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The Saltire is #EveryonesFlag – let’s make that clear

24th November 2018

I am delighted that the SIU team are running the #EveryonesFlag campaign for St Andrew’s Day again this year. It was a great success last time, as it captured the frustration that many Scots feel about the way in which the nationalists have attempted to appropriate the Saltire as a separatist symbol.

A recent example of this attempt at appropriation was when Peter Murrell, Chief Executive of the SNP tweeted about the inaugural ‘SNP Awards’ and said each attendee was being given a Saltire flag to fly on St Andrew’s Day. Well, I will also be sharing the Saltire on St Andrew’s Day – but for Scotland, not for the SNP.

I don’t usually go on about flags, but we should recognise that flags do matter to many: their use can arouse deep pride and other emotions. Often, the sense of community and collective endeavour which a flag conveys can help motivate people to positive action. The issue I have is with the nationalists’ attempts to claim our flag for their exclusive use.

Nationalism is at its heart exclusive, as it seeks to create an exaggerated sense of ‘them and us’, and denies the possibility of overlapping identities. Among the pettiest flag-based manifestations of this syndrome are separatists’ various campaigns to prevent Scottish companies from using the Union Flag, even when the produce in question is also clearly labelled as coming from Scotland.

In the last few months, nationalists have attempted to bully Walker’s because they produce a Union Flag shortbread tin (despite the tin in question having ‘Product of Scotland’ on it seven times); they have attacked supermarkets on social media for using the Union Flag on raspberries (which also clearly say on them ‘Perthshire’ or similar); and they have encouraged other extremists to flood a dairy company with complaints because they use a Union Flag on one version of chocolate bar branding (for the export market).

These attacks on companies which are creating jobs in Scotland by selling to a global market successfully, using the Union Flag’s positive image abroad, are nothing more than bullying. I feel sorry for the customer service representatives who have to deal with this abuse on the ‘front line’, and embarrassed by the way in this kind of behaviour damages Scotland’s brand image more broadly. And I am glad that none of the companies mentioned appears to have buckled under pressure, as this would only hurt jobs in Scotland and encourage the bullies. Searching for a silver lining, perhaps the only useful side-effect of these campaigns is that they help to illustrate the way in which nationalists try to assert an exclusive right to the Saltire, and how fixated they are with the removal of a symbol of British identity.

I’ve always felt Scottish and British, and I probably feel more of a need to show my Scottishness when I’m outside Scotland. For example, when I recently attended the ‘Nation’s Thank You’ Remembrance Sunday procession in London, of course I wore a kilt – I wanted to demonstrate my Scottishness and in a small way to represent Scotland, as well as taking part in a UK event. I’d like to think that overt expression of Scottishness is a healthy symptom of positive pride in the country where I live, and I’m sure others appreciate the demonstration of the diversity which exists across the UK.

However, we do need to acknowledge that the nationalists have successfully created a real issue. The problem is revealed in some of the comments I’ve heard from people on this topic, who are reluctant to display the Saltire because of the way that nationalists have used it. The question is how we tackle the issue – and I’d like to propose a plan to do so.

I have heard people suggest it would be nice if the separatists could have their own version of the Saltire, much as Catalan separatists have their own version of the Catalan flag. While this is superficially attractive in some regards, I don’t agree with it as a solution, as it would entrench the idea of exclusivity and perpetuate the divisions on which nationalists thrive. Rather, I think the answer is for pro-UK people to enthusiastically use the Saltire to represent Scotland; it is for all of us who live here or identify with Scotland.

Crucially, a pre-requisite for this inclusive approach to be effective is increased awareness of the fact that most Scots don’t want to leave the UK. If that message is heard loudly and clearly enough (and Scotland in Union are certainly doing their bit to help spread the word), then people will come to realise that the Saltire really is everyone’s flag, and not the preserve of a noisy separatist minority. Pick any Scot at random, and they are likely, on the balance of probability, to be pro-UK. Thus, flying the Saltire should simply denote someone’s Scottishness – end of story.

Please join me, therefore, in reminding people that most Scots don’t support separation, and in celebrating St Andrew’s Day, Scotland and Scottishness with the Saltire on 30th November – and, indeed, throughout the year.

Happy St Andrew's Day, this year and in our shared future.

Alastair Cameron, director of Scotland in Union

You can add our #EveryonesFlag Facebook Frame to your profile picture here.

For Twitter, you can add our #EveryonesFlag Twibbon here.

You can contribute towards our campaign by donating here.

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