WE live in a representative democracy that is still far from representative. Our Parliament should reflect the diversity of society, across all protected characteristics.

It is well documented that increased diversity leads to better decision-making. How can a Parliament govern well for all of Scotland if certain voices aren’t present or don’t reflect the strength of experience and opinion in Scotland?

Every debate, every bill and every decision should be informed by the broadest range of voices – but that cannot be if they are not present in our national parliament.

Now, I accept that it is better than it was before. Women fought hard for the vote, and harder still for equal rights in the workplace. If that had been successful, we would see equal representation across the workplace, but we don’t.

Our Scottish Parliament is not perfectly representative of society. Think about it – if we can’t get it right in our most visible, influential and representative workplace, what hope do we have in our other workplaces? That is why the Scottish Parliament must lead by example.

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We focus a lot on getting women into elected office. In 2021, there was a significant increase in the number of women elected. That wasn’t accidental – it was probably partly due to intentional initiatives by parties like the SNP. Out of 129 seats, 58 are now women – up from a low of 43 in 2007. It’s been slow progress over the almost 25 years since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened.

It is all very well attracting and enabling more women to stand as candidates. But, our track record of retaining female MSPs is also poor. At the end of the last term of Parliament, a handful of female MSPs stood down or stepped back, all citing the impossibility of balancing childcare and political office.

Can you believe that in 2021, in our national parliament, in a country that has long championed progressive causes, several female MSPs resigned for this very reason.

Some had served for one term only, and the toll was too great and the burden too heavy. So, they left. We might have attracted more women in 2021, but we should be horrified by how many we lost as well.

If we continue to lose female MSPs at this rate, then our Parliament will only go backwards in terms of female representation. MSPs cannot point the finger at other employers that fall short on equal representation if our own Parliament isn’t leading the way.

I fully understand that caring responsibilities and parenting in particular isn’t just “a women’s job”, but to resolve an issue, you can’t skirt over the facts. Women still predominantly take the lion’s share of the responsibility for raising young children. In our household, my husband does a lot of housework and childcare – he is a much better cook for starters.

But, I still bring my daughter down to Edinburgh every week because she’s only just turned one, and I can’t envisage leaving her at home for four days a week without seeing her. It’s not fair on her. I know that’s what many other MSPs who travel long distances to get to the Scottish Parliament have done over the years.

You might think that the job of a Member of Parliament can never be fully “family friendly” and in part I would agree. We expect our representatives to travel to and from Edinburgh every week – that’s a four-hour drive for me each way and three full days in Edinburgh.

For our island representatives it’s even worse. In Edinburgh we expect them to keep erratic and unpredictable hours, with evening votes lasting up to 11pm on occasion. That is the nature of the job, and we all agree to it.

But that is all the more reason to look at ways that relieve the pressure on our families and our children. They didn’t choose to have parents that work such unpredictable, erratic and distant hours.

And if we want representatives that reflect the diversity of the population, and the particular challenges experienced by anybody with caring responsibilities, then we need to do everything possible to attract and then retain those very same people to serve as MSPs.

There are ways of doing that. It isn’t inevitable that mothers in particular should struggle so much with this balancing act. In fact, the Parliament recognised this when it was reconvened almost 25 years ago.

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You will recall that the Scottish Parliament sought to enshrine a “family friendly” approach to its facilities and its timetable. And yet, the resignation of so many MSPs in 2021 suggests that something isn’t quite working.

One of the most effective ways of reversing this is through the provision of the Parliament creche. It has recently re-opened after Covid-19 lockdown and is available for all MSPs, staff and visitors to the Parliament. It is a wonderful facility, staffed by excellent nursery workers.

It isn’t free – and nor should it be. Its purpose is to enable parents and those with caring responsibilities to engage in the political process either as elected representatives or as constituents visiting their MSP.

There is only one problem – the Care Inspectorate has limited use of the facility to four hours per child per week. Four hours barely scratches the surface of our working week. It makes it almost unusable to anybody working in and around the Parliament

In fact, it almost taunts parents who know it exists and yet find themselves trying to entertain a small child in the corner of their office because there is no other facility at a time of need.

I was horrified to hear that this was the sum offering of support for parents when I returned from maternity leave. Four hours per week per child. A cursory glance at the weekly parliamentary timetable will tell you Parliament sits for longer than four hours per week.

Local, mainstream nurseries don’t cater for the weird and unique demands of political office – when most of us are working erratic hours, far from home and isolated from a local support network for use in emergencies. Bear in mind, there is no formal provision of maternity leave or maternity cover – that is indicative of the unique nature of the job.

I don’t believe that politicians and their staff deserve extra special facilities. Far from it. But it is a question of representation. If you lose more MSPs with caring responsibilities, then our legislation and political decisions will be all the poorer for it.

Theoretically, the more representation there is, the better the outcome for everybody in Scotland who has caring responsibilities, particularly mothers.

As I write, unless anything changes in relation to the Scottish Parliament creche, I am gravely concerned that even more women will step down in 2026, talking again of the impossibility of being a mother and a politician.

If we are going to attract more women to stand, we can’t abandon them when they do.