Scarfgate: Suffragette scarf controversy branded 'shocking' and 'frankly astounding' by Lothian MSP
Women attending the MSPs debate amendments to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill were asked to remove their scarves or leave the room. Scottish Parliament security staff told one woman that her purple, white and green scarf was "political".
When she refused to take it off she was asked to leave and not allowed to come back in, it has been reported. Convener Joe Fitzpatrick is said to have suspended the meeting so the issue could be discussed ‘in private’. The incident sparked fury from politicians, with some claiming it was discrimination to bar suffragette colours while rainbow lanyards were permitted.
It came amid controversy over reforms to transgender laws in Scotland as the bill passes through Holyrood to make it easier for trans people to live in their identified gender.
The age at which people can transition will be lowered to 16 under the proposals – but younger teens will need to live in their acquired gender for a minimum of six months rather than three before applying for a gender recognition certificate, under the proposed law. The period will remain three months for those aged 18 and over.
The amendment was backed by the Scottish government, which also confirmed more changes would be brought forward to make it a criminal offence to apply fraudulently to change gender.
Critics have raised concerns about the impact of the legislation on women and girls. Following Tuesday’s debate, an amendment to prevent sex offenders acquiring a certificate was voted down by SNP/Green MSPs with the Scottish Government backing a scheme for offenders to alert police if they made an application.
Lothian MSP Sue Webber said the bill will “limit the rights of women and girls” and branded the removal of the woman wearing the suffragette scarf “frankly astounding”. She said: “It’s shocking that the Scottish Parliament thinks it’s acceptable to police a woman’s clothing in this manner with the order to remove a scarf in the colours of the suffragettes.
“To do so during the discussion of a Bill that would limit the rights of women and girls makes it even worse. You can buy items bearing suffragette colours in the Scottish Parliament gift shop but for some baffling reason, you can’t wear these colours while listening to a committee. Nicola Sturgeon herself has worn a suffragette scarf in the Scottish Parliament, so this decision makes no sense.
“It was frankly astounding that this happened. I would like to know if the woman feels that the apology is enough, given the genuine upset she must have been confronted with. She had the courage to stand by her convictions and keep the scarf on, taking inspiration from the suffragette woman that have worn these colours to secure the hard fought rights of women."
An apology was issued to the woman asked to leave by presiding officer Alison Johnston who said it had been “an error” and claimed that Holyrood “actively supports and promotes universal suffrage in a number of ways”.
She told MSPs the 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.”