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An issue I would very much like to flag up

PUT out fewer flags.

For sometimes they're more trouble than they're worth. Some people can't get excited about 22 men kicking a sphere about a pitch. Others can't see what's so meaningful about a rectangle of colourful cloth.

Yet excitable sorts riot about said rectangles.

They wave them aggressively or fight to the death to defend them. For the cloth proclaims identity. It's who we - or you or they - are. In the case of the Isle of Man, that's a creature with three feet. But, hey, these folk are surely fine dancers.

In mainland Britainshire, folk are becoming exercised by the possibility of a new Union flag, should Scotland take the high road to prosperity or oblivion, depending on whether you're of a sunny disposition or a Unionist.

The Flag Institute has put forward a few uninspiring designs based simply on the same double-cross - I'm saying nothing - design as at present.

One red, white, yellow, blue and black effort fairly set the eyelobes birling. Not that I'm necessarily agin it. A psychedelic flag would be great for Rump UK and might signal less aggressive intentions to international affairs.

Psychedelia might not suit Northern Ireland so much. They're undergoing similar games there, after US diplomat Richard Haass suggested a new flag that would unite the two communities.

One contributed effort simply features a fry-up, which may be as insulting to healthy Northern Irishers as lard-immersed Mars Bars are to Scotlanders.

Chewing the fat with colleagues from Northern Ireland, we learn that Haass is on a hiding to nothing. They take their flags pretty seriously over there. Too often, they're tools with which to taunt others.

That's where the trouble begins. Flags are at their best flapping insouciantly on the breeze. If proclaiming themselves, let it be done discreetly, with the biggest beneficiary being the sky.

It's unfortunate that flags develop unsavoury associations and unfair that the Union flag has been soiled in a sense by racists and sectarian bigots.

In its defence, it also comes out at joyous sporting events and royal visits, which float the boat of many citizens, if not necessarily this one. The writer Henry Miller said America had two flags, each being the same Stars and Stripes: the one waved by the rich that signalled everything was under control, and the one waved by the poor that heralded "danger, revolution, anarchy".

Flag? It's a mixed bag, d'you see? None more mixed than the Union flag. It's a bit of a hotch-potch. Wales isn't even in it for reasons of historical absurdity.

But a flag of various nations or states is rather a nice idea in itself. There's the EU or the United States.

Laudable ideas, however they work out in practice. Perhaps it's the strongest message Unionists have: never mind the substance, see the symbol.

It could be even more positive than that. Unity, per se, is generally held to be a good thing. Here, I'm making their arguments for them. Well, somebody's got to.

But times change. Things go askew. The centre doesn't hold. One part of the unity takes too much power too itself and was always too prominent in the flag anyway. We may need to divide in order to unite again.

And there may be no need for a new Union Flag if Scotland goes independent. Constitutional fetishists point out that we shall all still be governed totemically by Her Majesty, a queen, so we can all still be together on the flag.

Or there may not be a need for a Union flag at all. Scandinavia as such — made up of constituent independent parts — doesn't have a flag that I'm aware of, though the Nordic Council does (white with a blue disc in which a stylised swan sails serenely).

It would be nice if the Saltire could take its place among the flags of proper nations and, if so, were to be waved only with quiet pride or a gentle reminder: "Excuse me, this is who we are."

Alas, we're not really sure who we are. At the moment, a big blue flag with a white question mark might fit the spec.

Contextual targeting label: 
The Royals

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