The Union Jack does not represent Wales and never has. That isn’t a political point; it’s a fact.

How it looks today is the product of its 1801 reincarnation, which brought together the cross of St. George and the saltires of patron saints in Scotland and Ireland.

Poor old Wales was left off: a nation merely assimilated into the Kingdom of its larger neighbour. Though that hasn’t stopped several hapless social media users superimposing the red dragon on the flag this week. The response? You take a guess.

In the modern battle for Britain, flags are the latest ammunition that fuel a broader culture war that is spiralling out of control. Ironically it is the Culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, who rallies the troops from their barracks in Whitehall: he insisted this week that the Union Jack “serves as a reminder of our shared history and union”.

Quite right, Colonel Dowden, but that history means very different things to the four nations of the UK and that union is certainly not one which is seen to be equal or happy any longer.

I have never really been inspired by the red, white, and blue. The flag is just an oversized piece of nylon with colouring, after all. Yes, it represents the United Kingdom but I am not overcome with Churchillian spirit when I see it fluttering against the wind.

That’s normal (I think?) but it’s fine if you feel differently. The Welsh secretary struck a sensible tone this week when he said that the Union Jack shouldn’t be politicised: it is part of what he calls Britain’s “iconic brand”, apparently. Each to their own, I suppose.

We already know that the Welsh secretary is not among the Cabinet’s inner circle, but if you needed some proof: hours after Simon Hart made his comments the Culture secretary made the now infamous announcement that the Union Jack must be flown on all government buildings across the UK.

The military decree disguised by press release commanded that the flag should be placed in a “superior position” to any others that are displayed alongside it, including the Red Dragon.

There is a serious point to this ludicrous situation. Since those plucky BBC journalists had a laugh at the expense of the Housing Secretary, the UK Government have panicked. ‘Britishness is under attack!’ they cried in the corridors of power.


The solution? An easy (and old) retreat to the campaign that waves Westminster’s notion of Britain in our faces. They fail to understand that the Union Jack today does not carry the same connotations as the Union Jack of old: when it stood for Empire, Monarchy, and above all that shared sense of history and union.

They just don’t get it. Take the Dunlop Review into the Union’s functionality, for instance, which recommends to go further by stamping UK Government branding on its activities across every corner of these Isles.

Such ignorance masks a chronic insecurity that is at the heart of the UK government. They seem to think by speaking of the ‘benefits’ of the union through a flag which now for many represents a concerted campaign to create a unitary state in the UK – while London continues to be increasingly out-of-step with the political demands and cultural identities of each of its four nations – that they will tame the surge of nationalism.

In Wales, the prospect of having the Union Jack fly above our national flag is especially peculiar. Even the Welsh secretary must know this. For the only nation that has no representation on the red, white, and blue we are now told to accept its pride and place above the red, white, and green.

Most crucially the UK government’s manoeuvre will lead many to ask why Wales isn’t represented on “our” national flag in the first place. Ahead of a nail-biting election, more and more people will look at the Union Jack and be reminded of how the Welsh were victims of conquest and assimilation. A forgotten nation in that “shared history and union” that British nationalists dream of re-creating.

Inavertedly then the flag wars may be a real gift to Adam Price’s campaign to shape the next Welsh government and indeed the broader efforts of YesCymru.

Of course, being able to articulate policies and a detailed vision for the future of Wales are central to political campaigns. But symbols matter too. We are now increasingly forced to pick a side: what are your colours and which fly above the other?

In Wales, which still largely sees itself as British, the response may not be as you’d expect. Sure, we are proud to be part of the economic and social union of the UK, but we don’t want to be told what flag to fly. Or to define our Britishness on London’s terms, for that matter.

There is no doubting that the Union Jack is a powerful symbol here but also across the world: it stirs debates on colonialism, imperialism, democracy, freedom, and liberty.

Yet in Britain, it has lost its collective meaning – tarnished by years of neglecting the changing political winds across our island but in more recent days through its use as a mere prop in interviews given by government ministers.

In Wales, it is the latest sorry saga that just makes us feel forgotten.