“Britday” and the Olympics are coming

Brown’s call for renewed pride in Britishness through a day of public celebration with a focus on Britain’s veterans seems to have been confirmed to Iris Robinson.In his patriotic speech he made a robust defence of the display of the Union flag saying it was “…a symbol of unity and part of a modern expression of patriotism too…All the United Kingdom should honour it, not ignore it. We should assert that the Union flag by definition is a flag for tolerance and inclusion.” and praised the American tradition of displaying their national flag from homes. Was he aware this is an Ulster tradition too?

This is the latest stage in the debate triggered by the Oldham, Bradford and Burnley riots which took the shine off Cool Britannia. The problems of segregation have led to prominent criticism of multi-culturalism and the 7/7 atrocity has reinforced public and political concern.

The discussion is about the need for a common allegiance to the United Kingdom as a balance to the diversity of Britain and political devolution. Beyond ‘Brit-Day’ new emphasis on an over-arching Britishness has led to the introduction of citizenship tests and also a nationwide emphasis to the Olympic bid to which Ulster’s contribution was confirmed last week.

Brown himself is a role model for what he advocates, someone at ease with his Scottishness and Britishness. He is also be a figure who will dominate politics for arguably the next decade.

Is Unionism’s Ulster-British identity not well-placed to take advantage of this new desire for a more publicly prominent Britishness? What can Ulster Unionism contribute to this important debate on the future relationship of the state and its citizens? Is Brown’s definition of Britishness as liberty, fairness and responsibility one that Unionism can identify with – “civil and religious liberty for all”, “it’s time for a fair deal” and its strong streak of individualism? Could such values help Unionism appeal to new constitutencies e.g. minority ethnic communities and Roman Catholics?

In practical terms what form should the local events for Veterans Day take and how can Ulster’s participation in the Olympics become a postive advertisement to the rest of the UK and the world?

  • Pete Baker

    There was an interesting response to Gordon Brown’s speech on the openDemocracy site by Christopher Harvie, which concluded thus –

    Let’s try a modest civic patriotism which is one of several loyalties, from the kleine Erdburger (little earth-citizen), as German babies are often announced – which recalls Scotland’s best national anthem, Hamish Henderson’s Freedom come all ye! – through European to civic nationality or urban republicanism.

    Fernand Braudel once said that Europe had had five centuries of city-states to one (horrifying) century of nationalism. So why not five patriotisms? The 15th-century Sienese Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s The Benefits of Good Government hangs on my study wall. Seeing the new local railway Heilbronn has built makes me feel proudly Swabian – “We can do anything but speak German!” I’ve tried – God knows I’ve tried – to prod Scotland into cognate action; and feel English enough to be furious that the folk of Leeds and Liverpool have to thole “Scotland the sleekit”, Alistair Darling, as the transport minister who’s wrecking such schemes wholesale.

    Construct what patriotism you like out of that. Think, Gordon, that a fellow Fifer, James Lorimer, proposed the first European senate, a secular imperium to displace the papacy, in 1884; and that another Scot, James Bryce, wrote the best book on American politics, The American Commonwealth four years later. European polity needs the conventions of flexibility and adaptability which come out of the contested cultures of these Anglophone islands, not a cash-register under a red-white-and-blue shroud.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Already I can sense moves to justify the erection of loyalists flags and bunting across mixed and even predominantly nationalist areas of the north to ‘commemorate’ this occasion…

    Let’s see. A ‘Veteran’s parade’ at the beginning of Drumcree week, just after the loyalist Tour of the North and as a lead in to the various Mini-Twelfths. Just what we need for this Summer!

    It would appear to me that Gordon Brown is moving in to re-launch a modern Cool Britannia campaign to ease himself into 10 Downing Street and begin to attract those former Tory voters who embraced Blair and kept him in power for so long.

    But this discussion takes on a different context when applied to the north of Ireland.

    Already, the practice of flying union flags from civic buildings is rightly viewed as an act of provocation by nationalists, given that we reside in a divided society with very differing loyalties.

    This discussion would have more relevance were it to provoke unionists- of any hue- to accept the need to finally, and very clearly, state their support for a proposal in line with that of Sinn Fein. Namely, for equality or neutrality around the flying of National flags here from civic centres.

    Ironically, such a positive development from Unionism would go much further to secure the lauded objective of increasing unionism’s appeal with catholics and others, than simply using Brown’s rallying speech as an excuse for yet another string of provocative and coat-trailing parades across the already parade-fatigued six counties.

    Happy blogging, mo chara.

  • Jimbob

    Constantly refering to Northern Ireland as ‘Ulster’ won’t win too many Catholic votes.

    “Is Brown’s definition of Britishness as liberty, fairness and responsibility one that Unionism can identify with ”

    Sweet Jesus, I almost wet myself.

  • fair_deal

    CD

    “we reside in a divided society with very differing loyalties.”

    Similar deep divisions in other parts of the UK is what led to this debate so that justification appears thin.

    “to accept the need to finally, and very clearly, state their support for a proposal in line with that of Sinn Fein. Namely, for equality or neutrality around the flying of National flags here from civic centres.”

    So unionism should ignore a important debate about its primary identity and adopt lock-stock and barrel the policies of its political opponents. Hmmmmm.

    “positive development from Unionism would go much further to secure the lauded objective of increasing unionism’s appeal with catholics and others”

    Similar arguments were advocated to Unionism as a reason to adopt the Belfast agreement but rather than accomodation the nationalist community became more virulently nationalist not less.

  • Dec

    Fair_deal

    Similar arguments were advocated to Unionism as a reason to adopt the Belfast agreement but rather than accomodation the nationalist community became more virulently nationalist not less.

    Somehow I can’t imagine you referring to a virulent Unionism. We’re not a disease, you know.

    Personally I’m not aware that Unionism has tried to broaden its appeal for Catholics during the last 10 years but I’d be interested to hear your perspective.

  • Jill Robinson

    Gordon Brown said: “And let us remember that when people on the centre-left recoiled from national symbols, the BNP tried to steal the Union Jack.”

    I suggest that he wasn’t even thinking of Ulster when he said this. I suggest that Mr. Brown looks upon Ulster and its addiction to flying the Union Jack as part of a pesky Irish problem, light years away from his idea of Proud to be British.

  • fair_deal

    Jill

    “I suggest that he wasn’t even thinking of Ulster when he said this”

    This is questionable based on what he said.

    Extracts from the speech

    “Take also the unity of the United Kingdom and its component parts”
    “by finding shared purpose as a country in our enduring British ideals”
    “all the United Kingdom should honour it, not ignore it;”

    “Take the NHS – like the monarchy, the army, the BBC – one of the great British institutions – what 90 per cent of British people think portrays a positive symbol of the real Britain – founded on the core value of fairness that all should have access to health care founded on need, not ability to pay.” Does the NHS stop at the North Channel? Are people from NI denied the opportunity to join the army? Do BBC signals not reach here?

  • DK

    Maybe there should specific hybrid versions of the union jack that could be used for Olympics and Britpop day. That way the flag could be flown and hopefully not be confused with the various other flags in Northern Ireland.

    Seriously though, the Olmpics could be a great opportunity for people here and for Nationalists to dismiss them due to the flag would be a great pity and an opportunity missed.

    Apart from Brown’s attempt to forge a common identity, I don’t think that unionism has developed enough of a unique identity. The whole unionist identity is wrapped up in the connection to the mother country, but I feel that there should be more to it – more of a celebration of the country we live in, even a sense of independence. It is an identity that nationalists can identify with. As John HUme put it: he considered himself an Ulsterman first, and an Irishman second.

    In the future more and more of the population will be born outside of the 2 main traditions and the only identity a lot of them will have is to their immediate locality – with both Britain and the Republic being foreign areas with funny accents. The challenge to unionism is to move the focus away from being British and onto being from Ulster/Northern IReland.

    DK

  • smcgiff

    ‘five patriotisms?’ – Five?

    As an objective(humour me) outsider I agree with Gordon Brown’s call for more national pride.

    America is a good example. The average citizen in the US displays the flag with the simple pride of being US citizens. Okay, you’ve got the odd KKK’er but you can’t let others appropriate national symbols. The way of retaking such symbols is for everyone to use it. That way it becomes a less powerful symbol of a minority hate group.

    If loyalists removed symbols that are seen to be tainted by terrorism and flew the union flag, could anyone rightfully object? And I don’t mean tattered rags flown from lampposts, but from poles erected on private property, and from official buildings.

  • TAFKABO

    I don’t think that unionism has developed enough of a unique identity. The whole unionist identity is wrapped up in the connection to the mother country, but I feel that there should be more to it – more of a celebration of the country we live in,

    I couldn’t disagree more.
    Unionisms celebration and expression of it’s Britishness happens to be a specific trait of Northern Ireland, something not found in any of the other constituent parts of the UK.
    Most Unionists I know are proud Irishmen, but as long as the British aspect of their identity is under seige, it will be the part talked about and cherished most.
    We always value that which we struggle for over that which is given without cost.

    It is sad, but predicatble, to see the usual suspects come here and start to get offended at the notion unionists could celebrate their Britishness.
    I’ll keep their comments and arguments in mind when that Parade in Derry to celebrate the founding of that foreign country, the Irish republic, takes place.

  • TAFKABO

    That post of 10:43 was by TAFKABO, not Pete Baker.

  • eranu

    i think on a british day the organisers will just be looking for cultural things from all over northern ireland rather than something particularly unionist. i think the day would show the variety of cultures etc found in the UK that together make up a modern britishness.
    off the top of my head, for scotland you might see things like bagpipes, haggis and scottish dancing. for NI it would be irish things found in northern ireland. such as irish dancing, ulster scots stuff, traditional irish music, lambeg drums, gaelic sports and anything else found in northern ireland. there wouldnt be a distinction between religon or politics. if its found in the UK it could be included.
    there would also be african, indian, chinese and other cultures that are now part of todays UK.

  • eranu

    oops. that 12:40 post was me

    eranu

  • fair_deal

    Eranu

    From your description ‘Britday’ just becomes a multi-cultural display when its aim is to be something different than that.

  • eranu

    may be. but i would expect the regions of the UK to have some things to define them as part of the whole.
    you would picture only things that all regions could identify with? things that define the UK to the outside world. those sort of things might be hard to come up with id say. the bbc would be a big symbol of britishness, its also regionalised..

    thinking of the US of A. there are cowboys and country music in one region and rappers and surfing in another. all of which is american. off the top of my head, possibley the main unifying things are the flag, its colours, and the office of the president.
    maybe the union jack and the prime minister / royals would feature highly in a british day. possibley involved in events in each region.

  • eranu

    me again.

    eranu

  • George

    Fair_Deal,
    “I suggest that he wasn’t even thinking of Ulster when he said this”

    This is questionable based on what he said.”

    Brown never mentioned Northern Ireland in his speech outlining his thoughts on Britishness. However, he used the term “Britain” 46 times.

    Last time I looked Britain was made up of England, Scotland and Wales. Last time I looked, Ulster included Donegal, Cavan and Monoghan.

    “Is Unionism’s Ulster-British identity not well-placed to take advantage of this new desire for a more publicly prominent Britishness? What can Ulster Unionism contribute to this important debate on the future relationship of the state and its citizens?”

    No, because Brown is talking about Britain and its British identity.

    Unfortunately, Northern Ireland is not and never will be truly British.

    It is, in essence, the problem child of the forced marriage (the more “virulent” nationalist would say rape) between Britain and Ireland, where, post the divorce settlement, the child’s loyalties are virtually evenly split between the two parents.

    When you say “take advantage”, I assume you mean further the Ulster-British agenda, which in reality means disowning the other parent.

  • Jill Robinson

    Lord sakes, people, let’s not be so literal minded. It’s plain that all or most of Mr. Brown’s speech writers meant Britain not United Kingdom.

    My point about the union jack is that it has been hijacked by right wing thugs, mainly in England, and Brown wants to win it back from them. Do you really think he cares about N. Ireland?

  • fair_deal

    Whoever Pete Baker 7 is

    Political opportunities are were you find them and what you make of them. Brown’s vision for Britishness and further constitutional reform is an opportunity for Unionism if it makes it so.

    “Last time I looked Britain was made up of England, Scotland and Wales. Last time I looked, Ulster included Donegal, Cavan and Monoghan.”

    1. What part of “the unity of the United Kingdom and its component parts” “a union that is strong” in Brown’s speech do you not understand? Brown talks about citizenship and the insitutions held in common none of which stop at the North channel.
    2. If you look at the second link you will see the day he called for is coming about and Northern Ireland is included. If it wasn’t for here why are we included in it?
    3. Great Britain is England Scotland and Wales (to which there is only one reference). Britain is considered an interchangeable term for the United Kingdom.
    3. Ulster as a geographical term has had multiple defintions in its history. You must have been looking at an Elizabethan map that applied the English county system to Ireland.

    “split between the two parents”
    “which in reality means disowning the other
    parent.”

    I feel no divided loyalty. Even within the terms of your analogy 1921 would seem a pretty clear act of disownment.

    fair_deal

  • lah dee dah

    The proposed day celebrating pride in our Britishness is to be welcomed. We Britishers are justifiably proud of the rich heritage of all these islands.

    Gordon Brown is undoubtedly appealing to the whole population of the United Kingdom (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) and probably considered the position of Northern Ireland within that context. IMO he’s appealing to everyone who rsides in the UK – those who feel British and those who don’t – in an effort to cement his governments policies in these times of great demographic change. We in Northern Ireland, including those who don’t look to London but to Dublin, should take the opportunity to, in the words of tree huggers all over these islands, celebrate our diversity.

  • kensei

    “Similar deep divisions in other parts of the UK is what led to this debate so that justification appears thin.”

    Can Unionist please stop this. The situation here is NOTHING LIKE anywhere in England, Scotland or Wales. Not a single one of those states has 43% of the population that wants out, and to suggest we’re just another minority like British Asians is incredibly insulting.

    I have no problem with Unionists expressing their Britishness, and I’d suggest neither do any of the other Nationalists here. What we do have a problem with, is it being used as an excuse to browbeat Nationalism, glorify Loyalist groups or express anti-Catholic sentiment. All of which aflicts that other great expression of Britishness, the 12th.

    We also have a problem with it when our Irishness is expressed. We’ve finally got a St Patrick’s Parade funded but had to have almost all the trapping of Irishness removed.

    As always, it’s the hypocrisy that sticks.

  • kensei

    Can someone fix the name thing. Last one was me.
    Kensei

  • Chris Donnelly

    Clearly, none of the last three posts were mine!
    Chris Donnelly

  • Brian Boru

    I wonder is it wise to go ahead with this in the Six Counties, considering how contentious “Britishness” is? There is already what Unionists tell us is Britishness every Summer after all. Will Loyalist paramilitaries attempt to hijack it? 🙁

  • Brian Boru

    Chris Donnelly4 on Mar 08, 2006 @ 12:17 AM is me, Brian Boru.

  • kensei

    “Clearly, none of the last three posts were mine!
    Chris Donnelly”

    Deep down, you know you agree with me though 😛

  • IJP

    It is interesting that most of the above definitions or examples of ‘Brit-ness’ apply equally to the Irish Republic.

    Yes we can find reasons that people representing ‘Irishness’ committed a given atrocity or people representing ‘Britishness’ committed a given atrocity, but for how long are we to remain prisoners of the past to such an extent that we even deny what we are?