We’ll be alright, Jack, without the saltire

End of the Union Flag?
End of the Union Flag?

By Phil Weir

As the Yes/No independence debate gathers pace, like a runaway haggis skiting down the slopes of the Binn, all sorts of related issues and what-ifs, both weighty and trivial, are being drawn into the quickening maelstrom of the jibber-jabber.

One particular hobby horse which caught my eye, and which is getting a number of saddles thrown over it, is the subject of what happens to the composition of the Union flag (commonly known as the Union Jack), if Scotland breaks away from the UK.

The thinking is, if we withdraw over the border with the St Andrew’s Cross in our sporran or wife’s handbag and take sole ownership of it, it will have to be subtracted from the Union flag, leaving that world-famous emblem without its big white squashed corner-to-corner X.

In fact, this subject is so exercising minds that, the other day, I came across a photo feature with images of England, Wales, and N. Ireland-only alternatives to the Union Jack. Some looked passable... but others! By Oor Wullie’s upturned zinc man-bag! They had me hollering a heraldic hoots mon or two. Liberace, god rest his candelabra, would have had no qualms about having them for bedspreads.

But then it occurred to me, supposing, post-independence, the rest of the UK doesn’t want to part with the saltire component of the old, historic ‘streamer’ (created, by the way, on the orders of a Scotsman in 1606).

Maybe they’ll continue to like its iconic look, the way it is.

Perhaps their reasons will be nostalgic. Or maybe design integrity will rule minds – they may be of the strong opinion that the Union flag would look pretty duff without its broad white diagonals. Or it could be down to wardrobes full of Union Jack T-shirts, underpants, baseball caps, etc., and Union Jack-topped Minis parked in driveways, and if the flag becomes redundant, all that trendy stuff will look naff.

So, supposing, everybody else (the English, and Welsh and Northern Irish), the now lesser but still greater British population insist on the status quo as far as the flag goes.

Would an independent Scotland be wise to stick with the saltire, which in that circumstance, would just feel like a simple two-tone part hived off from a great, more colourful, more complex whole?

Well, if that came to pass, maybe Scotland should strike out anew, with a totally new pennant. One which the re-constituted country can call its own. One gloriously peculiar and exclusive to itself.

And, if this situation does arise, and this course is taken, I feel there’s only one candidate for the job.

I’m firing my caber in the direction of a tartan flag.

Nothing speaks more broadly of Scotland to the world (apart from Sir Sean Connery) than a fine piece of plaid.

And it’s so versatile. There are countless tartans out there with more being created all the time. We could have a different tartan fluttering atop flagstaffs every day of the year. In fact, right now, there’s probably a decade’s worth of examples somewhere (perhaps in a kiltmaker’s closet in Pitlochry) waiting to be hoisted up into the howling gale.

And there’d be different colours of tartan in the locker for every occasion – dark tartan flags for sombre occasions, colourful ones for upbeat events; a regal tartan flag with a portrait of the Queen in the middle for royal visits; an Olympic flag with five tartan rings for when Scotland gets the Games in 3220AD; a pink tartan flag for Gay Pride marches, etc.

And to push the brand in the early image-consolidating years of an independent Scotland, the tartan could be applied elsewhere – tartan strips for national sports teams; tartan surplices for the clergy; tartan helmets for the Army and the police (and tartan truncheons); tartan fire engines for the fire brigade; and a Tartan House, a la White House, for the new president of the country, whoever that might be, Alex.

And, as foreign passengers land at our airports, what sight will greet them, flapping in the breeze? Tartan flags?

No. Tartan windsocks. Made from refurbished hire kilts.