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Trade and Flags

Children’s wards shutting down, commuter chaos and a slump in Scottish exports were all areas ripe for comment when taking in the Scottish headlines this morning.

So, it was a surprise the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon found time out of her busy schedule to post several tweets about an issue which is clearly close to her heart – which flag flies over the Scottish Government building.

According to a number of reports this morning, the Scottish Government has issued new advice on which flag should be hoisted on any given day and the consequence is fewer days – in fact just one (Remembrance Day) – for the Union Jack flag.

Showing a surprisingly in-depth knowledge of her government’s flag policy, she explained this was simply an update of practices which had been in place for a number of years and it was nothing to do with her. After all, she just runs the country.

The First Minister – who is incapable of taking part in a TV interview unless a strategically placed Saltire sits in the background – then dismissed the issue as ridiculous.

She may have a point. While flags are important symbols for people all over the world, they don’t provide care for a sick kid, get you to work in time or help a business struggling with a weak economy.

It was all a useful diversion though from the export figures, which drive a coach and horses through her latest constitutional position.

She argues, with some justification, that Brexit will harm Scotland by putting up barriers to the £12.7 billion in trade our businesses do with the countries in the European Union.

Her solution – as it is to every other problem – is independence, even though this would put those same obstacles between the £45 billion of trade we do with the rest of the UK, a market worth four times as much to Scotland.

One of the First Minster’s great skills is to make a forthright argument while holding a number of contradictory positions in her head at the one time. It’s a prerequisite for nationalist politicians arguing flags don’t matter and independence makes financial sense as a response to Brexit.

If the First Minister was serious about protecting Scotland, she would drop her threats of a second referendum and work with the UK Government to find a solution to the challenges Brexit presents.

Don’t hold your breath. Without a coherent economic argument for a second referendum, we can expect to see plenty more flag-waving from the SNP this year.

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