The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-09293, in the name of Johann Lamont, on women in Scotland.
I invite Johann Lamont to speak to and move the motion. As we are very tight for time, we will be grateful if everyone can stick to the advised time. Ms Lamont, you have 10 minutes.
I hope that, if I do not use my full 10 minutes, other people will be afforded the opportunity to contribute to what I think is an important debate.
It is a great privilege to open this debate on behalf of the Scottish Labour Party. We chose the subject because we wanted to afford everyone in the chamber the opportunity to mark international women’s day and to reflect on women’s progress and achievements and the challenges that women still face in Scotland, throughout the United Kingdom and across the world.
I congratulate all those in the Scottish Women’s Convention who were in the chamber on Saturday, who organised events across the country to mark international women’s day and who took the opportunity to come together to acknowledge the difference between our lives as women now and the lives of our mothers and how much more needs to be done if our daughters in the generations beyond are to have equality, freedom from violence and the right to achieve their potential. I know that there were very interesting events right across Scotland.
We are, of course, happy to accept the Scottish Government’s amendment, and we join others in sending our sympathies and condolences to the family of Ailsa McKay, who has been taken from us all too soon. She was a woman of great wisdom who challenged us and who could think outside the box in a way that we all so desperately need. We know that, with other women, Ailsa was a driving force in insisting that we needed to understand budgets and the economy properly, to confront the way in which the impact on women of specific choices was being ignored and to insist that we address the decisions that had compounded the problems faced by women.
In a recent speech, Ailsa McKay said:
“Women stand up and say this discipline” of economics
“is failing us. We are dismissed as only women and we don’t understand the numbers. I’m an economist who doesn’t do numbers which, again, makes me quite a lone ranger in my own discipline. Not because I can’t do numbers, but because I refuse to do numbers, because I think we’ve got the underlying philosophy wrong to start with. So before we start counting things we need to work out what it is that we’re trying to count, what we value and what we should value, so the numbers come after that.”
Those are such wise words about how we should take forward our politics and debates in this chamber.
Of course, those comments reflect on an issue that we all wrestle with. As we know, budgets reflect our priorities more than our words of concern ever will, and the abiding conundrum is whether we value what women do less because it is women who do it or whether society does not value women properly because of the things they do. That issue goes to the very heart of the kind of world that we want to live in.
In reflecting on that, we need to challenge ourselves so that we have a full understanding of women’s lives and the pressures on them in tackling the inequality that they face. I am proud of the Labour Party’s record in tackling those issues and on the things that we addressed when we were in government at the United Kingdom, Scottish and local government levels, but we do not pretend that the matter is entirely for the province of one party; it must concern us all.
International women’s day is a day of greatly ambivalent feelings for me—I am sure that others share these feelings. It affords the opportunity to celebrate the progress that we have made, but it is also a time to reflect on the burdens that are still placed on women here and abroad. Women still disproportionately represent low-paid workers and carers who take the burden of the real pressures in our communities. They still face violence and intimidation in their own homes, and we know that, no matter how clever our girls are and how overachieving they are in the classroom, they are not represented in equal numbers in the boardroom, where the big decisions are made.
We also know that, across the world, women are denied economic opportunities. Girls are denied the simple right to an education. The testimony of Malala Yousafzai stands as a great inspiration to us all. Girls are denied the education and opportunity to achieve their potential. In some parts of the world, rape is still a weapon of war, and the riskiest thing that someone can be is a woman. In those circumstances, there is an ambivalence that should drive our ambitions forward.
However, there is, of course, progress to be celebrated and there are women to be praised, such as Ailsa McKay, who is an inspiration to all, and those who established Glasgow Women’s Aid 40 years ago. They identified need and found solutions, and over the intervening period they have insisted that society listen to the scourge that is domestic violence and listen to them on the solutions that would address that.
There are women who have redefined politics and reshaped the world as a consequence, and there are women who inspire because of their courage and humility and who give voice to suffering and solutions to those who are in pain. There are women who have held families or communities together, and women who, as we speak, are driving community activity, running housing associations, taking on the activity where work needs to be done and staffing food banks and places where people are in pain.
We celebrate, too, the women who demanded equal representation, which created places such as the Parliament where women can stand as equals and speak out for their communities. We understand that, at every step, those women faced resistance and the need to persuade, organise and change minds, or change the structures where they could not change minds. That is the message: we must persuade, but we must also put in place measures that ensure that women come through.
It is interesting that, in the independence debate, I, like others, am often asked why women are less likely to support independence. I confess that I do not know the answer to that question, but I shall resist any notion that it is to do with some deficit in women—that somehow women are less bold or radical—or, on the other side, that that reaffirms a stereotypical view that women are more concerned about their family than others, more concerned about budgets than men are, and more risk averse. We should hold to none of those explanations of how women vote in a world in which we believe that women can achieve their full potential.
There will be another time to debate the independence question, but I think that we can agree in this debate that the huge issues that women face here and abroad are deeper than any constitutional arrangement issues and that they must be addressed with political will, regardless of what the constitutional settlement might be. I know that not one step on the road to greater equality for women was ever handed over without a battle, so whatever the constitutional settlement is in September it will not mean that women’s lives will be better, as the argument for that must always be made in its own context.
We celebrate and reflect, but we also resolve to continue to highlight inequality and demand change. One of the key features of progress for women has been the connection between ambition and practical delivery. For some of us, there can be a dialogue of despair when the challenge that women face is identified, but we have to be determined to change. In the past, our systems were not overwhelmed when they faced the challenges that women’s lives were. We must build on that and have the confidence that it is possible to make a difference if we connect aspiration with practical delivery.
The fact that women are disproportionately low paid led to a debate and argument that created the national minimum wage. Understanding the direct experience of violence against women and the underlying cause of the abuse of power led to the creation of Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis centres and the zero tolerance campaign and to demands for change in the justice system, which brought about hope for women. All that was created not by the state but by women coming together.
I believe that our job as politicians is to give a voice and support to organisations that will address women’s needs, whether it is underrepresentation in the Parliament and winning the argument for positive action or the right for women to work and the consequent need for childcare to support women into work. However, we must also be acutely aware that it is not enough to provide childcare if women cannot access it. I think that that is the debate that we are having now around pre-school, after-school and holiday-time childcare. The need for the state to provide childcare that women in work cannot access must be addressed. We do not even have to go as far as the question of job segregation, the issue of parenting and the role of men in the lives of their children, which I would argue has been transformed in my lifetime.
We now also have to test policy and its consequences. It is not enough to say that we care; we must address the policy options that we have. I was disappointed this morning to learn that in committee we had voted down the possibility of using the living wage through our procurement process to ensure that people—
I have very little time.
That possibility was voted down, although we know that 64 per cent of those earning less than the living wage are women. When we make a decision to invest in full-time college places, we must understand the consequences being borne by women who need part-time places because of their caring responsibilities and their ability to learn. Cuts in local government and public services mean that women workers are stretched and the gaps that come in the provision are filled by women. The solutions for those situations are not for one party, but we have at least to acknowledge the challenge that they present and resolve to do more.
We should draw on the strength and abilities of women not through manifesto offers but by developing policy with women. We need to take bold and positive action measures not to do women a favour but to tilt back to level the playing field that disproportionately benefits men at present.
We must always be alive to the impact on women’s lives of decisions that are made, because ultimately, in freeing women, we create a society that is better and fairer for our daughters and our sons.
That the Parliament recognises the significant contribution that women make to Scotland’s economy and society and across its public and private spheres; notes the political, social and economic advancement of women in Scotland that has taken place over the last century, but believes that women still encounter barriers into education, employment and representation in public life that need to be addressed; commends the Scottish Women’s Convention on organising the conference, What Women Want, What Women Need, to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March 2014, and believes that the Parliament and the Scottish Government have a pivotal role in fighting for and creating equality for women in 21st century Scotland.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I start my contribution to the debate by paying tribute to the feminist economist Ailsa McKay, whom we lost last week. Ailsa was a friend and adviser to both ministers and officials in the Scottish Government and was highly respected internationally as well as here in Scotland. She was truly passionate about the work that she did and she was highly regarded by all of us as an absolute expert on equality matters, particularly in relation to gender. As a member of both the strategic group on women and work and the equality budget advisory group, she did not hesitate to remind us of the commitment to equality that we have made as a Government. It is now incumbent on us all to continue with the work that she believed in so very strongly.
As Johann Lamont said, international women’s day is not only an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women but a stark reminder of the challenges that women continue to face at home and abroad. The challenges are many and varied, and they include violence against women. This Government, like previous Administrations, views violence against women as both a cause and consequence of gender inequality. We are internationally respected for our understanding of violence against women and our approach and work in the area. It is important that Parliament knows that the new violence against women strategy is currently in development and is due to be published in June.
According to last month’s labour market statistics there are now more women in Scotland in work than at any time since the current records began in 1992. Women’s access to employment opportunities is important not just because of the impact on their personal circumstances and choices but because of the effect on the country’s future growth.
Of course, there is still much to do to improve the plight of women in work and to get more women into work. I was struck by a conversation that I had last week with some young mums when I visited One Parent Families Scotland at a project in Motherwell. They said that they are still routinely asked at job interviews whether they have children and whether they have childcare arrangements. That is utterly unacceptable.
That is why the recommendations that were made at the women’s employment summit are important, and we continue to progress the work with the oversight of an expert group that I chair. An update on the work was jointly published last week by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and I urge members to have a look at it.
One area that the summit looked at closely is women and enterprise. In Scotland, only 21 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises are led solely by women. Figures show that, if women in Scotland started businesses at the same rate as men, we could see economic growth at 5.3 per cent. That would be a huge increase, which confirms how important the work is. Additional support and investment was announced last week with the publication of the women in enterprise framework, which is very much about reducing the gap in enterprise.
We are delivering more modern apprenticeship opportunities than ever before, and women now make up 43 per cent of new starts, but we recognise that more has to be done to ensure that the modern apprenticeship programme is properly balanced and accurately reflects Scottish society. We want to see more men in childcare and more women in science, technology, mathematics and engineering related frameworks. This week is make young people your business week, with the theme of information and communications technology and digital technologies, and a focus of the campaign is to attract more women, including young women, into the STEM sectors. That is important because tackling occupational segregation is key to tackling the gap in pay.
Will the minister take the opportunity that this debate affords to look at the fact that there are 80,000 fewer women in our colleges than in 2007? Will she commit to reviewing that and seeing whether there can be more part-time places or whether she can do anything else to get more women back into college?
The cabinet secretary announced only recently more funding for more part-time courses, childcare and places for women. However, it is important to remember that women are not in the minority in our college sector. The majority of college students are women. In the context of college reforms, it is important to have the right balance. If we are serious about tackling occupational segregation, we need to get more women into full-time courses for recognised qualifications that are more economically relevant and which will lead to employment. [Interruption.]
That, of course, has to be balanced—it is helpful if members listen to all of the answer—with the needs of women who are at different points in their lives and who need access to different sorts of learning and different sorts of courses to enable them on their journey back into education and back into work. It is important to remember that the majority of college places are indeed part time.
In the time that I have left, I want to focus on public life, because we also know that there is much more that we can do to encourage women to feel equipped to participate in wider public life. In our equality outcome, we aim for public boards to be more diverse and to broadly reflect the general population by 2017, and we are taking opportunities within current powers to start to make a difference.
There would be further opportunities if equalities legislation was our responsibility. My colleague Shona Robison, the Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport, who has responsibility for equalities, wrote to Jo Swinson MP in October last year to propose that Holyrood be given legislative powers over women’s representation. Jo Swinson responded, inviting the Scottish Government to put forward its detailed proposals for how it would use those powers to improve women’s representation, and we will be pleased to do so.
We will now consult on women’s representation and the use of quotas to ensure that, if a decision is made to take mandatory steps to achieve gender balance, the legislation will be as effective as possible.
I do not have time to talk about childcare—
However, I will say that, for the first time ever, we have a plan to achieve universal childcare in this country. As an employment minister, I know how important it is to have control not only of education but of our economic levers if we are to make Scotland a more equal place.
I move amendment S4M-09293.1, to insert at end:
“and notes the valuable contribution of role models such as the late Professor Ailsa McKay, feminist economist and inspirational champion of women’s equality.”
I thank the Labour Party for using its time to talk about the role of women in Scotland. I associate the Conservatives with everything that has been said about Ailsa McKay and I commend Johann Lamont for a passionate and well-considered speech.
When we debated women and work in December, I cited statistics about gender equality among members of the Parliament. Given that this is my last week as a Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body member, I will pay tribute to the drive for greater gender balance among security officers in the Parliament. That role has traditionally been highly male dominated. It is easy for us as parliamentarians to preach to others, but we have led by example in achieving a much-improved gender balance among security officers.
On the day when the Parliament opened in May 1999, 16 per cent of security officers were women. Now, 15 years later, 41 per cent are female. In 1999, there was one female manager in security. Now, three out of eight are female and our head of security is female. I thank all the security staff—male and female—for their thoroughly professional approach to security, which we can easily take for granted.
I turn to statistics about gender equality in education. As Jenny Marra said, in the academic year 2005-06, there were 257,000 female enrolments in colleges but, seven years later, that figure stood at 155,000. That means that there has been a reduction of 39.5 per cent in the number of full-time, part-time and short-duration courses that women undertake. It is telling that that downward trend began in 2007-08, and the figures have fallen without fail every year since. The reductions have affected women of all ages, but those between 25 and 59 have been hit particularly hard. In comparison with 2007, 47 per cent—or 50,000—fewer female adult learners are in further education, whereas the male figure has fallen by half as much—from 65,000 to 41,000.
Given those figures, I find it hard to take the Scottish Government seriously when it talks of harnessing independence to boost female employment rates in this country to Swedish levels, mainly because it focuses almost exclusively on one side of the coin—childcare—when, in reality, another equally important problem must be addressed, which is the number of women who are without formal qualifications.
As has been said, two of the 12 new regional college board chairs are female and 31 per cent of university board members are women. However, we have first-class female college principals in the further education sector—Paul Little, who is the City of Glasgow College’s principal, is one of the few male principals.
As I have only five minutes, I will move on quickly. The Royal Society of Edinburgh has found that 27 per cent of female STEM graduates secure a permanent position in their area of study, in comparison with 52 per cent of males. That means that, of the 56,000 female STEM graduates in Scotland, just over 15,000 continue to work in the sector after university. Skills Development Scotland has revealed that, in the first three quarters of last year, 79—or 5 per cent—of the 1,665 new engineering starts were female. Depressingly, the figures for engineering can be exchanged with those for construction, transport and other sectors.
I firmly believe that education is one of the front lines. I am pleased to report that we have made progress in recent years, but there is no doubt that we still have a lot to do. If we are to achieve our ultimate aim of ensuring equality of opportunity for all Scotland’s children, we must start with greater access to education.
Many members who are here supported the motion that I lodged last week, which pays tribute to the late Professor Ailsa McKay. As professor of economics at Glasgow Caledonian University, Ailsa was a founding member of the Scottish women’s budget group and the European gender budgeting network. She was also a member of the International Association for Feminist Economics.
Ailsa’s commitment to promoting a new Government policy approach to gender equality has played a major part in where we are now—quite literally: this horseshoe-shaped chamber was proposed by women because it was thought that it would promote a less adversarial style than the face-to-face, confrontational style of the House of Commons. A crèche, family-friendly working hours and encouragement for more women to stand for election as MSPs are positive actions towards better gender balance.
As a feminist and an economist, one of Ailsa’s drivers was the concept that women are not some kind of add-on that we can pour into the mix and stir to get a result. Women approach and use resources in fundamentally different ways from men. As Ailsa put it, the Scottish women’s budget group
“continually pointed out how the different needs and resources available to men and women will affect the way they access everything from jobs, to public services such as housing, transport, education and training. By taking account of these differences, policy-makers can ensure better policy targeting, more effective delivery and greater equality.”
We have talked a lot about oil revenues today. In Norway, the economic contribution of women is far greater than the contribution from oil resources, which is an amazing statistic.
Childcare in the UK is expensive. According to a recent report by the Family and Childcare Trust, the cost works out at about £7,500 a year. That covers a two-year-old at nursery for 25 hours a week and a five-year-old in an after-school club. The figure is slightly more than the cost of the average mortgage, which, according to official statistics, is £7,207 a year. The report’s authors said:
“the current childcare system is not working for anyone.”
However, other countries seem able to provide excellent facilities. Sweden is often upheld as a great example, but how can it afford to provide such facilities? The answer is not difficult. The Swedes can afford to do that because the return on the investment is far more women in work, which generates more wealth and taxes and thus pays for better public services such as childcare.
This Scottish Government’s way forward, in tackling gender inequality and maximising the contribution of this nation’s incredibly talented, ambitious and able women, is to put women at the centre. That is where the Government’s commitment to transformational childcare came from—real women in real families, with a real desire to give their children the best possible chance.
We will kid no one if we do not pay further tribute to Ailsa McKay, who pushed that agenda, providing information to the Scottish Government and arguing that we can grow the country’s economy only by giving the women of this country the best possible opportunities.
If women join the workforce at a similar rate to Sweden’s rate and pay tax into the system, tax revenues can be boosted by £700 million a year in an independent Scotland. There will be another 35,000 jobs in childcare as a result. By the end of the first session of an independent Scottish Parliament, every three and four-year-old and vulnerable two-year-old will be entitled to 1,140 hours of childcare a year—the equivalent of 30 hours a week in term time.
Let us create the best possible tribute to Professor Ailsa McKay. Let us have the best possible childcare in our independent Scotland. We cannot do that now, because Westminster would deny us access to the revenues collected from the economic boost that such an approach would give us. In an independent Scotland, we can, we should and we must do it.
I, too, pay tribute to Ailsa McKay. I knew her when she was an adviser to the Equal Opportunities Committee, of which I was a member, and we were working on gender budgeting. She made an enormous contribution to work in that area and to feminist economics in general. We should all pay tribute to her work for Scotland in general, and for the Scottish Parliament in particular.
Today, as Johann Lamont emphasised, we are celebrating the progress that has been made while recognising that there is still a great deal more to do. Johann Lamont also emphasised the importance of women coming together to lead action in the area, and that is what has happened over the past three or four decades, with significant results. For example, I am aware of the importance of groups such as the Zero Tolerance Charitable Trust, Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid in the progress that has been made on highlighting the problem of violence against women and the need to take action against it. In my constituency, many years ago, I saw the importance of women coming together in the greater Pilton childcare action group. That group of women taught me most of what I know about the importance of childcare.
Now we have new campaigns from a younger generation of feminists, including the everyday sexism project and the no more page 3 campaign, which are beginning to have a significant influence. The role of men is to listen to those women, to learn from them and to support the necessary action. As a Labour MSP and as an MP before that, I am lucky to have known several Labour women who have been part of the various movements, including Harriet Harman when I was at Westminster and Johann Lamont in my early years in the Scottish Parliament. We now have a younger generation of feminists such as Kez Dugdale and Jenny Marra who are leading the charge. I have learned from those people and hope that I can go on supporting them on the issues that they have highlighted.
I also have a personal impetus that reinforces my determination to take action on gender inequality. I now have two young granddaughters and I do not want them to grow up in a world in which gender inequality persists, in which they are subjected to the misogyny of lad culture, in which they may have to face the horrors of violence against women and in which they are likely to face the economic disadvantage that women in general—although not all women—face relative to men.
Just this week, a European Union report on violence against women came out that gives the horrific figure of 44 per cent of women in the UK saying that they have experienced physical and/or sexual violence after the age of 15. We repeatedly see reports that cite similar figures. The EU report also states that, across Europe, one in 20 women has been raped. Prevention is, therefore, important in the violence agenda and I welcome the we can stop it campaign from the police that starts this week.
The wider issues of socialisation and stereotyping in the bringing up of young children are absolutely central to the issue. A small but significant example of that is given in the motion that Kezia Dugdale lodged this week, which is entitled “Ban ‘Bossy’”. That is one example of the socialisation of girls discouraging them from taking leadership roles.
Women’s economic disadvantage is also central to the issue. Those who have championed the cause of action on violence against women have placed such violence in the context of the wider inequalities in society, which include—crucially—women’s economic disadvantage. In general, women earn 15 per cent less than men, and the majority—although not all—of those who are in low-paid work are women. Many women do not work at all because of the lack of childcare—I am glad that we are all beginning to talk more about childcare in the Parliament—and women’s personal pensions are only 62 per cent of men’s. That economic disadvantage, as well as issues to do with the socialisation of men in particular, must be urgently addressed.
Unfortunately, as everyone has gone over time, it is unlikely that I will be able to call everyone who wants to speak in the debate unless the next three members take a bit less time.
I, too, pay tribute to Professor Ailsa McKay for her work in the promotion of women’s issues, and I regret her all-too-early passing. Her wise counsel will be sorely missed by many.
Johann Lamont mentioned, as does the motion, the conference that was organised by the Scottish Women’s Convention to mark international women’s day. That was just one of many events that have taken place around the country. On Friday, I had the good fortune to attend the conference that was organised by the University of Aberdeen, which was entitled “Inspiring Women: It’s a (Wo)man’s World”. The event was hosted by Vice Principal Professor Neva Haites, who is responsible for equality and diversity at the university. The university has the goal of being a beacon for gender equality, and judging by the line-up of speakers on Friday it is taking that seriously. The day was just the beginning of a series of projects to promote women and their successes.
One of the principal speakers at the conference was Anne Glover. Formerly of this parish as the chief scientific adviser to the Scottish Government, she is now the chief scientific adviser to the President of the European Commission. She put in context the change that has already occurred. In her view, there has not been enough change, and the rate of change is far too slow. She said that, among other things, we had to identify what women-friendly workplaces should look like, so that organisations know what they should be striving for.
It is interesting that Professor Glover works for the European Commission. On 28 February, the Commission marked European equal pay day, which highlights the 59 days that women in Europe work for free—to put that another way, the average difference in hourly earnings between men and women stands at around 16 per cent.
I am glad that the Commission is looking at options for action at a European level to improve pay transparency in order to tackle the pay gap and put into practice the principle of equal pay. As Christina McKelvie mentioned, the oil and gas industry should take note, because traditionally it has been notorious for its pay gap between men and women. To be fair to the industry, it is beginning to take note that it must do better at attracting young women as well as men into the sector. Two speakers at the conference, who are high-flyers in BP, said that that engagement must begin pre-14 years old, and that parents have a role to play in encouraging their daughters to aim higher.
Also at the conference was the honourable Gail Prudenti, an alumnus of the University of Aberdeen. She is the chief administrative judge for the New York state unified court system and is responsible for a budget of more than $2 billion, 3,600 judges and 15,000 other staff. I have a copy of her pamphlet from the conference, in which she stresses the importance of mentoring in helping women to progress in their careers.
A lot of very good work is going on in the field of promoting equality. That work is paying dividends, with more women in employment, and the work that the Scottish Government, businesses and the trade unions are carrying out together is helping that along. I am sure that, with better childcare, the situation will be even better. We should also acknowledge the funding from the Scottish Government that helps women in other countries into work and to run their own businesses.
I thought that the debate might be consensual. The Labour Party should stop playing politics with procurement. At the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee today, the Deputy First Minister offered to enter into dialogue with the Opposition on the living wage, despite the European Commission’s advice. The Labour Party refused that offer, as its vote showed.
I associate myself with the sentiments that have been expressed since news reached us about the sad death of Professor Ailsa McKay. She was an adviser to the Equal Opportunities Committee—just one of the roles to which she contributed her thoughts on and analysis of the position of women in Scotland. Her contributions will be missed across the chamber.
We recently marked international women’s day, which was an opportunity to celebrate the social, political and economic achievements of women, and to reflect on how far we have come and how much further we have to go.
However, for all the progress that we have made as a society, gender inequality persists. We still have a pay gap in this country; women in full-time work earn 13 per cent less than men, and the figure for women part-time work is that they earn 32 per cent less than men. We also see that the labour market is heavily gendered, with a disproportionate number of women in low-paid sectors.
It is more than 100 years since the first international women’s day. Back in 1911, when it was first recognised, a million people rallied across Europe to demand votes for women, for the right for women to stand for public office and for equal pay. The best way to honour the legacy of the generations who came before us and who campaigned so that women could sit in Parliaments like this as equals is to challenge the inequalities that we face, and to craft a fairer future for generations to come by creating more and better jobs, having fair pay, ensuring women’s representation where decisions are made in government, business and across society, and securing equality of opportunity for women, for all and forever.
The decisions that we take in this Parliament affect women’s lives, and the votes of undecided women will be critical in deciding the result of this year’s referendum. Women tell us that they want facts and that they want reasoned arguments before they make up their minds. We owe it to women—indeed, we owe it to everyone—to conduct the debate in a way that meets their best expectations. That is why I will turn to childcare.
“Under the Westminster system, families in Scotland have waited too long for the provision of adequate and fair childcare”.
Under this Government, families in Scotland have waited too long for the provision of adequate and fair childcare. It is only now meeting the pledges that were made in 2007. Pressure from Scottish Labour showed that the Government could start to deliver the white paper commitments with the powers that this Parliament already has. For the best part of seven years, however, it simply decided not to do that.
The white paper also set out why the Government believes that only with the powers of independence could it capture tax income from a rise in female participation in the workforce due to its childcare policy, which it placed at £700 million. However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has expressed doubt about that figure. Now Tom Gordon from The Herald has published a letter from the Scottish Government confirming that there has been no economic modelling to support the claims in the white paper. Scotland’s women and Scotland’s families deserve better.
On international women’s day, we all reflect on how empowerment of women has helped to shape the Scotland that we live in today. What happens in this year’s referendum will shape the Scotland of the future. We owe women a good, reasoned and factual debate. That is why we have to interrogate the unproven assertions in the white paper, but it is also why, between now and September, I will be making the clear, positive and rational case for devolution: the best of both worlds, pooling resources while sharing power, home rule without separation, and a stronger Scotland in a lasting partnership with our friends and neighbours throughout the United Kingdom.
We do not agree on everything throughout the chamber, but let us at least agree to give women the principled and good-quality debate that they deserve.
Anyone who visits my parliamentary office in this building will see in prominent display what I believe is one of the most powerful messages about women. It is a poster from Close the Gap, which shows a scowling young girl sitting beside a smiling young boy. The caption reads:
“Prepare your daughter for working life. Give her less pocket money than your son.”
Unfortunately, that is very true for women in Scotland. It is shocking that more than 40 years since the Equal Pay Act 1970, women are still paid less on average than their male counterparts. A recent report from the UK’s Office for National Statistics in December 2013 makes for alarming reading. According to the ONS, in 2012 the gender pay gap in the UK widened from 9.5 per cent to 10 per cent for full-time workers. For part-time employees, it is even wider and grew from 19.6 per cent to 19.7 per cent. Those figures are truly shocking. The pay gap is just one example, among many others including women’s representation in politics and the STEM professions, and the number of women in senior positions in the workplace, that demonstrate that we are a long way from achieving gender equality. The problem affects women at every level in every sector. Our professions, scientists, technologists—women in every sphere of employment in Scotland—have the potential to be subject to that blatant discrimination.
I am sorry, but I do not have time.
Encouraged by Professor Anne Glover, who is now chief scientific adviser to the European Commission, the Royal Society of Edinburgh established a working group that was chaired by the eminent astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell. The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s 2012 paper, “Tapping all our Talents”, is a cohesive and comprehensive strategy that is aimed at increasing both the proportion of women in the workplace who are qualified in STEM subjects, and the number who rise to senior positions in universities, research institutes, government, business and industry.
The report states:
“Women who do remain in the STEM workforce are still segregated by occupation (horizontal segregation) and grade (vertical segregation). These forms of segregation significantly impact on both a woman’s ability to achieve her potential and her earning capacity. The number of women who advance to the most senior positions in STEM remains proportionately much smaller than that of their male counterparts.”
It is an excellent report that acknowledges that there must be significant cultural change in order to tackle the problem. In its many recommendations, it calls on the Scottish Government, business and our education establishments to address the issues around gender inequality and the pay gap. That is important; if we do not get that right, the consequences are clear for all to see.
Last week, South Lanarkshire Council agreed a settlement on its equal pay claims for 3,000 individuals, many of whom are women. The failure to implement the Equal Pay Act 1970 has led to women being denied the proper wage for the work that they have been undertaking. Twenty years in the making, this problem will now result in an average pay-out of something in the region of £25,000. That is a life-changing amount of money for many people, but it should have been life changing for those women over the years of their working lives, and I am sorry that those who have died in the interim will not benefit from the settlement. Failure to act has stored up a problem for the Labour council, which will now have to find £75 million—money that should already have been paid to those dedicated employees in the intervening years at much less potential detriment to front-line services in the South Lanarkshire area.
I, too, thank Johann Lamont for bringing this debate to the chamber and for making a thoughtful and reflective speech that set the mood and the tone of the debate. Her remarks were sometimes sombre, but they were also full of hope, and were redolent of opportunity. She rightly referred to the challenges of which we are all aware. She made a profound observation when she said that the challenges that women face today in Scotland
“are deeper than any constitutional arrangement”.
I agree, and to pretend things are otherwise is trite.
Angela Constance also made a positive comment when she referred to international women’s day as “an opportunity”. She was right; we only have to consider how that initiative has proceeded over the years to realise just how rich the opportunities are. However, she also rightly pointed out that it is
“a stark reminder of the challenges” that we face. Encouragingly, she referred to there being more women in work in Scotland than has been the case for a long time, and I think that we all take pleasure from that. I can mischievously point out that that has all been possible within the partnership of the UK. She also rightly referred to the employment summit for women, which was a positive affair, and to the issue of women in enterprise, which is a subject that is dear to my heart. I think that this Parliament has quite a good track record of highlighting the need to get more women into business, and we have had some positive events in this Parliament to celebrate that.
Malcolm Chisholm made a thoughtful contribution. Of course, Malcolm enjoys a fine reputation among women. I do not have to say that; I think that he knows it for himself and is a kind of honorary sister in his own right. I totally agree with the concerns that he continues to express about violence against women. He also mentioned page 3. I sympathise with his views on that matter and note that Jackie Baillie has raised the issue for debate in Parliament. His reference to the telling statistic about 44 per cent of women in the UK having suffered violence is a chilling reminder of just how stark the challenges are.
My colleague Mary Scanlon made some interesting points; for example, she referred to the improvement in the gender balance of the security officers in Parliament, which I did not know about. To go from 16 per cent to 41 per cent is a matter for congratulation. She also pointed out the problems for female adult learners in college education, which is a serious issue. In that arena, women are proportionally doing worse than men. We cannot disregard that, and the Scottish Government needs to take note of it. She also told us that 5 per cent of new engineering starts are female.
If I may beat a little drum of my own, in education we still need to reassure girls that they can choose careers that are not bound by stereotypical shapes, traditional choices or customs. We need to do more about that.
Childcare is important; Margaret McCulloch and Christina McKelvie referred to it. However, I should say that, without the opportunity of education, childcare is of limited benefit. We cannot provide one and not the other.
Finally, I will articulate a view of my own. I will probably get strung up by David Cameron and Ruth Davidson for saying this, so I emphasise that it is an entirely personal view. On the commercial front, where we have boards of directors in our corporate governance entities, I would have a mandatory boardroom place for a workforce representative, I would make it a term appointment, and I would alternate it between male and female. That would be a major step forward.
My party supports the motion and the amendment.
I add my comments to those that have been made about Ailsa McKay. She is a great loss to Scotland. Our sympathies are with her family.
In the main, the speeches have been constructive and thoughtful. Johann Lamont set the tone for the debate in a refreshing speech that looked back on the important gains that have been made. We might not talk often enough about the gains that women have fought hard for, and from which we all benefit in Parliament and out in society. Johann Lamont also laid out some of the continuing challenges that are faced by women, and which we need to debate and find ways of addressing.
We are definitely on a journey and we still have a long way to go. A number of members have made the point about the pressure from women’s organisations and groups, and from individuals from outside Parliament being important in continually pushing us to do more and better. The violence against women strategy is part of that work and is being influenced by the organisations that campaign day in and day out to reduce violence against women. The fact that we have a gendered approach to violence against women is testament to the work of a lot of women’s organisations that was started under the previous Administration, and which this Administration has been able to carry on. I look forward to the new violence against women strategy that will come out in a few weeks.
I turn to some of the other comments that have been made in the debate. Christina McKelvie outlined very well the benefits of childcare and the economic case for expanding the number of women in the workplace. As ever, Malcolm Chisholm made a very good speech and talked about the recent EU report on gender violence, which shows us that the statistics are still horrific. That is why we need to redouble our efforts to tackle violence in our society, starting with trying to change some of the underlying attitudes of the next generation that can lead to violence against women and girls.
Maureen Watt rightly paid tribute to Anne Glover’s role at the European Commission and mentioned that the Commission is considering action at Europe level to narrow the pay gap. It is worth noting that, in Scotland, we are in a slightly better position on the pay gap than the rest of the United Kingdom. However, we should not be complacent: we too have a long way to go.
There is, in fact, a majority of women in full-time student places: recent figures show that 52 per cent of full-time students aged 16 to 24 are female. An element of additional money is going into colleges, which I believe will be very helpful in increasing places for women and men. I hope that that is something that Kezia Dugdale will welcome.
I will say a little bit about the progress that we are making on the consultation that has been launched to improve the position of women in public life. We have fairly wide support for it from across the chamber; I had thought that Annabel Goldie was going to talk about that. I am sure that I heard her previously making supportive comments in respect of positions for women in public life. Unfortunately, the appropriate powers are reserved to Westminster—although in her reply to me, Jo Swinson opened the door to the Scottish Government’s coming forward with concrete proposals about ensuring that progress is made not just on public boards but, potentially, on corporate boards and in the third sector. Next month, we will launch a consultation to consider whether there is support for a 40 per cent minimum for women on public boards. We will take the temperature of boards elsewhere.
I hope that that will have support from members across the Parliament, and I will certainly be garnering that support. It will be important, when we go back to the UK Government, that we have that support from across all the parties. I look forward to receiving it.
I support the Government’s amendment as well as our motion. I also associate myself with the comments that have been made regarding the late Ailsa McKay and her contribution to Parliament and Scottish public life.
The Labour Party has a long and very proud tradition of advancing the role of women in our communities. It was our minister, Barbara Castle, who recognised that child benefit was better placed in the purses of women than in the pockets of men. It was she who pioneered the Equal Pay Act 1970, which was one of the most important pieces of progressive legislation for the economy and for women in the 20th century. It is now 44 years since the Equal Pay Act but, despite our progress, we still live in a country where even the most fundamental rights of women, such as the right to a fair wage, are not yet realised.
As we made our way to work this morning, thousands of other women across our country also made their way to work in jobs that pay them 17 per cent less than their male colleagues are paid—a point that was well made by Clare Adamson.
Through countless studies and evidence to Parliament, we know that as well as earning less, women are more likely to work part-time in temporary jobs, or on zero-hours contracts that are completely unsuited to their needs and responsibilities, including their caring responsibilities.
Such is the scale of female underemployment, which has been continually highlighted in Government statistics over the past few years, that the gap between women’s part-time hourly rate and men’s equivalent full-time hourly rate is more than a third. Because of that, the gender gap in pensions has now grown to more than £1,000 a year—the widest it has been in decades.
We cannot rely on the 1970 act alone to solve that. We must innovate and find new creative ways to make improvements across all our Parliaments and in our communities. In the coming months, we will be considering how to reform public sector procurement. I believe that we need to take action through our laws to eradicate the barriers that so clearly keep women from meaningful and gainful employment. We are clear that a contract of employment should give a woman the opportunity to plan and to save, and that it should provide peace of mind, rather than leaving her unsure whether she can feed the family from one week to the next.
Zero-hours contracts are particularly pernicious, and they affect women especially. The issue of zero-hours contracts takes me back. My great-great-grandfather was a jute mill worker in Dundee and every day ran from mill to mill in the morning looking for a shift. He was on a zero-hours contract, alongside the thousands and thousands of female mill workers in Dundee. Those contracts were not good enough for my great-great-grandfather or for the female mill workers in Dundee, and they are not good enough for women throughout Scotland today.
That is why Scottish Labour, through the amendments that my colleague Mary Fee has lodged, will insist that the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill bans Government services from being contracted to companies that use exploitative zero-hours contracts. It is the Government’s responsibility to set an example and to place itself proudly in the vanguard of fairer employment rules.
However, we must be more ambitious still. We know that when women are adequately represented at the top of a company, the pay and conditions of all women in that company improve. Scottish Labour voted in the European Parliament for gender quotas on the boards of big business in order to tackle the in-built discrimination of an appointments system that is a false meritocracy that keeps women from achieving their potential, regardless of their capabilities.
I have lodged several amendments in Parliament to three separate pieces of legislation to try to implement gender quotas on the boards of our public bodies. Unfortunately those amendments were defeated, but I am pleased to hear the Government say today that it will finally consider a consultation on the subject. I look forward to its subsequent legislative proposal.
The minister knows that I do not accept that she has tested the power of this Parliament and of the devolution settlement, which she knows is fluid, to see whether powers are vested here. I see that the minister is shaking her head. The devolution settlement is fluid and has been shown to be so previously. If the minister—and the Government, as I have said in Parliament before—were serious about putting gender quotas on public boards, she would bring a bill before Parliament that would go before the Lord Advocate and we would see whether the power is vested in this institution.
I remind the Government of the powers that it has at present. It has the power of policy at its fingertips, so it is a crying shame that when, last Tuesday, the Scottish Government announced 11 new regional chairs of college boards throughout Scotland, only two of those new chairs were women. The Government has the power of policy through the public appointments process, so it should put its money where its mouth is and start to advocate equality through the policy process. We have had a good debate today. Last week’s announcement on college boards shows that the debate is still necessary and timely.
We will continue to fight in the chamber for women’s equality.