Where can I buy a Scottish flag?

There are a number of flag manufacturers you can approach, and details can be found online or in your local telephone directory. The Scottish Flag Trust buys its flags from a Glasgow firm – James Stevenson (Flags) Ltd


What are the correct colour and dimensions of the Scottish flag?

The national flag of Scotland is a white saltire (diagonal cross) on a blue background. The technical description is – azure, a saltire argent.

A Flag Code was prepared some years ago by the Heraldry Society of Scotland in conjunction with the Scottish Flag Trust and Saltire Society. This was submitted to the Scottish Parliament, and though the Code has no legal status it was accepted by the Parliament as general guidance.

In terms of colour, the blue field of the Saltire should be a bright azure in harmony with the legend, but not pale or weak. The Code states that the field of the flag should be blue and of a hue compatible with Pantone 300U.

In terms of dimensions, the Code states that the flag should be rectangular and of a height to length ratio of four to five (4:5). The flag that flies permanently at Athelstaneford – birthplace of the Saltire – measures 4ft by 5ft and is of these proportions. Note that Flag manufacturers also make flags that are of a height to length ratio of three to six (3:6) which reflect the naval tradition of flags at sea, being narrower.

Where can I buy a flagpole, and would its erection require planning permission?

A flag manufacturer such as James Stevenson (Flags) Ltd can advise on the dimensions and costs of a range of fibreglass flagpoles. Smaller vertically angled wall mounted flagpoles are also available.

Before buying and erecting a flagpole, your local council should be contacted to see if there are any policies that would require a planning application to be submitted.

Is anybody entitled to fly the Scottish flag?

Yes. In Scots Heraldry, 1956, the then Lord Lyon gave the following guidance:- “The Cross of St Andrew is the flag which any Scotsman (or woman) is entitled to fly or wear as evidence of his (or her) national identity or patriotism. This is also the proper flag to fly on a Scottish church”.

Are there particular dates when the Scottish flag should be flown?

The Scottish flag can be flown at any time, and indeed many institutions and national and local bodies fly the Saltire all year round. There are a number of important Scottish Anniversaries on which the Saltire should certainly be flown, namely:-

  • January 1 – New Year’s Day
  • January 25 – Burns Day
  • April 6 – Declaration of Arbroath Day
  • June 24 – Bannockburn Day
  • August 23 – Wallace Day
  • November 30 – St Andrew’s Day

Was the Battle of Athelstaneford a legend, or was it a real event?

There is little surviving documentation relating to the 9th century. But the fact remains that the story of the cross of St Andrew appearing during a battle fought near Athelstaneford and inspiring the Picts/Scots to victory is recorded in print by every one of Scotland’s early medieval historians, including Boece, Bower, Buchanan, Leslie, Major and Spottiswoode. The accounts may vary in terms of the details, but these historians are in no doubt that the event happened.

There is a range of opinion regarding the date of the battle. John Spottiswoode (1527-1596) wrote the Historie of Scotland, and in the introduction to the battle of Athelstaneford he states “We are now at the year 800 or thereabout”. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland goes with 815, as this is the date given by W.Camden (1789) in Britannia. Nigel Tranter, Scottish historian and writer, believed the date to have been 832, and the 19th century historian Skene also claims the battle took place in 832. Walter Bower, in his Scotichronicon written in the 1440s, places the date as being within the reign of King Hungus between 820 and 834. Based on the above, the Scottish Flag Trust considers 832AD to be the most likely date.

Where was the actual site of the battle?

The first OS map produced in 1854 (6 inches to 1 mile) refers to Supposed Site of Battle (9th century) on fields to the north east of the group of buildings at Needless, half a kilometre north of Athelstaneford. The map also refers to Site of ford (supposed spot where Athelstan was slain) at the Cogtail Burn, 150 metres west of Athelstaneford Mains Farm to the south east of the village.

The map also refers to Bloody Side on fields between Prora Farm and the Peffer Burn, a mile and a half north of the village. Nigel Tranter believes this to be the more likely site of the battle, and the interpretative panel at the Heritage Centre viewpoint highlights this location.

What is the connection between Scotland's flag and Scotland's patron saint St Andrew?

The Bible tells us that Andrew, a fisherman from Bethsaida in Galilee, was the ‘first called’ of Christ’s disciples. After the crucifixion, as tradition relates, Andrew travelled the countries bordering the Black Sea, and his missionary work is still remembered in that part of the world – to this day Andrew is patron saint in Greece, Russia and the Ukraine. It was in the Greek city of Patras that he suffered martyrdom. Possibly because he felt himself unworthy to meet his death on a cross of the same shape as his Lord’s, he was crucified on a diagonal cross.

Part of the tradition is that St Andrew wore blue, and so the white of the wooden cross against the blue of his robes gave us the colours of our national flag.

However, there is another legend to explain the white cross on a blue background, one that has its birth a long way from Greece in the village of Athelstaneford in East Lothian. According to this legend, an army of Picts under King Angus, and aided by a contingent of Scots, was invading Lothians (at that time still Northumbrian territory), and found itself surrounded by a larger force of Saxons led by Athelstan. Fearing the outcome, Angus led prayers for deliverance and was rewarded by seeing a white saltire against the blue sky. The king vowed that if, with the saint’s help, he gained the victory, then Andrew would thereafter be the patron saint of Scotland. The Scots did win, and the Saltire became the flag of Scotland.

Far though he travelled on his missionary travels, St Andrew never set foot in Scotland. But four centuries after his death, some of his bones arrived here. Quite how they did so is uncertain. One version of the story is that St Regulus was homeward bound from the Mediterranean with relics of the saint he had acquired there, when his ship was wrecked on the coast of Fife. Regulus settled at Kilrymont, and the church he founded became an important place of pilgrimage and the seat of the Bishop of St Andrews. Another version, favoured by historians, is that some relics of St Andrew found their way from Constantinople, where the Emporor Constantine had a collection, via the Italian town of Amalfi to Scotland.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is clear that the rise to prominence of St Andrew and the cathedral city bearing his name was closely linked to changes taking place in Scotland between the 9th and 12th centuries. During this period, Celtic influences from Ireland and associated with local saints such as Columba had led to the creation of religious centres at Dunkeld and Abernethy, but the influence of Rome coming via England was to prove stronger in the end, and St Andrews named after an apostle of the universal church became its headquarters

How easy is it to travel to Athelstaneford?

Athelstaneford lies about 20 miles to the east of Edinburgh, and it is easily accessed from the A1. Motorists should leave the A1 at Haddington, and the B1347 turn-off is a mile to the east of Haddington. There are prominent brown tourist signs to follow to the Flag Heritage Centre.

There is also a local bus service (121) between Haddington and North Berwick that passes through Athelstaneford, and there are six services per day in each direction.

Who runs the Flag Heritage Centre?

Responsibility for the upkeep, maintenance and promotion of the Flag Heritage Centre and the Saltire Memorial at Athelstaneford lies with the Scottish Flag Trust which is a registered Scottish charity (SC 002778). There are 8 Trustees who meet three times each year.

The Flag Trust has limited funds, but there is generous support provided by over 100 “Friends” of the Trust who give an annual subscription.