What would independence mean for the Union Jack?
With Scotland’s independence referendum only days away, commentators in Edinburgh, London, and around the world are contemplating what a post-independence United Kingdom would look like. The topics of their speculation range from currency, defense spending, and North Sea oil revenues to the role of the monarchy and the national anthem. Among these, one question has proved itself significantly difficult to answer – what would happen to Britain’s iconic Union Jack?
The red, white, and blue standard had its beginning in 1606, when James VI of Scotland ascended to the throne of England, and the two countries were joined in a personal union. This early prototype, known as the flag of Great Britain, was a fusion of the white and red cross of Saint George (representing England) with the blue and white saltire of St. Andrew (representing Scotland). The current version of the Union Jack was adopted in 1801 after the unification of England, Scotland, and Ireland into a new political entity – the United Kingdom. This version incorporated the white and red saltire of St. Patrick to represent Ireland.
Would a “yes” vote for independence mean the death of the Union Jack? Like many questions surrounding the Scottish referendum, the answer isn’t easy to come by.
Many claim that because the Scots would be politically separating from the UK, continued use of the Union Jack would be inappropriate. Several designs for a new flag of the United Kingdom have been proposed – many of them include elements to signify Wales, which has no representation on the current flag. Others argue that because the Queen will, in all likelihood, remain the head of state in Scotland, there is no reason to change the flag – it will simply represent the personal union under the Crown – as it did in the days of King James.
One final problem remains – what of the numerous countries, territories, provinces, and cities which incorporate the Union Jack in their own flags? Will they have to also be changed?
With each question growing more complicated than the last, it might be sensible to wait for every vote to be counted before jumping to conclusions. But with the fate of one of the world’s most recognizable flags hanging in the balance, the speculation will certainly continue.