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Stories from the Scotsman
Parliament to set standard colour for Saltire


THE Scottish Parliament made a historic intervention yesterday, stepping in to settle a dispute over the Saltire which has raged, quietly, for hundreds of years.

Scotland’s national flag is thought to be the oldest in the world. It is certainly one of the most recognisable, the diagonal white stripes on the blue background having been flown for generations above public buildings, at sporting events and even at the head of armies.

But purists and some flag manufacturers have complained for many years that the colour of the flag has varied wildly, from deep navy to a light shade verging on turquoise, because there is no standard, definable shade for the blue.

Now the Scottish Parliament’s education, culture and sport committee has made a decision and has set the optimum shade of blue for the flag.

It is to be Pantone 300 - which may not mean very much to the public at large - but which to flag aficionados is vital. Pantone 300 is azure, or sky-blue.

As George Reid, the retired Edinburgh accountant who has fought an almost single-handed battle for a decision on the shade of blue, said yesterday: "If you looked up at the sky today, that is Pantone 300."

The committee’s decision is only advisory and it will have to go to Jim Wallace, the justice minister, for ratification, but it represents a major breakthrough as far as Saltire campaigners are concerned.

Mr Reid said: "I am delighted at the decision. All I have ever asked for was a strong recommendation from Parliament that they should recommend Pantone 300 and this is what they have done.

"I hope it’s going to be endorsed."

Mr Wallace has been asked to rule on the colour of the Saltire once before, and he decided it was not right to do so. Now he will be asked again, and this time, the recommendation will have the backing of a committee, which is likely to convince the minister to change his mind.

The committee’s judgment means the end of a long-running campaign which has seen various parts of the parliament and Executive system shunt the issue around without anybody willing, or able, to make a decision.

The committee convener, Karen Gillon, Labour MSP for Clydesdale, stressed that no-one need worry about the implications of flying a non-Pantone 300 flag.

She said: "It is a voluntary code, not a statutory code and people will not have to throw into the bin a flag they’ve already got."

The SNP’s Gil Paterson, MSP for central Scotland region, who supported Mr Reid’s case, said that the committee’s recommendation would now go to the Executive.

"It’s a good decision. It has taken a bit longer than I would have thought, but sometimes good decisions take a bit longer," said Mr Paterson.

As a businessman involved in paint manufacturing, he advised fellow MSPs on the finer points of various azure hues.

"It shows the Parliament and the petitions committee at its best.

"I think it’s a sensible decision for anyone involved in colour and it puts the Scottish flag on the same status as any other flag in the world, with a colour standard that people can manufacture to," he said.

The subject first came to Parliament in 2000 when Mr Reid submitted a petition to the public petitions committee.

Later that year, the education committee considered the petition and decided it was not a devolved matter and that MSPs were therefore powerless to act.

At a later stage, however, Scotland’s heraldic authority, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, suggested it was within Holyrood’s powers and Mr Reid petitioned Holyrood a second time.

Mike Russell, SNP MSP for south of Scotland region, told MSPs: "There’s no doubt from the evidence I’ve seen, that the correct colour, the colour most people accept as correct, is Pantone 300."

He said that the committee’s verdict would have no statutory force but would amount to "a pretty strong recommendation".

Brian Monteith, Tory MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife region, said: "I think it is important that we can give some guidance on this matter.

"It would be inappropriate at this stage to try and give this statutory effect, although I think that is something that should be given fresh thought after the election.

"I think Pantone 300 is the most appropriate colour, which people can accept."

The origins of the Saltire are said to have come from the battle of Athelstaneford in 932 AD when, legend has it, St Andrew helped the Pictish King Hungus defeat and kill the Anglian King Athelstan by making a white cross in the blue background of the sky.

A much darker shade of blue was chosen regularly by the Admiralty for use in the Union Flag, simply for its durability, but some vegetable-based dyes used in the 18th century tended to fade quickly which led to wide variations in the shade of blue in the flag.

HAMISH MACDONELL
Wednesday, 19th February 2003

The Scotsman


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