Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dragons, Doubts, and Devils Dog Welsh Identity as Scottish Referendum Looms

Opinion polls predict that the September 18th referendum on Scotland’s secession from the United Kingdom will fail, with polls giving somewhere between 46% and 47% intending to vote for continued union with England (and Wales and Northern Ireland) and only about 35% to 40% intending to opt for independence.  With just about four months to go before polling day, a lot could change.  But if the outcome is not 100% assured, one thing is: the truism that in the event of a “yes” result for Scottish independence, or even, as looks likely, a relatively close (non-landslide) “no,” the other constituent parts of the U.K.—England, Northern Ireland, and Wales are going to experience something of an identity crisis.

Wales, in particular, in the event of a Scottish split, would probably be carried along to independence itself like a rudderless ship in Scotland’s wake—much in the way that in the 1990s Serbia, the Czech Republic, and Belarus became independent states not from any desire to separate themselves but because of the dissolutions of their larger federations driven by centrifugal forces generated elsewhere.  After all, the U.K. is the United Kingdom because of the early-18th-century merger of the kingdoms of England and Scotland; without that constitutional basis, a rethinking of the rest of the union is in order.

Some of this anxiety is expressed as kerfuffles over flags.  Wales, were it to be independent, would suddenly become the European country with the most striking, remarkable, and dramatic national flag, featuring a rampant red dragon on a horizontal white-and-green bicolor (see above).  That prospect has attracted the superstitious nervousness of a fringe group called the Welsh Christian Party.  (Unlike more primitive backwaters like the United States, in Britain fundamentalist Christianity is a phenomenon of the fringes, not the political mainstream.)  As the Rev. George Hargreaves, speaking for the party, put it, “We will not allow this evil symbol of the devil to reign over Wales for another moment.  Wales is the only country in history to have a red dragon on its national flag.  This is the very symbol of the devil described in the Book of Revelation 12:3.  This is nothing less than the sign of Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, that ancient serpent who deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden” (he explains helpfully in case we haven’t heard of him).  Just for the record, Revelation 12:3 tells us, “And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.”  Far be it from me to contradict a man of the cloth, but I’ve been studying that Welsh flag and I’m afraid I see only one head and no crowns at all.

Now that’s the dragon of Revelation.  See?  Lots more heads.
But never mind that.  Hargreaves recommends that the Welsh dragon—which is of murky origins but has been in use on the flag only since 1959—be replaced by a black-and-yellow cruciform design called the Cross of St. David, which is the emblem of the patron saint of Wales (see the flag at right in the photo at the top of this article).  This flag is often flown on March 1st, which is the feast of St. David and the Welsh national holiday.  Adopting this flag would put Wales’s flag on the same footing as those of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Cornwall, which feature the traditional crosses of those countries’ patron saints—St. George (yes, of dragon fame), St. Patrick (patron saint of all Ireland, actually), St. Andrew, and St. Piran, respectively.

This vessel in Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee flotilla in 2012 featured, atop the cabin,
the flags of England, Scotland, London (England’s flag but with sword in upper left), Northern Ireland
(not official, but the St. Patrick’s Cross), Cornwall, and Wales,with flags for the sponsoring Motability, Inc.,
mixed in, plus, aft, the U.K. civilian ensign.
(Hargreaves, given his feelings about the Welsh dragon, will be equally vexed to learn that archaeologists have recently discovered, in the ruins of Leiston Abbey in East Anglia, the remains of a seven-foot-tall canine who some feel might have been the origin of the 16th-century legend of the “Hell Hound of Suffolk.”)

It is not just conservative Christians who are unhappy with Wales’s flag.  The radical, militant Free Wales Army (F.W.A., or Byddin Rhyddid Cymru), uses a vaguely swastika-ish black-and-white emblem as its flag.  The F.W.A. are republicans and presumably would like to eschew anything heraldic as too posh.  Among other parties, the left-wing socialist Cymru Goch (“Red Wales”) independence party, though republican, wants to keep the dragon flag—it’s red, after all!—as does the equally republican Cymru Annibynnol, the Independent Wales Party, along with the former majority party in the Welsh Assembly, Plaid Cymru (“the Party of Wales”), which has republican and pro-Commonwealth (monarchist) tensions within it.  Nor are these minor distinctions: Plaid Cymru came under fire (as reported at the time in this blog) when a party leader appeared alongside F.W.A. radicals and their flags at a rally marking the 729th anniversary of the killing by English soldiers of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (Llywelyn the Last), the last true Prince of Wales (before it became a title affixing to any English crown prince), thus ending Welsh independence.  By contrast, the Scottish National Party has prevailed over republican Greens and socialists in its coalition and plans on keeping Scotland in the Commonwealth, with Elizabeth II as its head of state.

No one respectable wants to be seen alongside the F.W.A. banner.
(A more benign St. David’s Cross flag is at right.)
The Scottish referendum campaign has raised vexillological vexations in other parts of the kingdom as well.  Northern Ireland’s identity crisis in a post-Scottish dis-United Kingdom would be even more severe than Wales’s, since the Scottish ancestry of the Protestant Scots-Irish majority in the region is the only rationale behind it being part of the U.K., rather than the Republic of Ireland, in the first place.  Northern Ireland currently has no flag, and uses only the Union Jack, but the traditional flag of Ulster is used by the small minority (soon to be taken more seriously, perhaps) who wish Northern Ireland to be independent.  (Ulster, rather awkwardly, includes not just the Northern Ireland counties but the majority-Catholic county of Donegal within the Republic, so there might be some words over that ...)

Unionist rallies in Belfast sometimes feature the “red hand” flag of Ulster.
And what of a rump U.K. minus only Scotland?  The current Union Jack is a blending of the crosses of SS. George, Andrew, and Patrick—

—and without the Scottish St. Andrew’s Cross it would look like this:

Clearly, a lot less colorful.  Thus, some favor incorporating Wales’s green into it somehow ...

... or in some other way taking the opportunity to give Wales a piece of the flag to call its own, if only to persuade them not to secede themselves:

Okay, well, maybe not that prominently.  It isn’t all just about Wales, you know.  Others favor solving the color problem in a more grandiose way:

If Scotland’s secession is followed by those of Wales and Northern Ireland, then England would find itself independent in spite of itself.  Indeed, the St. George’s Cross flag is the one preferred by the pro-independence party English Democrats (as reported on earlier in this blog):

... though some of independence-for-England activists prefer the “three lions” flag which is a modification of the personal royal standard Richard the Lion-Hearted (and which for complicated reasons—1066 and all that—is also a flag used by regional activists in the Normandy region of France):

Presumably, some of these suggestions are ones that the Welsh Christian Party can live with.  And if it’s Satanic symbols they’re worried about, just be glad they don’t have deal with Morocco’s national flag:

Oh, no, wait, sorry, I put it upside-down.  Here, let me fix that ...

Phew!  That was a close one.

Thanks to Jen Mayfield Shafer for alerting me to the report on the Leiston Abbey discovery.

[You can read more about Wales, Scotland, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

1 comment:

  1. The Province of Ulster in Ireland actually consists of 9 counties, 6 of which are in Northern Ireland and the remaining 3 in the Republic of Ireland.

    Donegal is not the only one, the counties of Monahan and Cavan are also a part of Ulster.


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