I might be biased being a Scottish native, but I think the flag of Scotland is one of the best-looking flags in the world. Its blue and white colours fly proudly over our homes, castles and councils across the country. Us Scot's are proud of our flag and the 500 years of history behind it.
The St Andrew's Cross
The flag of Scotland is called a Saltire or St Andrew's Cross and crux decussata in Latin. It is a fairly basic design with a blue field or background with a white cross from corner to corner, but it is rich in historical significance and is one of the oldest flags in the world.
The saltire is derived from French - salteur/saultoir - meaning a cross constructed of two pieces of wood. Stiles were often used for crossing fences or small walls.
The Saltire blue
The shade of blue used in Scotland's national flag has changed over the years, mainly due to the pigments that were available at the time. It could be as light as sky blue, to as dark as navy blue. Sources of this blue pigment would have been from natural dyes sourced from:
- Blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) with alum or copperas.
- Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) with alum.
Depending on the crops development/soil conditions the colour would change to a lighter or darker shade of blue.
In 2003 consensus was finally agreed at the Scottish Parliament that the official blue of the Scotland flag should be "Pantone 300", which is a really nice rich blue and a different shade to the union flag blue of the United Kingdom. Flag manufacturers finally had an official shade of blue to produce flags.
The History of the Scottish Flag
Saint Andrew (The Patron Saint of Scotland) was crucified by the Romans in Greece around 60AD.
There are two theories or tales... to the origin of the cross:
1. Saint Andrews Crucifixion
Saint Andrew felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus Christ and asked for a diagonal cross/saltire instead. The cross was made from white wood, and Saint Andrew wore a blue robe, so these elements combined inspired the design for the flag.
2. A sign from the heavens
The second theory dates back to an ancient battle 700 years later. King Angus II (Óengus) leading an army of Picts and Scots against the Saxons and King Athelstan. The Scottish king was severely outnumbered and defeat was expected. On the day of the battle King Angus looked up at the bright blue sky, there were two sharp lines of clouds intersecting in a cross shape. Reminded of the St Andrew cross, Angus vowed that if the battle was won he would make St Andrew the patron saint of Scotland and his cross the new flag of Scotland. The origin of these lines of clouds has caused much debate, what could have caused them 1200 years ago, long before any aeroplanes existed. The most popular theory is the lines were caused by meteors.
A slight deviation to this story is that King Angus instead had a dream or vision about St Andrew and the same vow was made to win the battle.
Against all odds, The King won the battle and the cross of St Andrew became bonded to Scotland throughout history until modern times.
There is much evidence to prove this legend is untrue, with dates not matching up correctly and a similar story being told about Pictish King Unust, but who knows? There could be a shred of truth in the story somewhere.
Why are there two flags for Scotland?
Commonly known as The Lion Rampant is the Royal Banner of Scotland and was commonly used by a long line of Scottish monarchs from 1222 onwards. This flag may only be used by royalty and in 1672 it was made an offence for it to be used by anyone else. It is normally flown at Royal residences, or by representatives of the monarchy.
The Lion Rampant
The design of the Lion Rampant is much different to the blue and white of the Saltire. The flag has a bright yellow background with a red border with doubled lines containing symmetrical floral/fleury/counterfleury symbols and a lion standing on its hind legs emblazoned across the centre front. The lion has blue/azure claws and tongue.
Today the flag is regarded as Scotland's second flag and can be seen at sporting events and even purchased in gift shops, it is highly unlikely a prosecution would be made for flying the flag.
Union Flag / Union Jack
In the mid 17th century the Saltire became part of the Union Flag upon the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603. Elements from the English flag and Scottish were combined to make the union flag in 1606. Blue was added to the field of the English flag and the white diagonal stripes of Scotland's flag.
The 1606 flag is not the flag we see today as the Kingdom of Ireland merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1800. The red saltire - the cross of Saint Patrick - was added to the union flag to mark the addition of Ireland to the United Kingdom.
The addition of the red saltire made it important the flag was flown the correct way up as the red saltire is not symmetrical like the Scottish saltire. The way I remember the correct orientation is to look at the top left quadrant of the flag. There should be more white space above and to the right of the red strip of the Irish saltire.
Why isn't Wales represented in the Union Flag?
When the union flag was created Wales had already been part of the Kingdom of England for over 150 years so unfortunately it wasn't included in the design.
Do Scots dislike the Union Flag? The Butchers Apron
It is a very divisive subject, roughly half of scots see the flag as a symbol of oppression and brutal control and colonisation by the British Empire. It has been given the name "The Butchers Apron" by many in Ireland and Scotland, the lines looking like blood streaks, linking them to the many atrocities carried out by the British Empire across the world over hundreds of years.
An example of this would be the highland clearances in Scotland, where families were forcibly evicted from their homes so the rich landlords (The Duke of Sutherland being one) could use the land for sheep farms. Their roofs were burned and they were left to the elements. Some were offered passage to the Americas but these trips were often a death sentence.
The union flag is often used to try and stymie support for Scottish independence, it's very odd that they would use a hated symbol to independence supporters to try and gain their support. Often products that are traditionally Scottish are rebranded as British, for example, "Bells British Whisky" and Walkers shortbread both feature the union flag despite being wholly Scottish products. This is seen by independence supporters as an overt strategy to destroy the world-renowned Scottish brand.
In supermarkets, the union flag is used on products too to try and build up a picture of Scotland being better within the United Kingdom. Relating to my "What are neeps?" article on this website you can pick up a neep from the shelf and find "a Scottish neep" and a "British swede" both grown in the same field in Scotland. Amongst independence supporters, a common mantra is "If it's got a jack, put it back!".
The Scottish Saltire is often used by independence supporters, emblazoned with a "Yes" to represent voting yes to independence in the last independence referendum in 2014. "No" voters use the Union Flag to represent their belief that Scotland is better as part of the United Kingdom.
The Black Saltire
This is a version of the Scottish Saltire but with a black background instead of blue. It is used by some independence supporters as a defiant alternative flag as they are unwilling to use the standard flag until Scotland regains its independent country status. It is seen as a symbol of hope for independence.
Supporters of the union
Other Scots see the union flag as a sign of unity between our countries and accept it as their flag as well as the saltire and are happy with their place as part of the union.
Why is the Tenerife flag the same as Scotland's?
The flag of Tenerife is very similar to Scotland's but has a much darker shade of navy blue. It's possible the flag was adopted by the people of Tenerife as a trophy after winning the battle of Santa Cruz in 1797 against Admiral Lord Nelson and the British navy.
Is there any link to Scotland with the Jamaican saltire flag?
Yes, the initial design for the Jamaican flag was to be simply three vertical stripes in green, black and gold, but the design was not accepted. Rev William Mcghie who was friends with the Jamaican prime minister Alexander Bustamante suggested going down a religious route with the design and drew out the Scottish saltire but in the Jamaican colours. The design was accepted and became the official flag of Jamaica.
Was the American confederate flag based on the flag of Scotland?
No, I believe there is no link here between the flags.
Whatever your political persuasion the Scottish flag is a beautiful symbol of Scotlands history and you will see it everywhere you go on your travels around Scotland.