2007 - 2020

Gongs, Flegs and Symbols

It’s been over six months since we’ve had a jubilee or a coronation or something. Since Megan and Harry’s marriage shifted from being a project that would re-frame the British monarchy as an edgy multicultural platform for social justice – to one that exposed contemporary Britain as a racist shitshow, things have been going downhill. Princess Anne has been promoted to being “General and Air Chief Marshal” but it’s not created the same frenzy as a royal baby, or a wedding.

The answer, apparently, is flags, lots of flags. Boris and his team have come up with the fantastic ruse that any major UK-funded projects in Scotland will be “badged” with a Union Jack.

Now I may not be alone in seeing a flaw in this fiendishly clever plan. Lesley Riddoch has stated (“Why badging bridges with Union Jacks risks backfiring”): ” … unfortunately for Johnson et al, the Boris Badge fits an easily discernible pattern of displacement, evasion and empty patronage in the face of massive structural problems.”

But I fear its worse than this. The Tories are past-masters at displacement, evasion and empty patronage – but we are now in un-chartered waters.

What is incredible, and faintly reassuring, is that these people think that the Union Jack is a symbol with positive connotations. The logic, assembled somewhere by someone, is that draping the Union Jack over buildings and raising the flag wherever possible will endear the UK government to the Scottish people.

What do you think of when you see the Union Jack? I think of the BNP, fascists in George Square and the 1950s (in no particular order). It’s a symbol that evokes empire and imperialism.

When Alister Jack’s team see the Union Jack they think of the Awesome Foursome or Geri Halliwell.

It’s like the last thirty years just haven’t happened.

 

As visual codes to the changing politics of Britain, the use of flags is clear.

In the 1970s the Tartan Army flew the Lion Rampart. The English team flew the Union Jack. Now the Scotland team flies the saltire and England supporters wave the Georges Cross. We know some of that process, as Scottish ideals for self-determination moved from “Remember Bannockburn” to something more solid and England’s sense of self-identity warped and collapsed. The Union Jack, like God Save the Queen was booed off the terraces. Seemingly unaware of history, or symbol, the UK government’s strategy seems to be to just re-assert themselves with redundant iconography.

In a social media blizzard something calling itself “Official account of the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland” musters 3,594 followers and spews out photos of Rishi Sunak in Rothesay or someone called Iain A Stewart, Member of Parliament for Milton Keynes South – who apparently is the Scotland Minister – tweeting about After School Clubs.

Amid this social media frenzy a new building has popped-up in Edinburgh. The lead contractor, Wates, tell us:

“Queen Elizabeth House will establish a visible UK government presence in Edinburgh, providing centrally-located office space for around 3,000 staff from more than 10 departments in 17,569 sqm. It will open April 2020. The development is a state-of-the-art building, which will provide high-quality, shared office space to support flexible and collaborative working principles. The Edinburgh hub will consolidate the UK Government estate into a modern office including ministerial, event and press facilities for the first time in Scotland to encourage UKG Ministers to Scotland. OSSS, OAG (Office of the Advocate General) and Cabinet Office will be located on the 5th (top) floor.”

David Duguid (he’s an MP) tell us: “As well as OSSS, Queen Elizabeth House will staff a total of 3,000 HMG civil servants from other depts and bodies e.g. HMRC, DWP, BEIS and others.”

According to Alister Jack Queen Elizabeth House “will allow the UK Gov to have an expanded and more co-ordinated presence in Scotland”.

There’s nothing really for them to do here, so it’s essentially a propaganda exercise that hasn’t been properly thought-through. Some of this might be irritating, annoying or amusing. But take heart, this is all they’ve got. EU Structural Funds have been worth near £990 million to Scottish communities in the last decade. That’s just disappeared. As the UK economy shrivels under covid and heads for a No Deal exit in only a few months time, the idea of Britain is being sustained by flags and gongs. With the UK in the “worst recession in recorded history” – the idea of Britain as some sort of source of stability isn’t credible.

The one-dimensional strategy of the increasingly desperate UK government is to assert and promote a symbol people hate. This is not a group of people we should be intimidated by.

 

 

 

 

Comments (33)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I think your top Union Jackery picture is a little out of date. I saw something on social media where the bottom panel was improved by some graffiti about Boris. Maybe this will be a trend; unless they put razor wire round them these pieces of nonsense might be used to promote other, more relevant, messages.

    1. Craig P says:

      I’d never condone vandalism of course, but wouldn’t it be fun if the graffiti said ‘welcome, imperial masters.’

  2. Jim Boylan says:

    I’m seriously struggling to think of any major infrastructure project the UK Govt has funded in Scotland that they can paint a Union Jack on.

    They didn’t fund the Queensferry Crossing (we’re funding London Cross Rail), They didn’t help fund the Glasgow Commonwealth Games (we helped fund the London Olympics), so other than the Boris Bridge to Ireland that nobody believes will ever happen, where are all these flags going to go?

  3. Jacob Bonnari says:

    When I see the Union Jack I think of:
    The Tory Party
    England
    Ulster Unionists and Loyalists
    The Orange Lodge
    Rangers football fans
    England soccer hooligans
    Sectarianism
    The BNP

    The only two positives I could think of were the Royal Navy and that photo of the Royal Marine in the Falklands.

    I didn’t associate the Union Jack with either the Labour or LD parties.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      Jacob,

      When i see the Union flag i remember my trip last year to the battlefield of Monte Cassino to visit the grave of my grandfather who was killed there (along with 25,000 other British/Empire/US and poles fighting for an ‘imperialist’ army against Nazism. The Union flags (along with US and Polish) are lovingly tended by the local Italians who are grateful for our ancestors sacrifice. The Union Flag is not perfect (what flag is?) but I’m afraid your disparaging comments say more about you then they do about the flag.
      Incidentally the £100m’s of ‘European’ money we get in Scotland is money we’ve sent to them in the first place. Time to leave both the UK and the EU…..

      1. Jim Sansbury says:

        Wrong.

      2. Jacob Bonnari says:

        The groups I listed all fly their flag and claim that their flag is better than everyone else’s. They also use that flag to justify their domination of others.

        Conversely I don’t see St. George’s Cross in this way. It seems more benign.

        When I look at the St. Andrew’s Cross I just see the Scottish flag, no pride, emotion or sense of identity. It’s just the flag of where I’m from.

        My grandad was in North Africa and Italy and despite the Italian family name knew that the fascists were the enemy. It was a necessary war, and I’m glad we won it, but it was a long time ago and isn’t relevant to today’s politics. The rest of Europe, Russia excepted, has moved on.

        On the EU bit of your reply, I swithered in 2016 but decoded that being on the side of Cameron was less sub-optimal than Farage. My preference is for EFTA which I think suits us better as a peripheral European nation.

        1. John Learmonth says:

          Hi Jacob,

          Thanks for your considered reply. I think the groups you list are more likely to fly the flag of St George than the Union flag.
          As an aside the one and only time I went to an Old firm game was way back in the Graham Souness years (remember him, perm/hacking opponents bollocks off). 2/3rds of Ibrox was waving the Union flag singing god save the queen and other more unpleaseant hymns) the other third were waving the Irish flag and singing praises to the IRA, the biggest sporting event in Scotland and not a saltire in sight.Flags are what you make them .

          Best wishes John

    2. Ray Gethin says:

      JB. No bad comment but please one thing, I noted you listed Glasgow Rangers Supporters, well, let me tell you this boy, I’m a Rangers supporter but also a fiercely prod Scot who’d wanted Independence all my life. I’m not racist or anti-English, I’m actually an Internationalist. To add, I hate the Union flag and I do not recognise or accept the Monarchy, I will not stand for that anachronistic shower. Also to remind you, I’m not the only Bluenose who thinks the same. Nice article but please remember who you tag. Stay safe Slainte and Freedom. Ray Gethin

  4. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    If like me you’re thinking of a spot of ‘corrective’ graffiti then you are looking for an azure blue, Pantone 300 for your background.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      Thats right lets hand over our money to Brussels instead of Westminster…Independence!

  5. Hoody says:

    Their one talent is to deceive the gullible. Their incompetence quickly becomes clear, even to the gullible. Too late, we’re #fUKt

  6. Big Jock says:

    John Learmouth – Wants independence, but sees nothing wrong with the Union Flag. What are you going to fly it on independence day John.

    Your anti EU rant. Let’s nail that one. The EU is a collection of independent sovereign states. The UK is a unitary state , with absolute sovereignty over all the nation’s of the UK.

    We would not be giving our sovereignty to the EU. It’s our choice to leave or join, and it’s not a union it’s a federation of completely independent nations.

    You my friend are a little Englander with a tartan bunnet.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      Big Jock,

      I stated that the union flag was far from perfect (like all flags). Perfection is for heaven (if it exists, we’ll all find out one day).
      As for your assertion that the EU nations are all independant states try telling that to the Greeks or the Italians who had govts imposed on them by EU dictat.
      But your a EU fanatic with a tarten bonnet x

  7. Dougie Blackwood says:

    There are Indy supporters that dislike the EU. They are entitled to that view. EU has its problems and after independence we must decide. We can rejoin, we can join EFTA or we can follow Boris into the wilderness, to be ordered about by numpties like Trump.

    It is a decision for the Scottish people. At the moment the look likely to go for EU.

  8. SleepingDog says:

    Well, if they want to save some money in the future, make sure the blue bits peel off.

    So I gather that General Chief Air Marshall Princess Anne Windsor finds fly-tipping ‘a major irritation’. Has she seen what Yemen looks like now? Perhaps she can get started on picking up all those British bomb fragments, then move on to clear up all those other places that the British military has left in a right state (or a failed state).

    1. Wul says:

      Unwise. The last Royal who tried to clear up British bombs got little thanks for her efforts.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Wul, are you saying that our military-mega-ranked royals have no concept of public duty, and they begrudge putting on their gloves and wellies for a bit of community service unless we shower them in some sort of adulation? What do you think is the cause of centuries of royal-prerogative-wielding British overseas mayhem and littering? Royal petulance about not being appreciated enough? If Princess “I’m-too-good-to-pick-through-rubble-and-the-remains-of-bombed-children” Anne wants to sound off about UK fly-tippers while commanding the dread forces of rubble-making and children-splattering, then perhaps we need to rethink this whole Litterish Empire thing.

        1. Wul says:

          I was thinking of the “people’s princess”, Dianna who was not always fondly appreciated by senior royals for her involvement with charities clearing land mines (some of UK origin) from villages in Angola.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Wul, you appear to be confusing me with someone who gives a flying fig what one royal thinks of another. Princess “waste-and-energy-expert/jack-of-all-trades” Anne marks the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with an editorial turn at establishment rag Country Life:
            https://www.countrylife.co.uk/news/princess-anne-on-nature-the-countryside-and-the-future-217287
            in which she expresses her irritation towards the smaller end of the world-litterer spectrum. The nuclear-arms-heir and airforce chief would see nuclear reactors dotted around the British countryside enabling rural communities to be so self-sufficient they could manufacture their own nuclear arsenal.

            But wouldn’t nuclear weapons create a bit of a mess? I mean, the lawns are going to suffer a bit, and there will be awful amounts of rubbish blown out of those cities, and the countryside will undoubtedly be scattered with lower-class people parts (or particles)? I mean, I have seen vandalism, but not on the scale of RAF city bombing of European cultural centres. I suppose the European royal families will have their own bunkers, and maybe a subterranean super-chalet under Switzerland, but who is going to do the tidying up after the nuclear holocaust? I suppose there will be a bit of making do, solid-gold-carriage-sharing schemes will regrettably have to be set up by committee and so on. But at least those royals are experts on waste.

            As to how one expresses one’s love of the natural world with nuclear weapons, after skimming through her pearls of wisdom, I am none the wiser. But then, I had no idea that the Royals and their institutions (rather ominously “gatekeepers to public enquiry and understanding”) were behind so much of British achievements in the field. They’re really hidden their loot under a bushel.

  9. Harry Taylor says:

    Draping the butchers apron is their insidious way of asserting their control over the Scottish people and the building will hold 3000 more no votes

  10. Robbie says:

    Aye they are trying to timmer us in a bit, many ways of control they had like standing to god save Betty after the pictures ,are now gone, they are desperate cunning and devious people,and the point that Harry makes of 3000 more no votes is a perfect example of how their minds work,please let us break Free from them now

  11. Clare Galloway says:

    My connotations for the ‘union’ jack are all negative: as a Scottish person abroad, I see its current use extensively in branding and fashion, which I imagine might be to give a (foreign/ superficial perception) interpretation of royalty, tradition, values and snobby fashion attitude.

    As a well-educated-otherwise Scot, I am physically angered and sickened by the use of a supposedly shared flag – of its ubiquitousness and of the interwoven colours and values of our ‘U’K nations. To me, it’s a re-branding of Englishness; an utterly false, manipulative, blatantly untrue, deeply destructive anaesthetic for the nation and the world. It’s a potent symbol: a blue pill, keeping us asleep to the underlying truth.
    It’s illustrative of many mainstream narrative symbols, that are held up like an Enid Blyton fable, as our beautiful shared tradition: crumpets and tea, a jolly good time, a cosy-comfortable story . a wonderfully distracting front – whilst red-cheeked uncle is in the other room, fiddling with a toddler. Like many modern Scots, I feel what’s going on hidden behind the scenes, even if I’m powerless to name it or to do anything about it. The power of a flag to numb people, to keep them subservient.

    I have disliked the union jack with passion since my early years, as a symbol of incomers and economic oppression, of accents that assumed superiority over my own, of teachers and individuals enforcing their cultural and ‘intellectual’ priority by talking down to me about THEIR history and language. The aggressive beating out of us of our vitality, individuality and Scottishness – all the subtle and demeaning references to our ‘lovely, long marriage’, whilst increasingly blind to our incrementally invisible Scottish reality in an deeply abusive relationship.

    I don’t feel this way about all flags, though many nations parade their colours with similar pomp and presumption, few have the magic potency, the weight of history (horribly distorted, interpreted favourably for them) of the jack.

    I have a growing love and affection for the saltire, for how we have reclaimed it and made it not just our own, but changed the values of it, and woven positive horizontal forward momentum into its threads; energy and wholeness – I love that we’ve taken a symbol that even meant little to us in decades past, and have begun to build a new identity from it/ through it.
    I don’t idealise the saltire blindly – as I know many English (and foreigners!) do of the jack – but I do see it as a strong symbol of healthy cultural awakening – and so it has a genuine vitality that radiates from it.

    Ideally I would like see the saltire removed completely from the union jack – and the union jack made obsolete. The sooner, the more appropriate. In the meantime, it feels an essential part of the dissolution of our awful ‘partnership’, to pull away the veils, speak our inimitable truth, show our colours.

    1. Rich says:

      Thank you Clare,
      I was ‘born abroad’ to a Cornish father and a Levantine mother and was brought to ‘England’ aged six to get a ‘proper education’ . Having been ‘made welcome’ in the traditional ‘English way’ I had learnt to fight and throw stones well enough to be ‘accepted’ by the other children in my neighbourhood , each of whom was able to also be picked on for their own supposed individual ‘weaknesses; – read polio , squint , Polishness , stutter , big ears , whatever…
      I was taught ‘history’ at school , which encompassed a start date of 1066 , with all that went before bundled into a ‘doesn’t really matter’ bin and all that came after as the march of progress culminating in that ‘glorious revolution’ and the eventual victory over those ‘rebellious and troublesome Scots’ in 1745 as well as putting down those brutal Germans not just once but twice (let’s not say anything about the Americans here , please !). That was , back then , then followed by Edward 1st – ‘the hammer of the Scots’ (passing mention of Bannockburn) , wars against the Frenchies (please don’t mention the hanging on to the Danish-dominated continental Atlantic seaboard) . The ridding of ‘Scots Cathicism’ when that Mary got her head chopped off followed by the grudge of the growing ‘British’ Empire being ‘run by the Scots’ , the undue influence of Scots in ‘English politics’ , then later the troubles presented by those same Scots in bleating about ‘clearances’ , ‘famines’ and the like , and then such nonsense as the ‘Red Clydeside’ , poor housing , hunger , more poverty , Poll Tax…. need we say more ?
      At the same time , reading detail , one saw the ‘Scots regiments’ marching to the rescue in India , Iraq , Africa , Gallipoli , all over Europe , Waterloo and all that shit stuff where Scots blood ‘saved the day’ , won the day’ , ‘held the line’….what is this – a game or real life ? What quite do ‘they’ want , when will ‘they’ be gracious enough to say “OK , we’ve used you , we’ve bled you , we’ve blamed you , cursed you , envied you , and you are such a pain in the #### we’re now going to let you go” – and/but you can read this both ways – because you cannot separate the beneficiaries of this mutual exploitation into simply English and Scots. I’m sorry – I cannot be so , it is not so simplistic .
      We always were and always will be directed to resent each other , Scots/English/Welsh/Irish/Cornish/whatever . boy/girl , yellow/green , big ears or small. It is those who ride on our backs who separate and label us , whip us and run us against each other . We are given , we are made to wear , different ‘colours’ and then crowned winners or losers . These are false descriptors , we are all losers – it is the real winners who crown us with the thorns that are then pressed upon us – English or Scots – for us , the ‘common people’ , there is no difference – we are all ‘losers’. It’s ever been ‘fixed’ , there is little chance of us being anything else.

      1. Clare Galloway says:

        The batting back and forth of insults is one aspect of the polemic mind, which of course exists in the Scottish independence movement, as well as the unionist perspective.
        At the same time, passionate and intelligent inquiry into/ resistance of an oppositional oppressive force is a forward dynamic movement – a creative force, rather than a pointless aggressive exchanging of derogatory opinions.
        Scotland has done a great deal to rise up out of her passive-defensive helplessness )as I experienced in my culture in the 70s onwards…) and into a vibrant force of both resistance and building the new.
        Simplifying the complex spectrum of cultural discourse into a childish playground analogy doesn’t do much to enlighten or inspire.

    2. Josef Ó Luain says:

      You were fortunate not to have lived in the north of Ireland, Ms Galloway, or the centre of Edinburgh, for that matter.

      1. Clare Galloway says:

        Yes indeed, Josef.

  12. Wul says:

    I view the union flag in an entirely negative way in Scotland. It radiates hatred of “the other” and colonial power. In England it doesn’t bother me much. In London not at all. If I saw it in a domestic garden in England I’d think “racist”. If I saw it in a Scottish garden I’d think “bigot”. I admit to prejudice.

    If I see a saltire in Scottish garden I’m thinking “potential nutter, maybe just an eccentric”. I’m not keen on flags.

    The idea of the union flag on major Scottish infrastructure is a wizard wheeze. I fully support it. It will turn people off the union in their droves and be perceived as proclaiming “You’re too poor and stupid to have built this yourselves peasants. Now bow down to your imperial masters.” Bring it on.

    Some folks though see the union flag and feel pride and nostalgia of their dead relatives who “fought for freedom”. I envy them their simplistic and sentimental world view.

    Many Rangers supporters and “Vanguard Bear” types will feel a surge of pride as they drive under a new Union Jack branded motorway flyover or through the new “Rest and Be Thankful” Mountain Tunnel. Their hearts will swell with affirmation as they see proof positive that they are indeed a Scotch Subsidy Junkie and that they and their fellow Scots couldn’t run a menodge.

    It is, indeed comic that some entirely ignorant, arrogant folks think that this idea “has legs”.

    1. Wul says:

      Apologies. I should have said “a small minority” of Rangers supporters rather than “many”. There’s lots of Rangers fans who are just into football, not the other stuff.

    2. Arboreal Agenda says:

      I wholly concur with this comment which seems the most sensible to me so far. I would only add that growing up in London, the flag of St George had worse connotations to me than the Union Jack since it was used by the real hard core far right (neo-Nazis even) who had no interest in Britain really as they were English nationalists/fascists. Neither flag is flown much though in England and never has been in my lifetime, not by private individuals anyway, except during big football tournaments and Royal stuff. The English are actually not that keen on flags. Outside of that I also look at it with deep suspicion and dislike, though actually many who fly it are quite like how you describe those who might fly the Saltire – eccentric.

      Great article anyway – Johnson and his chums don’t have a clue. He could be the best single one-way ticket to independence you could hope for.

  13. Chris Ballance says:

    Mike, currently it looks most likely that the next big Royal event will be the funeral of Prince Philip, most likely followed by the burning down of Westminster caused by an electrical fault.

    All very symbolic.

    1. Yes, possibly preceded by Prince Andrews trial?

  14. Redrobbo says:

    “English identity collapsed” – what the f*** does that mean? English football supporters waving St Georges crosses would suggest the opposite and a recognition of the separateness of the different nations. As a pro Independence Yorkshireman who has lived in Scotland for most of my working life I am disturbed by both Johnson and the Scot Nats using a flag that I also saw carried by fascists and evoked my active opposition on the London streets (for years!) and carried by Unionists in the Conflict in Northern Ireland (the other flag they carry is the Saltaire) . We’re in deep trouble if th Irish conflict is evoked for political gain by either side! Unionist being equated with English denies the political and cultural reality of English cities and is a dangerous Trump like attempt to provoke culture war.

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