Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

Changing Times? The Shifting Gender Balance of Scottish Parliament Committee Witnesses

University of Lincoln School of Social and Political Sciences Professor Hugh Bochel discusses his research into the shifting gender balance of Scottish Parliament.

In the Scottish Parliament, as in other legislatures, committees are an important part of the parliamentary structure. The combination of executive and legislative oversight means that they play a major role in scrutinising the policies and legislation of the Scottish Government, while they are also able to hold a variety of public bodies, and indeed others, accountable for their actions, not least through gathering written and oral evidence, the publication of reports, and their access to the media. Their interaction with external actors also provides a potentially important linkage between parliament and civil society. In addition, there are clear links with the principles on which the Parliament was founded, such as power-sharing, accountability, openness, participation and equal opportunities, support for which was reiterated by the Commission on Parliamentary Reform in 2017. Committees also potentially provide one means of participation, and thus ‘presence’, in non-electoral elements of the democratic process. Understanding how they gather evidence and which voices they hear from is therefore of considerable importance for the committees themselves, Parliament and Scottish society. However, there have been concerns that the committees have been hearing from the ‘usual suspects’, and in particular those that might be categorised as professionals representing a limited range of interests and consisting largely of white, middle-class men.

From the perspective of committees, there are a number of potential benefits from accessing a diversity of voices, including in oral evidence, such as:

  • hearing claims made on behalf of some groups which may not always be well represented in the legislature and providing a variety of perspectives to improve scrutiny of policy and legislation;
  • benefiting from additional insights providing external challenges to policy and legislation;
  • increasing the extent to which parliaments are seen to be engaging with and representative of society; and
  • demonstrating a commitment to broader democracy by hearing from a wide range of voices.

In order to consider the degree of diversity of witnesses giving oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s committees, this research drew on analysis of data provided by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) on witnesses from the parliamentary years 1999-2000, 2015-16 and the first ten months of 2016-17, and 38 interviews with MSPs and parliamentary staff, as well as relevant literatures. The research focused primarily on gender diversity, but sought to note issues associated with diversity more broadly.

Over the period since its creation the Parliament’s committees appear to have seen an increase in the proportion of witnesses who are women, although there are very significant differences between committees in terms of both the number and gender of witnesses (Figures 1 and 2). Some, such as Health and Sport, Public Audit and Education and Culture committees in 2015/16, and the Equalities and Human Rights, Health and Sport and Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny committees in the first ten months of 2016/17, have had women as around half or more of their witnesses; at the same time, a number of committees have had women as one-fifth or fewer of witnesses.

Berthier and Bouchel image 1

Figure 1: Percentages of male and female witnesses, 1999-2000, 2015-16 and 2016-17 (first ten months)

There are likely to be both ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ factors contributing to these figures. For example, it is possible to identify differences among the organisations that provide witnesses, with non-profit and NHS bodies tending to provide higher proportions of female witnesses, while the Scottish Government, trade unions, local authorities, private companies and Police Scotland tend to provide more men. However, as with other legislatures, it is also important to recognise that these figures will be skewed in different directions by other factors, such as the particular topic of inquiries, and the gender balance among ministers and senior officials.

There is also considerable reliance upon ‘representative bodies’ for the supply of witnesses, which, at least in some respects, would appear to align the Parliament more with the practices of some of the Nordic states than with Westminster, although both approaches can be seen as having their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of the voices heard.

Berthier and Bouchel image 2

Figure 2: Number and gender of witnesses by committee, 2015-16

Interview respondents tended to emphasise that the key issue with regard to witnesses was about enabling good scrutiny and holding the government to account, and for this, ‘it is very important to have a high-quality evidence base’, although there was perhaps less agreement about what might constitute that. Both the quality of information and hearing from a broader range of views were seen as important in contributing to scrutiny. These perspectives are not necessarily incompatible, but rather reflect different views of the paths that committees can take in seeking to undertake informed, high quality scrutiny. In addition, some interviewees emphasised that one of the purposes of having witnesses is to provide Parliament with a range of views; others noted that the selection of witnesses also matters as it can send a message to people outside Parliament about how Parliament works, what it is interested in and who it listens to.

Many interviewees suggested that there might be a tendency to call upon the ‘usual suspects’, and there was considerable support for greater engagement with other parts of Scottish society, but at the same time both officials and MSPs also highlighted important characteristics of witnesses that arguably makes the involvement of the ‘usual suspects’ more likely. For officials, these included a desire to have witnesses who could usefully inform the committee (expertise), a view that panels should generally be ‘politically balanced’ in relation to the topic, and the ability of witnesses to ‘perform’, with clerks and Members having confidence in them. In addition, ‘representing’ an issue or sector, or being seen as a key stakeholder, was seen as a valuable characteristic. However, some interviewees also questioned whether these characteristics were always the most valuable, and, for example, suggested that while senior representatives of an organisation would be able to give clear views on particular issues, they could sometimes make it harder for committees to get to know what happens on the front line.

Committees receive evidence in a number of different forms and through a variety of different paths. In addition to oral evidence, the most obvious source is written evidence, which interviewees clearly identified as vital in informing the work of the committees. But committees also utilise a variety of other forms of information gathering, including less formal activities, such as visits, breakfast meetings and the use of social media. Such initiatives were seen by interviewees as valuable for a variety of reasons: they can provide different views from those typically received in both written and oral evidence; they can therefore provide different drivers and directions for inquiries; and they can help focus Members’ minds and allow them to explore issues with those delivering and receiving services. At present, despite the perceived value of such informal mechanisms, some interviewees suggested that they do not always get sufficient prominence in reports, and indeed they are not always recorded as part of the formal evidence. There was also a recognition that such initiatives in terms of engagement and diversity have so far been rather ad hoc, with different committees trying different things, although more recently there has been a move towards better and more consistent testing and dissemination of the results and learning across committees. There was also a recognition among many of those interviewed that efforts to engage with a wider range of groups and to hear different voices may require different approaches and additional resources.


It is clearly important that witnesses and evidence make a meaningful contribution to the work of committees, and thus to parliamentary scrutiny of government. That is likely to require both expertise and input from a variety of perspectives, including from those who will be involved in implementing and who will be affected by policy and legislation. The voices sought and heard will therefore inevitably vary with the topic being considered, and it seems reasonable that committees should be able to decide which witnesses and forms of evidence are most appropriate for individual inquiries.

Nevertheless, given that there are both ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ dimensions that affect the characteristics of witnesses, there is scope to provide additional guidance to committees and organisations that might reinforce the requirements of different types of inquiry and encourage a broader reflection of Scottish society. Similarly, monitoring and publication of the characteristics of witnesses, including not only gender, but potentially other protected characteristics and age, would provide more information; similarly, recording witnesses’ home postcodes would provide an indicator of geographic spread and allow an element of linkage to socio-economic characteristics.

In addition, recording informal meetings and similar events in the reports of inquires would better reflect the nature of the evidence gathered by committees, and the range of voices being heard, while at the same time helping make clear to those who engage through such means that their voices are being heard.

Finally, of course, it is arguable that the very act of requiring those who select witnesses to think about their diversity (or otherwise), may itself encourage them to think differently, for example about the representation of particular groups, and that might in turn increase diversity further.

To view the blog in full, please visit

Seminar: An Introduction to Grounded Theory

Reposted from Staff News: 

On Wednesday 28th February, Dr Julie Pattinson, Research  Assistant at the School of Health and Social Care will give a seminar entitled ‘Grounded Theory’.

This is part of the Community and Health Research Unit seminar series.

Grounded Theory is a research method used by qualitative researchers in the Social Sciences. The talk will focus on the wider idea of Grounded Theory as a methodology, its origins in sociology (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and how it can be applied to numerous disciplines.

The seminar will take place from 10:00am-11:00am in DCB1107 (David Chiddick building). Booking is not required.

Lincoln Study Shows Dyslexia Does Not Reduce Pass Rates For UK GP Licensing Exam


UK GPs with dyslexia are just as likely to pass the knowledge component of the licensing exam as their counterparts, a new study has found.

The Applied Knowledge Test (AKT) is part of the qualification needed to become a Member of the Royal College of General Practitioners (MRCGP) and become licensed to practice independently. Researchers examined pass rates of doctors-in-training who had taken the AKT and found that, once other factors linked to exam success were taken into account, those who declare dyslexia prior to taking their exams do not have lower pass rates.

Candidates who declared dyslexia after initially failing the exam were more likely to be minority ethnic candidates with a primary medical qualification outside of the UK.

The research, led by researchers from the University of Lincoln, UK, in collaboration with the MRCGP examination, compared data from 14,801 candidates who were tested between 2010 and 2015, of whom 379 declared dyslexia. Factors linked to exam success such as age, sex, ethnicity, country of primary medical qualification, stage of training, number of attempts, and the time spent completing tests were taken into account.

Significantly, findings highlight that those who did not declare their dyslexia initially and therefore were not given extra exam support, such as additional time, had higher failure rates. Data showed that overseas candidates were less likely to have initially declared their dyslexia.

Dyslexia affects around 6% of the UK population and around 2% of medical students. Features of dyslexia in adults can include problems with recall, reading, time management and task prioritisation which can make high stakes, multiple choice examinations like the mandatory AKT challenging.

The research has raised questions about dyslexia diagnosis during medical training, especially in those who use English as an additional language, who may not have been tested at an earlier stage in their education.  Currently, screening for dyslexia is not routinely provided by those responsible for training GPs. Lead researcher, Dr Zahid Asghar, Senior Lecturer in statistics at the University of Lincoln said: “Our research has found that, once the candidates’ age, gender, stage of training and other demographic traits are taken into account, dyslexia is not associated with lower pass rates in the AKT. However, the fact that doctors from overseas were more likely to declare dyslexia after initially failing the test is a significant finding.”

Niroshan Siriwardena, Professor of Primary & Pre-Hospital Health Care at the University of Lincoln, co-author of the study and research and development lead for assessment for the MRCGP said: “Our findings were reassuring for candidates declaring dyslexia in that they performed as well as other candidates taking the exam once other factors had been taken into account.

“The findings have highlighted that we need to look in more detail at screening and educational support for doctors with dyslexia, in particular those from minority ethnic groups, to remove potential barriers and create an inclusive training environment. We advocate more consistent and earlier screening to identify dyslexia as soon as possible during medical training. This is an approach that has proven successful in other clinical settings.”

The paper was published online in the Postgraduate Medical Journal. The full paper can be accessed here

Social and Political Sciences Professor Steve McKay Featured in The Express


Professor Steve McKay, from the School of Social and Political Sciences has contributed to a study that has recently been featured in an article about planned pregnancy and it’s impact on relationships. The research, jointly undertaken by the Marriage Foundation and the University of Lincoln, used data from 18,374 mothers in the Millennium Cohort Study and was published to mark the start of Marriage Week. The study explains that less than a fifth (18 per cent) of married parents who planned to start a family had broken up by the time their child reached 14 years old, but almost a quarter (24 per cent) of those whose baby was not a joint decision had split by the same point. Amongst cohabiting couples, the rate of breakdown was almost half (47 per cent) while fewer than two in five (38 per cent) separated if they had made a plan to have children. But the contrast over the first three years of a relationship was especially stark, according to the Marriage Foundation analysis. Only four per cent of married couples whose first pregnancy was planned split up within three years compared to more than 20 per cent of non-married parents who never made it to their third anniversary after not discussing a potential pregnancy.

Professor Steve McKay adds that “Even after controlling for mother’s age, education, ethnicity, marital status and relationship happiness nine months after their child was born, the odds of a couple splitting up before their child becomes a teenager were 28 per cent greater if they had not planned the birth.”

You can read the full article here

If you have something you would like us to post here, please email:

UoL Graduation and Prize Giving Photographs, January 2018

Here are the photos we took at the University of Lincoln graduation ceremony and College of Social Science Prize Giving on 24th January 2018. We hope you enjoy looking back on what was a fantastic day. Please email if you would like us to send you any of the photographs.

If you have something you would like us to post here, please email:

Upcoming Editalks at the Eleanor Glanville Centre

The Eleanor Glanville Centre is hosting a series of 20 minute Editalks starting on the 22nd February. This unique series will explore the links between industry and ongoing research around equality, diversity and inclusion taking place at the University of Lincoln. The seminar series will take place during lunchtimes and will adopt a TED talk style approach.

The first talk of the series, ‘Supporting Fathers Better: An Academic and Health Visitor in Conversation’ will bring together Dr Anna Tarrant from the School of Social and Political Sciences and Health Visitor Leanne Mchugh, who works for the NHS and will look at the shift in expectations regarding men’s increased involvement in care and family life, particularly in fatherhood.

The first talk is talking place on Thursday 22nd February, 12.15pm  to 12.35pm at University of Lincoln, David Chiddick Building, room DCB1102

Book your tickets here

If you have something you would like us to post here, please email:


International Relations Model UN Assembly

Here are some photos we took of second year International Relations students at the annual Model UN Assembly, which was held at Lincolnshire County Council.

Rob Goemans and Nigel Horner give talk on the history of Lincoln’s Asylum


Rob Goemans (Senior Lecturer) and Nigel Horner (Head of School) from the School of Health and Social Care were invited by Stokes to give a talk on the history of the building at The Lawns that Stokes have now moved their coffee business into. The University’s Lincoln Lunatic Asylum Project, led by Rob, is carrying out research analysing the original documents seeking to understand how identity and madness was constructed and understood in Lincoln’s asylum. The Lincoln Lunatic Asylum (LLA) opened in 1820 and, in 1837, became the first asylum in the country to achieve total abolition of mechanical restraint.

The talk, which focussed on the establishment of the asylum, and the factors which influenced the abolition of mechanical restraint, proved highly popular, with attendees filling the old asylum’s ballroom to capacity, around 120 people.

The university will be working with Stokes to develop information boards and leaflets to inform visitors of the history of the building. Anyone wishing for further information about the project may contact Rob via

If you have something you would like us to post here, please email:

New Book by Lincoln Law School’s Professor Matthew Hall


Lincoln Law School’s Professor Matthew Hall has released a book titled ‘Victims of Crime: Construction, Governance and Policy (Palgrave Studies in Victims and Victimology), which is available in hardback and as a Kindle download

This book critically engages with the development of official policy and reform in relation to the support of victims of crime both within and beyond the criminal justice system of England and Wales. Since the election of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government in May 2010 it is argued that victimization has increasingly taken on a greater cultural resonance both in England and Wales and in other industrialised countries. Images of terrorism, public debates around the handling of sexual victimisation by the courts, and the issue of child sexual exploitation have catapulted victim issues into the public consciousness like never before  – generating a new form of what Hall terms ‘victim capital’. As such, this book utilises a combination of cultural victimological analysis, governance theory and legal scholarship to address fundamental questions concerning the drivers and impact of victim policy in England and Wales in the 21st century. An engaging and original study, this book will be of particular interest to scholars of victimology and the criminal justice system, as well as activists and policy makers.

Congratulations Matthew!

If you have something you would like us to post here, please email:

TEDx Talk ‘How to Sleep Better’ by Lincoln School of Health & Social Care Professor, Graham Law