The county of East Lothian announced a competition to select a county flag in late November 2017. The venture was organised jointly by East Lothian Council and the Scottish Flag Trust, in association with local newspaper East Lothian Courier, under the auspices of the Scottish heraldic authority, the Lord Lyon.
Seen below, launching the competition, are
at left, Dave Williamson, of the Scottish Flag Trust; Michael Williams, Lord Lieutenant of East Lothian to his right; Joseph Morrow, Lord Lyon and at far right, Provost of East Lothian, John McMillan.
Commenting on the launch, Councillor John McMillan, Provost for East Lothian, said: “Having a distinctive new civic flag for East Lothian will allow individuals and groups across the county to express pride in their local community, to celebrate their heritage and help raise recognition and awareness of East Lothian nationwide. I think this competition will capture the imagination of many people and will attract a great deal of interest from across the county, as well as further afield. I’m particularly keen for our schools to get involved too and I very much look forward to seeing all the entries as I’m sure they’ll be varied and inspiring.”
Michael Williams, Lord Lieutenant for East Lothian, observed that: “East Lothian is a very unique place and it is important that the county has its own flag. I am very interested to see what people come up with.”
Dave Williamson, chairman of the Scottish Flag Trust, added: “What makes this initiative particularly special is the collaborative working between East Lothian Council and the Scottish Flag Trust, along with the support and guidance of the Lord Lyon. We are hopeful that this competition, followed by a public vote, will deliver a new flag that will reflect the county and be welcomed by everyone.”
The competition ran through February 2018, closing on the 28th. It received a whopping 623 entries, from as far afield as the USA and New Zealand.
Councillor John McMillan, East Lothian Provost, said: “I am absolutely overwhelmed that we received so many entries of such a high standard.
“We will be in touch with everyone who took the time to submit a design in due course and the public vote will be launched soon. I hope as many people as possible will vote for their favourite so we can have an East Lothian flag to be proud of.”
David Williamson, chairman of the Scottish Flag Trust, added: “The response to the competition has been tremendous, especially from East Lothian schools, so a big thank you is due.”
Four final designs
were selected from this vast array of submissions, by a panel
comprising the Lord Lieutenant of East Lothian, Michael Williams MBE; Lord Lyon Joseph Morrow; East Lothian Council Provost John McMillan and Chief Executive Angela Leitch; David Williamson, Chair of the Scottish Flag Trust and Robbie Scott, Editor of the East Lothian Courier, at Haddington on the 8th of June 2018. The four finalists were entered into a public vote which ran until the end of August. The winning design is set to be revealed at a ceremony on Saint Andrew’s Day, November 30th, following its registration by the Lord Lyon.
East Lothian Council Provost John McMillan, said: “It was a very difficult decision for the judges, having to choose four final designs from the huge number of high quality submissions we received. I hope that East Lothian residents will get involved again and let us know what their favourite design is. Having a distinctive new civic flag for East Lothian will allow individuals and groups across the county to express pride in their local community, to celebrate their heritage and help raise recognition and awareness of East Lothian nationwide. I will be very excited to see the outcome of the public vote.”
David Williamson, Chair of the Scottish Flag Trust, said: “Experience elsewhere suggests that involving the public in choosing a civic flag is by far the best way to progress, and the hope is that the interest already shown in the East Lothian competition will continue into the voting stage. Voting on the four short-listed flag designs has been held back until after the main holiday period, so that people don’t miss out on the chance to participate.”
Lord Lyon Dr Joseph Morrow said: “It was an exciting task to take part in the East Lothian flag competition. There was a wealth of talent expressed in the entries which reflected on the area. I now look forward to the vote of the people and the taking of the ownership of flag to be a symbol of pride in East Lothian.”
The four finalists regrettably fall short of best design practice, as outlined here https://flaginstitute.org/…/Flag_Design_Commission_Report.p…. Specifically, the judging panel has exhibited a very limited design remit; whilst the choice of colours evident in these choices, blue for sea, yellow for a sandy beach, green for land, is not inappropriate, it is a trite and tired option. Which territory on Earth with a shoreline, could not be represented by these colours? What do they say directly about East Lothian that could not be representative of Fife, for example, or Argyll perhaps? If these colours must be used, one might hope for a more imaginative arrangement than a tricolour of stripes, there being already, quite a few flags with stripes in the world! Is a green, yellow and blue tricolour something that is going to stand out?
Design B features a map, always a poor choice on a flag, suggesting that, being unable to think of anything more meaningful, in desperation, the designer has just copied a shape. Maps are often the last resort for flags and usually denote territories in dispute, as a neutral design, avoiding symbols or emblems of the sides in dispute, for example, Cyprus , Kosovo and the joint Korean Olympic flag. Such usage here is neither necessary nor appropriate. When viewed from any distance this shape from a map, will just appear as a coloured blob and thus be essentially meaningless. This design flaw is compounded by being an incorrect shape! The map denotes the council’s administrative remit, NOT the actual county of East Lothian, so cannot be considered representative of the actual county of East Lothian. A further flaw is the inclusion of one flag on another, as part of its design; complicated, confusing, unnecessary. Many English county flags have used the form of a cross of Saint George as the basis of a flag but none of them have that actual flag as part of the local design. As a Scottish county East Lothian might opt to deploy a saltire form in its flag, there are a number of such proposals for other Scottish counties, shown on these pages and of course, East Lothian is the acknowledged birthplace of the Scottish saltire, so a nod to the national flag is an obvious and very relevant element to include but an imaginative design would fashion a saltire in locally meaningful colours or bearing distinct local devices, as found in the sample of rejected designs shown below; simply repeating the national flag is a dull, pedestrian approach and its depiction is also crude and comic, looking like something from a cartoon. It’s unlikely to raise passion and inspire a firm local identity.
Flag C appears to be an unmodified child’s scribble. It seems to be a depiction of a green hill with the Scottish saltire beaming out into the sky from one side. Crude and amateurish, allegedly the blue is in fact supposed to be the sea! It’s highly unlikely that anyone would recognise this. Again, use of the national flag on a local one, as described, is inappropriate and unimaginative. Imagine this “flag” flying thirty feet in the air, fifty feet away, would such a design stir the soul, even if one could actually make out what was being looked at?!
Flag D had the potential of being a fair design. Notwithstanding the unimaginative choice of colours, a saltire and stripes
is a simple combination, which makes dull stripes more interesting, and lends the national symbol something of a local flavour. The best flags are kept simple, such a design could be easily drawn by hand and be fairly easy to discern from any height or distance. Unfortunately a lion rampant has been added to the mix. Whilst this arrangement might look attractive on a static page or screen it will not translate well when flapping in a gust or hanging limply, the more details there are, the less identifiable it is. When in flight, thirty feet high, fifty feet away, the lion will, again, just look like a blob against the other colours. Many people designing flags fall into the trap of throwing everything they can think of into the arrangement, failing to recognise that less is more; the simpler the design, the more discernible it will be, the more eye catching it will appear.
Additionally, the lion rampant is a recognised, national, symbol. Rampant lions have certainly appeared on the arms of local nobility and one is present on the arms of the local council,
probably in token of “King William The Lion” (1165-1214), reflecting the authority, received from the Crown, wielded by the body but how is this specifically, an East Lothian, emblem? It is palpably not unique to East Lothian, it is not remotely distinct, lions appear across Scotland, the UK, Europe and the World.
The county has other more distinct devices that have been used locally, a blazing sun; a goat; a goat and ivy combination; a peregrine falcon, as appear on the sample of rejected designs shown below. A very generic arrangement, with a “Scottish feel”, it has nothing specific to say about East Lothian and indeed something similar represents Nova Scotia to reflect its Scottish roots.
A further flaw with Design D is that it flouts the rule of tincture, an originally heraldic “rule” that serves to enhance visibility by keeping dark colours, blue, black, red and green, separate from light ones, yellow and white. Thus a blue charge is visible against a white or yellow background but barely seen against a black one, for example. Design D places a yellow lion, against a white cross, against a yellow central stripe, flouting the recommendation twice; its visibility will be very limited, especially when in the form of a cheaply made, budget flag, which are the vast majority of flags flown.
A critique of the above three, below par, finalists, analysing how they specifically fail to meet the recommendations of good flag design, as promoted by such bodies as NAVA and the Flag Institute, can be read here.
Design A is really the only viable option. Whilst it again features a generic Scottish lion rampant, rather than, say, a more locally resonant emblem such as a peregrine falcon, blazing sun, or goat and ivy ( as feature on the sample of rejected designs shown below) it does at least comply with the spirit of good design, with contrasting colours and is a fairly simple arrangement. The voided gold saltire, on blue, reflects the local birthplace of the national flag,
with the gold colour signifying the wealth of East Lothian’s farmlands and reputation as the granary of Scotland. The lion rampant, as seen, is taken from the arms of the East Lothian Council
in token of King William “the Lion”. The blue stripes through the gold are also intended to represent the rivers Esk and Tyne.’
Over 600 hundred entries were submitted to the competition, yet the judging panel chose four very similar, insipid finalists. For true and meaningful choice the finalists ought to offer something different to voters, a set of real options. For comparison, the finalists in the Black Country flag competition,
were six very distinct and varied designs. presenting a real choice to voters.
There is a glaring disparity between the very similar, final four designs in the competition and the widely varying range of submissions received.
included the St Andrew’s Cross referencing Athelstaneford, in the county, the birthplace of the national flag. Also present on the design are a goat and an ivy tree from the arms of the county town, Haddington
The goat and ivy tree have also historically represented the county as a whole. Here, appearing as the badge of the Haddingtonshire Rifle Volunteers.
Use of the goat and ivy combination as a viable emblem for inclusion on any potential East Lothian county flag was in fact advocated in the council’s official guidelines to the competition
A single goat also appeared on the seal formerly used by Haddingtonshire County Council
The maroon colour in the flag, was used as the corporate colours of the former Lothian Regional Council and is also found in the livery of the local bus operator
A golden sun appears, as one theory holds that the name Lothian may derive from the name of the Celtic God of Light, “Lugus”. Accordingly, the symbol of a sun appeared on the arms of the Earldom of Lothian
and featured in the arms of the Lothian regional council
reworked some of these themes in a different arrangement and included a depiction of a Peregrine Falcon in flight, in a contrasting blue, as used by East Lothian council,
and consequently recognised as a local emblem; it is held “to convey admirable traits of strength and dynamism and reflects East Lothian’s laudable success as the home of colonies of this protected and majestic species” Use of the peregrine as a viable emblem for inclusion on any potential East Lothian county flag was in fact advocated in the council’s official guidelines to the competition
A third submission
again utlised the local maroon colour, as used by the transport company
fashioned in the form of a saltire, again to reflect the county’s recognition as the birthplace of the Scottish flag.
Another resplendent design
had been proposed several years previously. It again utilised the locally deployed maroon colour scheme combined with a white saltire, in recognition, as described, of the locality’s status as the home of the Scottish national flag and a bright burning sun, again derived from the arms of the Dukedom of Lothian and the former Lothian Regional Council, seen above. An ermine pattern featured on the arms of the cross recalling the ermine bands found in the arms of the local county council
which in turn derive from the arms
features a gold saltire against a mainly blue field but with the lower triangle in green to represent “an upward progress to a bright and hopeful future”. Blue also reflects the county’s sea and coastline, yellow its golden sands and its lush green fertile countryside. Another
features a field of seven horizontal stripes, taken from the East Lothian Council’s Coat of Arms, seen above. Blue reflects the county’s sea and coastline, white was described as representing fortitude and red, valour. A third design
has purple for diversity and is an echo of heather and thistle. and green, as detailed previously. A fourth submission
was intended to reflect the colours used by the the local council whilst a fifth
has blue as the saltire, from the national flag, gold recalling the colour of the coat of the lion which features on the council’s arms, as seen and verdant green for the lush countryside. A final design
again features a striped field, recalling the pattern of the council’s arms, in two blue shades, referring to the varying realisations of the blue field in the Scottish national flag.