An MSP has spoken of his concerns when he became the youngest ever member of the Scottish parliament as Holyrood celebrates 20 years of devolution.
“There was something at the back of my mind constantly about the things I would need to do to prove myself to be taken seriously,” reflects Ross Greer, three years after being elected.
“But the one thing that really bowled me over when I was elected here was just how normal a place of work it was.”
The Scottish Green MSP was just short of five years old when the Scottish Parliament was established in Edinburgh.
Twenty years on, he sits on Holyrood’s European and Education committees, and has quickly become a key figure within his party.
— Scottish Greens (@scotgp) May 6, 2016
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Press Association, he said that the experience of entering parliament in 2016 presented a steep learning curve, but said his fears of not being taken seriously were soon put to rest.
“The remarkable thing that I’ve found about my experience over the last couple of years is I was elected at first thinking, ‘I’m going to have to prove myself every single day, people aren’t going to take me seriously, they’re going to think I’m here as a bit of a novelty’,” said Mr Greer.
“Overwhelmingly, that wasn’t the case. There were absolutely, and there still are occasionally, incidences where people don’t take me seriously because of my age and I have to work to either prove them wrong or in some cases defeat them – I’ve done that, outmanoeuvred opponents in the chamber and won a vote they didn’t expect.
“But overwhelmingly, I was treated just as seriously as any other MSP, because on the whole I think people in here appreciate that if you’re here, it’s because thousands of people chose for you to be here.”
With the chamber at Holyrood designed to encourage less confrontational debate and greater compromise between different parties, Mr Greer agreed with the suggestion that the tone of debate in the Scotland is quite different to that at Westminster.
“There’s definitely a difference across the board here,” he said.
“The Scottish Parliament was set up deliberately to foster a culture that was about compromise and discussion and good natured debate, rather than oppositional debate.
“Most of what the Parliament does is actually done by consensus, but most folk wouldn’t know that, they wouldn’t expect that.
“Most of our committee reports are done by consensus, most legislation that we pass everyone will vote for in the end.
“There will be moments that are highly contested as people are putting in various amendments and fighting off various amendments, but in the end, consensus is actually the majority of the work that we do and I think that’s reflected across the board in the culture of the Parliament.
“It’s not always the case, and of course there’s always going to be personalities that disagree. What you tend to find about the folk in here who don’t get on, is more often than not they’re actually in the same party and it’s just personal disagreements.
“The political disagreements rarely make their way out of the chamber into the rest of everyone’s lives.”
Mr Greer said that although lessons could be learned from Holyrood by those at Westminster, there is still room for improvement in Edinburgh too.
Referring to MPs, he said: “The traditions and procedures that they’re bound by make the process more difficult, make things more tense, make it more confrontational, and that’s feedback we get from our colleagues down there quite a lot.
“There’s things the Scottish Parliament could learn from Westminster, it’s not all one-way.
“But I think our ability to foster a culture that is more often than not about consensus, even if it doesn’t look like that most of the time, is something that would actually do Westminster really well to even take a little bit of and to try and get that cultural change there.
“But they could only do that if they change the centuries-old procedures that are holding them back.”
Mr Greer also highlighted the importance of Holyrood reflecting Scottish society by ensuring that there is diversity amongst its members.
“Parliaments are supposed to look like the society that they represent,” he said.
“We don’t yet do that here. Only a third of MSPs are women, only a couple of us are young, there are only two people from a black and ethnic minority background.
“We have a long way to go but I think we have a culture in this Parliament that, while it can be improved, is inclusive enough that we can absolutely achieve those advances and we can make the Parliament look more like the society it represents.”