In a statement issued on behalf of the Sutherland Flag Committee, Lt. Col Colin Gilmour, Vice Lord Lieutenant of Sutherland and chairman of the Flag Selection Committee explains the reasoning behind the Sutherland flag design.
It is not unusual for new flags to receive some hostility online when they are revealed. There were complaints on message boards about the Caithness flag when it was first shown.
In this case the committee regrets that it did not explain better much of the symbology and reasoning behind the flag decision process – the root cause of nearly all the current complaints.
This note serves to better explain many of the understandable misconceptions currently rumbling on social media.
Prior to the Sutherland flag competition, the committee and high school pupils in Sutherland were briefed by a professional vexillologist on the “requirements of a successful flag”.
These include key design points such as focusing on using a few, bold and contrasting colours for visibility and the need for simplicity to allow the flag to be easily recognised and recreated even by children.
From the outset the committee therefore sought a bold, striking design, one that would stand out, while including the history and context of Sutherland.
The pupil representatives particularly wanted a more modern and confident design better reflecting the future.
It is clear that some of the historical linkages have not been explained clearly enough and the committee apologises for this.
The red and yellow colours are the historic colours of Sutherland and have been since around 1150. The three yellow stars with the red background were on the shields carried by the “Sutherland contingent” in fights against the English at Bannockburn in 1314 (3rd Earl of Sutherland); Halidon Hill in 1333 (4th Earl of Sutherland); and probably at Neville Cross in 1346.
Bold colours were strongly favoured in all the entries, with almost no exceptions.
The traditional red and yellow featured in a very large number, especially from schools and professional entrants.
The wildcat, as a symbol, was much discussed during the selection process. The land of the Cat is properly Caithness, not Sutherland.
The original land of the Cat or ‘Cait’ (from about 800 AD) centred on Caithness and just included a small part of south-east Sutherland.
The confusion comes from the Gaelic name for Sutherland which is ‘Cataibh’ which does indeed mean ‘cat land’ but it originated when south-east Sutherland and Caithness all fell under the one Pictish region.
Inclusivity of the whole county, especially including the west and north, was considered a vital factor by the selection committee, so choosing an emblem that was historically limited to only a very small part of Sutherland (the south-east) and another adjacent county, might reasonably be considered to have been unrepresentative of the county as a whole.
This point was made most strongly by those from the west and north of Sutherland.
Consequently, the eagle was selected as a key element of the design. The eagle was, and remains, the overwhelmingly popular choice of animals, especially by school pupils and young people. The spread of both the white tailed sea eagle (west) and the golden eagle (everywhere) means that the symbol of Sutherland is alive, vibrant and well.
Sadly, the wildcat is not. Crossbreeding with domestic cats and a collapse of its natural habitat means the species is all but gone from Sutherland.
The selection committee decided that the future rested with the eagle and, if the stars and colours stem from the past, the eagle was the future – the choice of Sutherland’s youth.
It is wrong to say the final flag design comes equally from three entries and might be construed as a misplaced compromise.
It is in fact based on one design but picks up some design features from two others.
The same procedure was used in the Caithness competition. All three of the three top entries came from school pupils.
The selection process had a strong mandate. Early work identified that a countywide election process was simply unaffordable and the very large sums of money were, quite rightly, better spent by the Highland Council on its many other priorities.
So, a body (the selection committee) was found comprising representation from west, north, east and south.
Every effort was made to ensure that this body was as inclusive as possible. Too often, it was perceived, Sutherland was represented by its more populous south-east corner.
The body included all ages with 40 per cent being from pupils selected by head teachers from across the whole county.
Highland Council and veterans were represented and members came from all backgrounds. Voting representation from the Lieutenancy was reduced to two only.
Two external candidates were included with specialist expertise that would ensure the chosen design was acceptable heraldically and that it complied with flag “best practice”. This method was explained publicly in the media and to no objection – enhancing the mandate.
General feedback, outside of social media, and especially from schools and young people from across Sutherland continues to indicate very strong support for the design.
The new flag has also been overwhelmingly well received by flag experts, manufacturers and groups for its eye catching design.
The new flag is the unequivocal choice of Sutherland’s youth.
The design takes much strength from Sutherland’s past, with its symbols and vibrant colours firmly rooted in the county’s distinguished history; combined with the eagle, this is a powerful symbol of a dynamic future to which the younger people of Sutherland aspire.
There is no intent to re-run any competition. Critically, the young people of Sutherland remain overwhelmingly behind the flag, as do many others, and the committee remain in full support of their position.
The Lord Lyon has now issued the warrant for the flag and it has been formally registered. It is on the Flag Institute web page (https://www.flaginstitute.org/wp/flags/sutherland/) and can now be flown by anyone.
Any commercial business may manufacture and sell the flag or merchandise with the flag design.
The first flag is being made by a Scottish flag manufacturer and will be unveiled at a ceremony this summer on a date to be announced shortly.