See original Village Aunties post from April 9 2012 which kicked off the #unnecessaryunionjacks meme.
See the Village Aunties Pinterest Board (hashtag #unnecessaryunionjacks) for our ever-growing collection of #unnecessaryunionjacks in Scotland, including a mankini, babies’ nappies, and Scottish shortbread.
Join in by Tweeting, Facebook-linking, emailing, commenting here, with pictures of Union Jacks in Scotland.
Read on to see some ideas for resisting the scourge of Union Jacks in Scotland.
What we’ve been doing
Village Aunties have been collecting Union Jacks from around Scotland for nearly six weeks now, mostly on Twitter (using the hashtag #unnecessaryunionjacks) and Facebook, with some folk texting and emailing examples. Thanks everyone who has sent them. With ca. 150 collected already, it is starting to feel like one is never more than five feet from a Union Jack (in Glasgow anyway; thanks to Auntie @CSbungo for this observation and for many of the ideas in this post).
Let’s keep collecting them between now and the Scottish independence referendum: the Pinterest Board will remain live. I can confirm that snapping these pics and collecting them on the Web is pretty good therapy for the range of feelings they evoke. Village Aunties would also like to spark a note of resistance: I’ll come to that further down this post, with ideas from me and from Auntie Mhairi.
Bella Caledonia Jack*** Collection
Note that the independence blog Bella Caledonia has also now started its own collection of Union Jacks, with a witty title, and a competition for the best submission. Let many flowers bloom and all that: I’d be happy if every pro-indy site in Scotland starts their own collection. Then it would be great to use some kind of aggregation system to pull them all together. By the way Bella, I see your man in a Union Jack suit and raise you a man in a Union Jack mankini – linked rather than embedded because it’s neither safe for work, nor safe for your very eyes: brace yourself before clicking.
Union Jacks & Saltires on Pinterest
All relevant #unnecessaryunionjacks are being collected on my Pinterest Village Aunties Board - click the link to see them, and feel free to comment on individual entries. I’ve also had some help from Emma Nicol and Sheila MacNeill, intrepid Aunties both, who have been out and about snapping Union Jacks and pinning them straight to the board. If you are a Pinterest user and would like to contribute directly, let me know.
I’ve also been collecting a very paltry number of Saltires, which seem to have all but disappeared from shelves of tat and shop windows, and had a contribution from a Village Auntie in Newcastle of some St. George’s Cross knickers in John Lewis, which apparently didn’t sell very well (but at least they had the choice of their own national flag, dammit!).
Criteria for submitting photos
The general criteria for #unnecessaryunionjacks are: they should be found in Scotland, and they should be in the public eye-line (i.e. not the Union Jack inside your shoe indicating it was made in the UK). This includes advertisements (e.g. catalogues that come through your letter-box) and actual products that appear in Scotland. Just appearing on the Internet with no specific Scottish presence or connection doesn’t count.
The Jubilympics and why that’s no excuse
Any Union Jacks specifically appearing as part of either London Olympics or Royal Jubilee promotions should also be tagged #jubilympics. A few people have suggested that the imminence of these two events somehow negates what we are doing here, or skews the sample, or something, but for me it is more than pertinent that this is happening at this exact juncture in Scottish history. See this picture from Berlin in the run-up to the 1936 Olympics compared to a recent picture of Oxford Road in London. Just sayin’, don’t Godwinate me.
A Counter-Propaganda Campaign
Some ideas for a counter-Union Jack campaign:
(1) Let’s keep collecting (and mocking) these Unnecessary Union Jacks right up until the Independence Referendum. More and more people have been joining in and I would love to keep the momentum going. Send them to me any way you can.
(2) Let’s start a counter-propaganda movement. Here’s my idea [Morag Eyrie]: stickers. Let’s get some stickers made and start putting them on public Unnecessary Union Jacks wherever we see them. My first idea was that the stickers should just be wee Saltires. But I wonder if some words would be appropriate. I’m happy to get some stickers made up and send them out to folk who want to do this. But let’s see what we can come up with: please add your suggestions in the Comments.
(3) Village Auntie Mhairi is feeling a lot more militant than me: she has been travelling all over Europe meeting up with comrades in various European hot-spots, including Athens and Paris, and Union Jacks are all over the continent too – its the new Stars and Stripes.
Of course it depends on your level of bravery…
Level 1: A wee feartie:
Gather together a large collection of Union Jack crappery. Take it all to the counter, once there “discover” the British imperial symbolism in all of your potential purchases and murmur embarrassedly that you just thought that it was a nice design, and that you didnt realise that you were supporting the mass murder of innocent civilians across the globe.
Level 2: Not John Bull in a China-shop:
Union Jack crappery is absolutely everywhere, and it is just so easy to bump it or accidentally spill irn-bru on it. It’s continually in your way, making you blind with anti-Brit-nationalist hatred that its hardly surprising that you can’t see where you are going when you are blinded by the Brits everywhere you look and accidentally crash into the display stands.
Level 3: De-colonisation:
Gather together all the Union Jack crappery you can possibly find in the shop. You will need several baskets, trollies, and possibly a truck if your target is Marks and Spencers. Carry/wheel it over to the till and announce how fed up you are of having British imperialism rammed down your throat every time you venture into their store. Yes, the shop assistants will most probably be the ones to have to put it back, but you only see it for the duration of your visit. They are surrounded by it every single minute of the day. Do this everytime you enter a shop with Union Jack crappery. They will soon get the message.
Level 4: Braveheart:
This one requires a claymore. On your way back from the dole office frantically searching for princes (hint: you’ll actually find them reading the weather on the state propaganda organ these days), take your claymore and simply charge into the display cases. There is a possible danger of arrest of this one, so choose your target carefully to maximise Union Jack crappery destruction with the amount of time that you will spend at her majesty’s pleasure
[Mhairi has left the building, for another European radical hotspot]
Saltires and Union Jacks
I was asked by someone on Twitter if the Saltires I snapped in a Govanhill barber shop were “unnecessary Saltires”.
I’m not sure if he was a Brit Nat troll, or someone who thinks all flags are equally bad (a position I have a lot of sympathy for). But the point I wanted to make was that this rather amazing display of Saltires in a tiny barber shop represents one kind of business in my neighbourhood in Govanhill: a gathering place for working class and immigrant (and descendants of immigrants) residents.
Across the road is Sainsbury, a supermarket frequented by your more middle class Govanhill resident (including middle class folk of Asian, African and Middle Eastern descent), and it is festooned inside and out with a ludicrous array of Union Jacks.
I don’t have a picture of it yet, but further down Victoria Road is a much larger Lidl supermarket which serves the poorer people in Govanhill, although the odd middle class person ventures in from time to time looking for weird foreign bargains. Lidl has Saltires as part of its main marketing design. I found this picture on the Round Britain by Bike blog, hope Anna Hughes doesn’t mind me using it!:
It’s also worth noting that the specifically middle class greenie enclave of Queen’s Park Farmers’ Market (also multi-ethnic in character) flies a Saltire on its fortnightly sojourn. I would love to know the story behind that; isn’t it funny that I want to ask everyone who flies a Saltire why they choose to do so? I imagine some interesting and varied responses. I don’t imagine interesting and varied responses for Union Jacks.
Flag Iconography: Nationalist Centrifugal and Centripetal Forces
The conservative forces for the Union must be very pleased to have the Olympic Games and the Queen’s Jubilee this year as an excuse to ramp up the invasion of public space with icons of British nationhood. In fact, the practice of bombarding Scots (and Brits in general) with Union Jacks and other pro-British iconography has been slowly increasing for a while (yes, I’m looking at you Doctor Who, with your funny, funny jokes about Scotland); I wish we’d thought to start collecting examples a few years ago.
The Royal Wedding last year was another leap forward for the visual fervour. I recall my shudder as, in Cambridge for work that day, I saw my train arrive to take me to Stansted festooned with Union Jacks. I only started to feel comfortable again when Twitter informed me at the airport that Glasgow was having an old school drunken riot in Kelvingrove Park, complete with chants of “stick your Royal Wedding up your arse”. I know what happened at Kelvingrove was upsetting for some and wasn’t exactly a planned political action, but for me, the relief of any kind of resistance being shown to what felt like creeping fascism down south was a balm.
The Political Geography of Flags
So, are we just being paranoid about the increasing incursion of Union Jacks, and the decreasing visibility of signs of Scottish nationhood? I think not. There is plenty of evidence for the effectiveness of this approach for Unionists across numerous academic disciplines about crowd psychology, the use of symbols, and the art of propaganda. If you think those with vested interests in keeping the United Kingdom together don’t know this, you are kidding yourself. I can’t write an academic paper here, but I did find one interesting resource from the discipline of political geography that gives an interesting and easy to digest slant on all this:
“States employ iconography to build a sense of commonality, or “nation.” Conceptually developed by renowned French geographer Jean Gottmann [...], a state’s iconography includes emotive symbols used to define a state’s identity and image. A state’s political coherence and even stability may be improved through the effective use of such symbols. Among these may be the state’s name, flag, buildings and monuments, notable heroic personalities, historical events and sites, symbols of national identity as portrayed on coins, stamps and official documents, athletic teams and primary cultural attributes such as religion and language. For example, many countries include in their names words such as “Democratic,” “Republic,” “People’s,” “Commonwealth,” “Popular,” and “United” to convey a positive image both inside and outside the country. And clearly the populations of some states view their national flags with near-religious reverence, and take great pride in the accomplishments of athletic teams representing the country. [...] The elements of a state’s iconography constitute the symbolic “glue” around which a population develops a sense of common identity, a particularly important effort in multinational states [blog author's emphasis] [...].” – Webster, G. and Luna Garcia, A. 2010. National Identity case study: How is nationalism symbolized? In Solem, M., Klein, P., Muñiz-Solari, O., and Ray, W., eds., AAG Center for Global Geography Education. Available from http://globalgeography.aag.org.
Resonates doesn’t it, especially with the Jubilympics looming? As Scottish Nationalist sympathies have grown over the past few years, the efforts of the UK establishment towards increasing a feeling of British Nationalism have also grown. How delighted they must have been that the Olympic Games were given to London, for the same year as the Jubilee. I won’t go all conspiracy-theory about that, at least not in public!
“Another prominent political geographer, Richard Hartshorne [...], argued that the integration of a state’s territory involves two competing types of forces: centrifugal forces that pull populations apart, and centripetal forces that pull populations together. Centrifugal forces can include physical features such as water bodies, mountain ranges or sheer areal size and distances that limit interaction by the state’s population. Human dimensions such as differences in religious belief, culture, and economic activity can also act as centrifugal forces. These forces can limit interaction, producing regionalism and creating dissimilarity among groups of citizens within a state. Under such circumstances, what stops a state from falling apart? If a state is to exist in a stable form, there must be centripetal forces of greater magnitude than the existing centrifugal forces. A well-developed national iconography can be a central element of these centripetal forces. [blog author's emphasis]
“Hartshorne also suggested that the preeminent centripetal force a state must develop is a “reason for existing,” or a raison d’ etre. The raison d’ etre for a particular state might be to create a homeland for its nation. Other such foundations might be religious or political freedom. A state without a raison d’ etre may lose its relevancy to the population, which in turn may lead some in the groups to seek political or geographic changes to the state.” — Ibid.
Irvine Welsh, denying his feelings on independence are due to nationalism, makes some valid points in this interview with Jeremy Paxman about the apparent rationality of breaking up the Union; i.e. the lack of relevant forces binding us together (thanks to Mary Vanhelsing for the link):
Union Jacks: Centripetal in England, Centrifugal in Scotland
We are living through a time of great centrifugal forces driving Scotland away from the United Kingdom: our values have never seemed further apart (those who lived through Thatcher here may disagree, but I see those not decimated by the privations of that era adding their voices to those of younger folk discovering it all anew: we are doubling down). The current Westminster government and UK-wide mainstream media daily spew forth ideas and actions deemed repulsive by many Scots.
And within Scotland we have the centripetal force of a shared desire for independence from a decades-long position of extreme democratic deficit. More than a shared desire actually: a shared sense that we might actually do it this time. We might be able to dig out from under Tory rule and the class system and endless wars and colonial servitude and poverty. I can barely express to my friends overseas how rare the hope of making real change is in these islands.
The Unionists and Brit Nats, whatever their reasons for believing such, flail about almost comically, trying to get a grasp on any argument that might turn the tide. And bolstering these arguments, the propaganda: in words of fictional stories and of news reporting, and in pictures and icons. Like flags.
In Scotland, the Union Jack, known to some as the Butcher’s Apron, is a largely centrifugal force. Beyond the more distant representation of brutal colonialism abroad, it represents one of the great destructive fractures in Scottish cultural life: sectarianism. Until recently we have most often seen Union Jacks flying during Orange Marches or Old Firm games.
As well as being a reactionary centripetal symbol, the Union Jack seems to be a potentially centripetal symbol of inclusive Britishness to some left-leaning English folk. See the example above of British Asian boxer Amir Khan positioned in front of a Union Jack in a shop window; it is unusual in its reaching out for a different kind of iconography than the blatant White-ness inherent in most of the images we have found.
The Union Jack feels very different in Scotland, and the English-based big brands that are doing most of the work in invading Scotland with Union Jacks seem to have missed that point.
A Note on After Independence: What Will the Union Flag Become?
And it’s also hard to escape the fact that the Saltire is embedded in the Union Jack. Nick Groom, author of ‘Union Jack’, in Prospect argues that, even if Scotland should become independent, the Union Jack should stay the same:
“The Union Jack is not a simplistic statement about the territories that form the United Kingdom—not least because it appears to overlook Wales. Rather it is a complex symbol that describes the history and compromises over centuries of international relations.”
That the English, Welsh and Northern Irish would hold onto the Scottish flag within their joint flag after Scottish independence feels like a horrible, desperate, pathetic final slap of contempt. I would hope that Scotland would say “No” and be heard. And I hope for our friends in Wales that, as long as they choose to stay in union with England, they demand a symbol that includes them this time!
On to Some Pictures
In this section I’m just going to show you some of the pictures we’ve gathered of Union Jacks in Scotland. And I’m going to make some off-the-cuff remarks about them. Feel free to join in, in the comments section here or on Pinterest.
Apart from Lidl (which is actually a German chain), UK-wide chains seem oblivious to the fact that Scotland even exists. Although someone (thanks @belic!) did find this interesting article for me about Asda resisting using Union Jacks in Scotland. Not that they ended up avoiding them completely:
A couple of years ago (possibly during preparations for the last Royal Wedding), The Body Shop was festooned with Union Jack decorations and packaging (not actually on products; it was bags and such). I won’t say which one in Scotland, but the first time I saw it I recall the visceral shock and offense I felt. Which shows how not ubiquitous they were, even that recently. I asked one of the staff about it and she was embarrassed; she said she’d tried to tell the London management that this would not go down well with a large segment of their customers in Scotland, and she was pretty much ignored. And patronised, the way she told it.
Now they are all at it. To date we have an unbelievable number of images from Marks & Spencer and John Lewis, who are going to town over this in an almost embarrassing manner, alongside Next, Dwell, Schuh, Sainsbury, Primark, WH Smith, Paperchase and many others. Now, the shops are dressing us and decorating our entire houses in Union Jacks, from bras to shoes, to furniture, to decorations, to kitchenware … you name it.
WH Smith has greeting cards from English Heritage and The National Trust without anything from the equivalent Scottish organisations.
They even greet you as you walk in the door, in Glasgow, with “Keep the Flag Flying”! I must emphasise that there are no Saltires to be seen anywhere in WH Smith.
Then there are products like Dairy Milk chocolate and these Original Source sauces.
The ones that made me laugh the most (bitterly) were the M&S Scottish shortbread in Union Jack tins and the Waitrose porridge oats (although the latter are grown in Cheshire)!
A Step Further: BritKats
Deserving of a section of their own, (and hilariously rhyming well with the new pejorative term for lefty Unionists “BritNats”), I give you BritKats:
Then there are examples like the one that sparked this whole thing for me: the use of Union Jacks as background decoration. I showed the Pepperberry catalogue that the following image is from to a pretty radical, switched on friend, and he didn’t even notice them until I pointed them out. There were about seven such images in the catalogue (they are all on the Pinterest Board).
Check out the Union Jacks embedded in the font in this big screen advertisement for Expedia from Edinburgh Waverley Station.
It is a matter of some acrimony in Scotland that the Scottish Labour Party is being so recalcitrantly unionist. Check out the UK-wide Labour party billboard: if you didn’t know this was a Labour Party advertisement, what party would you guess it represented?
Union Jacks for Women
I don’t want to make too much of this, because I think the underlying reason is that there are way more products in general aimed at women for the purposes of taking up their time and money and enforcing their performance of femininity. But woah: there are a lot of Union Jack products aimed at women. Literally Union Jacks for every part of our bodies (including a bullet vibrator for inside our vaginas), and for every occasion imaginable.
But don’t worry ladies…
The Union Jacks are looking out for your breasts, with some breast cancer research (although they are not clear on any details of this research):
I started this exercise for my own sanity. If we can’t directly fight it we can record it, and discuss it, and mock it, and perhaps resist it by culture jamming with stickers or smashing it with claymores, or whatever. Later on, we can use visualisation tools with social media to map the ebb and flow of Union Jacks: what will happen after the Jubilympics but before the Independence Referendum? Will the SNP use the Commonwealth Games to ramp up the Saltires in public spaces, and if so, how will that feel?
Keep ‘em coming!