Nick Groom is one of the foremost experts on the Union Flag and has written numerous papers and books on the subject. His insight into the history of our iconic emblem is second to none and having recently read an article he did for the University College Dublin in 2010 it is interesting to note how relevant his comments were especially with the future of the Union Flag being discussed again in light of the impending Scottish Referendum.
Following recent statements by Home Office Minister Jack Straw, Gordon Brown’s first public statement to House of Commons after becoming PM in 2007 declared his “Britishness” and that Government buildings should fly the British flag every day (not just on the 20 or so officially designated days) to help foster a national spirit and a feeling of “Britishness” to all people of the union.
However, there never were any restrictions on when the Union flag could be flown and it was wrongly reported in the press that this was a significant change to the law that now allowed not only the Union Flag to be flown any time but also a relaxing of the rules as to when the National flags of England, Scotland, and Wales could be flown.
Nick Groom1 stated, “When the proposal came to abandon the limited number of flag days, this was wrongly reported in some quarters as being a law dating from 1924. In fact, the Union Jack has, except at sea, escaped any such legal restrictions, and the outbreak of “Union Jackery” following the Brown-Straw initiative is the most significant parliamentary intervention virtually in living memory.”
Instead of helping to bring the parties of the Union together, under the emblem of the Union Jack, what this statement actually did was give the nationalists of each of the nations who make up the United Kingdom an opportunity to express further their uniqueness as individual countries.
The expectation that the Scots would celebrate St Georges Day and fly the English flag throughout Scotland, in the name of Britishness, was never going to happen. In the same way Wales, who has no official representation on the Union Flag would never relinquish the Welsh Dragon, which for centuries they fought to get recognised as the official emblem of Wales, in deference to the Union Flag.
Gordon Brown’s attempts to develop Britishness based on the values of “liberty, a sense of responsibility [and] fairness” did not materialise as the history of the Union Jack – and all it stands for – cannot be currently accepted by the very union members it is trying to convert.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The whole of this article is taken from a paper written by Nick Groom entitled “Alright, Jack? Conflict and Cohesion in Britain, 2005-10” for the University College Dublin a full transcript of such can be downloaded by clicking here
In this paper, as the author of The Union Jack: The Story of the British Flag (2006) Nick brings that story up to the present day by surveying the past five years of ‘Union Jackery’, from Gordon Brown’s initial enthusiasm for new definitions of Britishness through ongoing redefinitions of the iconic image of the flag to the almost complete absence of issues of national identity in the debates preceding the 2010 UK General Election.
1 Nick Groom Nick Groom is professor in English at the University of Exeter (Cornwall Campus) and Director of the Exeter Centre for Literatures of Identity, Place, and Sustainability (ECLIPSE). He has written widely on national identity, and is the author of The Union Jack: The Story of the British Flag (Atlantic, 2006).
Nick Groom’s study of the union, The Union Jack: The Story of the British Flag, was first published in 2006 http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Union-Jack-Biography/dp/1843543362
A subsequent 2012 updated Kindle version can be found here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Union-Jack-Story-British-Flag-ebook/dp/B00838AQNC