LABOUR blundered in the 1990s by allowing the SNP to "monopolise" the saltire, a minister said today.
Scots Secretary Jim Murphy said his party had allowed the national symbol to be co-opted as "an image of nationalism".
In doing so, Labour repeated its mistake of the 1980s when it had allowed Margaret Thatcher to "claim the mantle of patriotism" and wrap herself in the union flag, said Mr Murphy.
He made the admission in a speech in Stirling which sought to reclaim the saltire and to argue there was no contradiction between Scottish and British identities.
"All of us – across political parties and across civic Scotland – should challenge the notion that Scottishness belongs to any one political party," he said.
"All of us who value a strong Britain should embrace Scottishness, its emotions and symbols even more than we already do.
"Patriotism, national pride and the saltire belong to all Scots."
He went on: "This strong sense of Scottishness does not, and will not, translate into a rise in separatism.
"Being passionate about Scotland doesn't make you anti-British."
He told his Stirling audience: "In the 1980s the Labour Party lost its way and Scotland – and Britain – paid the price.
"We allowed Margaret Thatcher to claim the mantle of patriotism and wrap herself in the union flag.
"By keeping patriotism and its symbols at arm's length, the Labour Party helped the Tories to claim that their socially divisive economic policies were in the national interest."
He went on: "In the 1990s we made a similar mistake in Scotland. We allowed the SNP to monopolise the saltire.
"We allowed our national symbol – St Andrew's Cross – to be co-opted as an image of nationalism.
"Patriotism and nationalism are not the same thing.
"All nationalists are patriots. But not all patriots are nationalist."