St George's cross flag row: No laughing, Scotland has its issues too – Aidan Smith

Greens in Glasgow want the city to stop flying the Union Jack on Royal birthdays

Start thinking about flags and suddenly you can’t stop seeing them. On my Sunday supplement front cover, the Union Jack illustrates a feature on Caledonian Road, the new state-of-nation novel from Scots writer Andrew O’Hagan which I can’t wait to read.

I put down the mag to watch the mid-evening news. There’s the just-installed Irish PM, after the tricolour was draped over the coffin of an IRA man, vowing to “take back our flag”. There’s Andy Murray playing tennis in Miami, Saltires in the stands fluttering behind him. And there’s an American politico sat next to a rolled-up Stars and Stripes trying to explain how the US has fallen out of the World Happiness Top 20 for the first time.

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What, Americans are more unhappy than the English right now? How can this possibly be when the Cross of St George has been vandalised, desecrated, woke-efied and – apparently – could not look in a more sorry state than if a dragon had nonchalantly waddled over to it, squatted down and… well, you can guess the rest.

Royals to be shunned?

In case you missed this: Nike, polyester sporting couturiers to the world, rolled out a new England football strip for the European Championships with the flag “playfully” reconfigured red, blue and purple. You know what it is normally, right? The cross is red on a white background. For the team and their fans this has been the emblem, like, for ever. All the way back to the mid-1990s, in fact. Nevertheless: cue culture wars outrage.

England is convulsing over the issue but up in Glasgow I’m wondering if the Greens might be relieved, with the flag row they sparked having since been overshadowed. The party want the local council to stop flying the Union Jack on Royal birthdays, and instead are arguing for Pakistani, Palestinian, Ukrainian, Cuban and transgender colours – more accurately reflecting a “progressive” city – to be displayed from the the city chambers’ rooftop. Royals to be shunned include the Princess of Wales. There was heavy criticism of the proposal before Kate’s cancer disclosure. Will this snub be defended quite so robustly now?

Flags are tricky things, always causing bother – just ask Emily Thornberry. In 2014, she was forced to resign from Labour’s Shadow Cabinet over a social media post of a St George-draped house in Rochester, Kent. On its own, no sneering words, the photo was deemed to have mocked the entire patriotic working-class.

So inevitably Thornberry was dragged into the current stooshie. “Why can’t they just leave it alone?” she said of the sacred icon of the English nation, although not quite sacred enough for the Cross of St George to be the flag waved so joyfully in 1966. When England won the World Cup – when goal-line technology was VAR, VAR in the future – it was all about the Union Jack.

Desperate to be offended

Don’t, though, claim that the followers of the cross are a relatively new phenomenon. Charlie Higson from The Fast Show – classic sketch: Roger Nouveau Football Fan, sending up the game’s carpetbagging – tried to do this on X and the predictable pile-on ensued.

Speaking for all Scots, poster Mark Gordon was challenged: “How would you feel if they changed the colour of the Scottish flag on one of your shirts?” Next to a shot of a strip with an inverted Saltire, the blue insipidly washed out, he replied: “Naebody cared mate because we aren’t all desperate to be offended by everybody.”

And this is what’s going on here, isn’t it? Laurence Fox was so desperate to be offended by Nike’s sacrilegiousness that he rushed out to join a protest march, not realising until it was too late that he was wearing a pair of their trainers. Lee Anderson, what’s he got to say? Quite a lot: “When I bang on about wanting our country back, this is exactly the sort of woke, namby-pamby, pearl-clutching, hand-wringing nonsense I mean.”

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Mind you, there was a moment at the beginning of this saga – which seems a long time ago now – when I wondered if he hadn’t gone from the Tories to the Reform party but was in fact the “brains” behind the redesign, scheming undercover and bampotedly in Nike’s marketing department to stir up anger for the hard-right cause.

Unlike Anderson and Fox, the England supporters who actually follow the team have a pride in St George which cannot be denied. The flag was prominent when cafe furniture sailed through the air at Euro 2000. When the air at Germany’s World Cup in 2006 was thick with chants about the war. When the air at recent games has been thick with booing directed at England’s own players.

Lions are not blue

But I feel most sorry for the cross-swathed fan who bared his backside at the previous Euros in 2021 when his team lost the final on penalties. How much must you love your country, and that flag, when you’re prepared to stick a lighted firework up your bum?

We can have a good snigger about all of this. We might be tempted to point out that St George is also the patron saint of Ethiopia, Malta and the island of Gozo, and that Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Bulgaria, among others, all have a day of commemoration for him. We could remind our friends in the south that while the team badge they also revere is of three lions, this animal is not native to England, is not blue and does not have only three toes on its paws. But tensions are high and we should probably refrain.

Be warned, though. The Saltire is still part of your colours. Any more of this flag farrago and the blue shorts may have to be removed. And if you’d view this as scope for an even more spectacular pyrotechnics display, well, that says it all…



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