I was in the audience at a BBC radio question time show last year. The usual ritual of political back and forth ensued, but one member of the audience, a member of the Pensioners Party, made what I thought was an acute observation. He accused the Nationalists of "stealing our flag".
It made me think. Particularly since 1997, the Nats have tried to establish an equivalence between and among the Scottish Government, the Scottish Nationalist Party and the flag of St Andrew, or Saltire as it is sometimes called.
On coming to power they bought, with our tax money, hundreds of thousands of small saltires to hand out at events. They had the saltire put on all official papers and websites etc. at enormous cost (not to themselves). SNP leaflets are covered in the Scottish flag.You can't see a Nationalist minister anywhere near a camera without a Scottish flag somewhere in the background.
So the pensioner was right: the Nationalists have stolen, or at least are attempting to steal, "our flag". It's all part of the not-so-subliminal message: if you're not a Nat you're not Scottish. Wave the flag or be left out, but if you do wave the flag, then you are "one of us".
But is it important?
I have no time for flag waving. It's a substitute for thought, IMO: this is who we are and if you don't join in you're an outcast, a traitor or Quisling.
Football teams do it, and other associations and sodalities. In some ways it's attractive. It shows solidarity and support for common aims, as when countries compete at sports or in Trades Union banners.. we're all in this together. But it is also used to exclude: think of the English Defence League and it's anti-immigrant anti-coloured message wrapped in the flag of England or, in earlier times, the National Front and its appropriation of the Union Flag.
Which leads to this little spat and its significance.
The Holyrood canteen had an Olympic themed lunch, and the staff decorated the tables with red, white and blue balloons and union flags because, presumably, Britain is holding the Olympics this time and the Great Britain team is competing for us all.
But the appearance of a non-saltire on a canteen table was seen as an afront by some Nationalist MSPs. The Evening News and the Sun report on the, one can only say, childish behaviour of these people, named in the Sun as George Adam and Linda Fabiani. The union flags were taken away from the tables and the r balloon display was made multi-coloured.
So how significant? On the one hand it's, almost literally, a storm in a canteen teacup. Some silly people took umbrage at a few rags of decoration and harrumphed the staff into changing it to suit their tastes.
But while it's not as significant as, say, the banking crisis or the economic recession, it is a signifier, and what it signifies the strange mentality of even senior Nationalists that they can be upset so easily and take offence at nothing. It also says that they think the Holyrood Parliament is theirs, not ours, and it shows their arrogant side, bullying the poor canteen staff over such a trifle.
It shows their besetting pettyness. They can steal our flag with impunity, put out leaflets calling themselves "Scotland's Party" (as if all the other parties were not) and call people who don't support them "anti-Scottish", but they can't take the reality that Scotland is part of the UK, most Scots support and agree wth that union and the flag of the union is the symbol of the British Olympic team - a team which includes many proud Scots.
In recent years the anti-English rhetoric of senior Nats has gone underground. The SNP presents itself as relaxed and tolerant about our English neighbours. But this little vignette in the catering department of Holyrod gives the lie to that image.
If senior Nationalists are so alergic to union flags that they get sick just looking at them, what price their "tolerance" and their "Ah luv the English me" just-for-the-media act?
And what size of brain do you need to kick up a stink about your own flag celebrating your own Olympic team in the year the Olympics are hosted in your own country?
Tolerance, my bahookie.