A very British month – but are we too polite to celebrate?
By Anna Trevelyan
April 2016 is a patriotic month for Britain and the UK. On 21st April Queen Elizabeth will turn 90, on 23rd April England will celebrate St George’s Day, and the entire month of April is dedicated to Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary (being the month he was born in, back in 1564, and also the month in which he died during 1616). April will therefore be full of pomp and celebration throughout the country to mark such momentous occasions – but are we sometimes afraid of being ‘too British’, for fear of offending others?
Celebrating patriotism in this country is fraught with negative connotations. Following previous ill-fated sporting events the St George’s Cross flag (and even the Union flag) is sometimes associated with football hooliganism and the right-wing English Defence League. It often flies behind portraits of Nigel Farage and other UKIP representatives, not to mention the BNP’s logo, and many consider it a symbol of historical repression and a colonial, out-dated empire. In fact, YouGov’s recent online poll to survey public opinion on the UK flag revealed that just 36% of people thought the flag was appropriate for modern, diverse Britain.
It will be interesting to see how the feeling of ‘perturbed patriotism’ in this country may change, depending on the outcome of the EU referendum. With less than six weeks to go until voting day, the current online polls show the ‘in’ and ‘out’ voters as being roughly neck and neck. (Over the last six surveys of the opinion polls, the average ‘in’ voters surveyed have a slight edge on the ‘out’ camp by just 2%.) Will the UK be more proud if we leave and become independent? Or is it better to enjoy a feeling of togetherness, with the free movement and EU-backed initiatives to protect workers’ rights that being part of Europe gives us? I have to admit, the uncertainly makes me slightly uncomfortable, which certainly doesn’t help a case of ‘nervous nationalism’.
Online surveys indicate that if the UK should leave the EU, we should consider creating a new flag to symbolise our independence within a modern society. Perhaps we will follow in the footsteps of New Zealand and Australia and survey the public on whether we keep the Union flag, or design a new one (voting in a democratic way would be rather British, after all). I can’t help but think this would be a good thing, as it may make it OK again to be proud to be British.
Why can’t we celebrate being British, and part of the UK, without coming across as unwelcoming of other cultures and lifestyles? Personally, I am proud of our democracy, our freedom of speech and our cosmopolitan society which is generally accepting of people; no matter their age, gender, sexual orientation, beliefs, background or heritage. Of course, there are exceptions, but compared to many countries which I have travelled to we set a good example. I may not be personally excited about Queen Elizabeth’s birthday, but I am glad to be able to say so without being thrown into prison. We in Britain may not be perfect, but what dysfunctional family is?
I’ll certainly be celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary with pride this year. If someone four centuries ago could write subversive witticisms on gender, race and society then we can certainly carry on that tradition. But above all, being in the UK means we can celebrate our diversity - through differences of background, beliefs and opinions - which is good enough for me.
What do you think? Are you proud to be British? Or are you a ‘nervous nationalist’? Will this change with the result of the referendum? At Opinion Outpost we love opinions and we want to hear what you have to say. Join the discussion on our Facebook page and become a member to enjoy paid online surveys and rewards simply for sharing your views.