Now, I didn’t know this but it turns out that the flag of St. Andrew, also known as Bratach nàiseanta na h-Alba or more simply The Saltire, is ‘the oldest flag in the world…’
Now, I didn’t believe the person who told me but they refined their remark to mean that Scotland’s flag has been in continuous use for the longest period of any flag in the world. How did this conversation come about? Well now…
Unionists are using the Diamond Jubilee as an excuse to wave their rag in our faces and given the wall-to-wall coverage by those who’ve taken to calling what was previously known as a ‘meritocratic democracy‘, a ‘constitutional monarchy‘, I’ve been wondering when my fellow Scots (and English Republicans) are going to get around to having their own little tea party. It was rather cheering then to note that the bunting in Kinghorn is not coloured by the unionist rag but is formed of The Saltire. I was talking about this phenomenon with a work colleague who argued that the bunting should be made from the flag of Union.
My argument was this: the royal family in England have their own flag, the Royal Standard (for which the Queen uses a slightly different version here than is seen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland). The Union flag was devised to celebrate political union (the Act of Settlement in which Scottish and ‘English’ being earlier), surely to show loyalty to what many in Scotland consider a foreign monarch, Unionist Scots should be offering their own national flag in support if they’re not going to wave the royal standard? My colleague (correctly) pointed out that the Royal Standard is used to denote the Queen being in residence and I agreed: what better way to indicate her rule in all the parts of her kingdoms than to exceptionally have the Royal Standard flown across the territories?
We were both corrected by someone who had overheard us and who had some expertise in heraldry: the correct flag to be flown during jubilee celebrations was the respective national flag of each of the kingdoms .ie. flag of St. Andrew in Scotland, flag of St. Patrick in Northern Ireland, flag of England and the flag of Wales. The wee village of Kinghorn had therefore got it correct*.
The current design of the Union
rag dates from 1801 and is therefore not even as old as the Act of Union. Perhaps the use of The Rag has become common only for propaganda/ TV purposes. Just think of how those long view, pan-and-scan shots would look to the world’s media if they showed four different flags across the British Isles…. folks might even be given the idea that there were four countries taking part in the Jubilee. While I could be asking how the UK got its name, I prefer to play the game of spotting which businesses here in Scotland are flying The Saltire and the Lion of Rampant of Scotland.
* When I thought about the conversation later, I realised that I’m actually glad that so many people got it wrong. First, The Saltire remains something we can use post-independence without having to think about the last time it was waved enthusiastically. Second, as supporters of independence, we get to see which businesses are no longer going to receive our custom. Third, like the wearing of certain football colours, it makes it really easy to spot the numpties…