Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

25 July 2008

The Re-branded Saltire, And the Football Kits Of Scotland and England

I didn’t realise, till I looked into it, that the blue background colour of the Saltire – Scotland’s national flag – had been officially changed in 2003 by the Scottish Executive, as it was then. Well, not changed, exactly; more, standardised.

I’d noticed in pictures of the flag at football matches, SNP photo opportunities, and on car badges that a lighter blue colour seemed to be being adopted than what I had always regarded as the proper blue for the flag: a dark navy, as seen on the Scottish football and rugby team shirts. I assumed this was simply because this is a more popular shade of blue nowadays than traditional navy or royal blues. In this, it was akin to examples of corporate re-branding where companies adopt more universally appealing colours for their logo for marketing purposes. An example of this was a re-branding exercise carried out by the electronics firm Philips a few years ago, where they replaced the traditional royal blue colour of their logo with a lighter, brighter tint that is, in fact, rather similar to the new official colour for the saltire. (See Philips’ website to have a look at their logo.)

In some respects, the change in colour for the Saltire could indeed be described as a marketing exercise, the primary beneficiary of which was the SNP. The blue colour concerned – technically called ‘pantone 300’, which you can see here – is thought to have more universal appeal than traditional navy or royal blues, which are perceived as too masculine and (by that token?) dull. Lighter, brighter and softer blues are said to be more attractive to women (while not being perceived by men as ‘too’ feminine and therefore putting them off), which means that products marketed or packaged with these colours can be aimed at women as well as men, or at women exclusively.

Now, far be it from me to impugn the masculinity of the Scottish male by implying that Scotland has traded in a properly masculine blue for an ‘effeminate’ shade on its national flag. But – and you knew that was coming! – would Scottish football and rugby fans be happy to see their national teams wearing pantone 300 instead of their traditional deep, dark blue, which you can see in the background colour on the Scottish FA’s website.

Well, maybe some fans would have no qualms about a kit change – not just the women fans! After all, colours similar to pantone 300 are used for many football teams, such as Chelsea and Everton in the English Premier League. I guess a decisive factor would be how nationalistically minded the fans in question were, with more pro-Union Scots being perhaps less willing to make the change; although it has to be said that Glasgow Rangers (traditionally associated with the unionist ‘demographic’) seems to have thrown themselves unreservedly into pantone 300 territory, to judge from their latest squad photo. But then maybe, in this case, the marketing imperative was the overriding factor!

The reason why the adoption of the new colour for the national flag (and its possible adoption by the football and rugby teams) was such a coup for Scottish nationalists is that it clearly differentiates the Scottish flag from the traditional version of it that was incorporated into the Union Flag (which uses a darker blue, between royal and navy: pantone 280 if you’re interested). This means that my previous idea of creating country-specific versions of the Union Flag that have the national flags as ‘inserts’ in the top-left-hand quadrant wouldn’t really work very well in the case of Scotland: you’d be using two different shades of blue, and the visual impression would be a bit of a mess.

Does this mean that we should change the blue colour used in the Union Flag to pantone 300 in order to demonstrate a will to keep Scotland in the Union? Well, I haven’t seen Gordon Brown rushing to suggest this, thereby proving his alleged Scottish patriotism at the same time as sticking up for the Union, by ensuring that Scotland’s colours remained nailed to the UK mast. Maybe pantone 300 would look just a bit, well, effeminate combined with the red and white of the Union Jack! But really, suggesting that we should amend the Union Flag to better incorporate the re-branded Saltire is just as daft as the notion that the UK’s flag should include an explicit symbol for Wales, such as the red dragon or the yellow-cross-on-black-background of St. David. The whole point of the Union Flag, supposedly, is that it is the emblem of a unitary state and therefore is a self-sufficient symbol, showing the incorporation at a given moment of history of three nations (Wales being at that time part of the Kingdom of England) into a United Kingdom. Wanting to change things now to better bring out the individual symbols of the four nations is in fact to demonstrate that that Union is breaking down.

Which shouldn’t really, and doesn’t, bother an English nationalist such as me. But this is only to bring out the point that it really was quite a clever marketing ploy on the part of nationalist backers of the Saltire’s colour change to make sure that it was in fact clearly differentiated – separated out from – the blue of the Union Flag.

But what are the implications for England? Well, from a nationalist perspective, it would be satisfying to see the Scots adopting the lighter blue now used on their flag for their sporting kits. I’m assuming that the Scots are more likely to take the lead in this matter, as they did in ‘unilaterally’ differentiating their flag colour without considering (or while very much considering) the implications for the Union Flag. If the Scots made this change, then it would give us English the licence, as it were, to get rid of the Union blue we’ve so far retained for our football kit: the blue shorts of the home colours, which pick up the blue in the Union Flag and, hence, the blue of Scotland. If Scotland were to adopt a new kit colour that was unambiguously that of their national flag, not that of the Union Flag, then we English can do the same without any pangs of misplaced guilt.

The England football team could then play in all white with red trim as its home colours, just as the rugby team does: properly reflecting the white and red of the Flag of St. George. These would be colours our overpaid and jaded players could hopefully wear with renewed pride, as they’d be representing a nation that was clearly marking itself out as a nation distinct from the UK, whose colours England has played under hitherto.

Throw in Jerusalem as the national anthem, and we’d be half-way to self-rule!



  1. There was a big debate on the colour of the Scottish flag a few years back. Apparently it had become darker because of a shortage of lighter blue dye, so it was actually being restored to it’s original colour – which is supposed to be the colour of the sky.

    Comment by Toque — 26 July 2008 @ 6.08 am | Reply

  2. That’s interesting Toque – but how long ago was that? I have a union flag dated 1953 (coronation I think) and the Blue for Scotland is definately a dark blue, which I always thought was the correct colour. In fact my grandmother (from Inverness) always told me the scottish blue was the reflection of the sky in the dark waters of the loch! Though she never indicated which one!

    PS the union flag is folded and kept in a cupboard while the Cross of St George takes centre stage now!

    Comment by Zenobia — 26 July 2008 @ 6.58 am | Reply

    • The saltire has always been a lighter shade of blue, as it represents a Saint Andrew’s cross formed by clouds in the sky. However, the Union Flag has always used a darker shade of blue, and this gradually led to there being a range of blues used for the saltire, with no official shade, until the Scottish Parliament legislated for it.

      Comment by Adamski — 24 June 2009 @ 7.19 pm | Reply

  3. My understanding poor that it is, is the same as Toque’s. The flag is supposed to be sky blue and part of the reason for an ‘official’ colour because it was tending towards being too dark.

    Comment by Sarah — 26 July 2008 @ 6.10 pm | Reply

  4. Toque / Sarah,

    I’m sure that is the official reason. All I’m saying is that it’s also very good marketing for the SNP: a flag that’s visually more appealing to everyone and which everybody can feel renewed pride in, and which also clearly differentiates itself from the way it’s been produced by the English and incorporated into the Union Jack. Good for them, I say!

    Comment by David — 26 July 2008 @ 7.00 pm | Reply

  5. I’m pleased you liked my idea David re: the all white strip, can’t believe it’s taken me two days to spot your article though. I must have been basking in the warm glow of Middlesex winning the Twenty 20 cup a bit too much eh!

    Comment by Little Englander — 28 July 2008 @ 8.46 pm | Reply

  6. Yes, credit where credit’s due, LE – sorry I omitted you from the credits! Congratulations on the 20-20 win.

    Comment by David — 29 July 2008 @ 3.47 pm | Reply

  7. Thanks David, I thought you may be sharing my joy being a Spurs fan, us supporters of Middlesex football clubs coming together for once in the cause of our cricket team and all that, I even hugged a Chelsea fan on saturday! Perhaps you don’t like cricket (appologies to 10CC there) as you don’t mention the colours of the England (and Wales) one day side who wear prediminately navy blue trimed with red and white. Although I would prefer England and Wales to have their own national cricket teams anyway, surely there is no place for the blue of Scotland in the strip of the team which represents England and Wales only?

    Comment by Little Englander — 29 July 2008 @ 6.12 pm | Reply

  8. Well, I’m not that bothered about cricket, as un-English as that might make me sound! However, if I support any county team, it would be Kent, in fact . . ..

    I can’t get my head around the ghastly colours one-day and 20-20 cricket teams play in! I think everyone should just revert to tasteful all-white, i.e. England’s colours!

    Comment by David — 29 July 2008 @ 9.29 pm | Reply

  9. The cross on the Scottish flag is supposed to be clouds seen in the sky prior to some battle or other, therefore it is supposed to be sky coloured.

    The dye shortage was a couple of centuries ago, certainly not in the fifties.

    Comment by Toque — 31 July 2008 @ 12.36 pm | Reply

  10. Realise I’m arriving a bit late here, however …

    Of course the cross of the Saltire is also supposed to be silver to reflect the effect of the setting/rising sun or some such.

    While we’re making our flags a tad more effeminate perhaps the Cross of St. George could be lightened to a pleasant shade of pink? No? Nevermind then 😉

    Comment by Alasdair — 19 August 2008 @ 5.29 pm | Reply

  11. Thanks, Alasdair. Well, there is a gay version of the Union Jack – the ‘Pink Jack’ – in which it’s the blue from the Saltire that is shaded pink, which does seem rather unfair given that red is closer to pink than blue!

    Comment by David — 21 August 2008 @ 7.18 am | Reply

  12. Hey but look at the current Scotland kit – they’ve changed the socks back to red again like olden days – couldn’t this be argued that this is a nod to the St. George’s Cross???

    Comment by Kevin — 27 November 2008 @ 10.28 am | Reply

  13. I don’t think so, Kevin – more of a nod to the Lion Rampant, I’d say!

    Comment by David — 27 November 2008 @ 5.27 pm | Reply

  14. […] Just found a frankly fun post about the re-branding of the Saltire, and whether brightening its background shade of blue makes the flag less masculine but more […]

    Pingback by Wrapped in the Scottish Flag « Cocking A Snook! — 15 July 2009 @ 2.44 pm | Reply

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