Letter to Presiding Officer re badges

A woman visiting Parliament today to watch the Citizen Participation and Petitions Committee meeting was asked to remove her badge by security. The ‘offending’ badge was one that we sell and use as our organisation’s logo, and is seemingly now banned from Parliament as we are (erroneously) deemed a political or lobbying group. It was reported in the Herald and the Telegraph.

In response to this quite disheartening incident we have sent the following letter to Alison Johnstone, the Presiding Officer at the Scottish Parliament.

We are writing regarding an incident that took place in Parliament today when security confiscated a badge from a woman attending the Citizen Participation and Petitions Committee.

The reason given for not permitting this small lapel badge in Parliament was that it is associated with a lobbying group. Given that we sell this badge and use it as our group’s logo we can only assume there has been a misunderstanding as it can easily be checked that we are not registered as a lobbying group on the Lobbying Register. We are a grassroots women’s group and it is really quite ironic that on the day our badge was banned from Parliament merchandise gifted from a registered lobbying group was freely bandied around Parliament by numerous MSPs, including the Convener of the Equalities Committee. The comparison and discrimination towards women is stark.

When later asked about the incident by The Telegraph, a Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “A member of the public was asked to remove a badge in line with the parliament’s visitor behaviour policy which prohibits the display of banners, flags or political slogans, including on clothing and accessories.”

Again this is completely erroneous. Our small badge is not a banner nor a flag. We are not a political group and the internationally recognised Venus symbol for women with female XX chromosomes represents biology, not any political sloganeering. It is noticeable that security had no problem at all with a woman entering Parliament shortly afterwards wearing a Labour party Women’s Declaration badge.

This is very much looking like harassment of our group and towards the woman targeted by Parliament security in particular. You will recall issuing an apology to the same woman last year after she was asked to remove a scarf in the Suffragette colours. 

This has been a very disheartening experience and we hope Parliament did not set out to discourage women from engaging in the democratic process of our country. We would be grateful if the decision to ban the woman symbol of our badge is reversed and assurances given that such excessive clampdowns on women are not repeated in future. It is quite distressing to feel Parliament is aggressively targeting women and groups who are known to have expressed opposition to Government policies on the self-identification of sex such as the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. We hope you will also offer a public apology to our group and to the woman affected by today’s incident.

Yours sincerely,

Trina Budge, Marion Calder and Susan Smith
Directors, For Women Scotland

PS. If you feel like living dangerously, you can buy the ‘banned’ badges here.
They make great Christmas stocking filler presents!

Update 21 December 2023:
We received the following reply from the Chief Executive of the Scottish Parliament:

We replied with the following, to which we received confirmation that our correspondence would be shared with the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body:

Thank you for your response. However, the Visitor Behaviour Policy mentions only that “banners, flags and political slogans are forbidden”; it has nothing at all to say about any item that could indicate a particular view on a debate or issue. This strikes me as grasping for a reason after the event more than any sensible rule, and it is clearly not a rule that applies to any visitor to Parliament other than women who are known hold gender critical views.

The badge is based on the internationally recognised sign for women, it represents biology, not necessarily any particular view of the person who wears it. However, if Parliament has deemed it indicates holding gender critical views could you please confirm that items representing the other side of the debate, including transgender and progressive pride flags and merchandise are also banned? It is important that the rule is applied fairly and not perceived as unlawful discrimination towards women holding certain views.

I am pleased the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body will be considering this issue and will hopefully reverse the decision taken regarding our lapel badge. As you can see from the attached picture attendees at Committee sessions in the House of Commons are free to wear our badge so the discrepancy with Holyrood seems nonsensical. Could you please forward my correspondence to the Corporate Body and ask if they would email me to update on the outcome of their meeting? 

Update 18 January 2024:
We thought the matter had been resolved and any objections withdrawn given that women were wearing the badge at the Criminal Justice Committee meeting about the new transgender prisoner policy. However, we received an email today stating that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body is due to consider its Visitor Behaviour Policy in February and will consider our correspondence as part of that.