As I See It
An ill wind blows through flag flying row
A ruling over how often the Union flag is flown over public buildings will surely be a test of how “ithers see us”, perhaps as a country still torn over its sense of identity, or as a petty nation obsessing over detail.
In furious exchanges among MSPs First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was urged to reverse the decision to fly the British flag only on Remembrance Day.
Earlier guidance said it should appear on 15 occasions a year, including the Queen’s Birthday, her wedding anniversary, other royal birthdays and Coronation Day. Under new guidance most public buildings would fly the Saltire. On the occasion of royal birthdays and anniversaries the Royal Standard or the Lion Rampant will be flown.
Scottish Conservatives fear the removal of the Union flag is another part of the nationalists’ “stealth” plan for independence.
Ms Sturgeon said she was mystified by the comments, pointing out that the policy had been in place since 2010 and that she had issued no instructions for a change. Her predecessor Alex Salmond confirmed that this was the case and that it had been changed following an audience with the Queen.
Keen flag wavers may remind the warring factions that there was a similar row two years ago when the coalition government in Westminster was the butt of the criticism.
At that time there was a campaign in Berwickshire to replace two of the three saltire flags flying at the border with the union flag and the flag of the county. Local councillors believed that flying the flag of Berwickshire would encourage more tourists to linger in the area, while the union flag, they said, would remind visitors heading north that they are still in the UK.
The campaign emerged as the Westminster government was planning to fly the union flag on public offices providing UK government services, such as JobCentres and Defence.
The official line was that the public is confused about who does what and will become more confused as more powers move to Holyrood. An interesting aside is that there are more civil servants in Scotland and Wales working for the UK government than for the devolved administrations.
The union flag campaign was said to have been the brainchild of Danny Alexander, who was Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury at the time.
The nationalists claimed it was not about helping the public, but a deliberate act of propaganda to counter the SNP’s renewed push for independence.
So it seems this latest row has a touch of tit-for-tat about it.
As powerful symbols, it is understandable that passions are stirred over flags. That said, I’ve seen a rather silly comment on social media that ‘flags are for idiots’. Well, no. They may be symbols of power but they are also symbols of belonging like a club badge, a company name/logo or a football team scarf.
Maybe it’s time for everyone to calm down before things get out of hand. We have seen too many images of them being torn down and even burned.
The outcome on this occasion is likely to be a little less dramatic and rather more British, and even Scottish. Await the formation of a committee on flying flags.