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Scotland (United Kingdom)

Last modified: 2006-06-17 by rob raeside
Keywords: scotland | saltire | cross: saint andrew | saint andrew |
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[Flag of Scotland] 2:3 (also used in other dimensions); image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 30 May 2006

See also:

Scottish districts and municipalities

Flags from Scotland's history

Other Scottish Flags

Origin and History of the Flag

The Saint Andrew cross is one of the oldest national flags of all, dating back at least to the 12th century, although the honour of the oldest flag among the modern nations generally falls to the flag of Denmark.

Stuart Notholt

(Notes taken from Graham Bartram's presentation on this topic at the ICV 19 in York.)

The Saint Andrew's cross.
Who was Saint Andrew? Andrew was one of Christ's disciples and legend has it he was active in Scythia, and crucified on a cross with diagonal beams. His remains were preserved, and (again by legend) Constantine wanted to remove them to Constantinople. A Greek monk was warned by an angel of this intent, and instructed to take them to the ends of the Earth. This he did, until he was shipwrecked in Scotland. Some of Andrew's relics were known to have been brought to St. Andrews, Scotland, by the Bishop of Hexham in 733 AD (Hexham Abbey is also dedicated to St. Andrew). In 1160 AD, St. Andrews Cathedral was erected, and the saint's relics were kept there until the cathedral was destroyed during the Reformation.

The earliest record to the Saint Andrew's cross flag dates from 1165 AD, where reference is made to a 9th Century battle. This was known in the 16th Century, although no record of the original source remains today.

Significant chronology of the flag includes:

  • 1180: The oldest extant record of the St. Andrews cross flag is on a seal in St. Andrews, where it is used as a religious, not a national, emblem
  • 1286: the St. Andrews cross was first known to be a national emblem of Scotland (the seal of the guardians of Scotland).
  • 1385: every Scots soldier used a saltire on his uniform (often used on black, not blue - the background colour seems to have been of less importance)
  • 1388: the Standard of the Earl of Douglas used a St. Andrews cross and a lion
  • 1503: the first certain use of a plain St. Andrew's Cross flag - but the field was red, not blue (the Vienna Book of Hours).
  • 1512: the Lord High Treasurer's accounts mention the use of blue bunting.
  • 1542: the first certain illustration of the St. Andrew's Cross on a blue field as we have it today (armorial of Sir David Lindsay).
  • Reign of James IV: flagship Great Michael flew a flag with the St. Andrews cross and on the fly a red lion on yellow
  • 1588: Scottish ship illustrated flying three saltires
  • 1606: James VI (Scotland)/James I (England) combined the Scottish and English flags into the union flag of Great Britain
  • 1707: Queen Anne continued using James VI/I's design. A Scottish version is also known, with the saltire over the St. George's cross
  • 1801: the modern union flag introduced.
  • 1970's: the Scottish saltire became much more prominently used in Scotland
  • 1 July 1999: the union flag and the saltire were both used at the opening of the Scottish Parliament. Normally, though, only the Scottish saltire is flown.
Graham Bartram, 15 August 2001; chronology augmented by Kenneth Campbell Fraser, 23 November 1998

Based on the chronology above, It would be better to say that the flag dated from the 16th Century.
Kenneth Campbell Fraser, 23 November 1998

Here's some additional information on the early St Andrew's cross from Perrin:

1385: The ordinances for its use on soldier's uniforms read: 'Item every man French and Scots shall have a sign before and behind, namely a white St Andrew's Cross, and if his jack is white or his coat white he shall bear the said white cross in a piece of black cloth round or square'.
Two quotes from the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland:
1512: Payment for a roll of blue say (woollen bunting) for the banner of a ship 'with Sanct Androis cors in the myddis'.
1540: Delivered to be three ensigns for the ships sixteen 'elnis' red and yellow 'taffites'. Delivered to be the crosses thereof, four 'elnes' half 'elne' white 'taffities' of Genoa.
I've left out details of the dates and price and people concerned and turned the old Scots into modern English where I am certain of the meaning. I presume 'elnis/elnes' are measures and that 'taffities' is a type of fabric. Red and yellow were the Stuart livery colours and were sometimes used as the field of the white cross. There is no indication of how the two colours were arranged.

David Prothero, 24 November 1998

Legendary Origin of the Flag

One legend, (very much a story but of interest nonetheless), concerns the fact that it is believed by generations of Scotsmen that our national flag, the white saltire on a blue ground, the oldest flag in the British Commonwealth, originated in a battle fought, a little more than a mile from present day Markle,in the Parish of Prestonkirk in East Lothian, in the Dark Ages between the Picts and Scots on one side and the Angles of Northumbria on the other. There are various versions of the tale but it is generally agreed around the time of the 8th century, an army of Picts and Scots under King Hungus found themselves surrounded by a force of Angles under their leader Athelstan. King Hungus prayed earnestly for deliverance to God and the saints and that night St Andrew appeared to the King and promised them victory. Next day, when battle was joined, the vision of the white saltire (the diagonal cross on which the Apostle had been martyred) was seen by all in the blue sky. This so encouraged the Picts and Scots and affrighted their adversaries that a victory was won. King Athelstan was slain at the crossing of the burn, still known to this day as Athelstaneford. The story continues that this all was seen as a 'Miracle' and may have been the origin of the name "Markle"! In the nearby East Lothian village of Athelstaneford, a flag heritage centre commemorates and discusses the development of the legendary white cross on the blue background.
Thomas Middlemass, 6 February 2000

The Scottish flag traces its ancestry back to the Battle of Athelstaneford, making it possibly the oldest of national flags, although among modern independent nations that honour generally falls to the Danish flag.

The saltire as the flag of St. Andrew

A saltire of any colour combinations is Andrew's.
Željko Heimer, 15 January 2001

Assuming "Saint Alban" isn't just another name for Saint Andrew, there appears to be more than one Saint on the list with a Saltire. Apart from the English custom to indicate all centred crosses as "Saint George'(s) Crosses" and all saltires as "Saint Andrew's Crosses", what do you base this comment on?
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 16 January 2001

I can't give you citations from references, but if you take a look at any lexicon regarding the cross, you'll find graphical representation of several cross types there. And, there the cross with oblique bars would be attributed to St. Andrew, I'm sure, without any special reference to Scotish flag. Another example would be a railroad crossing traffic sign. At least in continental Europe it is in form of diagonally crossed red and white bars, and is called Andrew's cross, as far as I am aware, in many European languages. And the Russian Naval ensign is called "andreevski" i.e. Andrew's flag.

Referring to a remark that a Saint Andrew's cross has arms that are perpendicular, and which are at 45 degrees to the edges of the flag, I believe that it is not so, meaning that there is no need for a diagonal cross to have perpendicular bars at 45 degrees to the edges. As far as I am aware, the representation of St. Andrew in church iconography much more often shows the Saint with his diagonal cross being of a shape similar to vertically hoisted Scottish flag.
Željko Heimer, 17 January 2001

About St. Andrew

[Note: this was originally written for an Anglican audience. There was no intention to offend or exclude people of other faiths, merely to inform people within a particular church context. An updated version of this article can be found at the Saints and Seasons webpage.]

The first-called Apostle
Protokletos, or first-called, is the byname given to the Apostle Andrew in the early Greek Church. This comes from the fact that in John's Gospel he is the first disciple named. (John 1:40) He and another (unnamed) disciple of John the Baptist were present when, on the day after the Lord's baptism, John saw Jesus walking past and said: "Look, the Lamb of God." The two then spent the day with Jesus. Andrew's first action was to call his brother Simon, saying: "We have found the Messiah." Jesus, on seeing Simon, said: "You are Simon, son of John(1). You shall be called Cephas(2)."

This passage in John explains the brothers' meeting with Jesus on the shore of Galilee at Bethsaida, rather baldly rendered in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark:
" 'Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him." (Matthew 4:19,20; Mark 1:17,18)

Andrew (whose feast day is 30 November) seems to have been an approachable fellow: it was he who took the boy with the five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus. And when a party of Greeks wanted to see Jesus, Philip approached Andrew, who arranged things. Elfrida Vipont, writing in Some Christian Festivals, says: "Because of his approachability, and because of his special gift for bringing people to Jesus, St Andrew has always been especially associated with missionary work."

Indeed in later years Andrew is associated with missionary work on the Black Sea shores, although it is in the heart of Greece that he met his end. Tradition asserts that Andrew was crucified at Patras (modern Patrai), on the northern shore of the Greek peninsula known as Morea or the Peloponnese. No date is known; even the Encyclopaedia Britannica refers to it as being around 60/70 (AD). Traditionally Andrew's cross was X-shaped, and it is a convention of ecclesiastical and heraldic art that he either appears with an X-shaped cross, or saltire, or is symbolised by one.

The Roman Emperor Constantius II ordered Andrew's remains removed to Constantinople in 357. During the 8th century some relics were taken to Scotland where they were placed in the care of a monastic settlement founded two centuries earlier in Fife, called first Mucross, then Kilrymont. But after the arrival of Andrew's relics a new church was built there, dedicated to Andrew as patron saint of Scotland, and the place became known St Andrews. And that is how the home of golf came to bear the name of a Galilean fisherman.

Andrew became known as one of the Seven Champions of Christendom, the others being: George, of England; David, of Wales; Patrick, of Ireland; Denis, of France; James (Santiago), of Spain; and Anthony of Padua, of Italy. The cross (saltire) of St Andrew became the badge of Scotland, although it took some time to become fixed in its present colours of white on blue: mediaeval Scottish armies were instructed to place contrasting bands of cloth on their surcoats, white if the surcoat was dark. Today St Andrew's cross not only forms part of Britain's Union Jack, but plays a role in resurgent Russian nationalism, for Andrew is patron of Russia, too. Peter the Great borrowed the Dutch flag and rearranged its colours for Russia's banner, but he also took Scotland's flag and reversed its colours for a naval jack flag.

The rest of Andrew's remains were transferred to Amalfi (40km from Naples), in 1208 and in the 15th century his head went to Rome. In 1964 Pope Paul VI returned the head to Patrai as a gesture of goodwill to the Greek Orthodox Church.

The name Andrew (Andreas, in Greek) means "manly". Some say it must have been a translation of a Hebrew or Aramaic name, but Galilee was a very mixed region and Greek was used more freely there than in Judaea. The name became popular in Scotland long before it was much used in England, but also appears in Spain (Andres), France (Andre), the Netherlands (Andries), Scandinavia (Anders), Russia (Andrei), Poland (Andrzej, pronounced Andjay) and Italy (Andrea). The Italian form is used as a girl's name in English, but since it means "manly" there seems little point. Andrew is also associated with earthquakes, through California's San Andreas Fault - named for a Spanish mission church.

(1) John: in Hebrew, Yochanan. Sometimes translated as Jonah (Simon bar Jonah).

(2) Cephas, or Kefas: Hebrew for "rock"; in Greek, Petros, which has become Peter in English.

Mike Oettle, 21 January 2002

As every body knows flag of Scotland is St. Andrew's flag, which is blue banner with a white saltire cross (St. Andrew's cross). Now, Nova Scotia and Russian Navy are using the same St. Andrew's flags, but reversed colors (white banner with a blue saltire cross). The only difference is that Nova Scotia has the Scottish Coat of Arms in the center of the saltire. Technially, all of these countries could call those flags the St. Andrew's flags.  Which is the real one?
"Georgiy", 11 June, 2003

I may get some argument on this, but in my opinion it's either or both and more. What makes it a St. Andrew's cross is not the color scheme but the diagonal orientation, commemorating the legend that Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross. It seems to me that a flag bearing a St. Andrew's cross is a St. Andrew's flag, regardless of the colors, if that's the symbolism the flag designer intended. On the other hand, if a flag designer puts a yellow saltire on blue and intends it to represent St. Alban, then the flag is not a St. Andrew's flag.
Joe McMillan, 11 June 2003

In 17th century Scotland, the colours carried by the infantry regiments that fought against Cromwell in 1648-50 are in a wide variety of colours. There are yellow saltires on black, black on yellow, white on red, red on white, white on yellow, white on black, white on green, red on yellow, yellow on red, white on blue and red quartered, yellow and white quartered on blue, and for those with no imagination, white saltires on blue :-). The choice of colours appears to be have dictated by the livery colours of the colonel. So at that time, it would seem that it was the saltire itself that was the 'national identifier', rather than it having to be a white saltire on a blue (of whatever colour) field.

On the same theme, there is a 16th Century manuscript in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague, which contains a roll of the arms of Scottish noblemen (Ms. 130 B 12; internal evidence dates it to c.1592). The first folio shows the arms of the King. The sinister unicorn supporter carries a banner of the arms, but the dexter supporter carries a banner which is barry of six gules and or a saltire argent overall. Or in other words, a saltire placed on the heraldic livery colours of the arms. There is a photo of the page in The Double Tressure, the journal of the Scottish Heraldry Society, issue 10 (1988) on page 23.
Ian Sumner, 12 June 2003

See also:

Colour and design of the flag


The Scottish Parliament’s education, culture and sport committee has set the optimum shade of blue for the flag as Pantone 300 (), azure, or sky-blue. The committee’s decision is only advisory and it will have to go to Jim Wallace, the justice minister, for ratification. The subject first came to the Scottish Parliament in 2000 when George Reid, a retired accountant, submitted a petition to the public petitions committee. Later that year, the education committee considered the petition and decided it was not a devolved matter and that Members of the Scottish Parliament were therefore powerless to act. At a later stage, however, Scotland’s heraldic authority, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, suggested it was within Holyrood’s powers and Mr Reid petitioned Holyrood a second time. Mike Russell, MSP for south of Scotland region noted that the committee’s verdict would have no statutory force but would amount to "a pretty strong recommendation".
Extracts from The Scotsman, 19 February 2002
Iain Sutherland, 22 February, 2002

Before this there is no official Pantone colour for the Scottish flag. In 1998 the Flag Institute recommended Pantone 300 () for the blue, but often an even lighter shade, such as Pantone 299 (), is used in actual flags. The important fact is that it should be lighter than the dark blue used in the Union Flag.
Graham Bartram, 17 March 1998

The colour of the blue on the saltire today is usually Pantone 279 () (UN blue). Lord Lyon uses "ultramarine blue with added white".
Graham Bartram, 26 July 2001

Although the shade is lighter than the dark blue of the United Kingdom flag, it is more like the normal blue seen on flags around the world. Perhaps the most accurate version would be to use the blue shown for the Shetland flag (Pantone 300 ) - the two flags are identical shades when seen flying together.
Ken Bagnall, 25 September 2002

In 'The Story of the Scottish Flag' by McMillan and Stewart (1925) it is suggested that the flag used to be sky blue, and that indigo blue [commonly in use in the early 20th Century] was adopted to meet the needs of sailors for a fast colour before the invention of modern fast dyes of a lighter shade. Quoting Sir Herbert Maxwell, 'one of our foremost Scottish historical authorities', "It is to be regretted that flag makers use, not a heraldic azure, but navy blue, which shows almost black against the sky, thus obscuring the celestial origin of the ensign."

In 1937, the flag makers Edgington asked the Admiralty for the correct shade of blue for the field of St Andrew's cross after having a batch, ordered for the coronation, returned for being the wrong shade. (ADM 1/9118 in Public Record Office at Kew.) The Scottish Office quoted Lyon King of Arms as saying it should be azure which was a light blue. He did not consider the "blue-black" sometimes used in Union Flags as blue, and would refuse to pass it as azure on a Coat of Arms.

Pattern T.812. Blue, Azure.
T.813. (formerly 61A) Blue, Intermediate.
T.814. Royal Blue.
Azure described as "bright blue" by Sir Hebert Maxwell who said it should be 61A which he called Saxe Blue.

If it still exists the Saint Andrew Society of Glasgow may have some information on the subject.
David Prothero, 25 July 2002

By tradition the flag is based on a saltire-cross of St Andrew which appeared in the form of clouds in the sky above a battle between the Scots and the Saxons. This encouraged the Scots to victory and ever since the 'sky-blue' flag with a white saltire has been the national flag.
Graham Bartram,
17 March 1998


[Flag of Scotland] [Flag of Scotland]
3:5 dimensions 1:2 dimensions

both images by António Martins-Tuválkin, 30 May 2006

Shown at the top of this page, the flag in 2:3 dimensions. The flag is also flown in 3:5 dimensions as per MoD recomendation, and 1:2 as per customary practice.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 30 May 2006

[Flag of Scotland] 3:4, image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 30 May 2006

Lord Lyon's recommendation for dimensions of the flag are 3:4.
António Martins-Tuválkin
, 30 May 2006

The new Edition of BR20, issued by the Ministry of Defence (and based on a recommendation of the London College of Arms), will show construction details with a ratio of 3:5. The office of the Lord Lyon (King of Arms) recommends 4:5, whilst the St Andrews Society of Glasgow issued specifications (unfortunately undated) which show 2:3. In all cases the width of the saltire is equal to one-fifth the width of the flag (as in the current Union Jack).
The Scottish Parliament have yet to make a decision.
Christopher Southworth, 12 July 2004

The Saltires I have seen on buildings are probably a ratio of 1:2. This approximate ratio with a fairly thin cross, brings out the beauty and true proportions of the Cross of St. Andrew.
Thomas Murray, 12 July 2004

I'm sure the 1:2 ratio Mr. Murray has seen results from the fact that the more or less official ratio of the Union Jack is 1:2, and that British flag-makers presumably use that as a default ratio. The 4:5 quoted on the page, Scottish flag: Lord Lyon's recommendations comes from the Scottish heraldic authority, Lyon Court. Predictably, Lyon Court shows a predilection for following heraldic rather than naval tradition, and its prescribed ratio for heraldic flags hoisted over houses, etc., is 4:5.
Joe McMillan, 12 July 2004

It's worth noting that when flags appear as part of coats of arms, either being flown by a demi-beast in the crest or from lymphads in the body of a shield, the flags are usually much squarer than 'real' flags usually are - 4:5 sounds like it might be the ratio used for these flag depictions, which could well be where the idea of a 4:5 flag came from.
James Dignan, 12 July 2004

The Saltire flying from a flag-pole on top a building owned by my local council is probably a ratio of 1:2. There are at least 3 similar Saltires on at least 3 hotels in Perth. There are 2 cheaper looking Saltires flying from flag-poles outside Perth library. These are at least 3:5, probably greater. In Edinburgh there many Saltires, flying over official buildings at probably 1:2. These expensive 1:2 Saltires in Perth and Edinburgh appear to probably be the same design and possibly the same manufacturer. 1:2 seems to have become the semi-official ratio standard.
Thomas Murray, 16 July 2004

There is no fixed dimension for the flag of Scotland - the St Andrew's Society of Glasgow suggests 2:3, Lord Lyon King of Arms recommends 4:5 and BR20 (Flags of All Nations) proposes 3:5. In addition quite a number are actually made in 1:2.
Graham Bartram, 6 December 2004

Reading the websites of 3 English and 1 Scottish quality flag makers, the Scottish Saltire is in quality, mostly made in the width to length ratio of 1:2. Possibly, only two of these companies make the Saltire in 2:3 and then only in "Special Sizes". Therefore, obviously in a limited quantity. The 3:5 Saltires are cheaply made ones.
Thomas Murray, 6 October 2005

Use of the flag

July 1st 1999 was a very special day for Scotland and her people: after nearly three hundred years Scots regained the right to govern themselves, with the opening of the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh. It was a day full of flags, mainly the Saltire of Scotland, but with lots of others. The palace of Holyrood House was flying the new Scottish royal standard (at least "new" in terms of being used) while the queen was in residence. Edinburgh Castle was flying the Union Flag as a royal fortress and the General Assembly building, the temporary home of the new parliament, was flying the Union Flag on its left tower and the Saltire on its right tower (it has a twin-towered gateway).
Graham Bartram
, 4 July 1999

The "Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia" notes that the Saltire: blue with a white diagonal cross, is the flag of St. Andrew, patron of Scotland. It is the correct flag for Scots or Scottish corporate bodies to demonstrate their loyalty and nationality.
Randy Young, 19 March 2004

Of the flags of England, Scotland and Wales only the Scottish Saltire is, established by (Scottish) Constitutional Law, the Cross of St George is (as David states) established by custom and practice and the Welsh Dragon by Order in Council? In this instance I am taking the phrase "Constitutional Law" to mean 'Parliamentary Law', and not for a moment forgetting both the importance of "custom and practice" in English common law, and the legal status of a Royal Order in Council issued under the Royal Prerogative.
Christopher Southworth, 15 April 2004

Possibly the largest Scottish saltire "raised" can be seen in this image, from the Six Nations rugby tournament in Sydney, Australia, 2004.
Colin Dobson, 28 September 2004

The Sunday Times reported:
"Last year the First Minister (Jack McConnell) introduced a policy (23 November 2004) of flying the Saltire above all public buildings to instill national pride and to promote the country to foreigners. The flag is displayed at the Parliament, at Bute House, the First Minister's official residence and at Scottish Executive offices."

Some other examples of how the saltire is used include:

  • flag poles outside Perth's library and on a flag pole high up on the main Perth & Kinross Council building, at least three hotels and on Perth's museum.
  • Perth's football (soccer) stadium when it hosts a international football (soccer) match, involving Scotland.
  • Balhousie Castle in which the region's British Army infantry Regiment (Black Watch), has its museum has on its highest point, only a large Saltire flying from a flag pole. Five weeks ago, the Black Watch recruited in Perth's High Street. The exhibition trailer they used had two short flag poles, with two large Saltires and a billboard with poster depicting a large Saltire. Underneath the poster's Saltire were photos of infantry soldiers, armoured vehicles and the large words "SCOTTISH INFANTRY". There seemed to be no sign of a Union flag.
  • The Black Watch, which has only one battalion, the 1st, while in Iraq occupied a base named Camp Dogwood where the base's flag flying from a tall flagpole was a Saltire and not a Union flag.
  • It is common for a Scottish Regiment's armoured vehicles to have a small painted Saltire, on their turrets and trucks often have a painted Saltire on a bumper.
  • Five of the Black Watch were killed during this operation, four Scots and one Fijian. Television and newspaper reports of the two funerals, I saw showed each coffin, having a Saltire draped over it.
  • In July 2005, a Norwegian three masted tall ship visited Montrose and in June 2002, a Danish three masted tall ship visited Dundee. Both, flew a Saltire as the courtesy flag.
  • The Scot 100 South Pole Expedition, a dedicated Scottish expedition ended successfully in December 2004. Craig Mathieson who skied most of the way across Antarctica solo, flew a Saltire on reaching the South Pole.
Thomas Murray, 2 October 2005

A Scottish Parliament Flag?

The Magazine "Scotland on Sunday" reported discussion on the introduction of a flag for the Scottish Parliament.  It was reported that Members of Scottsih Parliament (MSPs) want to create a distinctive emblem to fly over Holyrood in a bid to promote its identity and restore pride. Among the new designs expected to be considered by the parliament’s cross-party housekeeping group is a version of the parliament’s existing logo, which features a Saltire against a purple backdrop with a crown above and cords to each side. Some Scottish Nationalist MSPs, however, are opposed to the idea, believing that as Scotland’s national flag, only the Saltire should fly above Holyrood.

Extracted from Scotland on Sunday, (click here for full article) located by Phil Nelson, 3 January 2003

In response to this article, and a query directed to the Scottish Parliament, the following reply was received:

"The article that appeared in Scotland on Sunday in December 2002 refers to 'new designs expected to be considered by the parliament's cross-party housekeeping group'. I can confirm that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB - the 'cross-party housekeeping group') did consider the issue of having a parliamentary flag, but the matter is not currently a priority and I believe that it has not been taken any further. Should it wish to do so, the new SPCB elected by the new Parliament in May could consider the issue again in the future.
I hope that this will be of assistance.
Elizabeth Cantlie
Public Information Service, The Scottish Parliament

Sean McKinnis, 4 April 2003

The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, George Reid MSP, replied to a question I sent to him. Here is his brief response:

Thank you for your interest in the subject of a Scottish Parliament flag. The Scottish Parliament has been granted armorial bearings from the Lord Lyon and a flag can be developed from this if required. This issue was last discussed by the Corporate Body in April 2002 but no formal decision has been taken regarding the matter.

Sean McKinniss, 12 August 2003