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By Jason Michael
Since at least 2014 the union jack and various other symbols of the British state have become perceptibly more conspicuous across the Scottish culture space. In the past, outwith the confines of government and particular “loyalist” institutions, the union jack in Scotland was reserved for things relating to Britain’s most hallowed sacrament – war.
It was run up the flagpole for the Girl Guides, the Boys’ Brigade, the Scouts, and other paramilitary youth organisations to make their oaths of allegiance; it was draped like a pall to remember the dead once a year; it was printed on plastic bowler hats anytime we ever got to bomb a Third World country. Until quite recently the “butcher’s apron” was the creepy uncle of Scottish culture.
Over Britain and the occupied counties of Ireland the red, white, and blue had very different meanings; making it too problematic to impose anything like this “One Nation” Britishness we now find ourselves faced with in the United Kingdom. In Ireland it was and is the emblem of a belligerent force in a dirty war of conquest and military occupation, while in Scotland and Wales it was – as it remains – the battle standard of Greater England.
Even in England, where it was always effectively the away strip of the English flag, it was a contentious rag. It was the flag of power; the pennant of the Crown and the State, the banner under which Tory sentiment and British racial supremacy alike could rally. This was never the flag of the immigrant – there’s no black in it, apparently.
After April 1998, with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and at the height of Tony Blair’s New Labour experiment, a window of opportunity opened for the old imperial flag. With “peace” in Ireland and a refreshing post-Conservative era flourishing over Blair’s New Britain, it was felt that the union jack too could be rebranded and sold at home and abroad as the hallmark of brand UK – a neoliberal whitewashed advertising strategy that has been developed through a number of more recent permutations including “Team GB” and “UK OK.”
Ahead of the Scottish referendum in 2014 a national attitudes survey found that the majority of Scots identified as Scottish and not British. After 300 years of political union Britain remained just that – a political union. There was no real social or cultural – and certainly no national – union. Scots, even unionists, did not consider themselves “British.” Three centuries on and Scots saw themselves as Scots who thought of Britain more or less as a political abstraction they either favoured or disliked.
Continued unity, as any dunce in the London establishment could appreciate, would require a concerted effort to fabricate a homogenous and shared idea of Britishness for the whole of the UK, and this could only be achieved through the weaponisation of the media and popular culture production. From about this point the union flag would become a ubiquitous feature of British television and state-cultural marketing. The “jack” would be the new common seal of One Nation quality, pride, and national identification. It’s no accident the union flag then began appearing with increased frequency on shortbread tins, toys, and food packaging.
This was the beginning of what may prove to be Britain’s too late Kulturkampf, a last-ditch attempt to transform Britain the state (1707, 1801, and 1921) into Britain the nation. According to this neo-imperialist strategy the field of vision of the Scots, the occupied Irish, and the Welsh has to be utterly saturated with the triumphalist ephemera of a dead empire reborn as plush cultural icons. At the same time the production of counter-culture – the natural reproduction of heterogeneous national identities such as Scottishness, Irishness, and Welshness – had to be smothered.
It came as no surprise then to hear comedian and television presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli say that he and others were placed on a blacklist by the BBC. People in favour of Scottish independence and other voices promoting Scotland as a distinctive national identity can only be corrosive to any state-establishment effort to make Scotland more British. Of course independence supporters would be denied any and all platforms provided by the national broadcaster and other media outlets in any way beholden to the British establishment.
The absurdity of this is the fact that it can’t work. In the “Holy Land” of British Ulster – an oxymoron if there ever was one – the Britishness constructed by Orangeism and Ulster Loyalism was always a Britishness out of time. Orange parades are parades of a cliché; a pageant of what Ulstermen in the 1920s wanted Britain to look like. They always look the same, like the gaffers of Harland and Wolff taking a stroll after the launch of the Titanic.
Likewise, the Britishness of The Great British Bake Off and Britain’s Got Talent has never existed. It is a Mickey Mouse projection of anachronistic wishful thinking. No one is going to become more British or pin their national and cultural identity on Britain because someone trained their mongrel to do summersaults or because an unemployed panel beater from Scunthorpe can sing opera. But this is what Britishness has become – vapidity. It can’t be history. We don’t have a shared history, and no sooner than someone insists that we have than someone else mentions Windrush.
This “Britishness” will not last long. It is puddle deep and built atop fleeting trends. A good fart will blow it away. Authentic national identity is deeply rooted in the entire nation from which it grew. It is natural and organic. This Scottishness, Irishness, Welshness, and Englishness will continue and develop as other national identities do. The British fraud can’t even survive a power cut.
What is Britishness?
13 thoughts on “The ‘Brit Washing’ of Scotland”
Last Saturday, the 21 ‘st of April, what with UK Ninja Warrior and Britain’s Got Talent on ITV and the queen’s birthday party on BBC 1. It was wall to wall Union Jackery in Scotland. Then yesterday the constant bombardment of advertising, on all sides for the next royal wedding, on the 19th of May I believe but I may be wrong, interrupted by the constantly breaking news of the birth of a new british royal prince, not the baby’s fault he is after all just a baby, on saint George’s day no less! A pity his big brother got the name first, but it’s the royal family, names can be easily rearranged. They have form.
Now, I like red, I like white and I love blue. It’s just that in that particular combination I find them offensive and that damned flag, along with its very tainted history is also an affront to symmetry.
P.S. It’s only going to get worse.
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The only thing the “jack” is good for is to wipe your shitty shoes on.
I, too, found a sickening increase in ‘Let’s include the Scotch’ around the time Scotland were discovering how honesty and transparency from the SNP was being translated into consistent, good-government. The British have been hammering-away at us ever since, mostly unsuccessfully.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like, what it must be like, for Windrush citizens to be living in this awful, racist part of the world. But without in any way meaning to trivialise their experience, I have felt as unwelcome in this country since as far back as I can remember. I was brainwashed from an early age into ‘not English, not good enough’. Now, when we’re in a position to take back all that they’ve thieved from us, they drape the ugly jack around us. Fuck right off.
Sir Chris Hoy, I love all your achievements, all your glorious and emotional victories and your 101% attitude, but I’ve also seen how they used you to ‘include the Scotch’ around the time Scots eyes were slowly being opened. Sir Chris, if you’re reading this, during the ugliest, most craven and uncaring period in the union’s recent history, what do you *really* think of the union you’re proud to be a part of?
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*was* discovering.. Rolls eyes.
I never liked the thing, even growing up in England. It was always associated with militarism for me even then. We have one somewhere here, but the Welsh and German flags are the only ones that come out.
And the irony of ‘Orangeism’ used as a parochial British identity is still astonishing when you regularly see Dutch football supporters.
If I still lived in Scotland (Australia) I would be burning every Union Jack I came across as the students did with the American flag during the Vietnam era.
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Ironically in this brexshit Britain, due to EU health and safety directives all modern day flags must be made of fire retardant materials.
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Many years ago Gwynfor Evans, leader of Plaid Cymru in Wales said :
“What is Britishness?
The ﬁrst thing to realise is that it is another word for Englishness: it is a political word which arose from the existence of the British state and which extends Englishness over the lives of the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish.
If one asks what is the difference is between English culture and British culture one realises that there is no difference. They are the same. The British language is the English language. British education is English education. British television is English television. The British press is the English press. The British Crown is the English Crown and the Queen of Britain is the Queen of England. “
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That is brilliant. Thank you.
And all the more tragic from a Welsh perspective, seeing as the Cymry are the last remnant of the original (pre-English) Britons.
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FWIW, here in Cornwall where I am now, the local black & white Baner Peran seems to outnumber the Butcher’s Apron at least 3 to 1. And what a gaudy rag the latter seems by comparison, likewise with the St. Andrew’s saltire.
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The butcher’s apron is an affront to decency and an offence against symmetry.
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Just to say… in the YES East Kilbride talk where Hardeep told of ‘the list’, two of the other speakers, Libby McArthur & Lin Anderson also admitted that they too have had hardly any work (particularly with regards to BBC) since ‘coming out’ and doing YES work. Lesley Riddoch spoke in Arbroath a couple of weeks ago. I was at her talk and she too spoke of getting little work these days, which incidentally seemed to coincide with taking to the roads to do YES gigs. Truly a ‘coincidence’ that all these people are suddenly admitting to a lack of work these days? I don’t think so… I have to say that none of the three ladies (and also Hardeep) regret their decision to make their political views known.
But this has certainly reinforced my dislike for other ‘entertainers’ (one in particular whom I won’t name but his shipbuilding co-workers must feel extremely let down and stabbed in the back!) who have openly made extremely nasty comments about independence supporters. These people have enabled their fellow performers and entertainers to be discriminated against and refused work, simply because they don’t share political views. That is an appalling lack of support in their own industry and shows just how far unionists are prepared to go, to make sure their huge wages are not taxed.
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