What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

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Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

Today, Scotland is holding a vote on independence—whether or not it should be a country separate from the United Kingdom. If the "ayes" have it, the decision could herald the break-up of Britain, which turns a political issue into a design issue: What will happen to the Union Jack?

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This post originally appeared on the blog run by Atelier Works, a design agency based in London, and has been edited and reprinted here with permission.

If the vote for independence is successful, we will no longer be a United Kingdom: The two kingdoms, Scotland and England, will be disunited. We can no longer legally be known as the United Kingdom, so if there is no immediate backup idea, just like the Former Yugoslavia, we will become the Former United Kingdom—or fUK.

Whilst you are absorbing that...

The flag of the UK, created in 1707 to symbolize the "United Kingdom of Great Britain," will have to go.

Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

The Union Jack, as the flag is colloquially known, is an amalgam of the flags of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In the sequence we show here: Scotland's saltire of St Andrew, England's cross of St George, and Northern Ireland's saltire of St Patrick. Wales ... simply doesn't exist. The two saltires have been made thinner so they don't cancel one another out, hence all that geometric complexity.

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Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

Although David Cameron calls the UK "countries within a country," the countries are not equal. England is a kingdom, Wales is a principality (with Prince Charles as its prince), and Northern Ireland is described variously as a "province" and a "territory." Somehow Wales fails to appear in any form on the flag; Ireland gets thinned out; and Scotland is trumped by the big red cross of St. George. Back in 1707, the other kingdom, Scotland, was profoundly unhappy, and produced their own design with the white saltire dominant, which they cleverly wanted to use north of the border.

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Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

This issue of dominance is an old issue. It's interesting to look at the sketches of the Earl of Nottingham; these 400-year-old design ideas try to reconcile two crosses, always with the red dominant, dating as early as 1604—a hundred years before the Union Jack, when James I first wanted to unite Scotland and England.

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Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

There is another interesting effort of amalgamation, dating from 1653, when Britain had no king. Much like France, which needed a new flag when it rid itself of King Louis XVI in 1793, Oliver Cromwell wanted the Commonwealth to have a new start. (That wonderful word Commonwealth, with its prototypical egalitarian implications, dates from this time.) The lion in the centre is Oliver Cromwell's own coat of arms, and he went on to act almost as a king—even being succeeded his son Richard Cromwell, who by all accounts was not what his father was (he eventually fell from power, being known ever after as "Tumble-down Dick.")

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Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

The point of all this, we may need to start thinking about what the design of the new flag replacing the Union Jack could be. We aren't the first to pose the question. There is some background and some ideas on The Guardian. And if your interest is really piqued, googling will reveal more.

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We have, in reverse order of popularity here in the studio, five potential designs for the fUK.

Design one: Three countries in one

The simplest and least imaginative solution to Scotland disuniting is simply to lift the saltire of St Andrew out of the flag. So just two red crosses. Quite nice. But wait, where is Wales? Where was Wales in the Union Jack? Why didn't they have an alternative version of the Union Jack that they presented to Queen Anne in 1707?

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Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

Our first design uses the cross of St George, and adds emblems from the flags of Northern Ireland and Wales. (The Red Hand of Ulster dates back into the mists of time and the Red Dragon of Wales dates back to at least 800AD.) The great advantage of this flag is that for the first time, it represents the actual number of countries. Three. Wales gets a showing.

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Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

Three countries within a country

Design two: Joining Napoleon's Europe

As he conquered countries, Napoleon replaced their "old" flags with the new tricolore. Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy—I imagine he had a plan to reflag all of Europe. Several countries in Europe have subsequently adopted a tricolore.

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Napoleon didn't design the tricolore, though. He just brought it unequivocal prominence as France's only flag. Who did design it is vague.

Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?
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Somehow a whole crop of countries have gone for the horizontal tricolore, starting with the Netherlands. Perhaps its a Protestant or Teutonic thing. (And those countries under Teutonic influence.) Loving the modernity, the simplicity, but not wanting to pay any acknowledgement to Catholic France.

Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?
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For the purposes of our messianic redesign project, we have brought these horizontal deviants into the vertical fold.

So, proposal two is: Do what works. We have the logical, internationally agreed units of measurement—the meter, the kilogram—we comply in all significant areas with shipping and flight paths; currency valuations; contract terminology; interlocking legal codes. Let's add one more area of interconnectedness: our flag.

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There is also the neatness that the tricolore is three bands of colour, one for each of the fUK's three countries.

Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?
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Three countries, three colours: red for England, green for Wales, red for Northern Ireland

Design three: Three lions

The three lions has been an emblem for England for a thousand years. It began in France. (Don't tell the Daily Mail.) In the deep middle ages, a set of lions was the heraldic symbol for the Counts of Anjou—the numbers of lions varied, sometimes four, sometimes six, probably according to what they were displayed on: More space, more lions.

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Here is an image of Geoffrey Plantagenet, who married King Henry of England's daughter, Matilda. Through convolutions too lengthy to ever remember, his son became Henry II, King of England, and the Plantagenet family with their crest of lions came to rule England (and Wales) and some of the time Scotland for 300 years.

Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?
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It is already used as the "royal banner of England."

Our proposal is the the flag come to represent the fUK. The Irish and Welsh are (presumably) happy to be known as the British Lions when it comes to rugby; the Lions is the team with players from each of the countries within Great Britain. Could they be happy to be one of the metaphorical lions on a new flag? We think this solution particularly suits British pugnacity, and our willingness to fight with anyone, anywhere. Drunk or sober.

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Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

Design four: The white cliffs of Dover

The white cliffs of Dover were used in their campaign for the recent European elections by the maverick political party UKIP, as a symbol of all that is most precious to our "country." (There are exactly matching white cliffs of Normandy too. No one plonked in front of them could tell them apart, as they are made of the same chalk.)

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Our fourth design is a flag based on the white cliffs—the bit of Britain that faces out towards the 'rest of the world.'

Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?
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This version was chosen by the designer here in the studio who drew it, Kevin, who is French, because it looks like Britain seen from France.

Design five: Rose Rising

More history.

A word on flags, countries, and history. I think you ignore history at your peril. People need to feel that their flag represents something communal that they can (literally) look up to. Something that represents an essence of the history and relationships that they share with their fellow countrymen, something that can be shared even with their ancestors. Something that has been dug out of the shared nationality like the most concentrated diamond. Not something that has just sprung from an artist's or designer's capricious imagination, and can only be understood in terms of that individual.

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Flags are about what is common. In the wonderful word of Oliver Cromwell's era: The Commonwealth.

Even a very modern flag design like the tricolore, which is so reductive and timeless it is simply three colours, is explained with reference to what the colours represent, deep strains of French culture.

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So.

If the Tudor Rose is unfamiliar to you, read here. Its been a potent symbol of Britain for five hundred years. Long enough for its association with one particular family to be forgotten. What most people fail to realize is that it is actually two roses combined, a white fused with a red. It is a symbol of unity—of two opposing sides, being at peace and united.

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Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

We love the fact that the symbol seems to cover so many aspects of the fUK.

It represents:

  • Unity: people of opposing views happily living alongside one another
  • The fruitfulness of the British Isles: the verdant countryside, and the gardens
  • Did we mention gardens? Britain's favorite activity
  • The meandering, wiggly, organic paths that human lives and human interaction takes
  • Growth
  • Different petals, but one shared heart
  • The cycle of life: constant renewal
Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?
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Illustration for article titled What Will Happen to the Union Jack If Scotland Votes for Independence?

We think this says so much more than something so reductive like the tricolore, which can only be about the association of colors. (Kevin agrees.) With the rose we get colors, and we get symbolism that works for the past, and the future. Whether it is rendered with more drawing and more detail, or flat and graphically, we aren't sure. Beautiful, memorable, unique in the world of flags.

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It makes us feel slightly better about living in the fUK.

This post originally appeared on the blog run by Atelier Works, a design agency based in London, and has been edited and reprinted here with permission. It first appeared on Gizmodo on Sept. 2nd, and has been updated for timeliness. [Creative Review]

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DISCUSSION

First of all: this article is incredibly interesting.

Secondly, there are a couple issues. There may be a Prince of Wales and no King or Queen of Wales, but the Prince of Wales does not rule Wales, it's simply a courtesy title give to the heir to the throne. Wales is a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so its monarch is the Queen of the United Kingdom. Additionally, while the three lions would seem to originate from France, I'm pretty sure it traces its lineage to Normandy, not Anjou (the Wikipedia page shows the arms for Anjou as being the fleurs-de-lis, surrounded by a red border, though I don't know to what time period that applies if it wasn't throughout). I could be wrong there, though.

Thirdly, the last two designs (the lions and Tudor rose), I feel, are too England-centric. While there are the British and Irish Lions in rugby union and the Great Britain Lions in rugby league, the Three Lions is pretty intrinsically English. Look at the sports crests for English teams, lots of Three Lions (and roses, but more on that in a bit), and neither of those combined teams exclusively use the Three Lions. I think if you tried to make the Three Lions the symbol for the former United Kingdom, you'd have some upset Welsh and Irish folks. Same, again, goes for the Tudor rose. It is usually used to represent England in addition to the thistle for Scotland and shamrock for Northern Ireland (as well as other plants for Commonwealth nations—the maple leaf for Canada, silver fern for New Zealand, etc.).

One of the problems with finding unique symbols for all the parts of the UK is that while England and Scotland have long and recent histories as sovereign and distinct kingdoms, things get a little bit more muddled when it comes to Wales and Northern Ireland. I'm not going to go on a whole history lesson, but Wales was considered a part of England for a very long time (and still is in some regards) and Northern Ireland as separate from the rest of Ireland only really dates back a century (Ulster obviously dates back a lot longer, but it's not the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ulster).

If we want to go the rose route, but use symbols for England, Ireland, and Wales, we'd need a flag of the Tudor rose, the shamrock, and, arguably, the leek (a daffodil is also an option, but it would seem the leek is preferred). I don't think this would be preferable, though, as flags should be easy to recognize and draw. A tricolour is incredibly simple, the current Union flag is easy, but I have enough trouble with Canada's maple leaf flag, having a rose (actually two roses fused together), a shamrock, and a leek may just be too much. Plus a leek, really?

If we want to go the heraldic symbols, that would be a bit easier to nail down: England has the Three Lions, Northern Ireland has the harp or the whole hand-star-cross, and Wales has the Prince of Wales's feathers or a couple other options. All of these, however, fail the "easy to draw" test, so they shouldn't be used on a flag, but should absolutely be considered when designing a new coat of arms for this new Scotland-less country.

Personally, I think a new flag should continue with the currently designed scheme. I like the version offered in the article that has St. George's Cross with the hand and dragon because it does follow that to a point, but like I said, it has to be easy to draw and hands and dragons are not easy or simple. Therefore, I have come up with a few, simple options of my own.

The first, is combining the current Union flag minus Scotland with the flag of Wales (minus the dragon):

Now, there is some issue around using the Irish saltire to symbolize Northern Ireland. So, if we simply continue what I did in that previous flag of pulling colours from a more complicated flag, and in addition to the flag of Wales use the flag of Ulster, we get this mildly jarring combination:

My preferred option, however, is to carry on doing what's been done in the strictest sense: combine the crosses of the patron saints of the nations to form a combined flag. While I'm not entirely happy with how this turned out, if someone spent more than a couple minutes, they could probably smooth out the issues surrounding exactly how the colours combine and meet:

This option combines St. George. St. Patrick, and St. David.

...Of course, if we're going to redesign things to remove Scotland and include Wales, we may have to including more, like, perhaps, symbols of Cornwall.