THE row over the design for the Sutherland flag has taken a fresh twist with the launch of an online petition against it.
Merchant seaman and Sutherland native Leslie Sharp (37), who lives in Rogart, set up the petition a week ago and by Thursday it had been signed by more than 550 people.
Organisers of the competition that resulted in the flag design of an eagle and three stars on a yellow and red background had indicated there was no turning back but the Northern Times this week ascertained that the design had not yet been officially registered. The Lord Lyon – Scotland’s heraldic authority – has been asked to register it.
Mr Sharp, a father of two, who works out of Aberdeen, slammed the flag design as a “stagnant retake from the past” that did not evoke Sutherland’s beauty.
He criticised the design being chosen not by public vote but by a selection panel. The competition organisers, the Lord Lieutenancy, had endeavoured to make the panel as representative as possible.
Mr Sharp has written to Sutherland’s Lord Lieutenant, Dr Monica Main, asking her to reverse the decision. He has also been in contact with Highland Council, although the authority has not been involved in the process.
He said: “Given the negative feedback, I feel it is of the upmost importance that the flag be chosen by the people. That was the most important factor driving my decision to start a petition.
“If it is selected by a few, it does not represent the majority and thus the people of Sutherland as a whole.
“Give the people of Sutherland the choice and let people decide.”
Lt Col Colin Gilmour, vice Lord Lieutenant and spokesperson for the selection panel, last week issued a statement explaining the logic behind the flag design. He also said it was not unusual for new flags to be received with some hostility.
He said: “There is no intent to re-run any competition. The Lord Lyon has now issued the warrant for the flag and it has been formally registered.
“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.”
However, according to the Lord Lyon’s office, the flag has yet to be officially registered.
A spokesperson for the Lord Lyon said: “At present there is a petition before the Lord Lyon regarding the grant of a possible design to be used as a flag by the Sutherland community.
“This process has not yet been completed and no authorisation for a grant of the flag has been made.”
However, the spokesperson made it clear that discussions over the design of the flag would only take place with the Lord Lieutenancy – the organisation that petitioned it.
In an email to an objector, it was stated: “If there is more discussion on the design to take place with this office it would be at the request of the Petitioners.”
Only four out of 34 Scottish counties – Caithness, Kirkcudbrightshire, Orkney and Shetland – have their own flags.
The Caithness flag was chosen in a public vote, as was the Orkney flag. Kirkcudbright’s design was understood to be the choice of its Lord Lieutenant while Shetland already had an unofficial flag that was given recognition.
East Lothian, meanwhile, is in the throes of running a flag competition and the public will be asked to vote.
Leslie Sharp’s petition can be accessed by visiting www.change.org and searching for “Sutherland Flag”.
* Lt Col Colin Gilmour is not the chairman of the selection committee, as was stated in last week’s Northern Times, but its spokesman. He has also pointed out that he was a non-voting member.
In addition, he asked us to make it clear that while the Lord Lieutenancy ran the competition, it did not select the design for the Sutherland flag. The choice was made by the selection committee.