Not waving, but flagging


Posted by in March's Magazine

Colin Montgomery gets seriously vexed about vexillology, or to put it another way, he’s quite f**cked off with flags

It was a Thursday evening ritual. The raising/lowering of the union flag (not the ‘jack’, as we weren’t at sea, although I think we are now; more on that later). This solemn ceremony wasn’t at my house you understand. While we were from a ‘Rangers’ background as they say in the west, and my mum was a keen royalist, my dad stopped short of such gauche patriotism. After all, our family took the Glasgow Herald of a morning don’t you know! 

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No, this flag ritual was confined to the church hall where we gathered for our Boys Brigade meetings. I even had to perform the task and salute the thing myself. Wearing a hat, a haversack and stripes on my arm. Corporal Montgomery reporting for duty sah! Looking back on it now, I shudder a little. To be honest, I made so many great memories – and friends for life – through BB, but it seems like the bullshit of Queen and country was never far away from proceedings. And the flag was its garish expression. 

Later in my BB tenure, I refused to carry the flag to the cenotaph for no other reason than the fact that, as a chronically shy 16 year-old, I didn’t want the responsibility of parading around in front of the massed ranks of local dignitaries. Ironically it was the furious reaction of a martinet officer with a penchant for the hairdryer treatment (evidently a frustrated drill sergeant) that turned my childish embarrassment into a more militant stance later channelled into a primitive revolutionary zeal in my politics. But then I grew up. 

How very dare he! Surely the revolution has to come for us to throw off the shackles of inequality, discrimination and ruddy-faced toffs etc. Even the old hypocrite John Lennon realised that zealotry is no substitute for reality: “We all want to change the world…. we’d all love to see the plan”. Sadly the plan these days is to wrap up all the inconsistencies, gaping holes in arguments and selective logic in a flag, rallying round a standard is more in vogue than ever. 

Funny thing is, those who are most vocal champions of flags are often the least patriotic people you’d ever meet. Take the Barclay Brothers for example – the rich twins who own the Daily Telegraph. By rights they should be wrapping themselves in the flag of Brecqhou, the rocky outcrop off Sark in the Channel Isles, because that’s where they hole in up in their big hoose for tax purposes – tax is such an un-British thing these days…

Similarly, we have the new F1 champ, the ‘ever likeable’ Lewis Hamilton. Yay for this true British hero! Who lives in Switzerland. Purely coincidentally, it means he pays less tax in Britain. The list goes on and on of course – and it’s not just an excuse to have a go at one particular political persuasion per se; Sean Connery was the SNP’s leading candidate for the Marbella East constituency for long enough. The truth is, the flag’s no better than some tatty souvenir tea towel if your love of it and the country it represents comes with caveats. 

” Sean Connery was the SNP’s leading candidate for the Marbella East constituency for long enough

How can you love a country anyway? I mean sure, you can love things about your country – sliced sausage, bonnie views, patter etc – but your part in the collective ownership of nationhood is no more than an accident of birth. And there’s no one brand of nationhood anyway. You may see it through liberal eyes, while some guy across the landing may have a less than liberal understanding of what it means. Which means flags are all but meaningless drapes to project ideas on, unless of course they acquire new meaning through deeds. 

False flags then? Nah, such terminology turns flags into the comfort blankets of cowardly conspiracy-drunk tribalists who refuse to engage with reality, lest it impinge on their entrenched fantasies of belonging. No, I think we could invest new meaning in flags if, acting under a banner, a nation could use its political, economic or cultural clout to actively promote and bring about things you’d be happy to put at the top of a pole and salute. Like oh, I don’t know…fairness, equality, tolerance, decency, reason, humility, great hair. 

Did he just say ‘great hair’? Yes. Yes I did. But of course, ascribing such a quality to a bunch of colours woven together to represent a land mass defined by borders created by a series of historical events would be ludicrous. As ridiculous as suggesting such a flag could be said to eternally encapsulate ideas of superiority, empire, defiance, doggedness, entitlement, importance and so on and so forth – irrespective of what said land mass does. We would never allow such vacuity to hold sway though would we? Nah that would never do…

Here’s a remedy for such madness. We redesign each nation’s flag based on an unflinching expression of its current reality in the here and now. 

USA: Replace the stars with bullet holes. Leave the red streaks. Bigly beautiful. 

Brazil: A living flag losing its green background over time, just like the Amazon!!

France: A chequered tablecloth, Parisian style.

Russia: A skull & crossbones. 

UK: Plain white; we stopped being a properly functioning entity some time ago.

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