THE National’s campaign to Save Our Scotland Brand took a twist yesterday when one of the country’s largest supermarket chains admitted that they brand food from England with the Union Flag because shoppers identify the brand as English more than the St George’s Cross.

In a surprise admission, Sainsbury’s told a National reader that the “Union flag has a wider and stronger message than the St George’s Cross when applied to English products.”

The cross of St George has been the official flag of England since at least the 16th century, though there is evidence that it was first worn by the Crusaders under Richard the Lionheart. It was certainly worn by English soldiers at the time of King Edward I, the so-called Hammer of the Scots.

READ MORE: Save Our Scotland Brand: M&S carrots come from the 'county' of Scotland

The St George’s Cross was incorporated into the first Union Flag when King James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603 – he ordered the new Union Jack to be flown on all naval vessels.

That Jack became the full Union Flag when Ireland was joined to the United Kingdom in 1801.

It is that current Union Flag which, as The National’s campaign to Save Our Scotland Brand has shown, is being increasingly used by retailers to brand Scottish goods in what we have called Union Jackery.

The unpopular “British” branding on Scottish goods may be a reaction to Brexit – five major supermarket chains have refused to state whether or not that is the case.

As one of many readers backing our campaign to preserve Scotland’s brand, Margaret Brown had written to Sainsbury’s regarding the Union Flag on Scottish potatoes, and she was astonished by the response.

Sainsbury’s told her: “We use the Union Flag on our packaging to denote British products. Our consumer research shows that the Union Flag has a wider and stronger message than the St. George’s Cross when applied to English products.”

In effect, the supermarket is saying that their customers associate the Union Flag with products from England.

Many Scots have said that England long ago hijacked the Union Flag for its own use, but now Sainsbury’s appears to have confirmed that is the case.

Sainsbury’s did admit that the Scottish Saltire was a powerful brand in itself: “Our research also showed that for products from Scotland the Saltire has much more meaning regarding its place of origin for both our Scottish and English customers.”

The chain may yet reverse its current policy of promoting “British” produce such as carrots and broccoli when they have actually been grown in Scotland.

Sainsbury’s told Margaret Brown: “We’re hopefully going to carry out further consumer research in future to continue to monitor our customers’ preferences regarding our labelling.

“You might also be interested to know that we’ve recently redesigned our packaging for soft fruit, making the county of origin (for example Hampshire or Wiltshire) more prominent on the front of the pack. This’ll continue to allow our customers to make informed choices when selecting soft fruits from us.”

Sainsbury’s had not replied to The National’s questions at the time we went to press.