There is much to celebrate about the make up of our new Parliament.  Yes, we can lament the loss of experience but some of the gushing eulogies written about some of the departed stalwarts, particularly from the Labour ranks, need a reality check.  Such a sweeping clearout, whether the parties wanted it or not, brings in fresh blood which is, by itself, a very good thing.  Whether or not they will deserve the epithet *talent* remains to be seen…

But in certain key areas, the Parliament is making very slow progress indeed.

Dennis Robertson has found himself wheeled out at the forefront of the SNP group and the subject of much media interest because he is blind.  And even better, has a telegenic dog to guide him.  Dennis is canny so he knows what he’s doing and he deserves his election, not because of his visual impairment, but because he has a lot to offer.  He is clever and a great campaigner on issues that are often ignored or worse, patronised at Holyrood.  He has a careful decision to make – does he become a champion of disabled people simply because he is disabled or does he eschew such issues, as Anne Begg did in her early career, to avoid being defined simply as the blind MSP?  It’s a tough one.  And the bottom line is that it simply should not be remarkable that someone with a visual impairment can be elected:  it should be the norm.

But with Siobhan McMahon becoming the first woman born with a disability, joining Margo MacDonald whose disability has been caused by her long term condition, our Parliament is now more visibly, differently abled.  And hurrah for that.  They will bring a very different perspective and life experience to their work and that is what a more representative legislature is all about.

Readers will be pleased to note that progress was also made on the ethnic status and gender balance of Holyrood.  Women’s representation increased by a whole one, yes one MSP, taking us to nearly 35%. It’s nowhere near the nadir of 1999 but it is progress, if at a snail’s pace.

The Labour group by electoral accident rather than design has achieved almost complete balance with 17 out of 35 MSPs women.  The Conservatives have added to their tally too, with 40% of their group now women.  Margo, of course, achieves 100% while the Scottish Greens are perfectly poised with a woman and man MSP.  But it is the Lib Dems and the SNP who let the side down.

Reduced to a group of five, only one Lib Dem MSP is a woman, 20%.  And despite having a record number of MSPs – 69!  some of us still can’t quite believe it! – a shockingly low number are women.  Nineteen, but Tricia Marwick now doesn’t count as belonging to any group, so the figure is down to 18.  Would I have traded an extra woman MSP for the SNP Group instead of having a female Presiding Officer?  Of course not.  But even at 19, this equates to only 27%, slightly over one in four, SNP MSPs being women.  Disappointing doesn’t cover it.

Already the cry is that something must be done.  Shame no one made that cry before the election when candidates were being selected.  Severin Carrell of the Guardian deserves special mention for championing this issue and he is right:  we need “somebody” to sort this out.  And not just on gender balance but also on ethnic representation.  We have made some progress, going from 0 after the tragic, early death of Bashir Ahmad in the last Parliamentary session, to 2. But at 1.5%, the number of MSPs from the BEM community does not equate with the ethnic diversity of our population which is approaching 4%.

The issue of ethnic diversity is a controversial one – for everyone who comments that there are folk of Italian descent (Linda Fabiani and Marco Biagi being two) and many, many more of Irish descent, they are missing the point somewhat.  This is about melting pots, multi-culturalism and assimilation and ethnic and cultural diversity – far too complex for this post but perhaps worthy of a future one.  There is no one of Chinese or Polish descent, despite both being statistically significant commnities in our society.  Scots Asians yes, but no blacks either from African or Caribbean communities.  Our Parliament should be representative of all our people.  That should be a given.

So what to do, other than moan about it on blog spaces or in newspapers?  I agree with Sev.  Something has to be done and the parties seem incapable of doing it without support and guidance.  We don’t need a new body, there are a plethora of them, particularly on women’s issues:  Engender, the Fawcett Society, the Scottish Women’s Convention.  And now the Hansard Society has got involved.

It needs an all-encompassing organisation with a remit to promote democracy more generally, to address all the issues of under-representation of key groups and communities.  It needs to engage positively with the parties and the work has to start now, before candidate selections begin again.  There is a window open now in which to examine and explore possible solutions but the starting point has to be an acknowledgement by all the parties that there is a problem to be addressed.  And an agreement to work on a cross-party basis to achieve real progress.