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Union Jack waving will do ‘more harm than good’ in Wales, says Guardian columnist

22 Mar 2021 5 minutes Read
Union Flag

Waving of the Union Jack will do more harm than good in Wales, according to a columnist for The Guardian.

John Harris hit out in the London-based newspaper at what he called an “aggressive attempt to shore up the United Kingdom”, by the UK Government.

He suggested that the British flag is “being waved around more frantically than ever” and that the “resulting spectacle is strikingly brittle”.

The columnist also accused Westminster of adopting a “more and more condescending attitude to the UK’s devolved administrations.

There have recently been calls for the British flag to be flown on all UK Government and BBC buildings – including those in Wales – in order to shore up the union.

UK Government ministers are set to issue new guidance this week that the flag must be shown all year round, not only on designated days such as the Queen’s birthday.

To “cut red tape” national and local flags will then be flown on the same pole but below that of the Union Jack.

It comes following a row which came about after UK Government Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick was interviewed by BBC presenters, who ended the segment by sniggering at the size of the Union Jack in the background of his office.

At the end of the interview, Charlie Stayt had mockingly told the Minister that his large flag was “not up to standard size” and was “just a little bit small”, which was greeted by laughs from fellow presenter Naga Munchetty.

Munchetty has been forced to apologise and has been “reminded of her responsibilities” by the corporation after liking a series supportive tweets following the interview with Robert Jenrick.

BBC broadcaster Huw Edwards has also been ‘ordered’ to take down a tweet in which he proudly displayed the Welsh flag, which appeared to make light of the row.

‘Hyper-unionism’ 

John Harris said: “One of the most self-contradictory aspects of the government’s hyper-unionism is the way it clearly plays to English resentments, raising the flag to declare war on the perfidious Scots, and thereby deepening the UK’s fault lines.

“Which brings us to perhaps the most fascinating question of all: what all this national chest-beating might mean to the public. On that score, mass backing in Scotland for independence clearly speaks for itself.

“So does the 40% support for independence in Wales recorded this month by pollsters, and the first minister Mark Drakeford’s warning that as the government adopts a more and more condescending attitude to the UK’s devolved administrations, ‘the breakup of the union comes closer every day’.

“In both countries, union jacks and invocations of the bulldog spirit will surely do the fragile cause of unionism much more harm than good.

“Meanwhile, if you are one of the millions of people in England who would like the union to survive, you are surely faced with an inescapable question: if that belief finds an ever-decreasing echo in the other parts of the UK, what then?

“Will you try to assure people in Scotland and Wales that England may yet reject Toryism and help to elect a Labour-led Westminster government? At this rate, they will have to wait for an awfully long time.

“Shall we at last face the facts? Even if the institutions of the United Kingdom creak on unchanged or are somehow saved by a new federalism, as a meaningful political entity the UK is all but over. Independence is partly a state of mind, and for very different reasons, a large number of people in Scotland, Wales and England have got there already.”

‘Wearied and embattled’

He added: “Not since the far-off days of Tony Blair and Cool Britannia have we seen so much of the UK’s national emblem. But now the mood is altogether more wearied and embattled.

“The flag’s current prominence is partly the work of the government’s new ‘union unit’, and reflects a set of ideas recently labelled ‘hyper-unionism’ – reducible to a last-ditch, often aggressive attempt to shore up the United Kingdom and the idea of a common British identity as the foundations of both continue to crumble.

“Much of this, to state the blindingly obvious, has been either triggered or accelerated by Brexit. Notwithstanding the Scottish National party’s present crisis, Scotland’s place in the union is more doubtful than it has ever been.

“Welsh support for independence has recently reached a record high, and anxieties – or hopes, depending on your perspective – are slowly rising about the future of Northern Ireland.”

“And so the story goes on: with the monarchy in trouble, and serious attention being paid to the horrors of empire, daily damage to what the flag is supposed to represent has coincided with it being waved around more frantically than ever.

“The resulting spectacle is strikingly brittle: akin, perhaps, to those late-1980s Soviet military parades where everyone present knew that the affectations of might and glory had long since become delusional.”

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