THE NATION AND ITS FLAG by Malcolm Farrow                                    July 2008


The strength of a nation lies in the social cohesion of its people. This cohesion is based on a shared history, shared culture, common language and shared moral values generally accepted by everyone. If these things are lacking or under threat, society will begin to fracture and people will lose their sense of security. Where strangers once engaged on a basis of trust and understanding, they will come to fear and distrust each other. Bad manners will replace good manners and lack of manners leads to disrespect and violence. This is already happening in our inner cities and is also becoming evident in rural areas too. At the time of writing this piece, 18 young people have been knifed to death in London this year.


There are schools in our capital city where children speak over 50 native languages. Most of us would be hard pressed to list 50 languages never mind understand 50 cultures. Such children have almost nothing whatsoever in common (and their parents even less so). They start life in Britain missing all the building blocks which are essential for social cohesion. This is a hugely complex issue but there is one blindingly simple expedient which can act as a foundation stone onto which all the other more subjective matters can be fixed and become the grain of sand around which the pearl of society forms. It is a tried and tested concept in many other countries.


It is nothing more than a properly used and respected national flag exploited effectively for the national good.


Britain is perhaps the only nation not to have a legally constituted national flag at all. The Union Jack (or Union Flag – both names are correct) is of course the de facto national flag but it is not de jure. But despite being designed over 400 years ago there has never been a Flag Act in our country which gave the flag to the people to use as there own. The Union Jack is in reality a royal banner which people are permitted to use following two parliamentary answers quoted in Hansard (in 1908 and again in 1933). That is all – and it is hardly a ringing endorsement for the country’s primary symbol of unity.


For our increasingly diverse nation, living in ever more complex and challenging times, the maintenance of common purpose and strong social ties is ever more important. These things are essential to our well-being as a nation. We must all be able to stand side by side, whatever our many differences, and look up together to a shared symbol of our nationhood which embraces all our aspirations. This applies to original Anglo-Saxons and Celts and to all our newer and recent citizens alike. We all share this land, so let us do so joyfully. We taught this lesson to America, to Australia, to Canada, to New Zealand and to many other countries, and now we must re-learn it for ourselves. We must start to fly our flag with enthusiasm. Businesses, schools, shops, homes and government offices throughout the land must take a real and active pride in our flag as a measure of the real and active pride they take (or should take) in the nation they serve and which supports them. That way we will unite in common purpose the multitude of different peoples who inhabit our homeland today.


Our flag is the cheapest, simplest, easiest and most effective starting point for this critical process of nation re-building. Whilst government must give the lead (and it is trying to do this in a rather lukewarm manner – see the Governance of Britain: Constitutional Renewal White Paper page 57), business should follow suit and private citizens should emulate the example. Some do just that and fly flags proudly but they stand out because most do not.


Let’s start with schools – fly your flag O ye head teachers. Teach your pupils the importance of citizenship and respect for others. Teach them to put others first and not self first. Teach them to put the nation first. Unite all your children in common purpose as equal members of our great nation under the flag. If children learn to be proud of their nation they will learn respect for themselves and that will lead to respect for others. And furthermore the flag will also add some vibrant colour to an often drab cityscape or dull landscape.            


But it doesn’t stop there. England, Scotland and Wales (but not Northern Ireland) all have individual national flags. These flags also have no formal standing in law and none has ever been declared by devolved parliaments to be the flags of the people of the constituent nations of the UK. Like the Union Jack they exist as national flags from long ago by custom and tradition. But there is no conflict between these flags and the Union Jack, just as there is no conflict between the Stars & Stripes and the flag of Texas, or between the Maple Leaf and the flag of Ontario, or between the Southern Cross and the flag of Tasmania and so forth. They can all fly amiably and properly side by side, and a citizen can have comfortable allegiance to each.


But it doesn’t even stop there either. Increasingly the regions and counties of Britain are creating new flags or re-discovering old ones and, although somewhat hesitantly, people are starting to fly them. As before, there is no conflict between the flag of Cornwall and that of England, or the Union Flag; nor likewise for the flag of Devon or Northumberland and so on and so forth. Sixteen counties and regions of the UK now have flags for the people and five more are in the pipeline as I write. You can see them all in the UK Flag Registry at http://www.flaginstitute.org/index.php?location=10, and follow the drop-down menu.


This little piece is about British national flags, but it attempts to set them in a social context and demonstrate that flags have a really important place within our culture. This is the case in all the nations of the world, and we are no different, because people need points of reference to unite them in common purpose, and the more diverse the people become the more those symbols are needed. Taking the national flag for granted is to take the nation for granted, and that will have disastrous long term consequences for society.


My aim has been to show that a simple piece of coloured cloth can have hugely beneficial effects for our society far beyond the cost of displaying it on a pole. Go on – give it a go – fly the flag!



(c) 2008 Malcolm Farrow                                                                                                   {Ref 1008}


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