The flag consists of the Commonwealth symbol in gold on a blue field. The symbol centers on a globe, representing the global nature of the Commonwealth and the breadth of its membership. The globe is surrounded by 61 radiating, approximately quadrilateral, spears, which form a 'C' for 'Commonwealth'. The number of spears does not represent the number of member states (there have never been 61 members); instead, the large number represents the many ways in which the Commonwealth cooperates around the world.
The flag developed from car pennants produced for the first time at the 1973 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, held in Ottawa, Canada. The initiative for its design is credited to two Canadians: the first Commonwealth Secretary-General, Arnold Smith; and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. It was officially adopted on 26 March 1976.
The flag of the Commonwealth of Nations is flown at Marlborough House, London, the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat, throughout the year, and for a limited period at other venues where Commonwealth meetings, events, or visits are taking place (for example, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings). The Canadian federal government does not stipulate that the flag be flown for Commonwealth Day, instead directing that the Royal Union Flag be flown at federal installations which have a second flagpole. However, the Commonwealth flag is flown at the Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh on Commonwealth Day, from the fourth flagpole.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon encourages the flying of the Commonwealth flag on Commonwealth Day, and the Office of the Secretary-General notes that "it is not the case that the Union Jack - or the flag of any other member country for that matter - is a substitute for the Commonwealth flag which represents the association of 53 members and their peoples."