North-east Labour MSP Jenny Marra says part of her “felt guilty” for choosing not to stand in May’s Holyrood elections to focus on her family.
The politician and mum-of-two, who was first elected in 2011, claims her decision was “brought to a head” after giving birth to her second son a week into the first coronavirus lockdown.
Although she has “not for one moment” regretted her decision not to seek re-election, she admits part of her felt “guilty because working mums all over the place juggle so much” and she worried about “what kind of signal” it would send to other women in politics.
However, the unique circumstances of a life in politics, with the weekend and evening commitments, along with the travel associated with attending parliament in Edinburgh, led her to her decision.
The Scottish Parliament has prided itself on its family-friendly credentials, owing to the fact votes are usually taken by 5pm; unlike at Westminster where voting can go on late into the night.
Most mothers of young children will know those times aren’t all that easy to juggle with other commitments.”
But Ms Marra says the institution must go further if women are to find more balance, including looking again at remote and proxy-voting and argues it should seriously consider the creation of a full-time nursery on the parliament site, as the part-time creche is not fit for purpose.
On her decision, the 43-year-old says: “I just felt that while my children are young, those kind of unsociable hours were just too much.
“I know female colleagues, lots in Westminster, who have young children and make it work.
“I don’t think it’s impossible. It depends on a lot of different factors and every woman has a different confluence of those factors.
“I do think it’s difficult. Politics requires a lot of flexibility in terms of the times of day and it calls upon the evenings and weekends.
“Most mothers of young children will know those times aren’t all that easy to juggle with other commitments.
“Everyone has got to reach their own decision.”
The position of the Scottish Labour Party was another factor at the forefront of Ms Marra’s decision not to stand again this year.
“We are third place in the Scottish Parliament at the moment. I’ve been a member for 26 years and I want to see the Labour Party do well for our voters that want a strong Labour Party in Scotland and that will require MSPs in the parliament who can run at 150%,” she says.
“I don’t feel, given my young family at the moment, that I can give that 150%. I feel I can do a good job but I really feel it will take fresh energy to run at this and rebuilding a political party takes time, energy and it takes that commitment.”
Ms Marra supports the introduction of measures such as proxy voting and remote voting to reduce the need for MSPs to travel to Edinburgh as often as they are currently required to do.
SNP MSP Gail Ross, who was elected to represent Caithness, Sutherland and Ross in 2016, said her decision to stand down in 2021 had been reached due to the “demands” of travelling to Edinburgh from her home in Wick for “sometimes five days a week, every week” and her desire to watch her young son grow up.
Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell has also said she will not seek re-election so she could spend more time with her young family and former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, is another female MSP who has been frank in her struggle to juggle political life with the demands of a family.
The move would ensure female MSPs can still vote while they are taking time off to care for their children.
Ms Marra says: “I asked the Presiding Officer if they would consider a proxy vote, which would mean one of my colleagues could cast a vote on my behalf while I was on maternity leave.
“I asked in the Scottish Parliament if I could do that and I was told no.
“That means I lost my vote but it’s not my vote, it’s the vote of the people who voted for me to go to parliament.
“They lost that representation because I’m a woman and I’m taking my right to a maternity leave.”
The Scottish Labour MSP also pointed to the House of Commons where MPs have access to a “very good, full-time nursery on site”.
I was called out of a budget debate once and missed my speaking slot because the baby was crying in the creche.”
There is a free public creche at Holyrood but it is primarily for those visiting the building and children can only stay there for a maximum of four hours.
The Scottish Parliament has confirmed the creche service is due to be “reviewed” this year.
Ms Marra says: “I can’t even do my committee meeting and FMQs on a Thursday in four hours. It takes longer than that so I would need to leave FMQs early to meet the four hour deadline and go and take my children out of the creche.
“It doesn’t operate like a nursery. I was called out of a budget debate once and missed my speaking slot because the baby was crying in the creche.
“I don’t think there has been any move in parliament to actually make that a possibility like they have done in the House of Commons.”
The MSP, who has not ruled out a return to elected politics in the future, says she fears the parliament could see a reduction in the number of female MSPs elected this year.
She adds: “I hope we don’t but I think we could because a number of us have already expressed frustration with the demands to be in Edinburgh a lot of the time.
“The fact that other women in politics can see us all saying ‘I’m stepping down’, what kind of signal is that giving them?
“But everyone has got to reach their own balance.”
A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “The parliament introduced remote voting during 2020 in response to the pandemic. It would be up to parliament as a whole whether to retain this in the longer term.
“Holyrood’s free public creche is primarily for people visiting the building, to help them engage with MSPs and parliament.”