Holyrood’s new presiding officer has spoken out about her determination that the Scottish Parliament should be a “real exemplar” in the fight against climate change.
Alison Johnstone is the first MSP from the Scottish Greens to take on the high-profile position within the parliament.
And while she has given up her party allegiance for the post – which is similar to that of speaker in the House of Commons – she stressed that with the COP26 global climate change summit taking place in Scotland this year, both she and parliament have important contributions to make.
Johnstone was the only candidate to emerge for the position of presiding officer after last month’s Holyrood elections – and is only the second woman ever to take on the job since devolution.
She put herself forward for the position because it was “really important” to have a woman in the high-profile post.
Johnstone said: “A strong part of my politics is that I firmly believe that we need to see more women actively engaging.
“There is a well-used phrase, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. I have been encouraged throughout my career by many notable women, and I have spent a lot of time within politics encouraging women to get involved.
“I co-founded Women 50:50 with Kezia Dugdale (former Scottish Labour leader).
“I came to the conclusion it was really important that we certainly should have another woman in the role of presiding officer and I decided to put myself forward, after much consideration.”
She insisted the position of presiding officer is a “really important role”, adding: “You can have an impact not only on how parliament conducts its business, but the way the parliament engages with the twin crises of the nature emergency and the climate emergency.
“Parliament has just played such a central role in the national response to the pandemic, but it’s got a really important role to play when it comes to addressing the ongoing, increasingly challenging climate and nature emergencies.
“The presiding officer has a really important part to play there.
“The fact that Scotland will be hosting COP26 in a few months, that will be a key event in the nation’s history, and it is one that we must make the most of.
“I would like to see parliament become a real exemplar in everything we do, in terms of where we are procuring everything from food to equipment, in the way we look after the grounds, what we do with the grounds.”
With MSPs having passed legislation for Scotland to reach net zero in terms of emissions by 2045, the new presiding officer said: “I think parliament should be at the forefront of that to show what can be done.”
In the run-up to the COP26 summit in Glasgow this November, Holyrood is also due to agree its own target for reaching net zero, with Johnstone saying “it would be good to see every effort made” with regard to this.
Her comments came as she told how her involvement in politics was “almost accidental” when plans for a new development on school playing fields spurred her to take action.
She recalled: “I got involved in a campaign in my 30s to save a school playing field, that was my first engagement with elected politics.
“I campaigned with neighbours to try to retain this playing field. My involvement in politics was almost accidental.”
After that she was taken on as office manager for Robin Harper, who was the UK’s first elected Green parliamentarian after he won his Holyrood seat in 1999.
She got that job despite not being a member of the party at the time, though she later signed up and when proportional representation was introduced for Scottish councils, she was one of the first Green members of Edinburgh City Council.
When Harper retired from Holyrood in 2011, she then put herself forward to be Green candidate in the Lothians, and was returned as an MSP for the area.
“It has been incredibly interesting – since 1999 I’ve not had a dull moment,” she said.
“Regardless of your views, I think the parliament has become part and parcel of people’s everyday lives and it has been great to have been a part of that.”