Comment: For the women
In what was an otherwise dreary election campaign, it was a real pleasure to see my daughter engage with the process.
At the tender age of seven, she is already something of a ballot box veteran. She got her first ever ‘I’ve been to vote’ sticker in the 2014 independence referendum, when she was six months old.
Her collection is extensive now. She’s trudged along to the community centre with me to vote in a council election, EU referendum, Scottish Parliament election, EU election and in every one of the snap UK general elections we were subjected to.
She’s asked more questions about politics this year, encouraged, no doubt, by the fact that she watches Newsround at school every day. She has even managed to perfect her ‘that’s really interesting’ face whenever I talk to her about whatever political story I’m writing about in my column that week.
Ahead of polling day, she asked if I would let her mark the cross in the box when we went to vote. Without Googling, I told her that would probably fall foul of electoral law.
We compromised and I said that she could put the ballot paper in the big box for me.
She was delighted when I informed her that she would be able to vote all by herself in the Scottish Parliament election that follows the next one.
For some reason, I find that prospect oddly unnerving.
That’s not a lot of time at all.
Two elections until she is on the cusp of adulthood. Ten short years until early womanhood, with all the wonders and dangers and limitations that can bring.
Perhaps if our new intake of MSPs considered this parliamentary term in a similar way, it would help bring focus to the huge task they have ahead of them.
The Scottish Parliament has enjoyed many successes, but tackling the scourge of men’s violence against women and women’s inequality of safety is not one of them.
That is not to say that MSPs throughout the years haven’t done their bit and more. They have.
But the statistics – so often lamented during the annual International Women’s Day debate – remain stubbornly unchanged.
Crimes involving sexual violence have been on an upward trend since the seventies and the reporting and conviction rates for these offences are still shamefully low.
While those battles are ongoing, the threat grows and evolves. Women now also have to contend with a whole new swathe of technology-based offences. The sharing of intimate photographs is a source of unimaginable distress for young women who have grown up online. And too many young men, plump on a diet of violent hardcore pornography, mistreat their intimate partners.
One estimate from a study based in England suggested that violence against women and girls could cost the Scottish public purse as much as £4bn.
The murder of Sarah Everard came late in the last parliamentary term. Her death sparked protests, campaigns and calls for action. Like the #MeToo campaign before it, we were told that we were witnessing the start of something monumental.
Since Sarah’s death, a number of other women have been murdered by men across the UK. Women have been raped by men they know and men they don’t. Domestic abuse charities will have taken hundreds of calls from women who are in crisis.
Women and girls have been shouted at in the street and groped on public transport. They have been sexually harassed in schools and on university campuses.
These crimes against women have become so normalised that we risk losing our ability to be shocked by them.
We can only hope that our new intake retain their capacity to be horrified by what happens to women and girls every day, all across Scotland.
Nobody should pretend that the job of an MSP is an easy one. It will take more than one parliamentary term to undo decades of systemic inequality and the cultural and societal scars that underpin it.
When a government promises to build a bridge or a new hospital, there is a clear process from planning to completion. These huge infrastructure projects are politically and logistically difficult but the end point (with all the plaudits that brings) is always just over the horizon.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for tackling violence against women and girls.
But there are reasons to be hopeful. There is a broad understanding across all of Scotland’s main parties of the causes and consequences of gender inequality. We have also seen a willingness to work cross-party to tackle the issue.
This new intake of MSPs face a uniquely challenging parliamentary term. They are tasked with leading Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic, as well as having to grapple with the constitutional fallout from the election that put them there.
They’ve got their work cut out. But if they want to make a real difference over the next five years then ending the poison of men’s violence against women and girls should be right at the top of their list of priorities.