What does the Union Jack mean to you?

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
May 01, 2012, 9:14 AM GMT+0

Monarchy, empire, Olympics… racism? Pan-GB poll compares Scotland, Wales and England views

People in England, Scotland and Wales most associate the Union Jack (often called simply the 'Union Flag') with monarchy, the British Empire and sacrifice in the World Wars, a recent poll on British attitudes to nationality, for think tank British Future, has found.

Key findings

  • The Union Jack is most commonly associated with the Monarchy, the British Empire and the British Armed Forces across England, Wales and Scotland
  • The flag is also associated with pride, patriotism, democracy and tolerance
  • Scottish people are less likely than English or Welsh to associate the Union Jack with patriotism
  • Scottish respondents more likely to associate the Union Jack with racism and extremism
  • English public more likely to associate the flag with upcoming Olympics and 'Team GB'

Flying the flag for…

Strong majorities of respondents from all three nations polled associated the monarchy with the Union Flag.

  • 84% of English respondents, 82% of Welsh, and 80% of Scottish
  • Around three in five to two thirds associate the Flag with the British Empire (English 64%, Welsh 60% and Scots 60%)
  • While ‘sacrifice in the World Wars’ was also a popular association, with 68% of the English; 63% of the Welsh and just over half of Scots (55%)

The British Armed Forces were associated with the Union Jack by the majority of each country's respondents (English 80%, Welsh 77% and Scots 70%).

Patriotism…and racism

The Union Jack is also associated with ideals of pride and patriotism, democracy and tolerance, our poll found ‒ but although a good percentage of Scots are similarly inclined, more Scots than English or Welsh associate the flag with negative connotations such as racism and extremism.

  • 80% of English respondents associated the Union Jack with pride and patriotism, along with 68% of Welsh respondents and just over half of Scots (56%)
  • Around two in five 41% of Scottish respondents associate the Union Jack with democracy and tolerance compared to over half of the English (54%) and just under half of the Welsh (47%)
  • And while 15% of English respondents and 16% of Welsh associated the Union Jack with racism and extremism, a full 25% of Scots said that they associated the flag with this

Modern and diverse Britain?

The flag on balance receives less backing when it comes to associating it with a modern and diverse Britain, and when used in a 'modern sense', looks to be received best by the English public rather than Britain as a whole – for example, more English people that Welsh or Scottish associate the flag with the upcoming Olympics and 'Team GB', or pop music.

  • 37% of English consider that the Union Jack represents a modern and diverse Britain, compared to 30% of Welsh and 25% of Scots
  • 75% of English people associate the flag with 'Team GB' and the London 2012 Olympics, compared to 63% of Welsh people and just over half of Scots (55%)
  • Around a third of English respondents (34%) thought the Union Jack could be associated with British pop music, compared to 24% of Scots and just 13% of Welsh respondents

Historically, the origin of the term 'Union Jack' ‒ a national flag that incorporates the symbols of three countries: England (with Wales), Scotland and Northern Ireland – is uncertain, but harks back to a time in which it was most commonly used by the armed and naval forces.

There are various theories as to whether the flag should be referred to as 'Jack' or merely 'Union Flag' ‒ with the 'Jack' ostensibly only correct when not on dry land ‒ but nowadays it seems that the terms are used interchangeably.

Independent identities

Many Britons believe that, as the national flag incorporates the symbols of all UK countries, the ‘Union Jack' emphasises the very nature of the United Kingdom: perpetuating diversity, unity and strength.

However, the issue of independence and devolution remains pertinent, especially regarding recent calls from Scottish Minister Alex Salmond to vote on the issue of independence north of the border.

Anti-independence commentators, however, claim that should Scotland be granted independence, it could damage their identity as Britons, and the unity of the nation itself. Vicky Wong writes on online news site PolicyMic, 'independence [seems] very romantic…but not only could it lead to the breakup of an ancient union, it could make both Scotland and the new UK weaker players on the international stage'.

Hitting back at claims that independence could threaten Britain's economic power and dilute the British identity, however, Scottish National party MSP for Glasgow Humza Yousaf has said that any country that makes up the union would not lose its identity or diminish the importance of Britain by becoming independent of it, but rather would celebrate their national identity and role in the British community, as well as 'welcoming a broad and diverse future'.

'Independence is the broad, inclusive and positive option for Scotland, in which the wide range of identities we have in our modern nation - Scottish, British, Pakistani, Chinese, Polish, Irish and many, many more – can all be reflected and celebrated,' he said.

See the survey details and full results here