SCOTTISH Tory politicians yesterday refused to apologise to Nicola Sturgeon over FlagGate – despite the Scottish Daily Mail saying sorry for a front-page report which falsely claimed she had “decreed” the Union flag should not be flown over dozens of public buildings on the Queen’s birthday and other royal events.

The apology to the First Minister was on page 2 of yesterday’s Mail and conceded the paper had got the story wrong on two counts.

But the silence was deafening from the likes of David Mundell, who repeated the false claims in the House of Commons, and Ruth Davidson, who said Sturgeon’s apparent decision to lower the flag – one which turned out to have been taken long before she was First Minister – was “dismal stuff”.

The Mail admitted that firstly the policy change had been made by the former First Minister Alex Salmond seven years ago, and secondly his successor had no involvement in updating the guidance on the matter that was published last month.

Under the headline Clarifications and Corrections, the Mail said: “We are happy to clarify that the decision to change the policy on flag flying was taken and implemented by former First Minister Alex Salmond in 2010.

“The Protocol and Honours Team updated operational guidance in December 2017. We accept that the policy did not change under Nicola Sturgeon and that she had no involvement in the Protocol and Honours Team updating the operational guidance on flag flying for 2018. We apologise to Ms Sturgeon for the contrary impression given.”

Following publication, the First Minister tweeted: “The Daily Mail has admitted that its ridiculous story about me and flags was utterly false and issued a full apology.”

She added: “Rigorous scrutiny of politicians by a free media is fundamental to our democracy. But when newspapers publish blatant untruths they do a disservice, not just to those they defame, but to the integrity of their trade. That’s why it’s important to challenge falsehoods.”

The apology follows articles published in the Scottish Daily Mail as well as the Daily Telegraph and the Express newspapers on Wednesday which reported the flag policy change would see “dozens of public buildings” cut the number of days they fly the Union flag from 15 to one – Remembrance Day.

The Daily Telegraph also said Sturgeon had “hauled down the Union flag”, while the Daily Express said the move was “a snub to the Queen”. Neither have, to date, issued an apology.

On Wednesday the Scottish Government took the unusual step of writing to all three titles warning them it would refer them to the press watchdog, the Independent Press Standards’ Organisation, unless they apologised for their stories within 28 days.

Despite the Mail’s apology, Tory MSP Murdo Fraser yesterday continued to insist much of the story was accurate.

He tweeted: “Been too busy today to bother with #FlagGate, but one thing is quite clear – the ONLY aspect of the Mail’s story for which they apologised was claim that FM PERSONALLY instructed the guidance change. In EVERY other respect, story is accurate.”

The UK Government also did not back down after Scottish Secretary David Mundell told the House of Commons this week that it “beggars belief” that the SNP are banging on about flags when “educational standards are falling and Police Scotland is in chaos”.

Last night a Scotland Office spokesman said: “As Mr Mundell has made clear, the Scottish Government needs to spend less time worrying about flags, and concentrate on the day job of sorting out the very significant problems in Scotland’s schools, health service and law enforcement.”

Broadcaster Iain Dale also apologised yesterday. He wrote on his website: “On Wednesday I read a story in The Times about the Scottish Government ordering a change in its flag flying policy, meaning that the only occasion the Union flag could be flown on Scottish Parliament buildings was on Remembrance Sunday.

“Previously there were 14 other occasions when it could be flown. Instead, it would now be replaced by the Saltire. I then tweeted: ‘So @NicolaSturgeon has ordered the Union flag to be removed from government buildings. Perhaps the UK Government should remove the funding which enables her to spend £1500 more per head of population than is spent in England.’

“Nicola Sturgeon then tweeted me to say that it was not her decision and nothing had changed since 2010. At the same time Ruth Davidson’s spokesman tweeted screenshots of the change in policy between 2017 and 2018’s guidance notes. It seemed to me that this was fairly convincing.”

He added he had apologised for tweeting the policy was her decision, saying: “It is clear now that it was not.”

Dale said he would delete the original tweet.