Flying the flag – September 2014

union jackIf Scotland votes for Independence on 18th September the question for the rest of the UK might be ‘which flag’ to fly? There may not be much in-depth discussion yet over important issues like currency, social care and Trident but there are endless discussions about what will happen to the poor old Union Jack which has already faced some difficult times in recent years. First it was hijacked by the BNP and then in 2012 Belfast City Council voted to limit the days the Union Jack could be flown over Belfast City Hall.

The origins of the Union Flag date back to 1606 when King James Vl of Scotland inherited the English and Irish thrones and became King James l of a United Kingdom; the Act of Union being passed in 1707. Poor old Wales was annexed by Edward l in 1282 and already a part of the Kingdom of England so when the cross of St George, the cross of St. Andrew and the cross of St. Patrick were joined in a union flag (St. George being placed on top of the other two!) the Welsh Dragon didn’t get a look in.

The source of the name ‘Union Jack’ is unknown. One theory is that it could be from James l or from the ‘jack-et’ of English or Scottish soldiers; it’s more likely to be a Navy connection where the Union flag was flown on a ship’s flag-pole called the ‘Jack Staff’.

The Guardian recently held an on-line survey or ‘flag poll’ with 12 options for Flags post-Independence. The winning flag replaced the Scottish blue with black so in the wrong light it would look precisely the same. Noting the readers’ ambivalence over the issue the Guardian by-line reads:

“The black in the flag neatly captures this ambivalence by giving a sense of losing Scotland being mourned while at the same time suggesting that we’ve barely noticed.” (Correct grammar has never been a Guardian strong point.)

The readers’ second choice removed the Scottish saltire altogether and added ‘green Wellsh-ish triangles to the bottom half’.

 All somewhat sad when you consider the importance of national flags that serve not only as a means of identity but also act as a symbol for a country’s history and ideals.

Tribal groups and clans used flags to identify a leader or a group to whom they were loyal. The custom of folding the US Flag into the shape of a triangle bestows ‘unique honour and respect upon the Flag’ as one American commentator, associated with flag etiquette, writes:

“In the Army when the Flag is lowered at the last note of retreat the greatest care is taken that no part shall touch the ground. The Flag is carefully folded into the shape of a tri-cornered hat, reminiscent of the hats worn by the soldiers who fought the War of the Revolution and won American Independence. In the folding the red and white stripes are finally wrapped into the blue, as the light of day vanishes into the darkness of the night.”

The first fold stands for liberty, the second for unity, the third for justice, the fourth for perseverance, the fifth for hardiness, the sixth for valour, the seventh for purity, the eighth for innocence, the ninth for sacrifice, the tenth for honour, the eleventh for independence and the twelfth for truth.

The flag represents an America built on the God-given truths articulated in the Declaration of Independence: ‘…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

No such ‘unique honour and respect’ is being bestowed on the Union Jack as it is discussed on Australian TV and questioned on Twitter: “If Scotland leaves the UK …will Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and all those British crown colonies have to change their Union Jack on the top left hand corner of their national flags?”

And then there’s the Union Jack Club in London? Founded over 100 years ago by a Red Cross Nurse, Ethel McCaul, it has provided non-commissioned, serving and former members of the Armed Forces and their families ‘a comfortable and friendly base for their visits to London.’

The College of Arms has indicated that there would be no need to change the flag in the event of a ‘yes’ vote to Scottish Independence because the Queen will remain Queen of Scotland and the Union Jack is a royal flag.

Whatever happens on the 18th I think it’s important to remember that the Union Jack doesn’t just represent a country or a ‘kingdom’ it also represents our history and ideals. A British general once described his infantry’s flag in this poem:

“A moth-eaten rag on a worm-eaten pole;

It doesn’t look likely to stir a man’s soul;

‘Tis the deeds that were done ‘neath the moth-eaten rag

When that pole was a staff and the rag was a flag”

For more information go to: – for a lengthy on-line debate on the future of the Union Flag – for all the latest news on the Scottish Referendum


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