The flag of Caithness was revealed on January 26th 2016 at a ceremony held at New Caithness House, Wick, attended by Dr Joseph Morrow, the Lord Lyon (chief heraldic authority in Scotland), representatives from the Highland Council and various organisations from across the county. A celebratory march took place with Caithness Landward councillor David Bremner playing the bagpipes and leading a parade from Wick Town Hall to Caithness House.
The flag was the winner of a competition organised by the local media group “North of Scotland Newspapers” in association with Caithness community councillors, the Highland Council and the Flag Institute, under the sanction of Scotland’s highest heraldic authority, the Lord Lyon. Caithness thus became the first mainland Scottish county to fly its own flag. This winning design, which received over 40 per cent of the votes cast, features a Nordic cross symbolising the ancient ties of the county to the Vikings.
Seen presenting the Caithness flag here
are, from left, Caithness Ward Manager David Sutherland, Caithness Civic Leader Gail Ross and Lord Lyon Joseph Morrow.
Below, Lord-Lieutenant Anne Dunnett waving off competitiors at the Rallye Monte Carlo Classique at John O’Groats with the new Caithness flag, on January 27th, 2016, the day after the new flag was revealed to the public.
The black base colour of the flag recalls the area’s famous Caithness flagstone
whilst the gold and blue refer to its beaches and the sea.
The galley in the canton is considered the traditional emblem of Caithness; it bears a raven on its sail, an acknowledged Viking symbol which appeared in the arms
borne by the former Caithness County Council.
The notion of a Caithness flag had been discussed for several years in an online county forum. Many asserted that Caithness was, like the nearby Shetland and Orkney archipelagos, possessed of a Scandinavian heritage that marked the county as distinct from fellow Scottish shires, a distinction that ought to be celebrated with a distinct county flag. In 2014 members of the Association of British Counties joined the online debate, urging locals to push ahead with the competition. Shortly afterwards the “North of Scotland Newspapers” media group announced that following the years of discussion, it planned to push for a competition to select one and initiated its “Fly the Flag for Caithness” campaign, through its publication “Caithness Courier and John O Groats Journal”.
A somewhat laborious and lengthy process ensued which included several stages, reflecting the requirement that in Scotland all local flags must be registered with the Lord Lyon;
- initial publicity in the group’s publications, to establish local support for an approach to the Caithness Area Committee regarding a county flag;
- the popular support having been established, the Caithness Area Committee was contacted by the media group with a request to approach the Highlands Council, which administers Caithness, about the matter;
- the area committee agreed to the request and duly asked the Highland Council to approach Dr Joseph Morrow, the “Lord Lyon”, for his sanction of a county flag competition;
- the Highlands Council acceded to this request and approached the Lord Lyon accordingly;
- finally, said sanction was received from the Lord Lyon.
At this point the organisers met with the Flag Institute and the Lord Lyon to establish the competition, which was launched on the 6th of March 2015 and concluded on May 29th, attracting an impressive 327 entries.
A judging panel
then selected four entries for inclusion in a public vote. The panel met on Friday June 5th at Wick Town Hall and comprised; Joseph Morrow, the “Lord Lyon”, front left in the above photo; Caithness Civic Leader, Councillor Gail Ross, above centre; Thurso councillor Roger Saxon, left in the photo (with an orange shirt) ; “Landward Caithness” councillor Gillian Coghill, furthest right in the photo; council ward manager David Sutherland, front, at right; “Caithness Courier and John O’ Groats Journal” editor, Iain Grant, at the back on the left; and Philip Tibbetts, Communities Vexillologist of the Flag Institute, at back on the right.
Despite the very large number of competition entries offering plenty of designs for consideration, the four selected finalists were not original submissions, each being a design formed by the judging panel, from elements appearing in more than one entry received. The winning design subsumed contributions from Andrea Merchant and Niall Smith
Councillor Gail Ross commented that
“Drawing up the short-list was no easy task and on behalf of the panel, I’d like to thank everyone who took part. The flag selected after the public vote will be the first registered area flag on the Scottish mainland and will raise recognition and awareness of the area nation-wide, express the pride in our local community and celebrate the heritage and culture of our corner of the country. I wish all the short-listed entries the best of luck and look forward to seeing the winning flag flying from a flagpole later this year.”
Phillip Tibbetts stated that he was
“…very impressed by the response to this competition…I’m pretty sure this is the highest number of entries per person living in an area…we have had 327 from a population of about 25,000.”
He also spoke of the benefits a flag can bring, referring to the swelling of civic pride and the reinforcement of an area’s identity which local businesses capitalise on, with clear advantages for the local economy. Accordingly an annual “Caithness Day” has also been mooted by the panel, to be staged every summer, a celebration of the county and a special occasion to raise the new flag.
One of the three finalists
included a Pictish style wild cat head recalling the ancient Kingdom of Cat in the area. The triangle represented the county as a peninsula jutting into the sea. The galley and raven also appeared on the other two designs along with colours representing the area’s geology and maritime heritage
The public vote was launched on June 19th and ran until July 31. The winning design, however, was not revealed until seven months later, an unfortunate lengthy delay that mitigated the impact of the flag’s creation. More than 700 people cast their votes on the four finalists with the winning design receiving 291 votes. The Pictish cat was second with 226 votes.
A formal application to register the winning design was lodged by the Highland Council with the Lord Lyon during the intervening months and it was also duly entered into the Flag Institute Registry, following the unfurling ceremony in Wick.
Describing the registration process, Dr Joseph Morrow observed that “The petition will be from the citizens of Caithness which means it will be owned by the community,”
Dr Morrow approved the design and personally bought the first flag to be produced, which flew at Caithness House in Wick. Following the unveiling ceremony Dr Morrow commented that he
“… was delighted Caithness was the first county to petition me for a flag on the mainland,”
and further observed that
“It’s good to see a lively community interest in something like this. One of the great experiences for me is to see the identity and pride people have in their community. What took place in this flag competition was people having a real sense of identity and belonging, which has to be celebrated. Importantly, while this is a new flag, it’s part of a history and recording of flags and arms in Caithness, and is part of community development. Also, this is a flag that will give Caithness an identity outwith the area to help economic development and encourage people to come to the area.”
Whilst the Caithness flag is certainly a fine and striking design for the county, as with the flag of Nottinghamshire, one might question the procedure whereby it originated. It is surprising that no single design amongst the 327 entries was considered suitable for final selection and it is noteworthy that the four finalists were very similar in design and colours, minimising the voting choice. A little “tweaking” of submitted ideas may be expected, so that they are all presented to a comparable, high standard but making novel designs from scratch stretches the remit of a judging panel from adjudication, to creation, which seemingly undermines the original competitive process.
Given the initial impetus for holding the competition, the county’s evident Nordic heritage, off-set crosses in the typical Nordic style, were a prevalent feature amongst the competition entries.
There were also a few variations on this theme
and some of these
were further inspired by the arms of the Earl of Caithness
The aforementioned council arms bearing a raven, were also an inspiration, both as a pure armorial banner
and in combination with other ideas
Following the unfurling ceremony the flag was soon seen proudly displayed across the county