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It’s Me, Jack. My United Kingdom Is Fraying

I’m one of the world’s most iconic flags. But ahead of an important Scottish vote, I may come to embody what was, not what is.

The Death of Major Peirson  by John Singleton Copley.

The Death of Major Peirson  by John Singleton Copley.

Image: Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images

The British and I have always had a complex relationship. Over the centuries, I’ve stood for empire-building and division, flown through war and peace, represented football hooliganism and royal pageantry, and adorned iconic designs as well as millions—maybe billions—of knickknacks and souvenirs.

I was born in 1606, shortly after the merging of the crowns of England and Scotland, coming of age after the Acts of Union that formed Great Britain in 1707 and later added Ireland in 1801. By the 19th century I was everywhere our navy could sail, the potent symbol of the British Empire, combining the crosses of three patron saints: St. George of England, St. Andrew of Scotland, and St. Patrick of Ireland.