If Scotland takes itself out of the United Kingdom, it would probably make sense for the United Kingdom to remove Scotland from its flag. Yes, the Union Jack as we know it might be at stake in Thursday’s referendum on Scottish independence. The British flag’s blue-and-white cross represents Scotland.
The Union Jack, introduced in 1801, has become a global symbol of Britishness on par with the Beatles. But despite its familiarity, many foreigners probably don’t realize that the flag’s intersecting lines stand for the crosses of three countries: England, Ireland, and Scotland. (Wales, another part of the union, didn’t make it on the flag.) If Scotland were to secede and the flag remains unchanged, the blue-and-white cross—belonging to St. Andrew, the country’s patron saint—would be a sad reminder of another failed relationship.
The chief executive of London’s Flag Institute, Charles Ashburner, believes that the Union Jack should be redesigned if Scotland votes for independence. To do otherwise, he says, would be like “one of the states of the United States seceding from your union and you not then removing the star in the flag that relates to it.” His fellow Flag Institute members seem to agree: In a recent survey of 421 respondents, 65 percent said that the flag should change. And 72 percent agreed that any new flag should finally acknowledge Wales.
“This independence business is causing a great deal of confusion, regardless of the result,” Ashburner says. And that confusion could only deepen once a flag-reform process gets under way. The Union Jack, it turns out, isn’t overseen by any particular governmental body.
So what form could the new Union Jack flag take? We asked designers at some of the world’s top design firms—Base Design, Bruce Mau Design, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, Huge, Pentagram, and Siegel+Gale—to reimagine the Union Jack for a lesser Great Britain.