Scotland’s first honorary vexillologist helps communities fly the flag

Philip Tibbets, pictured standing with the flag of Kirkcudbrightshire, is Scotland's first honorary vexillologist. Picture: Contributed
Philip Tibbets, pictured standing with the flag of Kirkcudbrightshire, is Scotland's first honorary vexillologist. Picture: Contributed
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Scotland’s heraldic authority has appointed the country’s first flag expert to advise the growing number of communities looking to create their own banner.

Philip Tibbetts was awarded the title honorary vexillologist by the Court of the Lord Lyon, the ancient organisation responsible for recording and protecting personal and corporate coats of arms as well as Scotland’s national symbols.

Mr Tibbetts, who is based in Edinburgh, will offer advice to members of the public, clans, and local government on all issues relating to flags.

“Interest in vexillology generally, and community flags in particular, has definitely been growing in momentum over the past 10 years,” he told The Scotsman.

“There are many reasons why communities will look to develop their own flags. One is the obvious internal benefit of having a symbol to bring people together. Secondly is the opportunity to raise awareness of a community externally. And finally some communities may be seeking to strengthen their individual patch in the patchwork of our national identity.

“It is perhaps of no surprise that this momentum has been so strong in Scotland, which is historically famed for its sense of ceremony generally, as well as a notably deep and wide uptake of personal heraldry. On a local front the large number of regional tartans shows the long-standing desire for community identity , which flags are now helping to meet.”

The voluntary vexillogist has previously assisted community councils in Caithness, Denny and Dunipace and Kirkcudbrightshire in their efforts to have a local flag adopted.

He also supported the campaigns in Barra and South Uist to have their long-standing banners officially recognised by the Lord Lyon.

It was his work with the Court of the Lord Lyon, which pre-dates the 1707 Act of Union, which led to his appointment as honorary vexillogist this week.

“My appointment to the Court of the Lord Lyon has come about after having worked closely with the court over a number of years,” he added.

“The first success with this was the Caithness flag. This was the first community flag in Scotland for nearly a decade, the first for a community on mainland Scotland and the first to ever be run as a public competition.

“Since I have been working with the Lyon Court Scotland has seen more and more communities look to develop their own symbols. I have had the privilege of engaging with a number of schools and there have been thousands of entries into competitions. Scottish competitions have consistently scored some of the highest number of entries – both per capita for the community as well as in total – of any in the UK.”

In theory any community – whether a town, historic county, city or individual island – can develop their own flag. Where Mr Tibbets can help is ensuring the process follows Lyon Court requirements.

Ultimately, any flag must be heraldically correct and unique to win official recognition.

“I think the most common misconception about flag design is that many people, including myself when I first started designing, think that a profound design should be complex and dense with imagery,” he added. “Or that it should be like a picture postcard.

“In reality, whilst there are a number of considerations to be made when designing arms and flags, the key to great design is simplicity.

“Simplicity will make any flag easy to see, easy to recognise and easy to reproduce, as well giving a timeless quality that ensures it’s longevity down the generations.”