Nicola Sturgeon said she wanted to raise the remark made by Tess White during First Minister’s Questions with the Presiding Officer, in the hope the MSP would “reflect” and withdraw it.
Around 90 minutes later, a chastened Ms White gave her apology to the First Minister and the parliamentary chamber.
The row broke out as Ms Sturgeon responded to a Scottish Labour question on the expression of “anti Irish and anti Catholic” sentiment in the wake of a recent march in Glasgow, telling MSPs: “I take the view that anybody who chooses to live in Scotland, whether they in the families have been here for generations or whether they have come to Scotland very recently, this is their home."
Ms White, a new North East list MSP, is understood to have remarked “except if you’re English”.
The comment caused consternation among MSPs.
A shocked Ms Sturgeon said: “I would not normally do this, but I am so deeply offended by the comment that I do want to, after the session, take it up with you [Presiding Officer] so that, with your permission, the member may be asked to reflect on that and to withdraw that comment.”
It is understood to be the first time Ms Sturgeon has ever complained about a heckle in the chamber.
She added: “It is a comment that would have been unacceptable in any context, but in the context of what we are discussing here right now, I am deeply aggrieved that any member thought that was an appropriate thing to say.
"All of us have a duty to stand against racism, prejudice and bigotry and I dedicate myself, not just as First Minister, but as a citizen of this country, to always do so. And I look forward to working with anybody who stands with me in that.”
Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone told the chamber: “I would be grateful if members, at all times in this chamber, remember that we are privileged to represent the people of Scotland and that at all times in this chamber, we treat one another with great dignity and respect.”
The First Minister’s official spokesman later confirmed Ms Sturgeon had raised the matter in person with Ms Johnstone.
At 2:30pm, Ms White rose to her feet at the start of the afternoon session and apologised.
“My comments during First Minister’s Questions were over the line and I would like to withdraw them and apologise to both the chamber and the First Minister,” she said.
Ms Johnstone responded: “You will be in no doubt at all Ms White that great offence was caused and I would like to be absolutely certain that this is an unambiguous apology and you withdraw the remarks, and apologise wholeheartedly. Can you stand and confirm that is the case?”
Ms White replied: “I confirm Presiding Officer.”
Ms Johnstone continued: “The fact that on this occasion no further action will be taken does not in any way detract from the seriousness in which I view this incident. Members must be in no doubt that I expect that their conduct at all times to be worthy of that of a member of the Scottish Parliament.”