PICTURE the scene: Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh behind his bench, bottle of milk in one hand and cradling a newborn in the other.

Certainly Mr Macintosh has – or should have – plenty of practice, having assisted in the creation of five new humans during his time in political office and one immediately before. The politician’s eldest son was born just five days before Mr Macintosh was elected as an MSP to the first Scottish Parliament on May 6, 1999 and he is now a father-of-six.

It’s not an easy tableau to envisage, despite Holyrood touting itself as one of the most family-friendly in the world.

In New Zealand such a scene plays out routinely. It’s not unusual to see Trevor Mallard, speaker of the country’s parliament, taking a turn with an MP’s baby while presiding over the house, with the grandad cradling infants while their parents take part in debates.

“I have been in parliament a long time and I have seen younger members struggle with the dilemma; especially of being mothers here,” Mr Mallard said of his determination that the Beehive, the Kiwi parliament, would make changes to accommodate families.

The changes range from a children’s vegetable patch on the front lawn to organising chambers so that parents have a bit of extra space for changing and bottle feeding. Greens MP Holly Walker left the parliament in 2014 citing anxiety, exhaustion and post-natal depression and Mr Mallard turned up on her doorstep with tubs of pasta bake.

Too good to be true, the list MP also allows canines into the Beehive. “I think whenever you have babies and dogs around,” he said, “It takes some of the tension out.”

The impetus for the New Zealand push toward supporting young families came as the parliament saw the birth of 12 babies to MPs in two years.

Quite rightly, Mr Mallard said he wanted to make sure a “broader range of individuals to run for parliament or stay in parliament and have kids at the same time; I want to make parliament more representative [of New Zealand].”
The Scottish Parliament, too, makes claims to be family friendly. And yet the past week has seen another female MSP announce she is stepping down in order to have a better work/life balance.

Joining Gail Ross, SNP MSP, Aileen Campbell announced on Sunday she would not stand for Holyrood in 2021.

Both women say they want to spend more time with their children. It was the same reason given by MSP Ruth Davidson when she stepped down as leader of the Scottish Conservatives.  

If it took 12 babies for New Zealand to be more radical with its family friendly supports, will the voices of three women– and the loss of three respected parliamentarians – be enough to push Scotland to do similar?

Their resignations should certainly scratch at the consciences of the politician fathers who also face parental guilt and conflict and yet haven’t spoken out. 
But a new poll released yesterday certainly gives a glimpse into how differently men and women view the issue of whether working parents can “have it all” whether the rather nebulous concept of having it all means a successful career and parenthood.

In a survey of 17 countries Britain was ranked the least optimistic as to whether they could juggle parenting and working, with women even more pessimistic than the men. Only 40 per cent of women thought they could have it all, while 50 per cent of men thought the same, likely linked to the fact that women still shoulder the vast majority of caring and household duties.

Parliament really should be modelling how best to balance work and home life, a necessary task if we are to give children the parental support they need to thrive and bring a full range of talent to workplaces. Yet it clearly isn’t and the desire to make radical change really should be there. Ms Davidson rightly pointed out on BBC Radio Scotland yesterday that talent is being lost at a time when we don’t “have talent to burn”. 

However, the Scottish Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee said it had identified practical concerns over remote voting and did not think it feasible to pursue it. It has, though, made a commitment to further consider the potential for proxy voting.

Change needs to happen at pace before we lose any more skilled female politicians. The Parliament exists to represent the people and it must be representative to do so – the people include parents, after all.