SBC policy review after Israeli colours lit up its headquarters

The neutral colour of white 'likely' to be used in future.
SBC HeadquartersSBC Headquarters
SBC Headquarters

Scottish Borders Council is carrying out a policy review after a decision to light up its headquarters in the colour of the Israeli flag caused consternation for some.

Following the terrorist attack on the State of Israel by Hamas on October 7 a decision was taken to light up council headquarters at Newtown St Boswells in blue and white.

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SBC intended the move to offer solidarity with the people of Israel and all civilians impacted in Gaza and Palestine.

But as the narrative changed and thousands of innocent lives in Gaza were lost the move faced criticism.

It now appears ‘likely’ that in the event of any future such tragedies the neutral colour of white will be used to light council premises in an attempt to avoid offence and to represent neutrality.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council on Thursday, October 26, Galashiels and District SNP councillor Fay Sinclair asked how and why the decision was taken to light up council headquarters blue and white.

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In response, SBC convenor Councillor Watson McAteer gave a detailed response.

He said: “On the evening of the eight of October as convenor I was contacted by elected members of this council who advised me that the UK government were asking for public buildings to fly the Israeli flag as a mark of solidarity in the face of the terrorist action, that resulted in the loss of more than one thousand innocent men, women and children.

“In the absence of any clarity I considered the lighting of a public building could reasonably closely follow the flag-flying policy, ensuring consistency in the council’s approach.

“We were very aware of the range of sensitivities and concerns that flying the flag would have across our communities. We were also aware that Scottish Borders Council was not in possession of an Israeli flag and the alternative of lighting the headquarter’s tower in blue and white was proposed.

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“The decision was communicated to the political groups of the council. Subsequently I received confirmation that the Conservative group, while still preferring an Israeli flag, were totally supportive. We also received representations from the SNP and Green group, who expressed their concerns regarding the action. They were supportive of showing solidarity for those impacted by war and violence, while making the point that both Israeli and Palestinian lives had been lost.

“I personally did not receive representations or expressions of concern from the Independent or Liberal groups.”

Councillor McAteer, after discussions with council’s chief executive David Robertson, came forward with a “considered and proportionate” response.

He added: “Doing nothing given the horrendous circumstances and public outrage was not considered a realistic option. Limiting the nights the tower was lit from three to one made it clear that this council was recognising all victims without prejudicing one state from the other.”

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Councillor Fay Sinclair suggested that in future the tower should be lit a more neutral white in light of the sensitivities involved.

She added: “I do agree that it is absolutely right that the actions of Hamas on October 7 are condemned. Since then the situation has escalated, more than five thousand Palestinians have been killed in less than three weeks since, half of them children and there’s a humanitarian crisis.

“Will the convenor agree to light council headquarters up in white in recognition of all the civilians caught up in this conflict?”

“There’s learning in all that we do,” Councillor McAteer responded, adding: “Colour is important. Having reviewed the policy on flying flags and lighting buildings we have already considered an alternative colour, and that colour is potentially white. There is a strong likelihood that white will be our neutral, peaceful colour for events similar to this.”