Knowing most of you well – I have no doubt in my mind that is a view which you are likely to share or at least have sympathy with.”
Ms Dugdale said there should be at least three female MSPs members whenever there is a male presiding officer to ensure gender balance.
Changes to the governance structure appear likely as Joe FitzPatrick, the Scottish Government’s minister for parliamentary business, said in a separate letter to Mr Macintosh on Monday that “immediate action” was required to address gender imbalance on the SPCB.
The Scottish Greens, meanwhile, are expected to discuss the issue on Tuesday at a party meeting of MSPs.
Current members of the decision making body include the SNP’s Gordon MacDonald, Jackson Carlaw of the Conservatives, Andy Wightman of the Greens, Labour’s David Stewart and Liam McArthur of the Lib Dems.
An Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: “The presiding officer, with the full support of the SPCB and bureau, raised concerns about this issue previously and secured changes to our standing orders to prevent such a situation in future. Party leaders nominate members to the bureau and the appointment of SPCB members is a matter for the parliament as a whole.”
Mr FitzPatrick suggested that the number of members on the SPCB could be increased to allow equal gender representation.
“I realise that any changes to membership or an increase may have implications, particularly for smaller parties, and that standing orders would be required to be further adjusted,” he said.
“However, this step would underline the determination of parliament and parties to effect genuine change in current culture and practices.”
Scottish Labour’s business manager James Kelly said: “An all-male corporate body is not sustainable and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“Labour is committed to gender equality and will work with the other parties in the parliament to ensure the corporate body is gender balanced.”
The intervention from Ms Dugdale followed the news Mark McDonald, the Scottish Government’s minister for childcare and early years, had resigned over past actions he said had been deemed “inappropriate”.
The SNP MSP for Aberdeen Donside apologised on Saturday as he stood down from the position, saying previous behaviour he had thought “humorous or attempting to be friendly” might have made others uncomfortable.
Central Scotland MSP Monica Lennon also revealed in a Sunday newspaper interview that she was “groped” at a social function in 2013 by a senior member of the Labour party in full view of other guests.
The MSP, Scottish Labour’s inequalities spokeswoman, said the unnamed man “touched my body, in an intimate way, without invitation or permission”.
Ms Lennon, who was a South Lanarkshire councillor at the time, criticised the response she had received from the party following the incident.