Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Four Nations Once Again

It's hard not to laugh. After insisting for decades, against geographic common sense, that "Ulster is British" -- while carrying passports labelled "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" -- the Unionists discover that Gordon Brown doesn't think that Northern Ireland is British enough to merit any mention in his British identity initiative, or to be included in the proposal to allow government buildings to fly the Union Jack whenever they want:

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): The House will have heard that the Justice Secretary [Jack Straw] believes that, when it comes to flag flying, the people of Northern Ireland should be treated as children of a lesser god. Will he tell the House the rationale behind the Government’s decision on this matter? Does he believe that the flag may not be universally cherished in Northern Ireland? If so, will that have implications elsewhere in the kingdom?

Mr. Straw: The reason for the Government’s decision is obvious, and it is not the one that the hon. Gentleman mentions. As everyone knows, the two communities in Northern Ireland have been seriously divided. The best advice that we received was that we should maintain the current arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Rather than go round in circles about the "British" debate, a better strategy for the Unionists would be to work with an alternative identity model: one which acknowledges that the UK grew out of 4 constituent nations and that each still provides a sense of place which makes living in each a little bit different from the others. Surely this is better than trying to manufacture a "British" identity along Gordon Brown's lines --

These values live in the popularity of our common institutions from the NHS, the BBC, to the Queen - and even more recently in UK-wide support for the Olympics, Children in Need, Comic Relief, Make Poverty History and action on climate change.

a list with nothing that pre-dates the 20th century and ends with finding an identity in the response to telethons. How could English/Scottish/Welsh/Irish be any worse? And while the Union Jack of course incorporates the 4 nations, it is as Jack Straw says, a bit inflammatory for some people. An alternative symbol of the modern UK identity is thus presented above.

Photo by Phyzome via Wikipedia

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