I like Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks and his jacket, which looks quiet on the outside until you throw it open. The Union Jack may be about to go for a burton, if the Scottish element of the British Isles gives in to the chip on its shoulder and removes itself from the union, but does that mean we’ll finally be free to enjoy the design of the Union Jack without it carrying so much baggage of history?
Unlike its proud ubiquitous cousin, the US flag, which seems to dangle everywhere from flagpoles on front lawns to toilet roll commercials, the poor old Union Jack has been reviled, shamed and abused almost from the outset. But as a piece of design it is brilliantly off-kilter, almost impossible to draw unless you remember which bars are thick and which are thin, and always seemingly in movement, designed to flutter.
Over the years it has been associated with the excesses of empire and every right-wing nutjob fringe group going – and yet it remains an iconic symbol not of freedom, like the American flag, but of exuberance. It’s also a design that can be carved into tiny pieces and still retain the cohesion of its whole.
A version in which all the elements are different shades of black can be found in fashion stores, and some terrific multicultural reworkings of the flag have lately cropped up in vibrant colours.
If Scotland leaves the union the flag will become purely a historical symbol, which would free it from associations of excessive patriotism.
The co-opting of the US flag by large corporations as a bullying patriotic symbol has always bothered me. You don’t see Union Jacks on front lawns because the St Andrew’s flag is usually the right-wing symbol of choice. And the concept of patriotism carries very different connotations here. In 1993, there was an idea t add black stripes to the flag to acknowledge the black community, but this would have singled out one part of society and possibly done more damage than good.
So perhaps in the Olympic year the Union Jack will finally complete its transition and simply come toindicate a source of creative energy.