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Shetland Islands (United Kingdom)

Last modified: 2002-02-23 by rob raeside
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[Flag of the Shetland Islands] by Marcus Schmöger, 15 August 2001

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Description of the flag

In the Flag Bulletin (vol. 40) is an article about the flag of the Shetlands, written by the designer of the flag. To summarize, the author Roy Grönneberg founded the Shetland branch of the SNP (Scottish National Party) in 1966 and was active towards increased autonomy of the islands. In 1969 he designed (together with a fellow student, Bill Adams) the flag of Shetland, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the transfer of the Shetlands to Scotland (from the king of Norway and Denmark).

The idea of the design was as follows: "Wishing to give equal symbolic weight to the fact that Shetland had been part of Norway for 500 years and part of Scotland for 500 years, we took the national colours of Scotland - blue and white - and inserted them into the offset cross design common to all Scandinavian countries."

For public relations the "Shetland Flag Society" was formed, and first day covers as well as vignettes with the flag were printed. However these could not be posted at the Post Office in Lerwick, Shetland's capital; therefore much of the wanted publicity was lost. Inspiration for the design of the flag stemmed from the fact, that also the Faroese flag had been designed by three Faroese students. From 1889 until 1975 there existed two local government bodies in the Shetlands, the Lerwick Town Council and the Zetland County Council (ZCC). The ZCC had its own flag, that flew when meetings were held. In 1975 the two councils were combined into the Shetland Islands Council (SIC).

Grönneberg wanted to establish his design as the official flag of the SIC; however, in a working group of five people (including Grönneberg), no decision was taken. A ballot proposed in 1985 on this issue never materialized.

On the actual use Grönneberg writes: "Although the blue and white flag is not officially recognized either by the United Kingdom government or even the local authority, the Shetland Tourist Office has printed it on its tourist literature for years and has sold thousands of Shetland flags to both locals and visitors alike. During the summer, hundreds of yachts from abroad hoist the Shetland flag at their masthead as a courtesy flag instead of the proper British Red Ensign. Local hotels fly it, the Shetland sports team (which takes part in the inter-island games) flies it, and cars display it. Thus our blue field and white Scandinavian cross design now seems - after a shaky start - to be accepted throughout Shetland."

Two comments:

  1. Grönneberg just shortly mentions that there have been two versions of the flag. The first had a very narrow white cross, the fields at the hoist were square (proportions of the flag 23:33). The second has a wider cross and the vertical bar of the cross is nearer to the fly, thus giving the blue fields at the hoist a rectangular pattern (proportions 2:3). The latter variant has been in use since about 1975.
  2. The blue used in the flag is patterned after the blue of the Scotland flag. However, neither does Grönneberg give any colour designation nor do the colour images in Flag Bulletin fully convince me regarding the shade of the blue. The Flag Institute recommends Pantone 300 for the Scotland flag, so I decided to use the next BS colour (RGB=0,102,204) for the Shetland flag.
Marcus Schmöger, 15 August 2001

Status and use of the flag

This flag is definitely in use (though I understand the Scottish heraldic authority is not happy about it). I have seen several of them on boats in the harbours here in Norway.

Jan Oskar Engene, 7 March 1996

My understanding is that the Shetland flag has not been formally accepted by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the legal authority in Scotland on Heraldry, and as such is not "legal". However, the flag is now widely used by Shetland people and this use is entirely harmless as is the similar use of the Orkney flag. Indeed, it can be used positively to promote the islands' identities.

Jim Wallace, Deputy First Minister of Scottish Parliament, as reported to Jon Scot, 17 January 2002

1969 Early Variant of the Flag

[Flag of the Shetland Islands] by Marcus Schmöger, 15 August 2001

Coat of Arms

[Coat of arms of the Shetland Islands] from

History of Shetland

The Shetland islands belong to the United Kingdom. Formerly, they were a part of the kingdom of Norway and this is probably why the Scandinavian cross design was adopted. The islands were annexed by Scotland in 1472. During World War II people escaping from Norway landed in the islands because they are the part of the United Kingdom closest to Norway.

Jan Oskar Engene, 7 March 1996


Title: The origins of the Shetland flag
Medium: article in a vexillological source
Main author(s): Roy Grönneberg
Language: English
Source title: Flag Bulletin
Source number (date): Vol. 40, Iss. 198 (2001)
Source pages: 76-80

Marcus Schmöger, 15 August 2001

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