I don’t know where they came from or whether money was exchanged in some nefarious deal in the old Steamie in Canal Street in Perth, but I remember my mum returning home with a bag full of bubble gum cards.

Other boys of my age were interested in football or fighter planes, but for me the ­zenith of collecting was a series called Flags of the World. The bubble-gum was flat and pink, with a powdery residue that ­stuck to your fingers and came wrapped in a wax ­paper, but the sugar was less potent than the colourful array of cards that lay inside.

Within days of laying them out in alphabetical order, I began to identify the flags with obsessive ease – Burma, Honduras, East Germany, Venezuela – they became etched in my memory like a secret code only master cryptographers could crack.

Since childhood, I have loved flags and rage against those that dismiss their ­importance. In my infancy I was most ­intrigued by the flags with animals on them, The Grizzly Bear of California, the exotic bird of Papua New Guinea and the Lion of Sinhala, which dominates the Sri Lankan national flag.

READ MORE: The Simpsons takes aim at shortbread tin Union-Jackery in new episode

This childhood passion made me a third-rate student of vexillology, someone who has built up a respect for flags and what they signify.

I am weary of the false enlightenment that belittles national identity or political independence by sneering at flags. Those that most despise Scotland’s national ambition love to say things like “you can’t eat flags” assuming it is a profound thought, when in fact it is facile nonsense. Of course, it is true that a chunk of saltire or a length of blue and white material would be difficult to digest, but so too would a box of commemorative poppies or an ­ermine coat. None of these things are ­intended to be eaten, they are ­signifiers of values and principles.

This week Boris Johnson has launched yet another “task force” to save the ­union. It will report to Downing Street, proposing policy ideas that will supposedly strengthen the case for the union. One of the first ideas, is that “we have to make sure the union is at the heart of everything we do, every policy needs to have a Union Jack emblazoned on it”. It is such a pitiful suggestion, it will almost certainly be adopted.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson's Union Jackery blitz branded ‘crass’ and ‘desperate’

Like so much of what Westminster plans for Scotland it is imposed rather than discussed and in this case so superficial you suspect it has never been thought deeply about. Take food and drink, one of Scotland’s key economic drivers, at the high-value end of the market, there is an emphasis on quality and on the specificity of products, especially those that are local and organic.

Most consumers do not obsess about ­nationality and are more guided by uniqueness. People like the idea of ­Stornoway black pudding, Dunlop cheese from East Ayrshire and Rowies from ­Aberdeen. They want a sense of authenticity, and so food that feels fresh and is produced locally, has real value. Nor is this uniquely Scottish. The European ­Union has prioritised food with protected geographical status and applies high standards of food production which are now at risk in the hands of people that want to emblazon food with union jacks.

Sadly, whether Boris Johnson’s task force likes it or not the union flag is in perilous decline, and the political ­system it represents is hurtling towards ­anachronism too.

My favourite flag of the modern era is the flag of Bahamas which did not exist until the island negotiated its independence in 1973. It is a stunning statement of modernity involving a horizontal triband of aquamarine and gold with a dynamic black chevron. The flag is now firmly established and replaced the old blue ensign with union flag that once flew over the ­islands.

READ MORE: Union Jackery nonsense debases our produce and our political discourse

Two words stand out in this – design and decolonialisation. Taken together, they are strangling the life out of the ­union flag. One by one, countries that have secured their independence from Britain have favoured designing their own flags or adapting what was already there.

Flags are signifiers which communicate the story of a country or a region, or the reflect the mythologies and shared stories of nationhood. One of the most recognisable flags in the world, America’s Stars and Stripes is founded on decolonisation, the 50 stars represent the states of the union but less well known is that the 13 stripes signal the colonies that initially broke from Britain to form the USA.

Nor is it so uncommon to disaggregate a flag Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica were once united in a union – the United Provinces of Central America and shared a blue and white flag. Since their separation, each country has adapted their union flag.

As the British empire declines so the unions that it forged disaggregate too. The nostalgia that once bound people to the flag of the union are in the death throes. It may still have resonance in a few bars in Hong Kong, in small islands where tax havens flourish, and on the fascia of ­garish pubs in Torremolinos but elsewhere the story is one of decline and disappearance. The days when civic buildings were bedecked with the union flags are in retreat and the idea that a ­Conservative think tank can reverse history is among the many fantasies, ­Boris Johnson’s corrupt government are ­currently hawking.

READ MORE: Plan for pro-Union taskforce plunged into chaos with Boris Johnson isolating

The other keyword in all of this is design. We live in a world where branding and design have never been more important. The idea of slapping a flag on packaging is for the 19th century and not for today’s brand savvy consumerism. An ­obvious example in our midst, is Scotland’s remarkable success within the designer gin market, where often the shape and substance of the bottle is as important as the contents. There are now nearly 200 Scottish-based gins and Scotland has over 70% of the UK market. The bottles could be displayed in a gallery but there is barely a flag insight. When the saltire does appear it so muted and refined it ­becomes a design feature and not just a sign of national identity.

Whatever we may think of flags, and some see them only as a fluttering symbol of nationalism, they are significantly more complex than that, and to reduce flags to a single meaning is to chase subtlety out of the way.

Even the so-called “butchers’ apron,” the flag of colonial unionism has had its fashionable moments. When The Who appeared in Jackie magazine in the 1960s, John Entwistle was resplendent in a union-flag blazer. It was a symbol of modernism, of Carnaby Street and sixties chic rather than national deference.

When Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols wore his ripped and torn union vest it was in the spirit of defiant punk not a nod to patriotism or national consensus. And when Stormzy appeared at Glastonbury Festival in mid-2019 wearing a stab-proof vest emblazoned with a black and white Union flag, designed by street artist Banksy, it was not a flag of honour but of racism and urban fear. Stormzy was acknowledging a phrase that had been in the minds of multi-cultural Britain for decades – there ain’t no black in the union jack.

Context matters and whatever their colour flags matter too. Scotland already has a settled and time honoured national flag and it is unlikely to fade anytime soon, but as we journey towards independence it will be the values that underscore the saltire that will be of greatest significance, and those values will be shaped by the people of Scotland, not by a think-tank run by a minority party in a neighbouring country.