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?