I used to wave the British flag — the Union Jack — a lot when I was a child. I grew up in Linlithgow, a little town about 9 miles west of Edinburgh. Every year, Linlithgow celebrates “the Marches”. These are an internationally known thing. They’re mentioned in the town’s Wikipedia page. There’s even a dedicated website. Like all of these sort of events, there’s a good bit of history that is, from the point of view of the town’s children, totally irrelevant.
For me as a 7 year old, The Marches meant floats — lorries dressed up to look like the Loch Ness Monster — driving down the High Street. Indeed, one of the most memorable parts for me is the chap walking in front of all the floats yelling (in a highly theatrical manner), STAND WELL BACK. At which point, the town’s children would squeal with excitement as the monsters-on-truck-wheels approached. Folk would wave from the floats. Some would throw sweets. Bands would march by. And we waved flags.
We were proud of our Britishness. We were Scottish, too. But the flags being waved were invariably of the Union Jack variety.
Every year mum would buy some Union Jack flags from the local shop and we’d take great delight waving them at everyone who marched up the High Street on the appointed day.
More recently — indeed for much of my adult life in particular — the Union Jack flag has been an object of negativity.
It’s been something that I’ve been highly disappointed with. At some point or other, the flag was co-opted (or became associated with) highly the wrong sort of people.
It got so bad that many newspapers couldn’t get through an average week without running a story about how some councillor has demanded some guy remove the Union Jack from his house because it might offend folk.
I’m not kidding. Here’s a BBC news video story from *LAST YEAR* in which some members of a English village are clearly shown objecting to the local council flying the flag repeatedly.
I can understand the perspective that finds — or found — the Union Jack offensive in the context of it promoting rather right-wing viewpoints.
I was disappointed it had come to that, though.
The last two week’s of Olympic glory has, I hope, completely reversed the fortunes of the good old Union Jack in the United Kingdom. I’m sure quite a few of us watching our athletes drape themselves in the flag for the first time might have involuntarily thought, “Uh oh, that’s, er, a bit inappropriate…” but it didn’t take long for that view to be overturned.
Seeing the Olympic stadium and other stands crammed full of folk dressed in Union Jacks and waving Union Jacks.. that made a big impression for me. And I’m sure, for the rest of the country.
Is it safe to assume the Union Jack’s reputation has been rescued and rehabilitated by the likes of Jessica Ennis and Co?
I think so. I hope so.
I think it’s gone better than that. I reckon it might have become fashionable! Last week I kept on having to get out of the way of crowds in Richmond all clad in Union Jacks — I was rather impressed to see a very well-heeled lady actually wearing a Union Jack shawl. Or throw. Or whatever you call it. It wasn’t a flag. She’d actually gone out and bought a piece of clothing!
Welcome back to the Union Jack!
[And in case you were wondering, I found that rather fetching Union Jack chair in a photo of some rather swish Moghul Interiors Union Jack curtains.]