There are a number of important arguments for why Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom: the need to avoid further economic turbulence in already troubled times; the benefits of being a relatively large country with far-reaching international influence; and the long history and common values that we share with the Scots. But perhaps most important of all is what I shall call the Union Jack argument: the prospect that we might have to relinquish what is, by any objective standard, the best national flag in the world.
For readers unfortunate enough not to be familiar with the Union Jack, it comprises three main elements: a red St George’s cross overlain on a white background, which represents the nation of England (and Wales); a white St Andrew’s cross overlain on blue background, which represents the nation of Scotland; and a red St Patrick’s cross overlain on a white background, which represents the nation of Northern Ireland. The flag first took its present form on the 1st of January 1801 when the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain were brought together under the Acts of Union 1800.
It is difficult not to be impressed when gazing at the Union Jack. The flag’s bold colour scheme and tasteful geometric configuration make for a palpably uplifting experience. In 2012, the market research firm YouGov ran a poll on what the Union Jack means to British people. 78% of respondents associated the flag with pride and patriotism, 66% associated it with sacrifice in the world wars, and 53% associated it with democracy and tolerance; only 15% identified it with racism and extremism. (The flag also appeared to carry connotations of the monarchy, the armed forces, and the British Olympic team.) What’s more, not only does the Union Jack constitute our own flag, but it also adorns many other flags from around the world, including those of Anguilla, Bermuda, Australia and New Zealand.
That we might have to relinquish the Union Jack in the event of Scottish independence is by no means an impossibility. The Flag Institute, a UK-based charity with a claim to being the world’s largest vexillological organisation, recently ran a poll on the future of the Union Jack. Respondents were asked whether the UK’s flag would change if Scotland became independent, as well as whether it should change. The results were less than encouraging. 56% of respondents thought that the flag would change, and a full 65% thought that it should change. On the other hand, the College of Arms has reportedly stated that, since the Queen will remain head of state in an independent Scotland, the Union Jack will not in fact need to be altered.
More worrying than the possibility of having to give up the Union Jack is the prospect of what it might be replaced by. Earlier this year, The Guardian ran a poll on potential candidates for an alternative to the Union Jack if Scotland were to vote for independence. The design that won saw the majestic blue in our present flag subsisted for a rather unsightly black. Even more preposterous, when The Telegraph ran a similar poll in 2007, the winning design saw a fiery skull wearing shades superimposed upon our beloved flag.
In conclusion then, the Union Jack argument against independence is persuasive through and through. We can only hope that our Scottish compatriots embrace the light of reason on September the 18th, and decide not to abandon this resplendent symbol of our shared heritage.
This post is part of “A Separate or United Kingdom“, our blog series analysing the issues surrounding the Scottish referendum.