For those leaning to the left or right of politics, there is always the danger of taking on trust headlines that look too good (or bad) to be true. Because, all too often, they are too good to be true. So it has been with today’s effort from the increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph, which has proclaimed “Sturgeon hauls down Union flag … Saltire to fly alone on Government buildings for Royal occasions under new guidance”.
That thought appears not to have entered for publisher and broadcaster (and former Tory Party PPC) Iain Dale, who declared on the basis of a Telegraph headline - never a wise move - “So @NicolaSturgeon has ordered the union flag to be removed from government buildings. Perhaps the UK government should remove the funding which enables her to spend £1500 more per head of population than is spent in England”.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
Ms Sturgeon was wide awake and ready to respond. “I have done no such thing. Why are you repeating a blatant untruth @IainDale?” Dale then proceeded more cautiously, although on the same course: “Happy to correct if wrong, but which part of the Telegraph front page article is wrong. They quote advice issued by your government that only the Satire should be flown on all occasions apart from Remembrance Sunday. Does that document not exist?” The First Minister of Scotland had to spell it out.
“It has been practice to fly Lion Rampant on Royal occasions since 2010. I have not ordered, instructed, authorized any change - indeed there has been no change. Civil servants recently updated published guidance to reflect the long standing practice … this update was a straightforward administrative task. I did not ask for it to be done. Indeed, I was not even aware it had been done until media enquiries made. The facts were, of course, all stated in the Scottish Government response had you checked”. So there.
Dale then started to go wrong. “Why are all the papers reporting it then?! Have they all got it wrong?” It was on the front page of just one paper - the Tel - with others latching on to the story, the herd instinct kicking in, particularly with those titles that lean right. So he should not have been surprised to read Ms Sturgeon’s brief reply, “Yes”.
But Dale was not downhearted, although taking his cue from the Scottish Conservatives’ head of communications might not have been the best move. “This rather flies in the face of what @Nicolasturgeon is denying in tweets 2 me this morning. As I say, happy to correct if wrong, but this seems to prove the @Telegraph story is bang on. Or is @NicolaSturgeon denying responsibility for a document issued in her government's name?”
Perhaps he hadn’t read what the FM had already told him (guidance updated to reflect long standing practice). So she had another go. “It’s almost like you haven’t bothered to read the replies I sent you. Yes, the guidance was updated to accurately reflect existing policy. You said I ‘ordered’ a change in policy - that’s wrong on both counts. There is no change in policy and I didn’t order any such thing” [my emphasis].
Dale wasn’t listening; perhaps he had already made his mind up. “I have indeed read your replies and I thank you for them. But there is a clear change in policy as quoted here [link]. Either you stand by it or you will countermand it. It is issued in your government's name. Does the buck not stop with you?” What was that about “updated to reflect …”?
Whatever. Ms Sturgeon spelt it out more precisely. “Iain, I’m going to end this exchange as I think you probably understand quite well - it just doesn’t suit the ‘story’ for you to say so. The practice since 2010 is to fly the Lion Rampant (ie the Royal Banner) on Royal occasions. That hasn’t changed. And why would it?”
So flying the Saltire alongside the Lion Rampant (the Scots Royal Banner) has been the practice on Royal occasions for the past eight years. The published guidelines now reflect that practice. So, while pedants, Scots haters (one has to remember that Ms Sturgeon is one of the right-leaning London press’ favourite hate figures) and those to the right of centre cling on to their “look - the wording is different”, nothing has actually changed.
The Tel’s claim that the FM has “hauled down [the] Union flag” is wrong, as is their assertion that the Saltire would now fly alone from Scottish Government buildings on Royal occasions. Iain Dale trusted the word of a newspaper he must know has traded on its brand for some years now, and has been shipping credibility like a leaking sieve.
The Scots reality is rather more prosaic. Still, takes the heat off Theresa May, eh? After all, you don’t sling a dead cat that big on the table and not expect a result,