Arron Schachter: I’m Arron Schachter. This is The World. Scots are split on independence, but let’s just say that the Yeses win the referendum next week and Scotland splits from Britain. The blue and white Scottish flag would take on new meaning, and Great Britain’s historic flag, the Union Jack would, whatâ€¦ Change? Graham Bartran is chief vexillologist â€“ that’s a flag expert, and yeah, I had to look it up too â€“ at the Flag Institute in London. He explains why the Union Jack might need restyling.
Graham Bartran: The two flags that made up originally were Saint Andrew’s cross â€“ That’s a white diagonal cross on a blue background â€“ And Saint George’s Cross for England, which is a red ordinary cross on a white background. So they were combined in 1606 to make the first British flag. And then, in 1801, we had another union, this time between Great Britain and Ireland, and a red diagonal on a white background was used as a symbol for Ireleand, and that’s why you get the red diagonals on the current flag.
Schachter: Okay, so if we lose one of them, the Saint Andrew’s cross of Scotland â€“ Sounds easy enough. You just pull off the cross, right? And then you have a flag.
Bartran: It’s not that simple. It’d be like saying to the Americans, â€œRight, we’re going to take the red stripes out, so you’d have a white flag with a blue corner and fifty stars on it.â€ I don’t think they’d feel it was their flag anymore.
Schachter: So if Scotland votes yes, what would you have to do to redesign the flag? We talking, completely different now?
Bartran: Well, this is one of the other problems, is, as soon as you say you’re going to change the flag, you have to start listening to everyone who has their own ideas as to what they want to change it to. For many years, the Welsh have been complaining that they’re not explicitly represented in the flag, so you’d have to deal with the Welsh problem. And then, of course, all the elements â€“ They’re very Christian, and we’re a multi-cultural country. You know, do we have to have a star and crescent, a Star of David? What has started off as a very simple design is becoming very, very complicated, very quickly.
Schachter: I wonder if, in this day and age, you don’t really need symbols at all anymore, do you? You could put different pictures on there.
Bartran: No, I think you do need symbols. As the world becomes more, you know, easier to communicate, people need the anchor of identity, and flags are a very important part of that identity.
Schachter: Well, but you couldn’t have a picture of the White Cliffs of Dover for England and something else for Wales, something else for Northern Ireland?
Bartran: How would you be able to tell what it was if it was flying on a flagpole 300 yards away? It would just be a blur.
Schachter: Aha. [laughs] Well, you know the blur is the British flag.
Bartran: Well, except what happens if France decides to have a symbol of blur?
Bartran: You know, they could have the Pas de Calais, and the ÃŽle de la CitÃ©, and that would be another blur. I mean, the reason the flags are the way they are is, basically, several hundred years of working out what works in terms of identifying people.
Schachter: Another big issue now, aside from the flag, is what to call the United Kingdom if Scotland secedes, and it’s no longer a united kingdom. To call it "The former United Kingdom", the acronym there is a little unfortunate, isn't it?
Bartran: Yes. But it might be appropriate.
Bartran: But if you take out Scotland, Great Britain no longer makes any sense. Great Britain is actually the name of the biggest island in the British Isles â€“ the bit that most of Scotland and most of England sits on. So Great Britain without the top half? No, it doesn’t really make sense. But I came up with a short form, which is just to take the first few letters of each of the bits that are left, and call it Engwalni. E-N-G-W-A-L-N-I.
Bartran: Engwalni. Yes.
Schachter: Uh-huh. Yeah, how’s that going down over there?
Bartran: Not very well.
Schachter: Yeah. [laughs]
Bartran: Can’t think why. No, again, what you’re doing is you’re taking a structure that is 400 years old â€” and is so embedded in everything we are â€” and trying to undo it. It’s a really complicated task.
Schachter: Graham Bartran is chief vexillologist for the Flag Institute in London. Graham, it’s been fun. Thank you.
Bartran: My pleasure.