We should incorporate the European flag in our Union Jack

Remainers and the left need to start talking about identity.

Boris Johnson is now Minster for the Union. But a fancy title alongside bluster and spending sprees won’t save the UK.

Countries are built upon many things, including common values and symbols. Our national identity has been the hot topic for three years – but it has yet to be properly debated.

The world is plagued by what Einstein called the measles of humanity: nationalism. It’s touted as the solution to globalisation. However, no nation state is powerful enough to bring balance to the market alone or address global market failures like climate change or tax evasion. Nationalism isn’t the answer. Yet progressives stumble when it comes to tackling nationalism because each of us are, in our own way, nationalists.

Nationalism is not a defined ideology. It’s the idea of an imagined set of communities that arose accidently over the past couple of centuries. The noted academic Benedict Anderson attributes its origin to the New World where a combination of print technology; strict rule by distant and centralised European powers; and distribution of the concept of liberty, led to an idea of common identity spreading across vast distances.

Over time, nationalism spread to the Old World where elites adopted it and forced language changes upon their subjects, to maintain power. Other countries’ elites followed suit. Nationalistic policies were developed across the world to consolidate the falsehood of a connection between blood and state. Policies such as national museums, national curricula in schools and of course, national flags.

To understand why progressives struggle with nationalism requires further analysis. Nationalism has three elements: culturism; nativism and patriotism. Progressives quickly reject the first; the horrid belief that one culture is inherently superior to another. But we struggle a bit with nativism; the belief that there is a natural connection between a people, a place and a state that gives a state’s population priority over other others. This is because we confuse nativism with racism and it also clashes with our patriotism.

Patriotism simply says “my country is great; come and live here – be one of us.” Done right, it is welcoming and inspires love, not hate. We reject racism outright – so nativism is the quiet demon among progressives that needs confronting.

The Union flag of the UK blends both nativism and patriotism; symbolising three nations’ union. In 1707 it started as a combination of the St George’s Cross and St Andrew’s Cross; St Patrick’s Cross was added in 1801. Since then, through Empire, Commonwealth and the EU, it remains unchanged. The ONS has estimated that 5.5% of UK residents are EU citizens. We Northern Irish are on the Union flag (we make up 2.8% of the population). My fellow EU citizens, who double our number, are not.

Little noticed on the UK Government Petition site right now is a radical idea: changing the Union flag to incorporate the EU’s yellow stars. As provocative as this may appear, it’s worthy of consideration.

Our flag is dated; our debate on national identity is stuck in the rut of “in vs out”. Crucially, neither side offers a vision for the country’s future post Brexit/a Remain vote; do you really think the debate will stop there? We need ideas and conversations about our national identity beyond Brexit and if Remain carries the day, instils our European identity into our nation’s heart.

That’s this petition’s point: the debate is more important than the proposition. Flags are just an idea – and ideas can and should change with the times.

So if you want People’s Vote to offer arguments about how Remaining will heal the country, to send a message to nationalists that Britain can be outward looking and inclusive, sign the petition. If enough of us do, then with luck, a real debate will follow.

Mark Rowney is a lawyer.

With thanks to The Flag Shop for the image.

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7 Responses to “We should incorporate the European flag in our Union Jack”

  1. Gary

    Battling against ‘identity politics’ with identity politics?? I know people SAY ‘fight fire with fire’ but they aren’t being literal, otherwise the Fire Brigade would be a dangerous and dreaded sight, wouldn’t they.

    Nationalism has only negative connotations and I hear the word used most often towards the SNP in Scotland. Whereas when we hear of other countries throughout the world looking for the same thing we hear of ‘self-determination’ or ‘independence’ or ‘freedom’ But, to be fair, Scotland is probably the best known example of a country showing ‘Civic Nationalism’ They actively WANT more immigration, want EU membership and are outward looking. The exact opposite of what ‘nationalism’ is supposed to mean. It’s not about being Scottish, it’s simply about doing better for the people who live there and encouraging others to join in.

    Globalisation DOES work…for some. But rarely for the poorer countries. Large trading blocs can easily get them into debt traps, vulture lending and impoverish them by stripping their resources like the big oil companies and Rio Tinto do. the poor remain poor, the rich get richer, twas ever thus.

    One last point, Northern Ireland is not now, nor has it ever been, on the Union Flag. St Patrick’s Cross was the flag of Ireland as it was prior to Independence for what is now The Republic of Ireland. That country no longer exists. As you’ll know Northern Ireland is usually represented by the Red Hand, and that flag is not part of the Union Flag. The flag is out of date and has been for decades. It represents Scotland and England only now as the Welsh were ignored, never considered to be a country since England annexed it. Only recently did the UK make it official (well, within the UK anyway) that Wales IS a country.

    People want to be heard, they want a seat at the table. The more power is centralised and unaccountable the more people will yearn for their own independence. Globalisation does not lend itself to that. Globalisation lends itself to multi national corporations being able to put a choke hold on governments who are unable to react quickly enough to serve the best interests of their people due to centralised power and the lack of a voice. Large blocs offer a degree of protection but they lack manoeuvrability and slow down recovery.

    The RIGHT kind of ‘nationalism’ can be good. But let’s stop calling it that, it’s independence, it’s self-determination, it’s freedom…

  2. Teresa Wilson

    Actually rather more than 5.5% of UK residents are EU citizens, if you include all those who are also UK citizens.

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