DVLA relents on threat to outlaw Scottish car plate

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Scottish nationalists may be spared the indignity of carrying a GB sign on their number plates after the Government agreed to reconsider details of the new car registration scheme which comes into force today.

The introduction of the system had threatened to outlaw symbols of nationalism on plates like SCO and the Saltire logo.

But following protests from motorists north of the border, officials at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) were ordered to carry out an urgent review of the use of national flags and symbols on number plates. Police forces backtracked on their initial objections that the logos made it difficult to identify vehicles involved in crimes. They withdrew their objections on the grounds that improved surveillance camera technology had made identification of plates easier.

The European regulations coincide with the introduction of new UK plates which incorporate a seven-symbol system. They indicate not only when, but where, a car has been purchased.

Since the early 1960s, cars have carried plates with a letter of the alphabet displayed either at the beginning or end of the series of letters and numbers. This indicated the year the car was bought.

From today, car registration plates will carry seven symbols – for example AB51 CDE. The first two letters indicate the area in which the car was purchased, while the next two numbers will indicate in which year that was and whether it was between September-February or March-August.

The last three letters on the plate will be chosen at random.

But it was the announcement that national symbols would have to be dropped under the new regulations that has caused most upset among drivers.

Neil Greig, head of policy at the AA in Scotland, said: "In bringing in the new registration plates, the DVLA took the opportunity to clarify the position with regard to these Euro plates.

"In international law, the only acceptable symbol that covers Scotland is GB, so SCO, Alba and Ecosse has no international standing at all.

"People shouldn't rely on an SCO plate abroad. Some countries are quite hot on enforcing those regulations."

Transport Minister John Spellar said: "We recognise that some motorists within the United Kingdom wish to display their own national flags and symbols on their number plates and as the Government is keen to cater for all UK motorists we will therefore consult widely but urgently on proposals to amend the regulations."

The SNP's enterprise spokesman, Kenny MacAskill, criticised the Scottish Executive on Friday for failing to take steps to preserve the Scottish plates.

"The Executive has got to stand up for Scotland. They've had the opportunity to ensure Scotland remains a distinct brand image and they're not doing so."