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Colour and Design of the Scottish Flag

Last modified: 2012-01-20 by rob raeside
Keywords: scotland | flag code |
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[Flag of Scotland] 2:3 (also used in other dimensions); image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 30 May 2006

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The Scottish Parliament’s education, culture and sport committee has set the optimum shade of blue for the flag as Pantone 300 (), azure, or sky-blue. The committee’s decision is only advisory and it will have to go to Jim Wallace, the justice minister, for ratification. The subject first came to the Scottish Parliament in 2000 when George Reid, a retired accountant, submitted a petition to the public petitions committee. Later that year, the education committee considered the petition and decided it was not a devolved matter and that Members of the Scottish Parliament were therefore powerless to act. At a later stage, however, Scotland’s heraldic authority, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, suggested it was within Holyrood’s powers and Mr Reid petitioned Holyrood a second time. Mike Russell, MSP for south of Scotland region noted that the committee’s verdict would have no statutory force but would amount to "a pretty strong recommendation".
Extracts from The Scotsman, 19 February 2002
Iain Sutherland, 22 February, 2002

Before this there is no official Pantone colour for the Scottish flag. In 1998 the Flag Institute recommended Pantone 300 () for the blue, but often an even lighter shade, such as Pantone 299 (), is used in actual flags. The important fact is that it should be lighter than the dark blue used in the Union Flag.
Graham Bartram, 17 March 1998

The colour of the blue on the saltire today is usually Pantone 279 () (UN blue). Lord Lyon uses "ultramarine blue with added white".
Graham Bartram, 26 July 2001

Although the shade is lighter than the dark blue of the United Kingdom flag, it is more like the normal blue seen on flags around the world. Perhaps the most accurate version would be to use the blue shown for the Shetland flag (Pantone 300 ) - the two flags are identical shades when seen flying together.
Ken Bagnall, 25 September 2002

In 'The Story of the Scottish Flag' by McMillan and Stewart (1925) it is suggested that the flag used to be sky blue, and that indigo blue [commonly in use in the early 20th Century] was adopted to meet the needs of sailors for a fast colour before the invention of modern fast dyes of a lighter shade. Quoting Sir Herbert Maxwell, 'one of our foremost Scottish historical authorities', "It is to be regretted that flag makers use, not a heraldic azure, but navy blue, which shows almost black against the sky, thus obscuring the celestial origin of the ensign."

In 1937, the flag makers Edgington asked the Admiralty for the correct shade of blue for the field of St Andrew's cross after having a batch, ordered for the coronation, returned for being the wrong shade. (ADM 1/9118 in Public Record Office at Kew.) The Scottish Office quoted Lyon King of Arms as saying it should be azure which was a light blue. He did not consider the "blue-black" sometimes used in Union Flags as blue, and would refuse to pass it as azure on a Coat of Arms.

Pattern T.812. Blue, Azure.
T.813. (formerly 61A) Blue, Intermediate.
T.814. Royal Blue.
Azure described as "bright blue" by Sir Hebert Maxwell who said it should be 61A which he called Saxe Blue.

If it still exists the Saint Andrew Society of Glasgow may have some information on the subject.
David Prothero, 25 July 2002

By tradition the flag is based on a saltire-cross of St Andrew which appeared in the form of clouds in the sky above a battle between the Scots and the Saxons. This encouraged the Scots to victory and ever since the 'sky-blue' flag with a white saltire has been the national flag.
Graham Bartram,
17 March 1998


[Flag of Scotland]   [Flag of Scotland]
3:5 dimensions 1:2 dimensions

both images by António Martins-Tuválkin, 30 May 2006

Shown at the top of this page, the flag in 2:3 dimensions. The flag is also flown in 3:5 dimensions as per MoD recommendation, and 1:2 as per customary practice.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 30 May 2006

[Flag of Scotland] 3:4, image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 30 May 2006

Lord Lyon's recommendations for dimensions of the flag are 3:4.
António Martins-Tuválkin
, 30 May 2006

The new Edition of BR20, issued by the Ministry of Defence (and based on a recommendation of the London College of Arms), will show construction details with a ratio of 3:5. The office of the Lord Lyon (King of Arms) recommends 4:5, whilst the St Andrews Society of Glasgow issued specifications (unfortunately undated) which show 2:3. In all cases the width of the saltire is equal to one-fifth the width of the flag (as in the current Union Jack).note 3.
Christopher Southworth, 12 July 2004

The Saltires I have seen on buildings are probably a ratio of 1:2. This approximate ratio with a fairly thin cross, brings out the beauty and true proportions of the Cross of St. Andrew.
Thomas Murray, 12 July 2004

I'm sure the 1:2 ratio Mr. Murray has seen results from the fact that the more or less official ratio of the Union Jack is 1:2, and that British flag-makers presumably use that as a default ratio. The 4:5 quoted on the page, Scottish flag: Lord Lyon's recommendations comes from the Scottish heraldic authority, Lyon Court. Predictably, Lyon Court shows a predilection for following heraldic rather than naval tradition, and its prescribed ratio for heraldic flags hoisted over houses, etc., is 4:5.
Joe McMillan, 12 July 2004

It's worth noting that when flags appear as part of coats of arms, either being flown by a demi-beast in the crest or from lymphads in the body of a shield, the flags are usually much squarer than 'real' flags usually are - 4:5 sounds like it might be the ratio used for these flag depictions, which could well be where the idea of a 4:5 flag came from.
James Dignan, 12 July 2004

The Saltire flying from a flag-pole on top a building owned by my local council is probably a ratio of 1:2. There are at least 3 similar Saltires on at least 3 hotels in Perth. There are 2 cheaper looking Saltires flying from flag-poles outside Perth library. These are at least 3:5, probably greater. In Edinburgh there many Saltires, flying over official buildings at probably 1:2. These expensive 1:2 Saltires in Perth and Edinburgh appear to probably be the same design and possibly the same manufacturer. 1:2 seems to have become the semi-official ratio standard.
Thomas Murray, 16 July 2004

There is no fixed dimension for the flag of Scotland - the St Andrew's Society of Glasgow suggests 2:3, Lord Lyon King of Arms recommends 4:5 and BR20 (Flags of All Nations) proposes 3:5. In addition quite a number are actually made in 1:2.
Graham Bartram, 6 December 2004

The Scottish Flag Trust uses flags at Athelstaneford (birthplace of the national flag) that have been manufactured by James Stevenson (Flags) Ltd. of Glasgow. The main flag is at the Saltire Memorial, and is flown permanently and floodlit at night. The Trust flies Saltires in the ratio 4:5, in line with the guidance in the Flag Code. A secondary flag, a Saltire vimpel, is flown at the viewpoint next to the Heritage Centre which overlooks the site of the battle.
David Williamson, Scottish Flag Trust Chairman, 18 December 2007

In December 2006 I e-mailed the Scottish Flag Trust, about their support for 4:5, which was on their website. I informed them that the flag flown at Athelstaneford, was not 4:5. Furthermore, that their leaflets had a photo (at latest 2003) that was not of a 4:5 Saltire, although, I have not been there since 2003. The chairman e-mailed that they would look into the matter. It is possible that my e-mail, prompted them to use 4:5. This website, shows the leaflet:
Thomas Murray, 18 December 2007

The book British Flags & Emblems by Graham Bartram, states that in "1687" "11:18" was "specifiednote1" for the "Union Flag". Furthermore Michael Faul of the Flag Institute, confirmed that 11:18 was the correct ratio.
4:5 = 1:1.25
11:18 = 1:1.6363
3:5 = 1:1.6666
11:18 is actually slightly closer to 1:2 (+0.3636) than 4:5 (-0.3863). Therefore, according to the argument that the length to height ratio of the Saltire should be based closely on the ratio of the Union Flag from 1606 to 1707, it follows that 11:18 or more sensibly its closest modern ratio 3:5, should be the standard, if one supports this argument.Note2

I do not see why a standard ratio for the Saltire of present day and for the future should be based closely on the ratio of the Union Flag of 300 to 400 years ago. Only Monaco officially uses 4:5. Even then its national flag is "almost invariably" "displayed in" "2:3". The Vatican City has an official ratio of 1:1. Such squarish shaped flags are highly unusual. In my opinion, this argument is a feeble excuse by Scottish heraldists to justify their preference for 4:5 (1:1.25); i.e. heraldic tradition. For example, James Stevenson (Flags) Ltd deem their "4x3 ft" (1:1.33) Saltire to be "ceremonial". Reasons to support 1:2 are:

  1. In my opinion it is the most attractive looking ratio. Furthermore, I have no doubt that if a referendum or public opinion poll were to be conducted in Scotland. It would be the most popular choice.
  2. The vast majority of Saltires made in Scotland, are already produced in quality (non-economy) in 1:2. So, it appears that market forces have already decided upon the ratio.
  3. The Scottish Parliament's Saltires are 1:2.
  4. 1:2 is the official standard ratio of the Union Flag and national flags of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Republic of Ireland and
    Russia. Furthermore, it is very close to that of the USA's 10:19 (1:1.9).
  5. Saltires would have to be produced in 1:2 anyhow; if we had 4:5 as the standard, for use when they are flown with other nations flags. Therefore, if 4:5 were the official standard, Scotland would be only country in the World with a flag having quite different angles of its cross officially representing it; i.e. in 4:5 and 1:2.
Thomas Murray, 18 February 2008
Note 1: Not quite "specified", but based upon Pepys' proposed list for Royal Navy flags of that year, which was, in turn, based upon the fact that a "breadth" was one-half of a fabric width of 22" with half a yard (or 18") being used per breadth. In the past I have wondered on just how much fabric as lost in joining a number of breadths together, so perhaps one of our Netherlands members might care to examine those English flags captured during the 17th Century Dutch Wars and held in Amsterdam?
Christopher Southworth, 18 February 2008

Note 2: Who, one must ask, argues thus? I have never heard it, and in any case, the only official image we have of the 1606 Pattern of Union Flag (at least of which I am aware) is that which dates from 1707 and is reproduced in Perrin (Plate IV) which shows a saltire narrower than the St George which is in turn narrow than on the modern flag? In addition Tim Wilson (Flags at Sea) suggests that the proportion of jacks was shorter than that of ensigns, which together makes a nonsense not only of any such proposition (with which he doesn't agree in any case) but also of his whole argument?
     The Scottish legislature may well go ahead and confirm (as per the recent bill) 4:5 as the official ratio of the saltire, but British manufacturers will continue to make (and customers will continue to buy) flags in 2:3, 3:5 and 1:2 as they have for who knows how many years?
Christopher Southworth, 18 February 2008

Note 3: I e-mailed the Scottish Parliament's Public Information Service. Reply from a Mr Richard Doherty, 25 September 2008, "to the very best of my knowledge the Scottish Parliament has made no ruling on - and is not due to consider - the ratio of the Saltire."  Since in the e-mail from the Scottish Parliament's Public Information Service it only specifically stated that Bills had been looked at. Therefore, to be doubly sure I searched the Public Petitions, that are still open and not closed. Nothing could be found, relating to this matter.

Regarding my arguments in support of 1:2. It has been pointed out to me, that the Flag of Russia no longer has an official ratio of 1:2.
Thomas Murray, 26 September 2008

Dimensions currently available in Scotland

Of the Scottish Flag manufacturers I can find, one Scottish manufacturer produces the Saltire as follows: 1:2 Sewn woven polyester in seven sizes, 1:2 Printed Woven Polyester in three sizes, 1:2 Knitted Printed Polyester in three sizes, 2:3 Sewn Woven Polyester in one size, 3:4 Sewn Woven Polyester in one size. Another Scottish manufacturer produces the Saltire as follows: 1:2 Sewn Woven Polyester in seven sizes, 3:5 Economy in one size, 5:8 Economy in one size, 2:3 Economy in one size. Yet another Scottish manufacturer produces the Saltire as follows: 1:2 "quality" in two sizes.
Thomas Murray, 30 October 2007

In the book British Flags & Emblems, it states that "land flags are normally 3:5". However, at the present time; the vast majority of quality (non-economy) Saltires made in Scotland and the rest of the UK are produced in 1:2. As far as I am aware non-custom-made quality 3:5 Saltires, are not produced in Scotland. The only reason for this I can think of is that although 3:5 and 1:2 are fairly different, there is not enough of a difference to produce non-custom made quality 3:5 Saltires. The only other ratios of quality Saltires I have seen, advertised made in Scotland are 2:3 in one size "6x4ft" "72x48in" and 3:4 in one size "4x3ft" "Ceremonial".

House of Flags, Cambridgeshire, produces "0.68mx 1.20m" (1:1.7647) quality Saltires - approximately 4:7 (1:1.75). So, I assume 3:5 (1:1.666) is what it is probably meant to be, though they claim that a "1.0mx1.6m" flag is "2:3" (1:1.5) when actually it is 5:8 (1:1.6)

Ratios of Saltires that are actually manufactured in Scotland, which I have found:

James Stevenson (Flags) Ltd, Glasgow,,"Scotland's leading flagmakers" "now the main truly independent and self-financed flagmakers in Scotland":
1:2 ratio, Sewn Woven Polyester, (Seven sizes), 18x9, 36x18, 54x27, 72x36, 90x45, 108x54, 144x72 (inches).
1:2 ratio, Printed Woven Polyester, (Three sizes), 36x18, 54x27, 72x36 (inches).
1:2 ratio, Printed Knitted Polyester, (Three sizes), 36x18, 54x27, 72x36 (inches).
2:3 ratio, Sewn Woven Polyester, "Special Sizes", (One size), "6x4ft".
3:4 ratio, Sewn Woven Polyester, "Ceremonial" "complete with fringe", (One size), "4x3ft".
3:5 ratio, Economy, (One size), "5x3ft".

Flags of the World, Stranraer.
"Clients" "The Scottish Executive".
1:2 ratio, "Quality Sewn" "woven polyester" "2:1 ratio", (Seven sizes), 1 yd, 1.5 yd, 2 yd (£37.50), 2.5 yd, 3 yd, 4 yd, 5 yd.
3:5 ratio, "Economy Flags" "5ft x 3 ft Polyester Display" (One size) (£5.95).
5:8 ratio, "8ft x 5ft Giant Polyester Display Flag" (One size) (£17.50).
2:3 ratio, "3ft x 2ft Polyester Display Flag" (One size) (£4.50).

"MAGELLAN FLAGS", East Linton, East Lothian. "quality flags" "member of the FLAG INSTITUTE" "MoD specification flags".
1:2 ratio (Two sizes) "3ft x 1.5ft", "6ft x 3ft".

Hi-Fli Banners & Flags, Kirriemuir.
Their flags are "custom made". Though the standard ratio is 1:2 and size "6'x3' ". 1:2 ratio, Quality in two grades "125gsm" and "110gsm" (One size) "6'x3' ".
1:2 ratio, Economy (One size) "6'x3' ".

To sum up:
Of the Scottish Flag manufacturers I can find, one Scottish manufacturer produces the Saltire as follows: 1:2 Sewn woven polyester in seven sizes, 1:2 Printed Woven Polyester in three sizes, 1:2 Knitted Printed Polyester in three sizes, 2:3 Sewn Woven Polyester in one size, 3:4 Sewn Woven Polyester in one size, 3:5 Economy in one size. Another Scottish manufacturer produces the Saltire as follows: 1:2 Sewn Woven Polyester in seven sizes, 3:5 Economy in one size, 5:8 Economy in one size, 2:3 Economy in one size. Another Scottish manufacturer produces  the Saltire as follows: 1:2 "quality" in two sizes. Another Scottish manufacturer produces the Saltire as follows: 1:2 as the standard ratio. 1:2 Quality in 2 grades in one size, 1:2 Economy in one size.
Thomas Murray, 26 September 2008