LABOUR has been plunged into an anti-Catholic row, after one of its top Scottish officials made a “light-hearted” sectarian comment from the main stage of the party conference.

Andy Kerr, chair of the ruling National Executive Committee, suggested he might reconsider inviting a female delegate to speak if she was Catholic.

Mr Kerr, who is from Glasgow and deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, apologised “unreservedly” and said he had been trying to be "light hearted".

Nicola Sturgeon said the comment was "appalling", while Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said it was “completely unacceptable”.

The row follows months of turmoil inside Labour over its record on tackling anti-Semitism in the ranks.

Mr Kerr was speaking from the conference stage in Liverpool as it was broadcast on live TV.

HeraldScotland: Andy Kerr at Labour conference as he makes the remark

Identifying a female delegate in the hall as the next speaker, he said: “Seeing as you’re being persistent I’m going to take you.”

But he then added: “Did you cross yourself, there? In that case, I might not."

Mr Leonard was asked on BBC Radio Scotland if the remark was “bigoted”.

He replied: “That might be one way of describing it."

The Scottish Labour leader said: "There is absolutely no room inside the Labour Party for that kind of remark, whether it's meant as a form of humour or not. It's completely unacceptable and Andy Kerr has unreservedly apologised for the remark that he made."

He added: "There should be no space for it inside the Labour Party and I condemn it."

The First Minister said on Twitter: "Andy Kerr’s comment was appalling.

"The Catholic community is an integral and valued part of Scottish life. Everyone who stands for a Scotland where bigotry and sectarianism have no place, and where we positively embrace diversity, must unite to condemn - regardless of party." 

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson added: "People from all parties and none will be appalled by this and by the casual dismissal of concerns."

Tory MSP Annie Wells said: “Labour might argue as a one-off incident this has been exaggerated. But against the backdrop of all the anti-Semitism the party has failed to stamp out, it’s altogether more serious.

“Labour has made Jewish people terrified at the prospect of the party taking power.

“Surely it doesn’t want to go down the same road in alienating other faiths too.”

Former Holyrood Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick called on Mr Leonard to take action.

She tweeted him: "Maybe it is about time you united people regardless of religion, creed or colour. The sectarian remarks today against Catholics by your chair Andy Kerr in an open session of your conference were disgraceful. What are you going to do about that?"

Mr Kerr said: "I apologise unreservedly.

"I was trying to be lighthearted but what I said was ill-judged and wrong."