Scotland politics

Fact check: Scotland's Union flag row

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The claim: Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has "banned the Union flag for the Queen's birthday", limiting its use at government buildings to one day a year.

The verdict: It was actually Alex Salmond who changed the flag policy in 2010, but published guidance has only just been updated.

What happened?

Three newspapers led with claims on Wednesday that Nicola Sturgeon had changed her government's policy on flying the Union flag - drawing a furious response from the first minister.

The Scottish Daily Mail said the change would see "dozens of public buildings" cut the number of days they fly the Union flag from 15 to one - Remembrance Day.

The Daily Telegraph also said Ms Sturgeon had "hauled down the Union flag", while the Daily Express claimed the move was "a snub to the Queen".

Ms Sturgeon took the papers to task on Twitter - where she posted more than a dozen tweets calling the story "simply untrue" and "ridiculous" - and her predecessor Alex Salmond was also quick to issue a statement attacking those spreading the tale as "ignoramuses".

The Daily Mail later apologised - but in a ruling issued in May, the newspaper standards body Ipso ruled the Telegraph and Express reports had not breached its code on accuracy.

Has anything changed?

It is true that the policy paperwork has changed - there are clear differences between the 2017 and 2018 guidance papers on the Scottish government website, with the Union flag now referred to as flying on "Remembrance Day only".

But this has actually been the government's practice since 2010, with Mr Salmond saying he made the change in consultation with the Queen.

The former first minister said it "seemed obvious to me that the appropriate flag to be flown on the occasion of royal birthdays is the Royal Standard or the Lion Rampant".

Ms Sturgeon confirmed that "the civil service recently decided to update the published guidance", but said this was an "administrative step" to "ensure that it accurately reflected the long-standing practice".

She added: "I have issued no instructions, orders, authorisations - or even expressed an opinion - about changing flag policy."

What about other buildings?

So there has been no change to practice at core Scottish government buildings - but could changing the guidance document have a knock-on effect at other sites?

A number of other public organisations, such as Historic Environment Scotland, choose to take the government's lead on flag-flying.

So the newspapers caught up in the row argue that changing the paperwork may cause some such groups to change their practices.

In any case the fact there has been such an outcry means these groups will be well aware of the matter, and as such would be making informed decisions when they raise or lower any flag.

Ms Sturgeon's staff say this proves that she "did not decree, rule or ban anything".

  • This story was updated on 31 May 2018 to reflect the Ipso ruling.

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