AND so the cry went up: “Put out more Union flags!” And the headline could plausibly be written: “Tories in snub to Royal Banner.”

The standard of political discourse in Scotland flew at half-mast yesterday, and the reason for this less than rare situation? Flags. Pieces of coloured cloth that bring grown men and women to tears, ignite passions (and worse) in volatile communities, and appear to have a dual-purpose depending on who’s waving them: to show pride in one’s country (good) and to taunt all others (bad).

There are plentiful examples of the good. Scandinavians are among the world’s keenest flag-wavers, and few would accuse them of being nationalistic in the bad sense. Canadians similarly are pretty keen as, indeed, are Americans, whose standard-bearing also might be said to be mostly good-natured, except when planting it on other people’s soil.

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In places like Northern Ireland, sad to say, the waving of flags has been much more contentious, exposing sensitivities and often a wanton belligerence on the part of a minority that give the overwhelmingly decent majority a bad name.

And so we come to Scotland. The flag debate that erupted so farcically yesterday got all the usual suspects in a flap and served to signal some tropes of this, The Age of Fake: fake news, fake patriotism, and a truly surreal sense that it would be really lovely if being Scottish were not so complicated.

The issue was first run up the flagpole by three right-wing newspapers, which claimed that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had limited flying the Union Flag on government buildings to one day a year (Remembrance Day) and that it would not fly on the Queen’s birthday.

Ms Sturgeon appeared at first bewildered then irritated then outraged by the “ridiculous” assertion, accusing the newspapers of “fake news” and, in a lengthy string of tweets, pointing out that there had been no change of policy since 2010 when it had been agreed with the Queen that the Royal Banner – the Lion Rampant – would fly on royal occasions.

Far from issuing new diktats, she hadn’t known anything about any of this until she’d seen the aforementioned papers, she said. The Tories, for their part, had a field day. Murdo Fraser MSP said the First Minister’s accusation of fake news was a “Trump-style” defence.

More – or less – substantively, the Tories communications director, Eddie Barnes, published screengrabs purporting to show that the newly published guidance in 2018 differed from that in 2017, when no mention had been made of Remembrance Day. As this ostensibly clever intervention proved nothing whatsoever, and the political jungle continued to echo with inarticulate roars and simian howling, a big beast emerged from the undergrowth to explain that he’d agreed all this with the Queen years ago.

Alex Salmond – for it was he – asked: if the Royal Banner was good enough for Her Majesty, why was it not good enough for “these ridiculous newspapers and political ignoramuses”? Were they harbouring closet republican tendencies?

Last night, the sound and fury remained unabated, with Ms Sturgeon remaining as put out as any flag and issuing a demand for an apology from the three pot-stirring newspapers. Indeed, the only party to come out of all this with any dignity was the Royal Household … which declined to comment.

Flags, we know, are sensitive symbols, and it behoves all those in positions of power or influence to ca’ canny when raising them one way or the other. Tempers have been inflamed. The impassioned have had their say. Time now for the flag of truce to be raised on all sides.