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Union Flag design without Scotland – a logical look

union-flag_new_large

Scotland have a historic vote next year – whether to leave the United Kingdom or not. Will it actually happen? Who knows, probably not. But if it did, and cutting to the chase, the Union flag should look like the design above. Why? Read on…

Disclaimer

First of all, I’m in no way qualified except for the fact that I spend most of my days solving design problems, dissecting information to draw logical conclusions and trying to engineer solutions that please a lot of people all at the same time… all with a dollop of logic, sensitivity to previous assumptions and social relevance. I.e. I’m a Creative Director with a degree in Information Design. I’m not a vexillologist (yep, that’s what you call someone who studies flags!), I’m not a historian, nor do I have a political axe to grind. I’m neutral, interested and have an hour on my hands. If you spot something out of line, just leave a comment! We’ll get there together….

A sum of its parts…

The Union flag is made up of the 3 traditional flags of England, Scotland and Ireland. It all started in 1606 when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English and Irish thrones – and ruled them all, creating the first real union, Great Britain. The Union flag in its current form dates back back from the Royal Proclamation following the union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. It’s design is a brilliant piece of design by committee and goes something like this…

English Saint George cross…

enlish-flag

Plus Scottish Saltire of St Andrew…

scottish-flag

Plus Irish St Patrick’s Saltire…

irish-flag

Equals the Union Flag…

union-flag

Now, the more astute among you may be thinking, hang on, the UK also includes Wales, so where the Welsh part? Well, it kinda got shafted. Wales was taken over by the conquest of Edward I of England in 1282. In 1535 Wales was officially ‘annexed’ to England and was represented by the English flag. When King James VI inherited the job lot in 1606, Wales was essentially hidden inside the English national identity.

The Welsh flag we know today (with the red dragon) was used by Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 but wasn’t officially recognised as the national flag of Wales until very recently, 1959 in fact.

cymru-flag

The true Union flag should have really incorporated an element from the Welsh flag, but exactly how is rather up to personal taste. Here’s a slightly awkward possibility…

Removing Scotland…

union-flag_green3

However – back to the original point. If Scotland were removed from the mix, the main changes would be no blue and no diagonal white stripes. I.e. the Scottish flag.

Here’s one logical option. Removing the blue and upgrading to Welsh green. Replacing the full-width Scottish Saltire with the red Irish Saltire.

union-flag_green5

However, ignoring the design no-no of putting red next to green, the English cross has white borders as it was against a white background originally, so this should apply to the Irish Saltire too. Like so.

union-flag_green4

Evolution not Revolution

But I’d flag two things at this point (pun intended btw). Firstly, the traditional proportions of the Union flag are arguably something that should be kept. More of a design evolution rather than a revolution – as they say. Which prompts the second point. The above design is symmetrical which removes an interesting feature of the current Union flag. You’ll notice on the current flag that the red diagonal stripes are slightly offset in the diagonal white Scottish Saltire stripes. It is possible to fly the Union flag upside down and it would look different. It has a correct way and an incorrect way. To fly the flag correctly, the white of St Andrew should be above the red of St Patrick in the top quarter nearest to the flag-pole. This is a very subtle difference but one that can be used to signal you’re in trouble or even used as deliberate insult. To the uninformed, it looks right. To the trained eye, it has a hidden meaning.

Here is the CORRECT way with thick white band above the red in the top left corner (assuming the pole is on the left)

union-flag

Here is the INCORRECT way with thick white band UNDER the red in the top left corner

union-flag_flip

What about the dragon?

The dragon is an important part of the Welsh flag and has represented Wales for centuries. Should it be included in the flag? I’d suggest not as it is more of a heraldic emblem and as such, none of the other nations use theirs in the flag. The English could use the traditional 3 lions, the Scottish also a have red lion or maybe even a thistle, the Irish harp maybe? The United Kingdom already has a coat of arms that illustrates the point perfectly. None of this heraldry is in the Union Flag.

uk_coatofarms

In the language of flag design, it seems the heraldic elements make way for national colours. Wales has a long history with green and white, hence using as a background for the flag. Green and white it is then.

Order?

Another subtly that could change the design is “who gets precedence?”. There are no clear ways of deciding this. Is it based on who has the most colours that match their original flag? Who had the biggest expanse of colour? Who’s cross or saltire is on top? Who was on the flag first? At a guess, I’d say the current Union flag puts England first, then Scotland, then Ireland. Maybe. And not by accident I’d suggest.

Interestingly, in 1707 with the Act of Union was being drafted between Scotland and England, the Scots presented an alternative design that had the Scottish Saltire on top, so this is not exactly a new avenue to explore.

union-flag_scot

One could do the same with the Irish Saltire design (keeping the asymmetric feature). It looks odd.

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Or be faithful to the Welsh background white and green. Again, looks odd. Which is as valid a reason as anything in flag design it seems.

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Having explored the options it agin comes down to the status quo – not upsetting the apple cart etc. Keeping the order, colour coverage and and colour relevance the same seems the most logical outcome.

Any clashes?

It’s starting to come together. As with all great ideas, best check you’ve not been beaten to it already. The closest is probably the unofficial flag of one of Sweden’s largest provinces, Småland (see below). There’s also the clash with the Italian colours, but let’s face it, the Union flag has been sharing colours with France, the Netherlands, Norway and about 50% of the world’s flags already. So on balance we’re good to go.

smaland-flag

Incidentally, the colours remind me of my home rugby union team, the Leicester Tigers. A quick search and it seems they’re already on the right track too…

leicester tigers

The logical conclusion…

So, finally getting to the point, one could argue that the most ‘logical’ design would look like this. Not earth shatteringly surprising – just swapping the blue for the green, but everything else plays a role to get to this point and is there for a reason.

union-flag_new_large

Bonus fact.

You’ll note that throughout, I’ve referred to the flag as the Union flag rather than the Union Jack. Although the origins are unclear, it is only referred to as a ‘jack’ when flying on a naval warship.

 

5 comments

  • Except you got all the Union flags wrong – even the correct and upside down ones. The Irish thingy is pretty much like the Scottish thingy, but rotated to the left for some reason. What that means is that the top left and the bottom right (similarly the top right and the bottom left) do not form a straight line on the Union flag at all. Compare your flags with the rugby team flag – which is correct if you ignore the central logo and you’ll see how you messed it up 🙂

  • The red st. Patrick saltire is not centred because it overlays the St. Andrews one. This would mean Ireland was ‘more important’ so it is offset to keep the rankings correct, it’s called pinwheeling.

    Also, you’re logic doesn’t follow by using the green and white and red dragon flag for Wales. All the other flags are those of that country’s patron saint. Wales’ patron is St. David whose flag is black with a yellow cross. In redesigning a new union flag surely that’s the one that should represent wales.

  • Great and fabulous article and designs!

    Circa 1990 I designed a Union Flag with the Welsh red dragon on a centre of white created by placing the Scots saltire over the cross of St George. I wore it on a shirt while presenting on television in 1996. The design proved very popular and the shirt was stolen from a bar the following evening in Edinburgh. Fortunately not before I had been and shared the idea with a chap who ran his own little design and fashion retail outlet. The only problem with my design is that it is not strictly equitable nor reasonable to impose BOTH the cross AND the background colour over the other flag. The Union Flag currently does not do so:

    James of Scots who inherited England, championed the idea of Britain and had the flag created, was an educated and creative man. There are many reasons why the Union Flag works in the form that transpired yet fails in other configurations. No doubt James would have encountered such issues and as some would like you to believe, they have nothing to do with politics but everything to do with art.

    The Union Flag has the blue of St Andrew as the predominant background colour. It strips away the white background of St George and replaces much of it with the blue background of St Andrew. Instead the red cross of St George simply has a white border strip. If instead you removed the blue background of St Andrew and replaced that with a narrow blue border it would look far less like a flag of St Andrew than it does currently on the Union Flag. Invariably, when people try to depict the Saltire over the cross of St George they unfairly omit to also swap the blue and white backgrounds over.

    If reversing purely the crosses so that the flag of St Andrew including it’s background is predominant it gives disproportionately far more prominence to the flag of St Andrew than to the flag of St George, than could be erroneously argued about such prominence of any constituent flag which makes up the current Union Flag. However if you therefore reverse the entire design ‘fairly’ by swapping over the backgrounds (as well as the crosses), then neither flag looks quite right and neither is instantly determinable nor as recognizable as within our current Union Flag.

    The diagonal appears as a hollow stripe with blue edges. Remember too, in a rectangle, that diagonal cross lines are a fair bit longer than perpendicular cross lines, therefore what remains of the red cross is then minimal – compared to the amount of Saltire exposed in the current Union Flag. Also it necessitates red abutting blue which looks less favourable to the eye than the current flag, especially as a truly great design should stand up in black and white.

    In ‘reversing’ the positions within the Union Flag design, neither constituent flag looks as it should and they both lose their unique impact and visual power. The integrity of both is corrupted beyond merely devaluing the aesthetics of the overall flag – The instant identification of ones regional flag is lost. The resulting design resembles a rather hollow and weak looking negative of the Confederate Flag, or four little arrows pointing in, on a mainly white background.

    Once the flag of St Patrick is then added, it becomes thin stripes of blue / white / red / and blue again, and looks like someone has drawn a cross with a tube of multi-coloured toothpaste, with further odd thick red pointy wedges at the edges. The diagonal red stripe also obliterates any tiny sense of a St Andrews Cross which the eye might possibly have still registered without it.

    The Union Flag instigated by the father of Britain, King James of Scots, is internationally acknowledged as one of the greatest designs and successful ‘brands’ in the world. A glance shows you a great sense of each contributing flag. It gives prominence to both the blue background and the red cross but the sense of the white cross is immediate and all nations can be proud. The only initial reservation is the lack of a Welsh dragon. However I consider we all OWN the Union Flag and that it is now as much Welsh as it is English, Irish or Scottish. All parts of the UK were once a multitude of tiny nations from the west of England to the North of Scotland and much fighting ensued. Now we are largely together on these islands, the mighty clan, in dust blood and soul. The flag is all of us.

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