Image Credit: Brigade Piron
On Sunday of 7th week, the Somerville JCR voted against flying the Union Flag for ‘national days’ such as Remembrance Day and the birthday of the Sovereign, following a heated debate.
The JCR motion noted that “the college does not fly the Union Flag on the birthdays of senior royals, including that of the Sovereign, nor on Remembrance Sunday, nor the flags of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom on their respective saints’ days, which are the closest thing we have to “national days”.
The motion divided opinion, as is clear from the minutes of the meeting seen by The Oxford Student and which are detailed below. The proposers of the motion suggested that “flying flags is a symbolically significant gesture of national pride and an excellent way of fostering a sense of community and shared endeavour” which are “especially important in these times of political turmoil and polarisation”.
One of those in favour of the motion argued that the college has a flagpole but it is not sufficiently used. It is most important to fly the flag on Remembrance Sunday which Somerville did not but other colleges did.
However, some students took issue with the motion. One Somerville student argued that the Union flag is problematic, as we have students from Northern Ireland, and the St. George’s flag has been taken to be a symbol of the far-right in the UK. Instead, the student argued, we should fly every flag from every Commonwealth country who was forced to give their soldiers for World War One and World War Two under the empire.
Another student concurred, arguing the phrasing of the motion is disrespectful as it didn’t mention international students at. It would therefore be unfair to impose this flag on everyone as the Queen is not my sovereign and many other students feel that way.
The proposer of the motion rebutted that it would be impossible to fly the flags of all the countries around the world, and the Union flag is the best we can do as it is the flag of the country we are in. They added that the St. George’s Cross has been used by the far-right, which is abhorrent, but this shouldn’t detract from what the flag stands for which is Christianity and the Christian church which is the greatest anti-fascist organisation in history.
One student argued that the Union flag is not unifying as many soldiers were forced to go to war, making it a symbol of colonialism, while the EDL has disturbed the way we see the St. George’s Cross. Another countered that the majority of Commonwealth soldiers who fought in World War One and World War Two did so voluntarily. Somerville is a very open and inclusive college and prides itself on being so.
Another Somerville student responded that if the college embodies itself on inclusivity then we should fly the college flag because the Union flag can represent colonialism so our choice not to fly the flag is due to different meanings for different people. They also disputed the notion that soldiers in British colonies fought voluntarily.
The JCR then moved to a vote and the motion was rejected, 6 votes for, 21 against and 6 abstentions.
A student present at the meeting told The Oxford Student that “the atmosphere was tense and full of emotion”.