Tag Archives: Northern Ireland

Reflections on Brexit

7 Jul

 

Now that a fortnight has passed, I’ve had time to calm down, reflect and analyse the monumental Tory Party omnishambles called Brexit, and so here are my views.

What is becoming abundantly clear is that the Leave campaign not only did not expect to win but didn’t actually want to – as is made glaringly obvious by the fact that they did not have any plan following a Brexit win. Cameron, was confident enough of a Remain win that he didn’t even bother to have a ‘Plan B’ for the worst case scenario.

It appears that what they were hoping for was a very slim Remain majority (as Farage demonstrated by his rant at the close of polling), which could be used to call for a vote of No Confidence in David Cameron, triggering a leadership challenge that would install Boris Johnson as PM. Thus, it was never really about the EU, but about fending off UKIP at the 2015 General Election and who should lead the Tory Party (a beauty contest between repugnant and repulsive).

While the Remain campaign tried a re-run of Project Fear (seemingly without realising that there was no one behind whom David Cameron’s personal unpopularity could be hidden or that, unlike in Scotland in 2014, they were having to contend with a hostile press), they hardly covered themselves with glory in terms of honesty or openness. However, the Leave campaign, slogans over substance, have been accused of lying to the electorate “on an industrial scale” – misrepresentations which the Leave leaders all renounced or distanced themselves from within 24 hours of winning.

Though Leave narrowly won in England and Wales, Remain won comfortably in Northern Ireland, convincingly in Scotland & London and devastatingly in Gibraltar. While Unionists love to harp on about the divisiveness of the Scottish Independence Referendum (and never more so than now, when a second one is increasingly on the cards), they are strangely silent about the divisiveness of the EU Referendum. And divisive it has been, with a 500% increase in race-hate incidents; the potential break-up of the UK (which some Leave campaigners like Melanie Phillips see as a price worth paying for English sovereignty); divisions in England between North and South; and Wales showing Bregret, having, too late, changed their mind!

Now the architects of this debacle have all fled the field. First to fall on his sword was the Prime Minister, David Cameron, whose Cammiekazi resignation sunk Boris Johnson’s leadership challenge hopes as he, knowing how necessary the EU is to the UK’s banking sector and trade (see his quote on the EU from Feb 2016!), would not want to be the one to invoke Article 50 (mind you, he was helped out of his dilemma by his back-stabbing pal, Michael Gove). Nigel Farage, having openly incited xenophobia, steps down as leader of UKIP, not for the reasons he gave, but because his party has become an irrelevance now that its sole aim has been achieved. One wonders who the BBC will find to replace him as their favourite bigot at large.

And as for the rest of the “retro-nationals” (as Juncker has described them), IDS, Priti Patel, Lexit have all gone into hiding, while the also-rans Gove, Fox and Leadsom are squabbling over BoJo’s fallen sword, as the country looks on with increasing dis-May.

Then we have Labour. First, there is Lexit – funded entirely by rich Tories and the Tory (UKIP just being Europhobic Tories on steroids) led Brexit campaign – showing the usual arrogant, top-down, we-know-best campaign style so beloved of New Labour (despite its disastrous fallout in Scotland).

If that were not bad enough, instead of capitalising on Tory disarray, the Blairites decide to try and execute a farcical “chicken coup” that was so inept that a primary school class could have done better. What makes it even more ridiculously pathetic is that they had set up Angela Eagle’s leadership website some 10 days prior to the Referendum and briefed the Tory press about their cabinet resignation plans ahead of time.

The wonderfully expendable Angela Eagle was to be the stalking horse to be sacrificed in a leadership contest against Jeremy Corbyn (who refused to stand down), despite the 172 long knives and Rupert Murdoch’s urging people to join Labour to get rid of Corbyn (a plan so half-witted as to be risible – folk are joining Labour in increasing numbers just to vote for him!), the conspirators all meekly crawled back into Jeremy’s Shadow Cabinet when their supposed coup de maître suffer a coup de grâce.

And so the country lurches on through uncertainty; the pound and markets fluctuating and inward investment  frozen until the Tories have chosen a new leader; the Loyal Opposition progress from indulging in kindergarten politicking; and, should a government  ever get round to invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty instead of irritating the EU (not the best strategy to get the best deal for the Untied Kingdom), perhaps the process of untangling 40 years of EU membership can begin; and plans for what a post-Brexit Britain might look like as the island fortress of England sails off to an imaginary past somewhere to the west of Iceland.

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The Disunity of the Union Jack

25 Sep

The Union Jack is supposed to be a symbol of the unity between the increasingly dysfunctional “family of nations” that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain.  Yet, as a flag of unity, it is deeply flawed.  It was designed (whether deliberately or accidentally matters not) to show English dominance over the “Celtic nations”, just as it was in the days of  Empire a symbol of oppression and servitude under a supposedly philanthropic (sic) British rule. It was the design submitted by English heralds, which was most favoured by James VI & I who approved its use, perhaps on aesthetic grounds or more likely to appease his new subjects.

However, many in Scotland objected to having the Cross of St George superimposed over the Cross of St Andrew (just as there was fury during the recent Independence Referendum, when BritNats placed a Union Jack in the top left corner of the Scottish Saltire – which is illegal in Scotland – to proclaim Scotland a mere colony of the UK rather than a “Home Nation”).  Instead they used a Scottish version in which the St Andrew’s Cross cut the St George’s Cross into four triangles.  The Scottish version, which was never official, was banned by law after the Acts of Union in 1707.

Yet, heraldically (and flags are governed by heraldry) the Union Flag does not combine the English flag with the Scottish Saltire as the colour used is a royal blue, which is mid way between the sky blue (or azure) of the Saltire and the navy blue  of the flag of the Island of Tenerife (which, incidentally, the English failed to subdue in 1706 and the British (under Nelson) in 1797.

Thus, heraldically, though the blue is supposed to represent Scotland, it does not (as was recently pointed out to me by the Serbian Royal Herald) as it is neither one thing or the other. It seems that it was assumed that the St Andrew’s Cross would be understood to refer to Scotland even though St Andrew is also the patron saint of Barbados, Greece, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine (only one of which has been under British rule!).

However, Scotland, receiving some kind of representation through the cross of St Andrew (though not through the Scottish Saltire) is considerably better off than Wales, which has no representation either in the Royal Arms or the Union Flag.  The English excuse is that at the time of the Union, Wales had been absorbed into England by its Tudor monarchs and, therefore, was not party to the Treaties of Union and so needs no representation other than the Cross of St George.  Yet St George is not, and has never been, recognised as having any role is Wales (other than conquest).  Wales’ patron saint  is St David, whose symbol (a yellow cross on a black field) was used informally on flags in Wales from 1921.   Not until 1959 were they granted an official flag (the Welsh red dragon), which is based on a variant of Welsh flags used since the 1480s.

Ireland is represented by the so-called Cross of St Patrick, though there is no good evidence to suggest that it was ever used prior to the foundation of the Order of St Patrick in 1783.  It has been suggested that the design was based on the arms of the powerful Fitzgerald family who, as Earls of Kildare, were Lords Deputy of Ireland and, as Dukes of Leinster, the premier peer in the Irish House of Lords. Indeed, despite a number of official bodies (eg the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) adopting it between the foundation of the order and the act of Union of 1800, it has never had wide acceptance in Ireland, outside of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy.  For most Irish people it was seen as a blood-stained Cross of St Andrew, forever reminding them of  the English imposition of  Scottish settlers in Ulster by Cromwell.    The traditional cross of St Patrick, a cross patée, which has been used for centuries, is widely used in Catholic Dioceses, but eschewed by the Church of Ireland (Anglican) which, unsurprisingly, uses the red saltire of the British establishment.

It has been argued that it is appropriate for the Cross of St Patrick (sic) to remain within the Union Flag as the 6 northern counties which make up the Province of Northern Ireland are subject to the Crown.  However, the red saltire is not widely accepted in Northern Ireland either. The sectarianism there means that Loyalists prefer the Ulster Banner, which was the official flag of Northern Ireland from 1953-1972, as they regard the Cross of St Patrick as Irish, while the Republicans favour the Irish Tricolour, seeing the Cross of St Patrick as a British imposition. Though it has sometimes been used as a neutral flag, neither side of the sectarian divide is entirely happy with it in that role.  Far from being a symbol of unity, the Union Flag, despite the success of the peace process, is a symbol of on-going division in Ireland.

In the Union Flag, the English Cross of St Patrick has been placed, counterchanged, into the Cross of St Andrew, further diminishing any representation of Scotland it may have had.  The resulting hotchpotch also means that 95% of the British population (and 99.9% of foreigners) have no idea whether the  flag is the right way up or not!  Thus, at least half the time it is flown upside down, which is an international distress signal.

So here we have a flag that is supposed to represent unity but which is actually an offensive mishmash that uses the wrong colour for the Scottish Saltire, uses a detested cross for Ireland (of which only a small Province  tacked on to the UK remains), and gives no representation whatsoever for the Principality of Wales.   It is noticeably absent from the flag of the Commonwealth of Nations, all but one of which were British colonies, as in some parts of the world it is despised for its imperial (and post imperial) connotations and in other parts for its once proud association with  the international slave trade.  Little wonder then that there are moves to extirpate the “bloody butchers’ apron” from their national flags, even in countries which remained colonies well into the 20th century  (eg Fiji),  just as they did their Governors General on gaining independence.  And it is niot confined to countries that were former colonies; even countries which are still under the Crown (eg New Zealand) are debating its removal.

So, if it doesn’t symbolise unity, what does it signify?  For some – a minority to be sure – it represents far-right wing British Nationalism as displayed by the BNP or Britain First; for others – a rising number it seems – it represents the xenophobic “little England” nationalism of UKIP; for others, it represents a corrupt and greedy, self-perpetuating, plutocratic elite that will hold onto power at any cost; and, yes, for an ever-dwindling number, it represents the UK and Britishness (whatever that might be).

But its advocates (who are, by definition, nationalists – British nationalists) will doubtless defend their flag on two counts: a) military campaigns and  b) fashion.

a) They will waffle on about how we fought two World Wars under the Union Jack and liberated Europe, without also recognising that it was used to invade Iraq on the basis of a lie, or that there are only a scattering of countries worldwide that the UK has not invaded (or tried to invade).  Also, they conveniently forget that it was the flag that flew over numerous slave ships and the ships of their Royal Navy escorts (both on the jack and in the top left  corner of the red and white ensigns).

b) Citing the Union Jack’s use in fashion (despite the fact that the days of 1960s Carnaby Street and BritPop fashion in the ’90s have become, like the two World Wars, nigh nebulous memories for many) they claim that it is the most recognisable symbol of Britain.  While it is true that versions, often crudely drawn, are used as decals and designs on cheap, sweat-shopped tat or tasteless souvenirs, the majority of the non-British purchasers of such garments (and souvenirs) don’t equate it with the UK (just like the other instantly recognised symbols: Big Ben, Tower Bridge and the Queen of England – notice a pattern here?), but with England, unconsciously having understood that the UK is just a euphemism for England “writ large”.

Whereas my grandfather, born in the age of Empire, proudly served under the Union Jack, both as a career naval officer and as Lord Lieutenant, I feel no pride in it; no sentiment; just mild indifference.  As with those nations, which want to remove the Union Jack from their national flags, it does not reflect my identity in any meaningful way and so is only of historical interest like, say, the flag of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

If the government (of whatever stripe) in Westminster are serious about unity within teh oft vaunted “the family of nations”  (rather than the usual uniformity – the genesis of which is a casual arrogance – they try to hawk), both the Union Jack and the Royal Arms need to be revised and modernised to reflect the diversity and the equality implied in the family metaphor.  Failure by the Union (which was so valuable that  it could only be saved through lies and threats) to do so will merely reinforce the view of the Celtic Nations that they are being not very subtly subsumed, whether they want to be or not, with even less status than a colony, into an increasingly uncaring  Greater England.

It is surely time to consign this ragbag of a flag, which has such a  chequered past, to history, where it belongs.