THEY love their flag, the Tories. In just this last week or so one backbench Conservative has berated the BBC for not having any Union flags in its annual report. Another suggested people who did not like the banner could leave the country.

Then the UK Government announced that red, white and blue would flutter over every one of its buildings, every day. The British flag, moreover, should always fly higher than the Scottish one, it was ordered.

Brexit, it sure has brought out the bunting, and it is not always pretty; national chauvinism rarely is.

There are nationalists, British ones, who think more “jacks” can help stop the UK splitting up. Or at least pretend to do so as they try to shore up a unionist base.

Cue a lot of scoffing, especially in Scotland, at this brittle, insecure, patriotic chest-puffing.

READ MORE DAVID: The rise of British nationalism

But is there a way the Jack can really could help save the union it was created to represent? By being consigned to history?

I think it’s worth asking this question – as stupid as this sounds. Why? As a thought experiment about just how much the UK is prepared to do to keep Scotland.

Right now new unionist thinking appears to focus on how to turn Scots in to Britons – or, in their view, back in to Britons. But maybe instead pro-UK campaigners should be looking at how to change Britain in to a state which can comfortably accommodate those who do not feel particularly British?

Lowering forever the union flag – with all its perceived baggage of imperialism – would be one potent way of doing that. So, of course, would reversing Brexit. Or reforming the monarchy or the House of Lords.

For decades more moderate unionists have always thought they way to assuage Scottish nationalists was to offer more powers, more devolution, by changing how Scotland was run. Only rarely do they talk about reforming how Britain is governed, by suggesting federalism. And it is almost unheard of for supposedly English unionists to ask themselves what, if anything, they can change about themselves to make small-n Scottish nationalists stay.

This week a Conservative think tank called UK Onward produced the latest of a spate of reports from various bodies on "the state of the union". England, it seems, has started to fret a little about Scotland.

The work was based on a survey of attitudes across the four nations. They, well, varied.

“It is clear the centre ground of Scottish politics (values, institutions or policy) is very different to the wider UK and in particular, to England,” tweeted James Kanagasooriam, who sits on the board of Onward.

“It suggests that to be successful the unionist side has to meet the Scottish electorate on its own terms, not by obsessing about the impact on institutions most Scots don’t think will be affected or by allowing unionism to be identified with Englishness or Conservatism. "The ‘war on woke” being prosecuted is a clear and present danger to the union”.

So what would English unionists sacrifice for Britain? The flag? The monarchy? What Mr Kanagasooriam calls the "war on woke", the endless culture wars in which England-Britain struggles to come to terms with its difficult past?

Well, nothing, reckons Ailsa Henderson, professor of political science at Edinburgh University.

Ms Henderson knows the mood in England better than most. She, along with Richard Wyn Jones, has just published a guide to “Englishness – the political force transforming Britain’.

“The polling data are pretty clear that sizeable portions of the English electorate are quite content to see other parts go away if it leaves England the state to itself,’ she said. “I'd think of it less as what they'd give up to keep the union, and more what, if anything, could convince them to support it.”

We always think of independence as the Scottish Question. Back in 2014 some people thought it was settled. In reality the No vote – and then Brexit – posed another question, the British Question: what is the UK? Unionism is struggling to answer that .

Right now the old unionism of Britain as a nation of nations is in crisis, eroded by the exodus of so many of its followers to the Scottish nationalist cause.

A new rhetorically stronger but politically weaker unionism – sometimes called neo-unionism – is on the rise. For this movement, Britain is a nation-in-itself.

Some of its adherents can sound as if being Scottish were some kind of false consciousness; as if national identity was created by the SNP; rather than the SNP being the product of national identity seeking a political outlet.

And so some of the more banal of these neo-unionists are looking for ways to make Scots more British. That is where all those extra flags come in.

The older, more comfortable, more successful unionism did not feel the need to do this. After all, its supporters were quite comfortable with varying and overlapping national identities.

Many voted for unionist parties – such as Labour – even if they did not even feel British at all. Perhaps other issues were more important than identity, including flags. Or maybe being part of the UK was just a transaction, not something in which they invested any emotion. Some of these people were soft Nos in 2014. Some of them are swinging to Yes. Would a grand gesture – ditching the Jack – appeal?

READ MORE DAVID: How unionism was displaced

However, true believers in Britain – as Ms Henderson suggests – are not ready to compromise. I asked one of the more articulate supporters of neo-unionism, the devo-sceptic Conservative Home writer Henry Hill, how he would feel about changing flags. He was not impressed with the premise of the question.

“Even if you don’t believe in overlapping nationhood, the British are the UK’s fifth nation. Millions of people filling out their census returns will put 'British' as their sole national identification – and many millions more will list it comfortably alongside English, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish,” Hill replied.

“We obviously have a very different perspective on what ‘saving the union’ means to someone for whom it is a strictly utilitarian arrangement. Dismantling our shared symbols and institutions might be easier than defending them – but it only undermines the UK.”

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