'No saltires, please – they could be racist'

PERSONALISING a desk is a common tactic for the office worker who faces eight hours in front of a computer terminal. Novelty mousemats, family photos and cuddly toys are popular.

But now one staff member at the National Library of Scotland has provoked a political row after he was ticked off by employers for decorating his desk with several Scottish flags.

The unnamed worker set up three large flags – two saltires and a lion rampant – at his shared work station. He also covered his chair in a red tartan.

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The result was an e-mail to all staff warning that such nationalistic displays could "intimidate non-Scottish colleagues".

The e-mail, from Alexandra Miller, director of customer services, said: "I am very disappointed to see that (staff] continue to have inappropriate material bedecking their workstation. This includes several saltires and a lion rampant, and the personalisation of a chair with red tartan."

Ms Miller reminded employees of the policy of not having anything on desks which could be regarded as "sexist or racist".

The e-mail has prompted a wider debate about workplace etiquette and the politicisation of the saltire, with Nationalist MSP Christine Grahame lambasting a "completely unacceptable slur" against Scotland's national flag.

The MSP – who yesterday protested in front of the library in Edinburgh brandishing a large saltire – accused managers of a "deliberate assault" on the flag and of trying to "purge" it from view.

She said: "I would have thought that in the National Library of Scotland, they would have understood the place the saltire has in Scottish hearts as one of the oldest national symbols in existence."

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie blamed Alex Salmond, saying: "Incidents like this are happening because Alex has politicised the saltire. I warned him a year ago that the saltire was our national flag, not his Nationalist symbol."

Nadine Pierce, managing consultant for Edinburgh recruitment specialist Eden Scott, said: "Most people have personalised mugs. They are popular and seem to be fine, as are inherited soft toys, but I wouldn't think it would be the same with something like football colours. They reflect a lot more than football."

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She said the etiquette on flags would depend on how big they were and where they were put.

Academic Peter Lynch, who wrote a history of nationalism in Scotland, said: "This tells you that some people are a bit uneasy about the saltire as a symbol, but I find it hard to see why. It is not like the union flag, which has connotations of Northern Ireland and the Democratic Unionist Party. The saltire doesn't come with that sort of baggage."

A National Library spokesman reacted angrily to the row, saying the saltire was in no way regarded as "racist" and had not been banned. He said: "This issue is about the excessive adornment of one individual's workplace.

"It was more like the home end at Hampden, with three or four large flags on it. It would not matter whether it was the union flag or the flag of St George – that is not a professional work station."