Like my colleagues, I pay tribute to Gillian Martin for hosting today’s debate, for the consistency with which she comes to the chamber to highlight the role of women in business and for her unstinting commitment to gender equality throughout her life—a life that brought her to this place. Equally, I congratulate everyone involved in global entrepreneurship week and all those involved in Women’s Enterprise Scotland.
Like so many issues affecting women, this fundamentally boils down to two things—the injustice of women’s inability to fulfil their potential, and the missed economic opportunity. Those arguments have been well rehearsed by other speakers already today. I have been angry enough on behalf of my gender this week, so I want to spend the rest of my time in the debate celebrating some women in business. It has been a privilege and pleasure for me to travel the country as leader of the Scottish Labour Party and meet women in business, and I want to talk specifically about some of those women I met along the way. Using Gillian Martin’s words, I want to make “a right good fuss” of a few of those women. Gillian Martin also encouraged us to think about the words “inclusion” and “internationalisation”, and those words apply to the four women I am going to mention.
Earlier this week, I had the great privilege of hosting the social enterprise awards in the Parliament, and I was struck by how many women are involved in social enterprises that not only operate as businesses but contribute back to their communities. My favourite one of those is Comas, which runs the Serenity Cafe just round the corner. Ruth Campbell is a huge social innovator, having left her civil service career behind to set up a social enterprise that provides work and employment opportunities for Edinburgh’s drug and alcohol recovering community. It also runs a project in Dumbiedykes, across the road, trying to increase the incomes of some very vulnerable and disadvantaged people there.
Something that could not be more different from that is the Firth of Forth Lobster Hatchery in North Berwick, which is run by Jane McMinn. She is single-handedly providing sustainable lobsters from the North Sea, and we can all enjoy the fruits of her labour in North Berwick. She was a skipper before she went into business, so she is quite an inspirational woman.
From those examples of inclusion and people who provide employment in their local communities, it is worth moving to the internationalisation agenda. The two women I want to mention here come from the Western Isles. When thinking about the challenges that people in the Western Isles face, I am often reminded of Peter May’s novels, where he tells us of how the adversity of the land in the Western Isles forces people to be more creative in their outlooks. Two of the women I met there are inspirational figures, not least Rhona Macdonald, who runs Charlie Barley’s black pudding business. She is an expert and her product, which I am sure we have all appreciated in our time, is exported to some of the finest restaurants in London and, indeed, around the world. Separately from that, it is worth recognising the work of Margaret Macleod, who is the brand development director for Harris Tweed Hebrides. I spent the day with her in the Western Isles and she even let me have a go on the mill, although I do not think that the fruits of that labour will ever leave the Western Isles.
Those are four examples of inspirational women succeeding in business who I am sure we can all learn from. I could go on and mention people such as Jacqui Gale, the chief executive officer of Arran Aromatics, who has taken an Arran product around the world to Japan, where it is sold and provided in some of the most exclusive hotels. However, I will stop there and simply say that I am delighted to participate in this debate and to spend a week celebrating the work of women in business. I know that everyone in the chamber will take part in that celebration but then redouble their efforts to get back to the business of supporting women in business.