I found myself mourning the end of The Great British Bake Off. No gingham alters, no Mel and Sue, no cake. What could a man to do? Buy some Union Jack bunting obviously. My purchase, however, received a more vigorous response amongst my peers than I ever would have expected. One friend claimed that it seemed “aggressively nationalistic”, others claimed it seemed a bit strange to have an homage to one’s country in their room. Yet some of my friends had the Welsh and Scottish flags in their rooms, wearing their nationality like a banner of pride and had never received a negative comment. I was left confused by the double standard they set.
When I asked one friend about his objection, he referred to the atrocities committed under that flag. And it’s true, many atrocities were committed in Britain’s name. The history of the British Empire contains stories of people rolled in barbed wire, rape committed by British servicemen, and conflict created by erecting post-colonial borders that did not allow for cultural divides. But every country has a dark side to their history, much of which they wish had never happened. South Sudan represents more than just the civil war that has spanned half its history. Nations should admit the terrible atrocities of the past that were committed in their name, and then learn from them to prevent any reoccurrence. Germans have committed to the phrase: “never again in our name”. Likewise, Britain can learn from its past, and this is where the flag can help. For me, the Union Flag symbolises liberty, democracy and peace. This was the flag that was waved on VE Day when we won the war, when we defeated an authoritarian régime, when good triumphed over evil.
I am confused by how many people feel like they do not have much of a British identity, but rather a European one. If one cannot feel a set of common interests with those immmediately around them, how could they feel part of a much wider community that spans numerous countries, different customs and divergent values? Maybe its the collapse of borders across Europe and cheap Easyjet flights to Barcelona that make them feel so much closer, but I don’t think so. “Britishness” has gone out of fashion, and Europe is now in vogue.
This decline in shared identity is dangerous. It allows others to take away the great strength of our sovereignty. If we don’t see ourselves as a nation, then we lose the ability to make laws that bind us all. The nation begins to unravel, as it almost did with last year’s Scottish independence referendum. Yet, if the UK as an entity is illegitimate, its replacement is uncertain. Europe? The UN? Certainly not. Smaller states tend to be more cohesive and function better than larger entities, as the EU itself surely shows.
We must see that our British identity is as important as our English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish identity. We have overcome adversity by working together, and our flag symbolises the ability to put aside differences in the interest of the common good.
I admit that it is a stretch to go from discussing Bake Off, to bunting, to the end of the UK, but it is vitally important that we remember what we share as a community on these isles. We agree on the direction in which we want to go even if we disagree on which path will take us there the fastest. The mistakes of our past – and there were many – should not mean that we forget our achievements. The Industrial Revolution was a symbol of British entrepreneurship. We were the first country to have underground trains. We never stopped in the belief that we could defeat Hitler. We are GREAT Britain.
When Sajid Javid stated in the “No Confidence” debate earlier this term that we are still a great nation, some in the audience sniggered. They, and all of us, must realise that the achievements of our past can still make us great today. We are one of the oldest modern democracies, our economic model has proliferated across the world, and students still come here for a world-class education. So please, let’s allow ourselves a bit of pride.
Image credit: Colin Smith