The current Union Jack flag is a composite of the flags of England and Scotland, plus Ireland’s cross of St Patrick, adopted prior to Irish Home Rule. If Scotland were to vote yes today in the majority for breaking away from the Union, what will become of the Union Jack flag?
The flag’s backstory: in 1603 King James VI of Scotland inherited the crown of England and became King James I of England. At this point, although both kingdoms had the same king, they remained separate sovereign states with their own parliaments, judiciary and laws.
In 1606, the King ordered a Union Flag to combine the Scottish Cross of St Andrew (also known as the Saltire, the term being a heraldic symbol in the form of a diagonal cross) with England’s Cross of St George. According to the Flag Institute, over the following years the Union Flag became known colloquially as “the Jack” or the “King’s Jack”, the term jack being a diminutive derived from the term for a small flag flown from the bow of a vessel to indicate its nationality. By 1674 the flag was officially recognised by the term Union Jack.
In 1707, the two parliaments were united to form the Parliament of Great Britain, based at the Palace of Westminster in London. In 1801, the Kingdom of Great Britain united with the neighbouring Kingdom of Ireland. That particular decision has provoked lively debate, shall we say, over the years.
It seems likely that today’s decision will prove equally contentious, with reverberations set to echo from Land’s End to John O’Groats for years to come.
If you are interested in the referendum decision from an engineer’s point of view, you genuinely could do a lot worse than consult our last magazine issue, the Scottish referendum special.
Click on the graphic for an expanded view.