Monday, August 16, 2010

Take Down the Union Jack

Sorry not to have posted for over a week. I was away camping, far from even the merest hint of Wi-Fi. I’ll write more about this shortly, but first I wanted to get down some random thoughts about nationality, and what it means to us. These have been prompted by my listening to the estimable Mr Billy Bragg on constant loop over the past few weeks, particularly his pro-devolution ditty Take Down the Union Jack.

I was born in Kenya, but only stayed there a few years. My father is English and my mother was Scottish. Because of this mix, when asked, I would normally identify myself as British, but what does this really mean? Frankly, without looking it up, I would be hard-pressed to state the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom. If we go to Norman Tebbit’s infamous “cricket test”, I find it much easier to cheer for England than Britain, Scotland or Kenya. As Billy puts it:

Britain isn’t cool you know, it's really not that great
It's not a proper country; it doesn’t even have a patron saint
It's just an economic union that’s passed its sell-by date

Interestingly this comfort with the notion of England may be a fairly modern phenomena. I recently watched clips of the 1990 World Cup semi-final, and was slightly surprised by the sea of Union Jacks in the crowd. It seems to have been only recently that we have reclaimed the St George’s Cross from the Far Right.

I’ve also been reading Andrew Marr’s two books about the history of Britain in the 20th Century. I was cautious of these, as they went along with a TV series (not usually a good sign), but they are excellent. Definitely a journalist’s view of history, with an emphasis on the big personalities and the telling anecdote, but none the worse for it. They also make it clear what a profoundly odd connection there is between the various countries that make up our nation.

So how to I define myself? I guess, when you combine background, the environment I grew up in, and football, then I’m English. And I’m proud of it. I would also have no problem with a full break up of the UK. On the other hand  I’m also very much in favour of more extensive links with the rest of Europe. In fact, at the end of the day, I’m in favour of a world state. National identity is a fairly random thing, a mixture of birth and background that you have no say in. This doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate it, just don’t take it too seriously. Back to Billy:

Take down the Union Jack, it clashes with the sunset
And pile up all those history books, but don’t throw them away
‘Cos they just have a clue about what it really means
To be an Anglo-hyphen-Saxon in England-dot-co-dot-uk


  1. Billy Bragg on a constant loop over the last few weeks? Have you been extraordinarily renditioned?

    PS on the RSS feed of the blog the Google advert below is for 'Union Jack Flags £3.99'.

  2. I'll have to take that down then . . .

  3. Yes - it's disgusting to think that the Union Flag can be bought and sold so cheaply.