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Talking with Scotland's Speaker

The Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, came to Queen’s over the weekend. She took part in a series of events that included a conversation on Friday about the importance of women’s involvement in politics. As part of the Principal's Forum, she delivered the Principal's Distinguished Visitor Lecture on Saturday on Scotland's constitutional journey. Ms. Marwick spoke with Communications Officer Andrew Stokes about her time in politics and what lies ahead for Scotland. 

Andrew Stokes: What are your responsibilities as Presiding Officer?

The Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, visited Queen's as the Principal's Distinguished Visitor. 

Tricia Marwick: The role of the PO is much like the Speaker of the House in the Canadian Parliament. It’s a multi-faceted job that has three major components: the first is the work I do in the chamber, addressing the body and keeping order, dealing with the political parties and handling problems when they arise. The second is acting as chair of the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body, which is responsible for the building’s facilities, oversees budgets and makes sure we have researchers, reporting staff and clerking staff. The third is that I chair the Scottish Parliament Bureau, a political bureau where all the business managers of the Parliament come together and set the business for the week.

AS: Have you instituted any changes during your time in the position?

TM: I was elected to Parliament in 1999, the year it started, and became PO in 2011. Since I had the chance to sit on many of the committees and bodies which the PO oversees, I had a clear idea that many processes and procedures needed to be reformed. I’m a bit like a poacher-turned-gamekeeper because my experiences helped me know just what needed changing. Parliament now meets three times a week instead of two, I introduced a topical question period, and we’ve given the backbenchers greater priority in question period. There are many changes to committee processes now too.

AS: How do we improve the number of women in politics?

TM: That’s something we all struggle with, the Scottish Parliament included. Our first parliament was 37.2 per cent women but has now fallen to around 34 per cent. We’ve made progress though, as the PO, first minister, the leader of the Conservatives and the deputy leader of the Labour Party are female. At the moment we have a huge opportunity to use our platform to inspire more young women to get into politics. I’m planning a conference for March that will have all those prominent women I mentioned as well as women who started their own businesses that aims to inspire young women. It’s not just about inspiring them to join politics, but to inspire them, period. 

The full interview with Presiding Officer Marwick will run in the Jan. 27 edition of the Gazette.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.