Scottish Parliament presiding officer apologises after woman in suffragette scarf told to leave Holyrood committee discussing gender reforms

Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone has apologised on behalf of the Scottish Parliament after a woman was asked to remove a scarf in suffragette colours while in a public gallery.

In an episode branded “scarfgate” on social media, a member of the public was told to remove the scarf while watching the Equalities Committee on Tuesday morning during a committee room discussion on controversial gender reforms.

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The committee was discussing amendments to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, legislation which has sparked heated debate.

The scarf had purple, white and green stripes – colours associated with the suffragette movement.

Under the Twitter handle Obsolesence, the woman said: “I have just been asked to remove my new scarf. I refused because its lovely & inoffensive.

“Apparently (the Scottish Parliament) believes these colours are unacceptable while several MSPs wear rainbow lanyards.”

She told The Herald: "I asked how they could be political when several of the MSPs and their advisors are wearing rainbow lanyards and he squirmed and said 'yeah I understand'."

Woman wearing suffragette colours have been told to leave a committee room

She said she had been sitting in the room for the first ten minutes of the commitee's scrutiny of the more than 150 amendments to the legislation, when the clerk asked her to remove a scarf. She left when she refused to take the scarf off – with a security guard stating that the scarf had been “missed” in the past.

The issue was raised during the lengthy committee meeting, which started at 9am and continued into the early afternoon.

Conservative MSP Russell Findlay questioned whether the scarf represented a “political slogan” as had been suggested, something which is not permitted under Holyrood’s rules.

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The committee was moved into private session immediately after Mr Findlay’s question.

The Presiding Officer later addressed MSPs at the beginning of the afternoon proceedings in Holyrood’s main debating chamber.

Ms Johnstone said MSPs had brought the matter to her attention, saying: “At that meeting, a visitor to the public gallery was asked to remove a purple, green and white scarf.

“Having declined to do so, the visitor was informed that she would not be able to return to the gallery.

“This request was made by officials in connection with the Parliament’s code of conduct for visitors which sets out that the display of banners, flags or political slogans, including on clothing and accessories, is forbidden.”

She continued: “Let me make one thing crystal clear, suffrage colours are not, and never have been, banned at the Scottish Parliament.

“We actively support and promote universal suffrage in a number of ways at Holyrood and will continue to do so.”

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The Presiding Officer added: “The action taken was an error and I would like to apologise on behalf of the Parliament.

“The wearing of a scarf in those colours does not, in itself, breach the visitor code of conduct.”

Joanna Cherry criticised the decision on social media tweeting: "It seems no rule has been broken so this woman should be readmitted or the @scotparl could face a claim of discrimination on the grounds of belief, particularly where MSPs are permitted to wear rainbow colours. This is not my Scotland."

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