UNIONISTS disturbed a key council meeting to complain about an elected member displaying a Yes flag in their own home – with one even suggesting the meeting should be pulled altogether.

During a full Renfrewshire Council meeting, SNP councillor Kenny MacLaren dialled in from home and, in the background, he had a Saltire displaying the word "Yes" hanging up behind him.

The act enraged both Labour and Tory councillors in the chamber, as Labour group leader Iain McMillan demanded he take down the “inappropriate” item, before Alison Ann-Dowling, also a Labour member, branded his explanation for having the flag up as “bull***”.

Following a heated debate, Tory councillor David McGonigle tried to shut down the meeting altogether because of the supposedly unsavoury flag, but his request was refused by Provost Lorraine Cameron.

It was not the first time such an argument had ensued, with Labour and Tory councillors having previously criticised MacLaren for displaying similar slogans at a meeting in June.

MacLaren, who is part of the SNP administration, accused opposition members of wasting council time.

“I can’t believe these BritNat councillors yet again wasted council time on the decorations in my house,” he told the National.

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“Apparently, the Yes flag is political and offends BritNat politicians to such an extent they want me to remove it during council meetings. They would be shocked if I did as it covers up a unit full of SNP campaign materials including many highly-visible SNP logos.”

MacLaren said he was especially peeved given Ann-Dowling once claimed she was wearing a scarf in the Suffragette colours in the chamber in June as a political protest against the SNP Gender Recognition Act policies.

When MacLaren highlighted this, she insisted that was not a political statement and called his point “bull****”.

MacLaren added: “Why should she [Ann-Dowling] be allowed to clearly make a political point in her clothing within the council chambers whereas Labour and Tory councillors want to decide what decorations I have on my walls. 

The National: Alison Ann-DowlingAlison Ann-Dowling (Image: NQ staff)

“At the last meeting when this was raised the Labour leader – Councillor Iain McMillan – was so incensed he was going to bring his own flag into the next meeting but failed to do so. Maybe Keir Starmer had pinched it for the Labour party conference?

“It was shocking that a Tory councillor actually wanted the meeting cancelled and reconvened at a later meeting as apparently he was so offended by a flag. What offends me most is the damaging policies implemented by the Tories including pandering to the rich and penalising the poor.

“This is an issue of free speech.  The flag doesn’t represent any political party, only the Scottish independence movement – and surely it’s not a shocker to realise that an SNP councillor supports Independence.”

Independent councillor Andy Doig, who is pro-independence, said he feared “elements of totalitarianism” were coming into the chamber following the debacle.

He said: “There’s elements of totalitarianism creeping into this discourse.

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“MacLaren’s flag is not party-political, it’s a Yes movement flag. It’s not an SNP flag. It’s not different to if a member wanted to have a CND flag behind then.

“I’m a bit concerned about Tory and Labour members trying to shut down debate on this. We’re on a slippery slope here.”

Provost Cameron did ask MacLaren to remove his flag at the request of McMillan, but made it clear she could not force him to do so.

A council lawyer said the Provost did not have the power to remove him from the meeting and if members had an issue with the flag, they could complain to the Standards Commission.

The lawyer said: “In terms of the standing orders, the Provost does not have the power to remove someone from a meeting on the basis of something they may have in the background.

“I would, however, caution members to read the code of conduct and consider whether they are in breach in terms of what they choose to display during the course of council meetings.

“It’s obviously up to others as to whether they want to go to the Standards Commission, but I would agree with the Provost that in having asked Councillor MacLaren to remove it there is nothing further she can do.”

A Renfrewshire Council spokesperson added: “Councillors are bound by the national Code of Conduct for Councillors issued by the Standards Commission for Scotland. Councillors have an individual responsibility to comply with the code. The council has no role in enforcing the Code.”