The registration of the design for Sutherland’s county flag which opponents said would look more at home over the ground of “an outer Mongolian third division football team” than flying in Scotland.
The procedure, which would end in a “grant” for the flag being issued by Scotland’s heraldic authority, the Lord Lyon, has been halted by the Lord Lieutenancy for the time being.
The move follows widespread opposition in the north Highlands county to the design of a swooping eagle with three stars – known as mullets – on a bright yellow and orange background.
More than 850 people signed an online petition against it – launched by Rogart resident Leslie Sharp after the flag was unveiled at the end of January.
There was criticism that Sutherland residents had not been given a chance to vote on the design which was chosen by a selection panel following a competition run by the Lord Lieutenancy.
The row received international publicity, with critics vilifying the design as a “budgie with a smirk” but at first the Lord Lieutenancy insisted there would be no re-run of the competition saying the process had been open, transparent and democratic.
The group also said some antipathy towards the design – which was approved by the Lord Lyon – was only to be expected and that 40 per cent of the adverse comments on social media were from non-Sutherland residents while the petition signatories represented less than five per cent of the county’s population.
It also maintained that there had not been the funding available to ballot households in Sutherland.
However, it now appears the strength of the hostility to the design has shaken the group and there has been a re-think.
A representative of the Lord Lyon said: “I understand that the petitioners (the Lord Lieutenancy) are considering the matter and, until we hear from them, no further procedures will take place in our office.”
Asked for an explanation, Vice Lieutenant Colin Gilmour, Rosehall, said: “As the secretary of the Sutherland Flag Selection committee, I can say on its behalf that, at this stage, it is felt that a period of reflection is indeed in the best interest of all parties – both those for and those against the flag.”
He added: “A further statement will be made in due course.”
Lord Lieutenant Dr Monica Main, a retired GP, has written to MSPs who have contacted her about the issue.
In a letter to Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron, she wrote: “It is unfortunate that an exercise which we thought would unite the county, has in fact done the opposite.”
As well as launching the petition, Leslie Sharp, a merchant seaman, also lobbied MSPs and the Lord Lieutenancy.
He said he was delighted to hear that the flag was not yet registered and there was now a window of opportunity for Sutherland people to be given a say on its design.
Philip Tibbetts, a vexillologist with the Flag Institute, gave advice and guidance to the Lord Lieutenancy during the competition process and is understood to have been responsible for drawing up the final digital flag design which was based on one entry but also incorporated elements from another two.