As I See It

Is the union flag a symbol of defiance or purpose?

Terry smiling headBraveheart was on the television again the other night, a film credited (discredited?) with stirring up nationalist fervour in Scotland.

There was also an interview on BBC Reporting Scotland featuring senior football people on how they could not bring themselves to support England in the Euro 2016 tournament in France. This was a questionable item, perhaps tongue in cheek, but close to being provocative.

The battle with the auld enemy never ceases. If Britain votes to leave the EU the calls for a second Scottish independence referendum will intensify and may prove unstoppable. The break-up of the EU, followed by the disintegration of the UK cannot be ruled out, and both may happen quite soon.

It all comes down to a question of identity; how we see ourselves and how others see us (Burns put it a little more poetically).

Who are we? Scots? Brits? Europeans? People of the world? How should we manage and display our identity?

Into this mix we now have a bout of flag-waving. In Berwickshire they are demanding that two of the three saltire flags flying at the border be replaced with the union flag and the flag of the county. Local councillors believe that flying the flag of Berwickshire will encourage more tourists to linger in the area, while the union flag, they say, will remind visitors heading north that they are still in the UK.

Berwickshire council may find an ally in the Westminster government which is planning to raise the profile of the union flag across Scotland. It wants the flag of the British flag to adorn public offices providing UK government services, such as JobCentres and Defence.

The official line is that the public is confused about who does what and will become more confused as more powers move to Holyrood. An interesting aside is that there are more civil servants in Scotland and Wales working for the UK government than for the devolved administrations.

Tory ministers say that clearer branding will help people understand where responsibility lies, and any marketing and management specialists would say this is an unarguable proposition. A spokesman for the UK government put it diplomatically by saying: “We want to make sure that ordinary people in Scotland know that they have two governments working hard on their behalf.”

But already the proposal, said to have been the brainchild of former Lib Dem Treasury minister Danny Alexander, is mired in controversy. The nationalists claim this is not about helping the public, but a deliberate act of propaganda to counter the SNP’s renewed push for independence.

Mmm. Back to Braveheart and all those hairy-chested warriors ready to stick their flags where it hurts. One fears this might get nasty. Passions are stirred over flags and we have seen too many images of them being torn down and even burned.

It would be best if the nationalists calmed down a bit and saw the flags – saltires and union flags – as less of a symbol of war and more of a declaration of place.

In this particular case they are also a declaration of purpose. While we have a United Kingdom and a UK government serving the people in Scotland it is right and proper for its operations north of the border to be recognised.

In less than 20 years Scotland’s administration has undergone fundamental change and amid the questions of where it goes next are important issues about what it does now. If the Union flag helps explain all this then it is putting a historic symbol to some positive modern use.



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