ALMOST 20 years ago, together with my wife and son, I spent a week on holiday with friends sailing in the Greek islands. Those friends subsequently went to live on their own boat in Greece for almost a decade but during that initial holiday they had hired a small and fairly basic craft.

The only frill they added to it was a flag – a red ensign with a blue-and-white saltire emblem in the top left corner instead of the usual red, white and blue Union flag. I had never seen one before and that was also true of the many Scots who noticed it as they strolled along the various piers at which we tied up. Lots of them would pass by, circle back for another look and then say how much they liked it.

Greeks and other Europeans would also ask what it was. The only negative remark came on one memorable evening when a red-faced Home Counties Colonel Blimp, with several pink gins inside him, started shouting and demanded (without success, I should add) that it be taken down as he found it “insulting”. To whom , he didn’t say.

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Since that holiday I have, from time to time, seen the same flag fluttering from the stern of much more expensive and sophisticated yachts passing up and down the Argyll sea lochs or sitting in marinas. Nobody who has one seems to have the slightest problem in using the Scottish Ensign, at home or abroad, but some people still think that it might in some way be wrong to do so. Someone who prefers to fly his country’s flag until challenged, as he puts it (and that has never happened, he says), is George Green whom I met on his boat, Still Crazy, in Corfu last year.

Given that I was there only three weeks after the referendum, the sight of the flag on a yacht tied up at the quayside drew me to it and within a few minutes I was sitting on board having a drink with expatriate Scot George and his wife, Anne.

George, originally from West Lothian, is a former Scottish Enterprise employee who ended up in a senior position with the World Bank. Now an American citizen, he spends much of every summer sailing in the Mediterranean and always has the Scottish Ensign flying proudly on his boat.

He also confirmed what I had observed on my first experience of the flag: most people find it attractive and a good way to show the Scottish connection.

THAT is also the view of my Isle of Bute constituent George MacKenzie, who has been a long-term advocate of the Scottish Ensign and who has now submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament urging the Scottish Government to take the necessary steps to ensure that it will be flown ever more widely.

The Scottish Ensign is the original maritime flag of Scotland, as paintings in Dutch maritime museums and in the offices of the Commissioners of Northern Lights in Edinburgh confirm. It was probably in existence as early as the 14th century and it was certainly still being used in the 18th century.

An Order in Council for July 21, 1707 established the naval flags to be used following the Union, which included the Red Ensign, but it did not become the official maritime flag of the UK until 1864, when the White Ensign was officially adopted by the Royal Navy leaving the “red duster” for the rest.

Yet although the Merchant Shipping Act of 1995 recognises the Red Ensign as the only ensign to be flown by British merchant vessels, there is also provision in the Act for Her Majesty the Queen in Council or a Secretary of State to approve “any colours consisting of the Red Ensign defaced or modified”. The States of Jersey were given permission in 2010 for a “voluntary or informal” ensign and the Jersey Ensign now includes a Plantagenet Crown, so there is already precedent for what George MacKenzie is suggesting.

All that would be required to clarify the position once and for all – and give a fillip to the use of the Scottish Ensign – would be for the Scottish Government to seek a warrant from the UK Government for the creation and flying of the Scottish Ensign as a “voluntary and informal ensign” under the relevant provisions of the Act. McKenzie’s petition calls for that action to be taken as soon as possible.

McKenzie is a retired lieutenant commander of the Royal Naval Reserve and a former senior local government officer. His desire to see authorised use of the Scottish Ensign is not only because of his enthusiasm for all things Scottish, but also because he wants to ensure more conformity and consistency in the identification and promotion of vessels around our coast.

He has observed from his island home and around our shores that lots of people now sport on their craft not the Red Ensign but Lion Rampants, Saltires and even skull and crossbones flags.

He believes that flying the Scottish Ensign would become very popular if people knew that it was officially approved by the Scottish Government. With an increasing number of Scots going sailing in other parts of the world, it would act as an informal identifier of Scottish boats and help promote Scotland at home and overseas.

His petition is now being discussed with parliamentary clerks and will soon go live on the Scottish Parliament website. I hope to have the chance to speak when it comes before the petitions committee and this summer I will be watching out – in Argyll and elsewhere – for a few more Scottish Ensigns as people realise they can show their pride in where they come from on the water as well as on the land.