I could probably recognise about ten flags from a crop of 30 that you laid out before me. The American flag, the Union Jack, the Saltire, the Irish tricolour, France, Germany, Wales, and a couple of others. But beyond that, I’d struggle. And, to be fair, I don’t think that it is all that important anyhow unless it’s a decider in a quiz game where I really must win! I’m not sure geography teachers would approve of my flag abilities. But, why do we put so much credence, importance and emotion into flags? Yes, there is the historical element to it all, but if you were to fly a flag outside your home, which flag would you fly? These questions recently popped up at a get-together I was at...
At a Spanish villa on mainland Spain where I was invited to drinks, the owner and occupier was flying a Saltire in his garden. It did look a bit strange next to Washingtonian palm trees and yucca plants. After a couple of drinks, my curiosity was bubbling over and I enquired as to why he had chosen to erect a flag pole and stick up the Scottish flag. The answer was simple and not the one I expected.
“This is my little part of Scotland in Spain.” I honestly was waiting for a rush of rhetoric on Scottish nationalism and all that jazz.
So, I was pleasantly wrong-footed and you know what they say about assumptions and all that making an ass out of you and me. But, it did trigger a lively conversation as to why the Saltire was flying and not the Union Jack. Or for that matter any other flag.
Identity and difference are highlighted and accentuated when flags fly ahead of us. Whether it is Olympic athletes proudly walking into the stadium as part of the opening ceremony at the games or an army being led into battle or a pride parade fanning out in a major city, the flag compartmentalises those who march with it and behind it. There is meaning in the flag that creates communion between all those who hold it dear. It can stir emotions and whip up tensions as well as create joy and positivity. So, why then did I feel a little uneasy when I saw the Scottish Saltire planted in a little “finca” in Spain?
I’ve covered patriotism in this column before, so I will not dwell on that. I am patriotic about Scotland, but for some reason I’m a little Saltire-shy. I feel that it has been hijacked or commandeered by Scottish nationalism as a symbol of what that movement is all about. And, to be fair, that is okay and it makes sense to have the Saltire at the fulcrum of nationalism. But, does that mean that I cannot fly it now as I recognise it and associate with Scottish nationalism, despite my host putting me right on this?
I guess it feels that same way for the English majority. English people used to be very proud of the flag of St George. But now it has been adopted by the English Defence League and similar movements, then English colleagues I know are less liable to associate themselves with it. And that’s a shame, is it not? Once proud flags of both nations feel slightly jaundiced as they imbued with a particular faction within the countries they represent.
After another “cerveza”, the discussion moved on to which flag would we stick up on a flagpole if we were ever inclined to. I’ll be honest and state now that putting any flag up outside my property would not sit well with me. Not because it might alienate others who do not like or care for my identity, but because it would label me and corral me into a specific grouping. And I’m an individual and fiercely proud of that. I could put up the Irish tricolour as I have strong Irish heritage coming from Donegal and with a name like Duffy. Or I could put up the Saltire as Scotland schooled and shaped me into what I am today. I could put up the Union Jack. Or, maybe, I could be a little more radical in my approach to flag-flying and signalling my identity to the world.
How about I create my own flag that says something about me, my values and those who I hold special in life. I can pick my own colours and my own icons and emblems. My flag doesn’t need to be rectangular in shape, but can be circular or triangular. Personally I’d have something dark in colour like a dark purple verging on black. Then I’d stick on the moon. A bright picture of the moon beaming from a dark background. When people would then ask me about my flag and why I had chosen it, I would tell them “I just like it, it makes me feel glad and secure”. No need for any history lesson or political drama, just a positive one-liner on something that makes me smile each night.
You too can pick your own flag and that is patently your decision. Whether you opt for the Scottish saltire or create your own says more about you than the actual flag does. We live in an age when identity has become more binary, polarised and under the microscope than at any time I can remember. So, picking a current flag can be a dangerous game that means you have to take a side.
As a lone wolf, I am happy to create my own “moon” flag. It has meaning only for me and if I do decide to create and fly it, then I’m making a statement to the world.
I am in individual, with my own mind, who likes to smile each night in wonderment at my own humanity.