It’s time the Welsh dragon was allowed to roar for the UK
While the Scots debate independence, the Welsh don’t even get a spot on the Union Flag
BECAUSE of the referendum this year, the future of the United Kingdom is invariably considered from the Scottish angle. How do the Scots feel? What do the Scots want? But what about other countries in the Union?
Why isn’t Wales represented on the Union Flag, symbol of our country? Or the royal coat of arms, symbol of our monarch? It is, after all, a constituent part of the United Kingdom.
It is also a principality, independent until 1536, of 3.1 million people and 8,023 square miles, with its own history, character, traditions, formally designated boundaries and language. Just like Scotland, whose Cross of St Andrew adorns the Union Flag and which merits a bespoke Scottish set of royal symbols.
But very much unlike Northern Ireland, a ragbag of six counties cobbled together in 1921, containing a mere 1.8 million people, many of whom would rather be part of the Irish Republic. It’s not even a ‘province’ – three of Ulster’s counties belong to the South. It has no commonly held traditions of its own – except sectarian violence.
Nevertheless, Northern Ireland is still represented on the Union Flag by the Cross of St Patrick, and on the royal coat of arms by a slightly cheesy golden harp. Even though, currently, no one in Northern Ireland seems able to agree on where and when these flags should be flown.
Many people in the United Kingdom are hybrids. Our loyalties to the different parts of the UK can be complicated. For some of us it can be a seasonal affair. The summer means passionate support for England at cricket. The winter means cheering for Wales at Rugby Union.
The Queen is a good example of these multiple, shifting identities - living in England for most of the year but effectively becoming Scottish for her summer holidays at Balmoral. And it’s not just about kilts and bagpipes. As Her Majesty crosses the border she changes religion, becoming a dour Presbyterian instead of being Head of the Church of England.
These subtleties of identity can become highly complex for others too. Elizabeth Taylor, British by birth, American by descent, who had two Jewish husbands, saucily quipped that she was Jewish by injection.
I feel English and am culturally English, although born and partly brought up in the Far East. Generally, I support England in international sporting fixtures of every type. Whether it’s football, hockey or even darts I want the English to win – especially against the French. But I support Wales strongly at rugby football. As a result of serving in the Welsh Guards for 22 years it really matters. Soldiering alongside Welshmen for so long it seemed rude not to.
Wales is the forgotten, sometimes disregarded component of the Union. It is odd that a Welsh soldier standing to attention as the Union Flag is hoisted or lowered at his base or barracks will see nothing on the flag to reflect his own country. If he is killed in action his coffin will be adorned by a flag with no Welsh symbols at all.
Wales has a striking flag of its own – in the language of heraldry: ‘Per fess Argent and Vert a dragon passant gules’, meaning ‘against a white and green background a dragon striding, coloured red.’ Actually ‘striding’, although the accurate modern English word for ‘passant’, puts it a bit strongly – the Welsh dragon merely has its right claw slightly raised.
The first historical use of the flag is said to have been by Henry Tudor, at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, and on becoming King Henry VII the red dragon was incorporated into the Tudor royal arms. Its origin as a symbol of Wales is lost in the mists of time, but the most charming of all the theories is that the red dragon was originally the battle standard of King Arthur.
Since 1959 the Welsh have been able to fly the red dragon from public buildings in Wales. But it is rarely seen outside the Principality except flying from the Welsh Office in Whitehall and, of course, at Twickenham.
The most elegant solution would be to insert a small welsh dragon into the canton (the upper left quarter) or, perhaps, the centre of the Union Flag, at last giving Wales its rightful place on the ubiquitous and much-honoured symbol of the United Kingdom. And as a bonus, making it much more difficult to hoist upside down. People often forget that the wider diagonal white stripe should be at the top on the side of the flag nearest the flagpole. Flying it the wrong way up is a sign of distress, particularly at sea.
In future, as long as a ‘dragon passant gules’ is the right way up – so is the flag itself. Y Ddraig Goch Ddyry Cychwyn. The Red Dragon leads the way, as they say in Wales. ·