Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am delighted to have gained a bit of extra time for my closing remarks, because, as you can imagine, I have plenty to say on the topic.
Given the focus this year on young women and girls, I am absolutely delighted to be closing today’s international women’s day debate. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to do this job and to have the opportunity, almost every day, to say to young women, “If I can do it, you can do it. You can dream big, aim high and go for it.”
I thank all the members who have contributed to the debate. It is clear that across the chamber we are united in wanting to achieve gender parity. We want to see action taken, both here and abroad, to ensure that women are treated equally and fairly in the workplace, in the home and in society—it is clear that that is what we all want for future generations.
As we have heard, 2018 is Scotland’s year of young people. I highlight the uniqueness of this themed year: it is the first to recognise people as one of Scotland’s greatest assets, and Scotland is the first country in the world that we know of to dedicate a full year to celebrating young people. It is a unique opportunity to show our young people how valued they are and how proud Scotland is of all that they do and all that they can achieve in the future.
The year takes an innovative approach, and it is only right to welcome its entire ethos, in that it has been developed by young people, for young people. Activities throughout the year will focus on celebrating the achievements of our young people and recognising the contribution that they make to communities all across Scotland. In return, we need to ensure that we are creating opportunities for their voices to be heard and, most important, listened to. Children and young people should be at the heart of decisions that affect them. That is their right, as set out in article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. It is also central to the ethos of the year of young people.
To ensure continuity throughout the year, a group of young people—communic18—has been recruited. The group is supported by Young Scot and its role is to champion the values of co-design and ensure that young people’s voices are heard and acted on across the activities for the year.
We want to ensure that all our young people feel and believe that they are valued, wanted and vital to our country’s future. This Government is committed to giving young people a stronger voice in policy making and co-designing improvements to services that affect their lives. In doing so, and by changing perceptions of young people and changing the country’s relationship with our young people, it is our aspiration to create a lasting legacy, beyond 2018.
I will respond to some of the points that have been raised during the debate. To Annie Wells, I say that there is definitely no room for complacency about the gender pay gap, but the gap is narrower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK and we are taking decisive action where we have the powers to do so.
We also have a slightly higher female employment rate in Scotland than the rest of the UK, and I hardly need to mention the transformative potential of our expansion of early learning and childcare, which will undoubtedly enable many more mothers to work. Because of our commitment to the living wage, the largely female workforce will get a well-deserved pay rise, too.
To Rhoda Grant, I say that my colleague Angela Constance intervened earlier to highlight the issues to do with universal credit. I have spoken passionately about the issue, because, like Rhoda Grant, I represent an area where universal credit was trialled and has operated in practice for many years. I would welcome all parties’ support in tackling that devastating policy at source—at Westminster.
On domestic abuse, the Scottish Government has committed to providing additional funding to train 14,000 officers and staff. That dedicated funding will enable Police Scotland to train officers to identify the new offence. Scottish Women’s Aid will also receive funding to develop training to help communities to understand the legislation.
Let me respond to Alex Cole-Hamilton in a slightly teasing fashion. I am not sure that I understood him correctly, but I do not want him to mansplain. Did I hear him offer to stand down at the next election to ensure that a woman can have his seat? Perhaps his words were intended for some of his colleagues, but not for himself.
Let me respond to Michelle Ballantyne by quoting Christina McKelvie’s words—right back at you, as they say on social media. She said that men of quality should not fear equality. I would love to see the day when there is no such thing as a boy’s job or a girl’s job. I am keen to attract young—and older—men into early years careers. We do not want to undervalue the work that women traditionally do, and we do not want to corral anyone into any job. Of course people should be able to freely choose their path in life.
However, Michelle Ballantyne will have heard the murmurings around the chamber, including from members who tried to intervened during her speech. I think that she underacknowledged the barriers that we face, not least the lack of role models and the cultural conditioning, which led me, a person who was an absolute science geek as a youngster and who has highers in physics, maths, biology and chemistry, never once to consider a career in engineering but to train as a health professional, albeit that I absolutely loved my career.