EU flag is being usurped by SNP to make a political point – Christine Jardine

Flags are better suited to sporting arenas, rather than politics (Picture: Ian Rutherford)
Flags are better suited to sporting arenas, rather than politics (Picture: Ian Rutherford)
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I am dismayed that the UK is leaving the European Union, but it is and therefore the EU flag should no longer be flown by the Scottish Parliament, writes Christine Jardine.

I’m hoping for a good day on Saturday. The Calcutta Cup has always been one of my favourite events in the sporting calendar.

And I admit there are few experiences so guaranteed to make me fill with emotion as that moment when the pipers fall silent and the Murrayfield crowd continue unaccompanied with ‘Flower of Scotland’.

For 80 minutes England are the Auld Enemy and the taste of victory, on those occasions when we have it, is sweet. But it is a game. A game that I love, but a game nonetheless.

And the rivalry is entirely about who will prove to have the more accomplished experience on the day. It is also the only time when I will wear national colours or consider waving a flag. Any flag.

Don’t get me wrong there are occasions – like when I saw it fluttering in the breeze over the Church of Scotland in Jerusalem – when the sight of the Saltire fills me pride.

And walking down Whitehall I get a huge sense of security from the Union Flag above parliament.

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But I have also come to resent the way in which flags have somehow become not just central to the political debate but regarded as central to what politics is about. I cannot see that.

I care much more about tackling the homelessness that I see every day, even in the entrance to the parliament of the fifth largest economy in the world.

Or cleaning up the air that makes Edinburgh the most polluted city in Scotland and is now so dirty that a recent report estimated one in 28 deaths in our city is in some way attributable to it.

And then there are the problems in our schools, our NHS, our public services and the sickening growth in food banks.

Flag-waving doesn’t solve problems

None of those issues will be resolved by waving a flag. Nor by wrapping ourselves in it and claiming that it somehow makes us more Scottish or British with an enhanced right to speak for the rest of us.

They are not the preserve of any single political party, or to be used by them for narrow self-promoting purposes.

Over the course of the past few years, I have begun to feel the same sense of attachment to the flag of the European Union as those of Scotland and the UK.

But, unfortunately, that is also now being drawn into the political mud-slinging.

For more than a decade, it has been flown proudly among the flags above the entrance to the Scottish Parliament. That flag represents a body which is now, sadly, no longer part of our constitutional framework. We are not entitled to either its protection or its patronage.

And to that extent, the flag of the EU is no more relevant to our lives now than the flags of the United States, France, Germany, Japan or any other nation.

Believe me, that is something which fills me with a huge sense of regret.

I and my party, the Liberal Democrats, dedicated every possible moment we could, took every opportunity available and followed every route open to us to keep us in the European Union.

In the end, we couldn’t and so it is no longer our flag to wave. I imagine if Scotland had voted to leave the UK in 2014 many of us would have found ourselves in the same situation with the Union Flag.

Union Jacks after independence?

And if, for example, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Highland or any other local authority chose to continue to fly it above their headquarters or for that matter a pro-UK political party in administration at Holyrood in future raised it above parliament, there would be an outcry from the nationalists.

Which is why I find the current attack on the corporate body of the Scottish Parliament and, for that matter, the Liberal Democrats so offensive.

My colleague Liam McArthur MSP reminded the Scottish Parliament this week that the flying of the EU flag was a reflection of our membership of the EU and removing it does not make us anti-European as leaving it up would not make us pro-European.

The flag is, he said, “a statement of legal fact and not a political desire”. But the latter is exactly what it is being usurped for. A political move designed to fan the flames of a particular desire by one party to promote its own agenda. That is not what I believe my parliament, or its flags, are for.

They are there to represent the people of Scotland, regardless of their politics, religion or any other individual factor.

And, above all else, they are a symbol of the sources from which the Parliament takes its authority. Those are now only the UK and the people of Scotland.

I do not want to see the flag of the EU removed, that single act would represent everything I and so many other people have worked so hard not to lose. But I accept that it should be.

Our attention now should be on working for the best possible relationship with our neighbours for the good of us all.

And let’s keep our flag waving to the sports arenas.

Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West