Is It OK To Like Union Jacks Again?

Great Britain, Observatory

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.

14 comments on “Is It OK To Like Union Jacks Again?”

  1. Alan G says:

    Er… Union Flag? Not Union Jack.

    And I hope that Scotland will not leave the British Isles – that would be insane.

  2. Dick Kerrison says:

    Hi Christopher,

    Just wanted to point out that the right wing flag of choice is the Flag of st George.
    At least in England.

  3. Gretta says:

    I’ve always associated St George with the knobhead sector of football supporters and fascist nutjobs(often one and the same, unfortunately). The Union Jack/Flag I still associate with those Nanas in their waistcoats on Henman Hill at Wimbledon. I’m not sure quite what that says about Britain’s image re the rest of the Commonwealth.

    I’m interested to see how the whole Scotland thing pans out. Some of the condescension that has come from the south regarding it will only push them closer towards independence, I think, rather like that ill-fated campaign by some UK paper(was it?) to stop Bush getting re-elected. Cameron’s arrogant/churlish remarks would have done it for me.

    It has just occured to me…if Scotland do wander off and do their own thing, therefore rendering the Union Jack/Flag defunct, what happens to those of us whose national flag contains it?

    I’m rather fond of that blue Union Jack/Flag.

    Who does the frock coat belong to? My inner voice wants to say Screaming Lord Sutch or some 60s BritPop bod.

    And anything with Dame Judi in/on it gets a thumbs up from me.

  4. Colin Leslie says:

    Oh, so Scotland has a chip on it’s shoulder, and there was me thinking the independence debate was all about inequality and democracy. After all this is a country with record oil revenues where one in five children live in poverty. A country ruled by a government in Westminster that is represented by one mp.
    Please should wake up to the fact that this is not about Braveheart and heather but about the people finally giving up on a Union which has brought a nation to it’s knees. Injustice, inequality and democracy, now I think those are things worth shouting about or should all victims of injustice just shut up and leave that chip on their shoulder..?

  5. Matt says:

    The Americans covet their flag so much because they don’t have another non-political figurehead for the nation – we’ve got Her Maj to act as a focus for our positive nationalistic emotions. This fact makes me feel warm and cosy inside. If you were going to worship something, then an idiosyncratic family with years of tradition, nobility and a huge positive effect on the economy (tourism-wise), makes much more sense than a rectancle of patterned cloth.

  6. Alan Morgan says:

    Whether disliked as such or otherwise, the St. George cross has been taken as the symbol of the British fascist, whether loud or idly muddling through the easy litany of what takes the least thought to have as an opinion. That’s what was waved and shouted from under during the clashes of the late 80s and early 90s and that’s what it’s always going to mean to me when as a young man paying my dues on the other side of the barricades (as it were).

    The Union Flag however doesn’t have that, for me. I associate it more with the mods and the punks, with Brit pop even (more mod really).

    Purely personal all, but I can’t speak as anyone else now. But the left always has the best music ;0)

    Britain does have a better symbol; the pint glass. Whole and full and being handed over with a smile. The Union Flag also looks like it was put together after a few, the lines that bit off, on a Friday afternoon. Close enough, that’ll do. I’ll have whatever you’re having.

  7. admin says:

    Colin, of course you’re right in many ways, especially about oil revenues and poverty, but much happens with the collusion of Scottish parliament.

    I don’t know any English person who has anything but admiration for Scotland, from its literacy rate to its creativity, but we face blanket demonisation where in fact few of us agree with our government.

    If you go it alone, I wonder if the poverty rate will drop? Or if, for example, Scottish banks continue to bleed people dry?

  8. Colin leslie says:


    I suspect this argument will be repeated ad nauseam over the next couple of years but this is definitely not an anti-English stance, its very much a pro-Scottish stance. What I find odd about the whole thing is the attitude that Scotland would somehow not be able to make it alone. My attitude is very much that of Johann Friedrich von Schiller :-
    “He cannot complain of a hard sentence, who is made master of his own fate.”
    To be honest if the rest of the UK think Scotland is such a drain then why are they not clamouring to be rid of us. The poverty and the bank issues would, I am sure remain for many years, but I suspect a largely socialist minded country like Scotland may resolve a lot of the issues that the UK tory led government (and tory led labour party before that) seem oblivious to and if not hell mend us. I suspect the removal of billions of pounds from weapons programmes (trident)and illegal foreign wars may give us that flexibility
    The bottom line is this should be put to a democratic vote by the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK should support that principle, one that I thought the UK is supposed to uphold throughout the world.
    The future for this country and it’s people looks bleaker every day, after the pillaging of Thatcher’s and now Cameron’s government left us emasculated it would be nice to get some pride back, that national pride is what you were arguing for in the first place wasn’t it?

  9. Jozafeen says:

    Greta – the fantastic frock coat was created by Alexander McQueen for David Bowie’s 1997 ‘Earthling’ album and tour. Awesome isn’t it?

  10. Nikki-ann says:

    I love the Union Jack/Flag but I do have a slight problem with it… It’s missing a little red dragon!

  11. Gretta says:

    Jozafeen – ahhh, thank you!

  12. admin says:

    That’s a very fair argument, Colin, and I agree that a country prone to a Socialist stance has a better chance of resolving the outstanding issues. All that’s happened down here in Cameron’s community-spirited England is that the old Tory has slid the same old issues back on the agenda beneath a sheen of caring concern.

    ‘ll be in Glasgow appearing at Frightfest later this month, and I’m sure the arguments will be thrashed out in bars…

  13. TonyB says:

    As the band “Show of Hands” put it in their song “Roots”:

    Without our stories or our songs
    How will we know where we come from?
    I’ve lost St. George and the Union Jack
    That’s my flag too and I want it back
    Seed, bark, flower, fruit
    Never gonna grow without their roots

  14. Helen Martin says:

    Love the song, TonyB. The day we arrived in England there was a football game against Croatia and I saw a young man running down the opposite platform with a St. George flag. England competes under the George & that makes sense to me.
    Gretta, any country with the Union flag as part of its design would have an official description which would include something like “…the British Union flag of (whatever year)” so it wouldn’t change. I was really glad when we got our maple leaf flag because we had used the Red Ensign before & you try drawing a flag with a small union flag in the corner and a full coat of arms in the fly. A ten year old with wax crayons didn’t stand a chance. Our flag day = 15 Feb. Up the maple leaf!

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