By Atlas Al
If I hook up with an English chick – which I have – I want to know which flag I’m claiming, English or British? Since I’m writing this from the capital of the flagging world, there’s no better time or place to tackle the Britishness debate.
The English/British flag debate is one of the most hotly contested and one of the most controversial in the flagosphere. Flagging encourages people to ask themselves very personal, difficult questions. I’m from Seattle, but I would never say I’m Washingtonian; I’d say I’m an American citizen (my nationality) from the United States of America (the sovereign state that I come from). Unlike the USA, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is not made up of states in a federal union, rather nations/nationalities within a nation.
There is no debate on which flag you got if you hooked up with someone from any of the 50 states. Some states within the United States enjoyed short-term sovereignty, such as: the original 13 colonies; Texas which was a republic for 9 years after gaining independence from Mexico until it joined the United States; and the monarchy of Hawaii was replaced by a republic that eventually became the 50th state in 1959.
The UK is more complex, however. Each of the four home nations – England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland – were sovereign states for longer periods and it’s only in recent history they were united to form the current United Kingdom.
The question is: if you hook up with a British passport holder, did you capture the British flag, or did you get the English, Welsh, Scottish, or Northern Irish flag?
History Of The United Kingdom
A Scotsman once told me the United Kingdom doesn’t exist, that it’s a fake, made up country. If you’ve hooked up with a British citizen, you probably want to know which flag you’re able to claim. Let’s take a look at the history of the formation of the United Kingdom:
England: Makes up roughly 84% of the UK’s population which leads me to believe they want to keep the four home nations united. Majority usually rules.
Wales: The Welsh ruled themselves until King Edward I of England conquered the remaining pockets of Welsh resistance in 1282. In 1284, the Statute of Rhuddlan replaced Welsh law with English law and transferred all lands held by the last Welsh sovereign, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (aka Llywelyn the Last), to Edward. The Kingdom of England and Wales was born. Wales became officially annexed by England from 1535-1542 known as The Laws in Wales Acts.
Scotland: Because of previous marriages between English and Scottish royalty, James VI King of Scots came to inherit the English throne and became King James I of England in 1603. Future monarchs ruled both countries as separate, but from a common crown. It wasn’t until the Act of Union in 1707 that united the Scottish and English parliaments into a single parliament ruled by a single “British” monarch, establishing the United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland).
Northern Ireland: The beginning of the end for Ireland began in 1169 when English-Norman knights invaded Ireland. Then in 1172, Pope Alexander III convinced English King Henry II to take all of Ireland in the name of the Catholic Church, earning him the title, the Lord of Ireland. The next several hundred years saw Irish law replaced with English law and British colonialism in the form of plantations.
After declaring independence and an armed uprising in 1916, and with the Irish War of Independence from 1919-1921, Ireland became a sovereign state. A two-state solution was proposed because of the densely populated protestant northern parts of Ireland, meaning the north would probably have a degree of autonomy within the Irish Free State if they chose to stay. Northern Ireland decided not to be a part of Ireland. By staying with Britain, they formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Argument FOR Claiming The British Flag
What makes a sovereign state sovereign in the eyes of the international community? At the top of my mind, I first think about country calling codes, currency, and government.
The UK’s four home nations share the same international calling code, +44. However, saying they’re the same country based on their common calling code is a weak argument because the problem with international calling codes is that Canada and the USA are different countries yet share the same +1 code; Russia and Kazakhstan share +7; and, Italy and the Vatican City share +39.
Equally a weak argument, seventeen countries in the European Union share the euro, but they aren’t all the same country. So, the fact that the four home nations share the pound sterling does not necessarily make them all part of the same country. Each Eurozone country has their own insignia on the coins just like England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Overseas Territories, and the Crown Dependencies have their own insignia on their pound sterling notes. (Wales does not have their own banknotes; they use the Bank of England’s.)
In 1998, the United Kingdom granted devolved governments to each home nation: the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Some say that because the four home nations have their own parliaments, they’re independent. I disagree. First, the UK “granted” or “gave” each home nation their own parliament which means they have the power, the final say, to give that privilege in the first place. Second, each American state has their own state senate and congress, but that doesn’t make them their own country in any way; no, it’s merely a level of autonomy given by the federal government for states to govern themselves relating to local matters. The parliament that really matters is at Westminster and the senate and congress that really matter are at Washington, D.C. I think it’s funny when my English friends use the parliament argument when England itself doesn’t even have its own parliament; the English parliament is the British parliament with representatives from the other three home nations.
When confirming the status of whether a flag can be captured or not, we must consider the following: 1) International recognition of their sovereignty, 2) Internationally recognized and accepted identification from the issuing sovereign state, and 3) The flag under which a country’s military forces go to war with.
- United Nations: If you didn’t already know, none of the four home nations are represented at the United Nations; it’s the United Kingdom that has a seat there. Depending on which sovereign state you come from (sometimes referred to as “country”) determines what your nationality is, i.e. nationality equals flag. If you’re from the USA, you’re American; if you’re from Portugal, you’re Portuguese; if you’re from Japan, you’re Japanese; if you’re from the United Kingdom, you’re British.
- Passport: I still believe that someone’s passport or lack thereof is the best way to determine someone’s flag status. People ask: why not call our hooking-up-abroad travel game “passporting” rather than flagging. You don’t understand; we simply use the passport as an example of what a sovereign state would use to issue identification to its citizens. Think about it: if a region of the world cannot issue passports (which proves who you are to other sovereign states when you travel), usually it means the region in question is not independent.
- Warfare: I ask: what flag do English, Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish soldiers wear on their shoulders when sent off to battle? Ding, ding, ding, the British flag! The following is an excerpt from a heated debate between my French dad, Dr. Rim, and I in September 2009 when Rim was on holiday visiting the Pacific Northwest:
Dad: Isn’t flagging like a game or maybe a sport or something?
Dad: Well, if flagging is a sport, then it should be treated like the European football championships; England and Scotland are separate teams.
Atlas: Right, but –
Dad: Regions should be considered flags as well. For example, what about Puerto Rico, it should be its own flag.
Atlas: But Puerto Ricans have American passports, they’re American citizens.
Rim: We have to draw the line somewhere, and looking at someone’s passport is the best way to determine one’s nationality.
Atlas: Someone’s passport is that line of flag determination. Dad, let me ask you a question: which is more serious, war or sport?
Atlas: When English men and women are sent off to fight side by side with American troops, they don’t wear the English flag on their arms, they wear the British flag.
Dad: Regions should still count.
Atlas: Wrong. If regions counted, it wouldn’t be called flagging, it’d be called “regioning,” and you can’t wave a region, you can wave a flag. Regions don’t count as flags. Some areas are called autonomous regions within a sovereign state that rule themselves to an extent. A country’s flag and passport go hand in hand, they complement each other.
Argument AGAINST Claiming The British Flag
What I find most interesting when asking British passport holders which nationality they consider themselves to be more, the majority say their home nation rather than British. Even when I ask foreigners whether they think Great Britain is its own nationality, the majority refer to the nationality of each home nation. I don’t understand. The only reason for this must be because in recent history each home nation was a sovereign state with its own sovereign head of state. Or, it’s because British passport holders have been confusing foreigners for centuries, telling them they’re from a particular home nation and not the United Kingdom.
According to most British passport holders I’ve asked, the United Kingdom is a more acceptable and more politically correct label than “Great Britain” or “British.”
Being as politically correct as they could be, the British government described the United Kingdom as “countries within a country” in 2003. Unsurprisingly, the 300th anniversary of the United Kingdom and its Union Jack flag, aka Union Flag, met with opposition. Consider this: each home nation has a national day:
- England: Saint George’s Day, April 23
- Wales: Saint David’s Day, March 1
- Scotland: Saint Andrew’s Day, November 30
- Northern Ireland: Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17
What I find interesting is that the United Kingdom as a whole does not have a national/flag day, or British Day, promoting Britishness. It seems as though no one wants to be British. Except for those in Hannover; each September they celebrate British Day to remember when a member of the House of Hannover held the British crown.
Saying you’re Scandinavian or Central American is fine, but they’re not nationalities, they’re regions. The United Kingdom is a region as well, made up of four home nations and overseas territories, but the entire region is represented at the United Nations as the United Kingdom as an internationally recognized sovereign state.
UK Conundrum Compromise
Claiming flags from the individual regions that make up the United Kingdom is tricky because each home nation used to be a sovereign state. Even though citizens from each UK home nation share a single British passport, it’s engrained not only in the British mentality but also in the mentality of non-Brits that each home nation is separate.
Until we resolve the UK Conundrum debate, which is sure to continue, I propose for the meantime:
Each home nation (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) could be claimed, and a fifth flag, a British flag, could be claimed for any territory outside of mainland United Kingdom. For example, all Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies would be British flags.
In regards to claiming British flags, it should also be noted that if someone is born from immigrant parents who doesn’t feel any connection to any of the four home nations, they can identify themselves as British flags as well.
All rules have their exceptions and until we figure out what to do with British passport holders, this will have to do for the time being.