The Saltire and the Union Jack
Living in a Border County with Northern Ireland as a neighbour I am regularly reminded of the importance of flags and emblems in that part of the United Kingdom.
They are visible markers of a divided society and a way of marking out territory; they also serve as a warning to outsiders. This is particularly true of what has become known as the PUL (Protestant Unionist Loyalist) community.
Although the nationalist tradition to an extent reciprocates it is the people within the Loyalist community who go for flags, emblems and painted kerbstones in a big big way.
Indeed there have been recent unsuccessful attempts by US Special Envoy Richard Haas to broker a deal on these flags and emblems as a way of moving forward to a shared future.
On George Square last Friday night in the immediate aftermath of the Independence Referendum there was little evidence that the Union Jack tribe would contemplate a shared space in Scotland.
Just like in the Six Counties the only world view they seem to be able to cope with is one where a British monoculture is imposed.
I had been in George Square on the Wednesday night and it was a wonderful uplifting experience.
The ambience was friendly and inclusive.
Then some of the No chaps arrived and established base camp for Blighty just outside of the City Chambers. There may have been thirty of them at the most.
Their banner of choice was the Union Flag although I did see an Orange Order flag too.
Around the war memorial many hundreds of mainly young people waved saltires and sang flower of Scotland. There were some impromptu ditties offered too: “We’re having party when the Union dies” was one of them.
I grew up in a Glasgow where the Ulster Loyalist sub culture connected to Rangers Football Club targeted the Irish Tricolour. Now it sees the Saltire is also viewed as an enemy standard. On the Friday night, according to reports, the British chaps were larger in number and, perhaps emboldened by the result, felt authorised to strut their fascist stuff.
The video of the young woman being pushed to the ground and having the Saltire ripped from her hands was seen by many of Generation Yes on their phones before the sun was up the next day.
When I was an organiser for the SNP in the east end of Glasgow in the 1987 General Election I had argued with my party colleagues that the indigenous haters of Irishness would one day hate a Scotland that dared to think outside of the Westminster box it had been put in.
These are days of great change in Scotland and as an interloper from Ireland I could pick up the changed ambience in my native city. Now I am hearing from people who I know in North Lanarkshire that there is an enmity being directed at the local Labour party that goes beyond politics.
It is the anger of betrayal.
I was born in the late 1950s and there were four central pillars to my socialisation. The Catholic Church, Celtic Football Club, an Irish ethnicity and the Labour Party. This gave the People’s Party ethno-religious bedrock in the mining villages of the Lanarkshire coalfield. It also provided an ethnic bulwark against the rise of Scottish nationalism from the 1960s onwards. Three years before I saw the light of day the Unionist party (what the Tories called themselves in Scotland in those days) won a majority of the Westminster seats in north of the Border.
The suspicion and hostility to the SNP among the Irish community is now clearly generational and in time it will pass.
Only the own goal of the Offensive behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act (which in effect criminalised political expressions of Irishness within soccer stadia) gave that suspicion some extra life within my community.
The Labour Party in Scotland now seems to have two areas of possible support. The middle class areas that strongly voted No and the British nationalist right. This could be an epochal change similar to what happened to the Liberal party in Scotland over a century ago.
In post IndyRef Scotland they are the party of the Union Jack, of standing shoulder to shoulder with Tories. Even the great left-wing maverick George Galloway found himself on the stage with Ruth Davidson being all Churchillian under his black fedora.
In Northern Ireland the Saltire has been an emblem of choice in Loyalist areas.
Faced with the prospect of an Irish Language Act as part of the Belfast Agreement and the St Andrews agreement Loyalism felt the need to say that they too had an imagined língua maternal in the debatable land of the Six Counties. The ‘Ulster Scots’ movement underpinned the Britishness of Loyalism by over identifying with Scotland.
As a Loyalism watcher I will be interested to see if IndyRef has caused this flag to be somehow tainted in the eyes of Ulster’s British tribe.
On the Sunday after the Referendum I was in Celtic Park and I spotted a few Saltires in among the home crowd.
All flags and emblems are socially constructed and that can be altered by significant historical events. The Sanskrit character for health and wellbeing will always be associated with the Third Reich and in the 1980s the European far right attempted to appropriate the Celtic cross.
If IndyRef has ushered in a cultural paradigm shift apropos Scottishness and Britishness then the attitude to the Saltire (who loves it and who hates it) might be one indication of that.
Here in Ulster the fact that 1.6 million people in Scotland wanted out of the United Kingdom is a huge problem for the Ulster Scots (sic) world view.
Scotland is meant to be the bedrock that underpins the Britishness of the guid folk o Ballymena and Portadown. However it matters not a jot to Generation Yes in Scotland that the loyal tribe of Norn Iron now have a Caledonian strand to add to their identity crisis.
Of course the Saltire is for everyone in Scotland and it should not become a divisive symbol, but the chaps who indulged in the Famine Song and Nazi salutes last week in George Square may take a different view.