Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

10 December 2007

Flying the Flag: Union or Nation?

Is it my imagination or are more national flags being flown on public buildings and at private homes across the four countries of the United Kingdom? I was struck by this, again, when I went down to London a couple of times last week. There were certainly more flags – mostly Union Jacks – than I’d noticed before atop flagpoles next to large hotels, or billowing out above shop entrances in the place where you’d expect to see the shop sign. I can’t speak for government buildings, as I didn’t pass any.

But the appearance of Union Jacks in commercial settings was perhaps of even greater symbolic significance. It was as if they were proclaiming, “This is London you’re in now – the capital of a great, vibrant, commercial nation: the United Kingdom”. For all the controversy that now surrounds it, the Union Jack can still carry the weight of such national pride. It’s a great symbol, really: a global icon that ranks in ‘brand recognition’ right alongside the Stars and Stripes or the Communist Red Flag. No wonder that our London-centric, power-obsessed politicians are so loathe to give it up!

Nor should they, or we, really. There is no reason why the Union Jack should not continue to serve as the visual symbol for the United Kingdom in whatever form in which that state survives. This is despite the recent suggestion of Welsh Labour MP Ian Lucas that the Red Dragon from the Welsh national flag should be incorporated in the Union Flag’s design. For non-initiates, the reasoning behind this is that the three-cross design of the flag makes reference only to England (upright red Cross of St. George on white background), Scotland (diagonal white Cross of St. Andrew on dark blue background) and Ireland (diagonal red Cross of St. Patrick on white background) – but not to Wales. If I had to choose between the two options, rather than messing up the neatness and cleverness of the Union Jack’s design by sticking a red dragon on it, I’d try to incorporate into it the Cross of St. David, Wales’s patron saint, which would be consistent with the conception behind the existing flag. This is a yellow cross on a black background. One rendition of how this might look is pictured below:


For all its politically correct and historically sensitive efforts to be inclusive, however, this ‘Inclusion Jack’ is a bit of a dog’s dinner visually, and it does rather ruin a powerful national and international emblem. I am in fact quite sympathetic to the objective of adding some explicit Welsh element to the Union Flag. As the son of a Welsh mother and English father growing up in England, I myself went through a phase of feeling indignant that the Union Jack made no overt reference to Wales. That said, the need to be inclusive in this way should be less acutely felt nowadays than then. As Wales has now acquired a substantial measure of self-government and official recognition as a distinct nation, the Red Dragon can be hoisted above official buildings across that land; whereas before, if any flag had been used, it would usually have been the Union Jack. And indeed, when I travelled to rural West Wales for the funeral of a family friend a couple of months ago, I did notice that the Welsh flag was being displayed more proudly and prominently than I’m sure was the case before.

I haven’t been to Scotland for many years, but I’m certain that in these days of devolved government, the Cross of St. Andrew must also be cropping up in all sorts of places where hitherto either the Union Flag or none would have been preferred. In England, too, as is well known, the Cross of St. George has largely superseded the Union Jack in popular affection and usage. I say that, but when I spent a couple of weeks in rural Lancashire towards the start of this year, it was the Union Flag that swung from poles in pubs or country gardens, not the Cross of St. George. Whether there’s some particularly strong unionist connection in that county, or whether this preference for the Union Jack is linked to local support for the BNP (related to ethnic tensions in Lancastrian cities such as Blackburn or Burnley), I don’t know. But generally, it is the red cross on a white background that is now viewed and used as the national flag by most English people.

By the people, that is, not the state. The irony of Ian Lucas’s intervention is that he should be pushing for more inclusion of the Welsh flag within that of the Union at the very time when the official use of the Union Flag in England is perceived by many as excluding, or precluding, the use of the Cross of St. George and, with it, the affirmation of English national identity. From this perspective, it is as if calls to add the Red Dragon on to the Union Jack – however fair in one respect – are adding insult to injury: not only can English people not expect to see ‘their’ national flag flying from public buildings, but also the Red Dragon is stuck onto the British flag as a permanent reminder of a historical injustice perpetrated by the English towards the Welsh: denial of recognition as a distinct nation, rather than as just a principality subsumed into England.

For, in fact, this historical situation is now reversed: it is England that is denied any official, constitutional status as a distinct nation within the UK; while the other three countries of the Union do now enjoy semi-separate nation status. And flying the Union Jack rather than the Cross of St. George on English public and government buildings is increasingly becoming a symbol of the denial of nationhood to the English.

How can these two not unreasonable but conflicting demands be reconciled: the Welsh wish to add some overt symbol of their country to the Union Flag; and the English desire to fly the Cross of St. George rather than the Union Flag? There is a simple solution that would obviate the need to ruin the design principles or ‘brand impact’ of the Union Jack. Separate versions of the Union Flag could be authorised for each nation in the UK that would incorporate their own national flags in miniature into the top-left corner of the flag in a similar way that the Australian and New Zealand flags or the Royal Navy Ensign insert the Union Flag. Specifically, each national flag could fill the quarter of the Union Jack demarcated by the lateral left-hand and vertical top bars of the red cross, i.e. they would go over the white surround to the red cross on that part of the flag. (This is simply because it would make the English and Northern Irish flags appear neater when inserted in this way, rather than having extra bits of white around their border deriving from the Union Flag.)

This solution would mean that the Welsh could have their Union Jack plus Red Dragon. It could be made explicit in the legislation or regulations establishing these flags that each country-specific version of the Union Flag was not exclusively for use in that country alone: that each version was a fully authorised variation on the Union Jack that could be flown in any part of the Union whenever and wherever it was felt appropriate. For example, the Welsh version could be flown by Welsh Guards regiments, even those based in England, or on ceremonies or visits involving the Prince of Wales – or wherever, really.

Similarly, the English version of the Union Jack – same flag as now but with the Cross of St. George flag inserted into the top-left corner – would enable national- and local-government and other public-sector organisations to fly both the Union Flag and the English flag at the same time. Some purists and English nationalists (among whom I count myself, by the way) might object to this compromise solution, feeling that only the Cross of St. George will do. But at least my suggestion would enable both sides of the argument to be assuaged to a limited extent: the new English version of the Union Flag would be both a fully authorised UK flag, of equivalent status to the unadulterated Union Jack, and it would prominently display the English national symbol. Better to have some recognition of England’s existence as a nation within the UK – which such a country-specific version of the Union Flag neatly symbolises – than none. If nothing else, this enables cost-conscious local authorities or hospitals, for instance, to be able to display both the UK and the English flag, if they were minded to, without having to invest in a second flag pole and incurring the extra costs of maintaining two sets of flags!

I’m assuming that the Northern Irish version of the flag would use the red upright cross, red hand and crown of the Ulster flag, rather than the Cross of St. Patrick. But that could well be somewhat controversial, to say the least, and the politicians there might have to compromise on the Flag of St. Patrick, which after all is used in the Union Jack now. I could see the thing getting rather party-political in Scotland, too, with SNP-led authorities tending to prefer to fly the Scottish flag alone, while unionist party-controlled authorities might choose the Scotland-specific version of the Union Flag.

However, that would be their affair, just as it should really be England’s choice whether to fly the Union Flag or the Cross of St. George on government buildings. But until we’re free to make that choice, having a version of the Union Jack that also includes the red cross of England seems like a satisfying and, dare I say it, sensible English compromise.



  1. The national flag of Cornwall, the white St Pirans cross on a black background, can be seen across the Duchy, flown from pubs to public buildings. The council for example flys the Cornish, British and European flags outside its HQ in Truro.

    Until recently you needed planning permission to fly the Cornish flag in Cornwall whereas the flag of North Korea or any other state could be flown with no problem.

    Comment by Philip Hosking — 10 December 2007 @ 9.43 pm | Reply

  2. It sounds as though there’s more freedom to fly the Cornish flag in Cornwall than the Flag of St. George throughout the ‘rest’ of England (if you’ll forgive the inclusion of Cornwall in England)!

    Comment by David — 11 December 2007 @ 3.06 am | Reply

  3. Well no actually, during the farce about planning permission the government said quite clearly that people didn’t need planning permission to fly the St George Cross, Saltair, Welsh Dragon, Union jack or any flag from a another state but the St Pirans did. Today the same applies it’s just that the government has said that they will not enforce the law.

    Comment by Philip Hosking — 15 December 2007 @ 3.24 pm | Reply

  4. Flags do not make a nation it’s the people, not a bit of cloth, but if you did ask me to fly a flag it would not be the Union jack thats an English flag not Welsh.

    Comment by Robert — 18 February 2008 @ 12.34 pm | Reply

  5. Solution: Redesign Wales’ flag as a horizontal and vertical white cross on a blue background, you’d then not have to change the Union Jack at all.

    Comment by Matthew Walker — 16 March 2008 @ 2.57 am | Reply

  6. Nice idea; but I don’t think you’d get that past the Welsh! Here’s a thought, though: if the UK became a federal state of four or five (including Cornwall) autonomous nations, would it be appropriate to redesign the Union Flag or replace it altogether? If re-design, how about a black background instead of dark blue (from the flags of St.s David and Piran), with the edging around the Cross of St. George in each quarter segment of the flag being alternately yellow and white, again picking up the Welsh and Cornish components respectively? Need someone with better graphic skills than myself to mock up what that would look like. Probably a dog’s dinner again. I guess a completely new design might be a good idea at that point; just so long as we don’t pay millions and get something as infantile-looking as the Olympics logo!

    Comment by David — 16 March 2008 @ 8.44 am | Reply

  7. […] I can see the new coinage is going to re-ignite all the controversy there was last year over the absence of any Welsh element from the Union Flag. But then again, as a survey commissioned by the (English) Justice Ministry found only last week, […]

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  8. […] the Union Flag takes precedence – surprise, surprise. Perhaps they would have done well to consider my previous suggestion about new country-specific versions of the Union Flag incorporating the national flags as an […]

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  9. Nice to see the UNion Jack is still being supported.

    Organising an event here in Wales and did have one adverse comment about using a Union Jack on adverts and invites (its for a 1940s event).
    Glad to say the Union Jack won!

    Its the embleme of Britain (which we still are thank goodness!) – and not (as the person who queried it) an ‘English’ flag!

    She said we were ‘brave’ to use it – well I don’t think so and neither did others. Its a Worls recognised symbol and one that all the forces fought for in the World Wars – and not something we should be ashamed of using.

    Comment by Welshbabe — 1 May 2008 @ 10.59 am | Reply

  10. Thanks for the comment, Welshbabe. Generally, I’m in favour of using English symbols in England, e.g. the Cross of St. George rather than the Union Jack – but not if what needs to be symbolised / represented is the whole of the UK; which is why I thought of my idea of adding the national flags as an ‘insert’ into the Union Jack. Perhaps that would have helped you out in your situation! However, I agree with you: it’s a great flag, known throughout the world, and certainly highly appropriate for a 40s event.

    Comment by David — 1 May 2008 @ 1.13 pm | Reply

  11. How about an American solution? The Union Jack is the national flag. The flags of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Corwall, and what ever other country you might have, fly in the same status as our state flags.
    If flying from one pole, they fly below the USA flag.
    Although technically wrong, but in practice, they often fly from separate but equal poles.
    You could also have “patriotic” displays like we do where the USA flag flies from a centeral pole and is surrounded by 50 state flags. You could do the same with all of the saint flags that you have.

    John H. Gámez
    San Antonio, Texas, USA

    Comment by John H. Gámez — 22 May 2008 @ 4.58 am | Reply

  12. I don’t think that the flag should change at all, I am Welsh but still proud of the Union Jack even though there is no reference to wales.
    The Flag (Although only made up of England Scotland and Ireland) represents the whole of Britain, It’s as much a Welsh flag as it is English)!!

    Comment by Chris Bird — 26 June 2008 @ 7.50 pm | Reply

  13. […] a darker blue, between royal and navy: pantone 280 if you’re interested). This means that my previous idea of creating country-specific versions of the Union Flag that have the national flags as […]

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  14. It’s not the Union Jack, you fucking cretins. It’s the Union Flag.

    If you can’t even get that right, give up.

    Comment by Zedd — 27 August 2008 @ 11.28 pm | Reply

  15. In fairness, Zedd, I do use both terms. Re the Union Jack, I refer you to the Wikipedia entry for ‘Union Flag’ (by no means infallible):

    “When the first flag was introduced in 1606, it became known simply as “the British flag” or “the flag of Britain”, although the royal proclamation had called it “the Union Flag”. The word ‘jack’ was in use before 1600 to describe the maritime bow flag. By 1627 a small Union Jack was commonly flown in this position. One theory goes that for some years it would have been called just “the Jack”, or “Jack flag”, or “the King’s Jack”, but by 1674, while formally referred to as “His Majesty’s Jack”, it was commonly called the Union Jack, and this was officially acknowledged.[3]

    The size and power of the Royal Navy internationally at the time could also explain why the flag was named the “Union Jack”; considering the navy was so widely utilised and renowned by the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, it is possible that the term “Jack” did occur because of its regular use on all British ships using the “Jack Staff” (a flag pole attached to the bow of a ship). Even if the term “Union Jack” does derive from the jack flag (as perhaps seems most likely), after three centuries, it is now sanctioned by use, has appeared in official use, and remains the popular term.”

    Comment by David — 28 August 2008 @ 12.07 am | Reply

  16. Frankly, I would like to know where to purchase an inclusion jack in the U.S.

    Comment by K.M. Koenig — 16 October 2008 @ 12.04 pm | Reply

  17. Not sure I’ve ever seen them for sale even in the UK: I don’t think the design has found / will find favour!

    Comment by David — 17 October 2008 @ 8.15 am | Reply

  18. Your “Inclusion Jack” looks very much like the flag from the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I think, however, that Britain should leave the flag well enough alone. This is a case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts. Historically, when the Union Flag came into being in 1606, Wales had long been a part of the English Kingdom. However, I do note that there is limited talk of the Royal Standard. That flag is the Queen’s royal flag and is quartered with the ancient flags of England (3 lions on red), Ireland (gold harp on blue), and Scotland (framed red lion on yellow). Why is Wales not represented here?

    Comment by Soctane — 8 December 2008 @ 7.18 am | Reply

    • Soctane,

      Wales is probably not represented on the Royal Standard for the same reason why it is not (directly) represented in the Union Flag: it’s subsumed within England. This is perhaps expressed in the fact that the English Three Lions appear twice in the Royal Standard: almost as if they appeared once for England and a second time in lieu of Wales. Elsewhere, I propose that an amended Royal Standard showing the Welsh Red Dragon instead of one of the appearances of the Three Lions could be adopted as the flag of a new federal UK.

      Comment by David — 8 December 2008 @ 11.13 pm | Reply

  19. The flag was being show upside down on the C4 advert for the GB food fight. I lodged a complaint with Ofcom – waiting to hear the response 😉

    Comment by Joe — 8 January 2009 @ 6.40 pm | Reply

  20. The reason the Union Flag is not popular in Wales, Scotland or Ireland is because of what it represents, namely English oppression, sadly.

    Comment by David — 1 March 2009 @ 3.18 pm | Reply

  21. After what this Labour government has done to our borders why dont we all just raise the white flag of surrender.

    Comment by paul — 4 December 2009 @ 8.49 pm | Reply

  22. if you wish to brush up on your history you will find that the flag we welsh wish to use is quartered yellow and red with opposing coloured lions rampant in each quarter, this is the standard of owain glyndwr the last leagal king of wales, or a single golden lion rampant his battle flag, as the red dragon on green and white was “given” to our country officialy in 1959, we are welsh and proud, we regard the union flag as english, i like to see the irish, scotish, cornish and english use thier own standards and as seperate countrys i cannot see the point of a union fag.
    as a friend of mine often quotes ” I AM NOT ANTI ENGLISH…I AM PRO WELSH”

    Comment by ranley — 21 December 2010 @ 11.27 pm | Reply

    • The Welsh Flag was not “given” in 1959. It had been used for centuries before that. It simply received official recognition as a national flag in 1959.
      And as for that idiot Owain Glyndŵr, why do people give him time of day the only Welsh thing about him was his name. He was the last of the Anglo-Norman Marcher Lords to try and wield political power in England and Wales. Like all the preceding Anglo-Norman chancers, he did nothing for Wales or the Welsh.

      Comment by John Campbell Rees — 30 May 2012 @ 12.18 am | Reply

      • that idiot Glyndwr was not a marcher lord – he was the direct inheritor of the royal lines of Powys and Deuheubarth, 2/3 rds of the tripartite indenture of wales to prevent any of the 3 royal houses of wales having dominance. As for doing nothing for Wales he had ambitions to develop Universities, a free church and to reinstate the lawyers of Hywel Dda which were the most progressive laws in medieval europe, and which English law didn’t catch up with until the twentieth century, as well as ridding the nation of an illegal occupation (think palestine) – who’s the idiot John??

        Comment by Brythonwr — 2 June 2012 @ 2.11 pm

  23. My suggestion to update the Union Flag to include “Y Croesbren Dewi Sant”

    Comment by John Campbell Rees — 21 May 2012 @ 3.20 pm | Reply

    • Not bad, but I think it violates the armorial rule that you shouldn’t have a ‘shiny’ colour (white or yellow) immediately next to an earthy colour (everything else) – but so do lots of other flags. Also looks a bit Nazi. Well, the UK in its present form may be short-lived anyway!

      Comment by David — 23 May 2012 @ 12.02 pm | Reply

  24. The Union flag should have the red Cross of St George removed from it as the ‘Union’ does not recognise England in any way shape or form.

    Comment by Wyrdtimes (@Wyrdtimes) — 5 June 2012 @ 8.11 am | Reply

    • Don’t suggest it, or they might go ahead and do it; or re-colour it blue à la the Olympics theme! Mind you, if they did, I think it would outrage a lot of those flag-waving English British nationalists. The trick is you have to subsume England into ‘Britain’ to get the English to mistake one for the other. So I can’t seem them following your suggestion, other than in one-off branding and anti-English events like the Not-the-English-Olympics.

      Comment by David — 5 June 2012 @ 12.22 pm | Reply

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