SCOTTISH Borders Council (SBC) officers have admitted that “lessons must be learnt” after Saltire flags were removed from a Borders park.
The flags were taken down from Henderson Park, in Coldstream, earlier this year after SBC officers claimed they received a “complaint”.
However, the council has since withdrawn that statement, instead describing the message as an enquiry rather than a complaint.
The removal of the flags led to residents starting an online petition to have them reinstated.
The petition’s description reads: “Scottish flags were put up by an individual in Coldstream to cheer us all up during the COVID outbreak when we should have been celebrating our civic week but could not.
“As Coldstream is the ‘first true Border toon’ it is entirely appropriate that Scottish flags should fly proudly in Henderson Park and tourists and residents have been pleased to enjoy these flags.
“The individual who put up the flags received instructions from the council to remove them based on one complaint.
“Facebook is alive with locals furious at the removal of the flags and we would like the council to reconsider based on wider opinion.”
‘We want to give an apology’
The issue was discussed yesterday (December 10) at a council audit and scrutiny committee, with Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell asking “how the council will work with the communities” to avoid this in the future.
SBC’s service director of assets and infrastructure, John Curry, said: “I want to thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. There’s some lessons to be learnt for us.”
Neighbourhood operations manager at the council Jason Hedley added: “We want to start by offering an apology. It was not and never has been the intention of officers to disrespect the national flag of Scotland.
“It was an oversight by the council. It was never a complaint, it was an enquiry.”
Malcolm and Alison Campbell, who were both heavily involved in starting the petition, were both in attendance at the committee meeting.
They were informed of the “complaint” about the flags via email.
Mr Campbell said: “Why was an email sent rather than a phone call? That would have resolved it far quicker.”
Mr Campbell also described the park as “a shadow of its former self” and said he wanted to find a solution that “allows us to fly these flags for many years without breaking any rules”.
‘We have fallen into a hole’
There are currently council rules stating when and where flags can be flown on council property.
However, regarding the council’s protocols on this matter, Mr Hedley said: “In my view it only goes partially in addressing flag flying from the council, only in certain buildings and only in certain contexts.
“There’s a community wanting to celebrate its history and national identity going forward which isn’t addressed in this protocol.”
Regarding the removal of the flags, Galashiels councillor Harry Scott said: “Officers should sharpen their antennae, the lesson to learn from this is to engage the elected members in the area.”
Mid Berwickshire councillor John Greenwell added: “I totally agree with everything [that’s been said].
“I would like to point out that, due to COVID, Coldstream does not have a community council.
“Without that leadership being there, we have fallen into a hole.
“With the community council in place I don’t think we would be in this state.”
Coldstream’s Community Council dissolved for an election just before the pandemic, meaning that the proper procedure could not take place.
A recommendation was put forward by Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson for a “straightforward protocol” to be agreed by the council with the people of Coldstream for “the flying of flags in Henderson Park on an agreed date each year”.
Mr Bell, who chaired the meeting, said there has been a “set of misunderstandings that have exacerbated the problem”.