Three communities in the Outer Hebrides have launched competitions to find a flag to represent their islands, with entries accepted from now until the closing date on 7th June.
Counties across the UK have run contests to find official flags in recent times and, with the launch of competitions to determine the design of their respective flags, the next areas to follow will be Eriskay, Benbecula and North Uist.
It is believed this is the first time three distinct communities have come together to run competitions in partnership, with the process co-ordinated through a steering group that includes representatives from community councils and local organisations including Uist Council of Voluntary Organisations, Urachadh Uibhist, Taigh Chearsabhagh and Co-chomunn Eirisgeidh.
Entry is open to all and islanders living on the mainland, or in countries abroad, are particularly encouraged to participate.
Design ideas received for each island will be narrowed down to a shortlist that will be put to a public vote later in the summer (three votes will take place, one for each island, through a combination of online and postal voting).
When the votes are counted and each island has chosen its flag, before confirmation, it must be assessed at the Court of the Lord Lyon. Lord Lyon will check the designs do not clash with an existing flag, ensure the selected flags can perform the function they are meant to undertake, and prepare legal documentation that must be completed before each flag is declared official and added to the heraldic records for Scotland.
Philip Tibbetts is Honorary Vexillologist with the Court of the Lord Lyon, which is the body responsible for recording and protecting all heraldry, flags and national symbols in Scotland. Mr Tibbetts is also Communities Vexillologist with the Flag Institute. He works with communities interested in developing their own icons and has been advising the steering group co-ordinating the competitions for Eriskay, North Uist and Benbecula.
Mr Tibbetts earlier this year assisted each island community council lodge petitions with the Office of the Lord Lyon and has recently visited to encourage competition participation among the pupils of local schools Sgoil Lionacleit, Sgoil Dhalabroig, Sgoil Bhaile a’ Mhanaich and Sgoil Uibhist a Tuath.
He explained: “I have been greatly impressed by the positive reception to the concept of the flags as well as the ideas the pupils have come up with so far – the distinct history, geography and culture of each island is serving as a very rich palette for some very creative minds! I was also very impressed on my visit to see the innovative ways that the neighbouring flags of Barra and South Uist are already being used to promote their communities."
Andrew Walker, co-ordinator of the competitions steering group, added: “Pupils and teachers have responded with much enthusiasm, but in addition the steering group wishes to reach out to all our citizens, so carer agencies will make contact with the housebound and our care homes to draw on all available talent, encouraging participation and submission of flag designs.
“I am indebted to Philip and the Office of the Lord Lyon for their continuing support and guidance. Let the competition now begin to find three distinct community flags around which our respective communities can unite!”
Alasdair Allan MSP said: “I am pleased to see that Benbecula, Eriskay and North Uist may all soon be about to get their very own flags.
“As well as being an obvious expression of the identity of a community and providing a collective symbol to rally around, community flags could help to boost the profile of each island and boost marketing efforts.
“In Barra and South Uist, efforts centred on legal recognition of flags which were already in widespread use throughout those communities. I am really interested to see what kind of designs Benbecula, Eriskay and North Uist look at and hope there will be widespread public involvement throughout the summer. I am happy to be any help I can to communities throughout this process.”
South Uist had its official flag confirmed in 2017 and confirmation followed soon afterwards for Barra. Since then the two islands have utilised their respective Nordic crosses as effective marketing icons for their communities.