INDEPENDENCE activists in Airdrie have faced verbal abuse from Unionists when they protested about the removal of a Saltire from a local park flagpole.

Members of Airdrie for Independence mounted their demonstration exactly an hour before Scotland kicked off their Euro 2020 campaign against the Czech Republic.

As The National reported on Friday, they were protesting about the Saltire at West End Park being replaced by a Union Jack two weeks ago.

Jim Cassidy, who raised the issue with the park owner, North Lanarkshire Council (NLC), told us: “There was some nasty verbal abuse. Apparently I’m a ‘traitor whose faither would be turning in his grave’.”

Despite the counter-demo, Cassidy reckoned the protest was successful: “It was in the respect we have drawn awareness to this.

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“Most local people are completely unaware but more now are. 

“We had one woman join us who had never been on a demonstration before but was motivated to do so.

“To be honest the Unionist presence really helped frame the issue.”

NLC is run by a minority Labour administration supported by the Tories and independents, despite the SNP winning most seats and votes at the last local elections.

Although the council owns the park, a voluntary group – Friends of West End Park – looks after it on their behalf.

A spokesperson for NLC said: “The Friends of West End and Centenary Park is a voluntary community organisation run by an independent committee who do a fantastic job looking after the park for the benefit of the local people and visitors.

“Flying the Saltire or Union flag is at the discretion of the committee.”

This newspaper has approached the group for comment, but despite emails promising that somebody would be in touch, they have not responded to a request for comment about the issue.

A letter from the group, which has been seen by Cassidy and The National, claimed it was apolitical and, “very saddened and surprised” that their upgrade to the flagpole was “somehow associated to a political/national cause”.

The flagpole is adjacent to the town’s war memorial, which they also help maintain, and they said they had received several requests from ex-service personnel, veterans and their families, indicating “they felt it would be right that we gave consideration to a British flag”.

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However, Cassidy, himself a former serviceman, is unconvinced: “They state that the group is non-political and non-sectarian, but that doesn’t mean that you can be blind to the political and sectarian connotations linked to the British flag, and one would have had to be living under a rock to have missed them.

“The Saltire which flew there was something all our community had no argument over, and its removal coincides with British Government attempts to rebrand much of Scotland with the British flag in a programme of ‘Union-Jackery’, so it is understandable why people cannot simply accept this is simply an innocent misunderstanding.

“As a former member of the armed forces who used to parade every year with the Royal Engineers on Remembrance Sunday, I do not believe that the wishes of a few veterans and their families should be given greater consideration than the entire community of Airdrie.

“The British Nationalist community does have a particular focus on a few key areas, such as the flying of the British flag, year-round poppy displays and veterans causes, so the decision to remove the Saltire and replace it with the British must be viewed in that context.”