Council plans to flag up ‘positive messages’

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The use of the flagpole atop the commanding landmark tower at Scottish Borders Council’s Newtown headquarters is set to be discontinued.

Under a new protocol for flying flags, councillors will be asked today (Thursday) to approve instead the erection of three new flagpoles at ground level outside the building’s main entrance.

That will allow Scotland’s national flag the Saltire to fly simultaneously with the Union flag. The third pole will, on certain days of the year, be used for other approved standards, including the Commonwealth flag (March 10) and the European flag (May 9) as well as the Armed Forces Day flag (the week prior to June 27) which is also hoisted at all 14 of the council’s other main buildings.

A report by a working group of officers which has been reviewing SBC’s flag flying protocol is recommending that another banner – the Rainbow Flag, which symbolises lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride – should be added to that approved list.

The group believes it should be raised on the third flagpole at Newtown “either on a certain week of the year in celebration of equality and diversity or on an appropriate day of the year, eg International Day Against Homophobia on May 17”.

The recommendation has been welcomed by Alistair Lings, chair of the Borders Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Group.

“The Rainbow flag was last raised in 2006 when the local LGBT forum was launched, but on several occasions since, requests for our flag to be flown have been rejected because we are considered a ‘special interest group’ which is frankly ridiculous,” said Mr Lings.

“It sends out a very positive signal. I am only sorry that the Commonwealth flag is still on the list when 41 out of 52 Commonweath member countries continue to treat homosexuality as a criminal offence.”

If approved, the new protocol will also allow for previously proscribed “other flags”, supplied by their requesters, to occupy the third pole at the discretion of the convener (currently Councillor Graham Garvie) or the vice-convener (Councillor Jim Brown) in consultation with the chief executive [Tracey Logan].

The report says the status quo – with the Saltire the only flag flying on a daily basis – “does little to further SBC’s equality duties”.

In contrast, it claims the new policy “will encourage flag flying which allows the council to promote positive messages, including pride, inclusiveness, respect and celebration”.

The report admits that embracing additional flags “may prove contentious with some members of the public” and estimates that cost of erecting the three new flagpoles at Newtown will be £4,000.