The Scottish flag, the Saltire, is thought to be the oldest flag in Europe. Its origins go back to 832AD and a battle for the territory of what is now East Lothian, fought between an army of Picts, supported by Scots, against the Saxons.
The site of the battle, the picturesque village of Athlestaneford, is now recognised as the home of the Scottish flag.
Something with a history going back that far, something as striking as the Saltire and something intrinsically associated and recognisable as Scottish is indeed a powerful symbol.
Scots, whether at home or abroad, associate themselves with the Saltire. We see it everywhere, even being waved by solitary supporters on the peaks of the mountain stages of the Tour de France. It is clearly the flag of Scotland and its people. Political parties, though, have a more complex relationship with it.
It seems in recent times that the Saltire has become a symbol of support for independence. The Better Together campaign don’t use it, the Scottish Conservatives don’t use it, the Scottish Liberal Democrats don’t use it. And, while the Scottish Labour Party have photos of it on their website, the SNP and the Yes campaign seem to own it.
This was perfectly demonstrated by the controversy Alex Salmond caused at the recent Wimbledon men’s singles final by waving the Saltire to celebrate the victory of his fellow Scot Andy Murray. Many other people around centre court were doing the same, just as they waved the England flag when Tim Henman won matches, but this, of course, was different.
With the independence referendum in Scotland just 429 days away and the First Minister chasing a Yes vote, waving a Scottish flag behind the Prime Minster was seen as a political stunt. Would it have been so if parties in favour of preserving the union were not so paranoid?
What if it had been a Welsh tennis player who had just won Wimbledon, would anyone have read constitutional bias into Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister, holding the Red Dragon aloft? Would that have been a stunt or a celebration?
It would have been in the interests of those campaigning for a No vote to see and interpret Alex Salmond’s antics as no more and no less than a Scot waving the Scottish flag to celebrate the immense achievements of a fellow Scot, but instead they made it into a controversy. In so doing, they reinforced the adopted status of the Saltire as a nationalist symbol. It is a powerful symbol to give up so easily and for politicians who represent Scotland, it is a dangerous and unnecessary route to take.
Imagine how different things might look now if David Cameron had had the shrewdness to grab the other end of Salmond’s flag and had held the Saltire with him. He is, after all, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, including Scotland – what was he scared of?