Sunday, 10 July 2016

Factions, flags and Brexit

Painted at Llennerchwen, Brecon. July 2016.

Some things are best addressed by art and on a recent retreat I had the chance to respond to the political fall out from the UK referendum to leave the EU, by painting. All I can say is that it was very cathartic.

I was a Brownie Guide once, but even so it was noticeable how ignorant I felt about 'my' own flag, and also that my feelings about it were very complicated. Flags are about identity and I tried to imagine what will happen to the United Kingdom if Scotland and Northern Ireland decide that staying in the European Union is more important to them than staying in the United Kingdom. Sad and extremely regretful as I am about the 'Brexit' vote (and immensely cross about the mismanagement of the UK, the misinformation that the country was fed and the lamentable failure of truth and leadership that has ensued), this will be nothing to the feelings I imagine the break up of the Union will engender. 

However it's always the way, as you withdraw and ponder, that you find that things are not as black and white as they seem at first. Sometimes in a union, it is the dominant party that calls the shots about how identity will be represented. So for instance, the flag of St George, waved in certain contexts, would make me nervous about a kind of English nationalism that could be perceived as aggressive and isolationist. I don't identify with that sort of flag waving, English though I am. With regard to the Scottish bit of the Union flag, this was the bit I remembered quite well from being a seven year old Brownie (I've always been 'proud' of being a quarter Scottish, for reasons that are undoubtedly emotionally complex) so aged seven, I had a vested interest to remember that bit and forget the rest. I was ignorant of the St Patrick's cross and the fact he wasn't a martyr (there seems to be a lot of blood associated with the Union flag...) and I hadn't even realised that Wales isn't represented. I imagine a Welsh person feels a bit different about the Union flag for that reason.

One time I did feel especially 'proud' of being British (represented by our flag) was during the 2012 Olympics, but even then, it was because the London Olympics seemed to bring out the best of 'our country', i.e. hard work, determination, brilliant role models, sporting opportunity for those that might not have had it ordinarily, working together, celebrating our diversity etc. So these were the things made our country 'great' - and not some imagined former state of greatness (which may have involved oppressing other weaker groups).

So, the bleeding, dissolving Union flag. I hope I'll be proved wrong, but that is all I can imagine now. One 'Leave' will prompt another, and another. And because I was blessed with retreat time to ponder how I perceive my identity, both as a Christian, an English person (with Scottish blood) a Brit and, I hope, still a European, I also attempted a poem... 

How did we get the Union flag, what influences fed into it, and what might happen if we abandon it and everyone just makes their own? I couldn't (weirdly) summon any feelings towards the EU flag, though recently on Facebook I've noticed a version of it on some people's accounts that shows one of the stars in the circle weeping. Weeping, yes.

Factions, flags and Brexit. With all our political disagreements, and problems around connecting with people from different groups, and holding to some united vision with them (they're so difficult and so different, and some of them are so threatening, apparently, even though they have absolutely nothing; and some of the more dominant groups want to boss the others around, and we never do that, unless you count....ooops) it's going to be a lot easier if we all just create our own identity and have done with it. 

Isn't it? Or should flags be completely immaterial, if you're a Christian. Maybe the Quakers are right after all.


I’m planning to fashion a brand new flag
one where the rivers of blood don’t run
as red as the cross suspended dead
on white, in the gap between triangles of blue
like the azure sky and the battle cry
when prayer to St Andrew came true
(that very un-Scottish apostle who left his nets
by the salt of the lake, for the catch would be human too).

My flag will do without the kiss shaped cross
- the crimson saltire: Patrick’s sign.
He wasn’t a martyr to the cause
like that most un-English gentleman, George,
and unlike poor St Andrew’s cross, he didn’t discover
that X marks the spot where you lose your breath.
He followed the faith, but not to death.

My flag will hang together by more than a thread,
its colours and shapes finely tuned like a song
both written and played and conducted by me.
Nostalgia will rule, like Britannia the waves
on my island divorced from the rest of the slaves.

I’ll have green for the ground and white for the clouds,
for the raindrops a shade of Welsh grey,
an umbrella will do for the crest; it’s the best
of the symbols when martyrdom’s put away.

I’ll be committee and board and king
and authority, parliament, judge;
there’ll be no dissent, no bullying head
or continuing historical fudge,
no union of parts with sharp edged hearts
no fighting, no promises broken
no mornings of doubt when luck has run out
and the food bank lady so softly spoken.

The red and the white and the blue, so nearly true
not to mention the gold on the blue. Stars in the heavens now
fallen to earth. Such flags all torn.
Can they be mended
now that something has ended?

For sewing together and piecing together is hard
like the ground when you fall by the hand
of a friend. Like guns when peace has come to an end.
So a flag of my choice is the only voice I can hear
as the papers fly up in the air
and the vote of the summer blows far and near.

CLA. July 2016.

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