Holyrood rocked by sexual harassment scandal
Top human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar reveals women subjected to catalogue of appalling abuse at Parliament
THE Scottish Parliament has been hit with allegations that women have been subjected to a catalogue of sexual harassment at Holyrood, the Sunday Herald can reveal. The claims come from Scotland’s leading human rights lawyer, Aamer Anwar, who says women at all levels in the Scottish Parliament have been sexually harassed and the perpetrators should be running scared.
Anwar says he has spoken to a number of women over the last two years and, since the unfolding of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, about their degrading treatment by men at Holyrood.
He said: “It’s a catalogue of sexual harassment, stalking, social media abuse, sexual innuendos, verbal sexual abuse, touching, sexual assaults, requests for sex, cover up, isolation and bullying.”
His claims come amid allegations which surfaced last week that Westminster may have a deep-rooted problem over the sexual harassment of women.
Several MPs were accused of intimidating or propositioning young women inappropriately, allegations described by Downing Street as “deeply concerning”.
Anwar, one of the country’s most prominent lawyers, said women who work or have worked at Holyrood have come forward to him about the same problem. He said: “I have spoken to several individuals who have been subject to sexual harassment ... This is not just a problem for one party. It is a problem for all parties.”
He said of the women: “What really upsets them and demoralises them is there have been big noises about Weinstein, big noises about Westminster, but, as far as they are concerned, the issue exists in the Scottish Parliament.”
Anwar added: “Nothing at all has been done about it. Everybody runs for cover. Nobody wants to rock the boat. They feel that their concerns are being ignored.”
He continued: “How can it not be a problem in the Scottish Parliament? There’s a problem at Westminster, there’s a problem in the film industry, there’s a problem in other institutions. Yet for some reason the Scottish Parliament is immune from it? Certainly not.”
Anwar declined to elaborate on the type of cases he was aware of, but he is believed to be referring to the sexual harassment of both female politicians and staff.
“People at all levels of the Scottish Parliament have experienced harassment and abuse, and it is unacceptable. Some people should be running scared.”
He said: “It’s all very well for people to say, ‘why didn’t they speak up?’ People I have spoken to have spoken up. They have complained. Other individuals who should know better haven’t done anything about it.”
Asked if he believed sexual harassment is a “ticking time bomb” for the parliament, Anwar, who is also Glasgow University Rector, said: “I think it is.”
A Scottish Parliament spokesperson responded: “Sexual harassment is unacceptable and we take any allegation of sexual harassment in the workplace very seriously.
“The Parliament has robust procedures in place to investigate and deal with any reports of sexual harassment in the workplace. If any individuals were to witness or experience such behaviour we would encourage them to report it.”
Scottish Labour justice spokesperson Claire Baker said: “The allegations against Harvey Weinstein have exposed the disgusting actions of powerful men and it is clear that it is a problem not just in Hollywood but in all aspects of society, including here in Scotland.
“Victims of sexual harassment are understandably cautious about coming out publicly with their experiences. However, I urge anybody who has been a victim of sexual harassment to report it to the police in order that we find and prosecute anybody who has committed this vile crime.”
Tory MSP Annie Wells said: “Any allegation of sexual assault or harassment must be taken very seriously and I would encourage staff members at Holyrood, past or present, who have experienced this to come forward and contact the police.
“Like any industry or workplace, politics is not immune to issues of sexual assault and harassment and it is important that we use momentum now to root it out from all areas of life.
“If staff members at Holyrood have reported improper behaviour in the past only to be ignored then there should be an examination of how this is handled.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said MPs who engage in the abuse and sexual harassment of women must be held accountable for their actions.
He said a “warped and degrading culture” – where the abuse of women is accepted and normalised – is thriving in the corridors of power.
In an address to the Unite union’s Scottish policy conference in Aviemore Corbyn said: “Sexual harassment is not of course confined to Hollywood. Misogyny and sexism are widespread problems across society.
An SNP spokesperson said: “The SNP condemns all forms of sexual harassment or abuse in any workplace. It is not acceptable and we have a zero tolerance approach to this. If anyone has any complaints to make they should contact the police, parliamentary authorities or their party. For the SNP, anyone that wants to speak to Party HQ can be assured that their reports will be taken seriously and dealt with confidentially and sensitively.”
Aamer Anwar believes the harassment claims should have some people at the parliament ‘running scared’ Photograph: Martin Shields