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Committee told rule change could see MSPs sacked for ‘gross misconduct’

MSPs are looking at measures to tackle sexual harassment at the Scottish Parliament.

There is a case for reviewing the Scottish Parliament’s rules to ensure that MSPs can be sacked for gross misconduct such as sexual harassment, a Holyrood committee has heard.

Greens Co-convener Patrick Harvie said a “neutral, non-party political” system could be set up to consider and rule on complaints against elected members.

The option of dismissal from their seat could be made available in the most serious cases, he said.

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Mark McDonald resigned from the SNP but will stay at Holyrood as an independent

His comments came as pressure intensified on former SNP minister Mark McDonald to quit his Aberdeen Donside seat.

Mr McDonald, who has admitted inappropriate behaviour towards women, resigned from the SNP but intends to remain as an independent MSP.

Mr Harvie was among a panel of representatives from all five of Holyrood’s parties appearing before the Standards Committee to discuss sexual harassment.

The meeting followed the publication of the results of a survey on the issue which found that a fifth of staff working at the Scottish Parliament have experienced sexual harassment or sexist behaviour.

For those who had experienced sexual harassment, 45% said it came from an MSP.

While all the parties have systems in place for the reporting of incidents, Mr Harvie advocated a “neutral system for Parliament”.

“For the most serious issues where you would want a serious disciplinary option to be available, it seems to me that needs to be tapping into an independent and official process for disciplining MSPs, not necessarily a party, because that may not have the option of taking that disciplinary measure,” he said.

At present, MSPs are disqualified from Parliament if they are given a custodial sentence of 12 months or more, following the same rules as Westminster.

However, there is no system of recall in place at Holyrood.

At Westminster, MPs can be subject to a recall petition process if they are given a custodial sentence of less than 12 months, issued with a suspension from the House of Commons or if they breach expenses rules.

Powers over disqualification and recall are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said he was “a long-term advocate of a system of recall”, suggesting MSPs could look at implementing a similar system to the one in place at Westminster.

Mr Harvie said: “People need to have confidence that unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with properly and consistently, and I would have concerns that a recall mechanism would not achieve that.

“I think there is a far stronger case for reviewing the disqualification criteria which currently exist and ensuring that where, like in any other workplace, where certain standards of behaviour have been failed, there is a disciplinary process which can result in somebody being dismissed on grounds of gross misconduct or something similar.”

Mr Rennie has written to other party leaders seeking a discussion over the merits of introducing a recall system at Holyrood.

“Parliament has a responsibility to collectively look again at the range of sanctions and mechanisms available in future, especially now that the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate in this area,” he said.

“We need to build a system that is not a politically-motivated route to denounce an MSP you disagree with politically, but one that recognises that the public are ultimately our boss.”

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