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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 June 2003, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Rebranding puts black marks against UK flag
The proposed new flag

Britain's national flag - the union jack - has been given the makeover treatment, in the hope of reflecting a more modern society.

It's become the marketing executive's remedy for any organisation's ills. From BT to BP, the Labour Party to the Lottery, hardly a business or institution has escaped the rebranding bug.

Now moves are afoot to redesign that most sacred of British hallmarks - the union flag.

A campaign is being launched to modernise the red, white and blue flag by adding a touch of black to reflect multicultural Britain in the 21st Century.

The proposed new flag (see above) is the work of Nigel Turner, an enthusiastic fan of the UK's transformation into a multiracial society over the past 50 years.

If I flew the union jack from a flagpole in my garden, many people would see it as a racist statement
Nigel Turner

Mr Turner, who has called his campaign Reflag, believes his plan would reclaim the union jack from its negative associations, and silence that old skinhead chant: "There ain't no black in the union jack."

"If I flew the union jack from a flagpole in my garden, many people would see it as a racist statement," he says.

"I'm a glass half-full, rather than half-empty sort of person. It's time we made a positive statement about the progression of a multicultural and multiracial society."

400th anniversary

The union flag was first seen in 1606 and the version that we know today was drawn up by the College of Arms in 1801 to represent the Act of Union.

Denise Lewis
Black runner Denise Lewis proudly waves the union jack
Mr Turner, 46, who is white, hopes to spark a debate on the flag. He would like to see a new design replace the current union jack for the flag's 400th anniversary in 2006.

"The proposed design does not mean throwing out all that has gone before, and it is clearly recognisable as the flag of the UK without saying something new."

But as makeovers go, even a designer as thick-skinned as Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen would think twice about treading into such perilous territory.

The so-called "union black" has already raised the ire of the Scottish. Tuesday's Scotsman newspaper said Mr Turner had "missed the point".

"The United Kingdom is not a firm which changes its corporate branding each time the management alters. The flag is an enduring symbol of unity which transcends politics and absorbs cultural change."

Originally flown from masthead of ships
Flag combines crosses of St Patrick, St George and St Andrew (there's no separate representation of Wales)
No official directions exist for its use ashore
Source: Mrflag.com

MSP Phil Gallie told the Scottish Parliament: "The suggestion that our flag should be redesigned is ridiculous tokenism and would do nothing to stamp out racism."

So what does Mr Turner need to do to make his flag official? The answer is not black and white, says flags expert Charles Ashburner.

"There are no laws governing the union flag. Primarily, it's the monarch's flag, but it has come to represent the UK through common usage.

"So to make it official, he just has to make people believe it's the official flag. It will never take the place of the union flag of course, but it could became a sort of quasi-official flag if enough people flew it."

Some of your comments:

I think this is a very good idea, and one that will propel the United Kingdom firmly into the 21st Century.
James, UK

What an absolutely insane idea... the union jack is the symbol of our nation, it has nothing to do with race and should not be connected to it.
Paul Howard, England

I think the "new-look" flag will stir up more racial tension in the UK. Being Asian myself, I think groups such as the BNP will use this to help their cause
Jhon, UK

I seem to recall a distinctive red, white and black banner used to represent a rather extremist group not so long ago - the Nazi Blutfahne! Let's not go down that road.
Paul, Great Britain

Wales is not represented as England and Wales were an entity at the time the flag was drawn up. Therefore this flag is trying to bring us up to date in one way but not another.
Dillon Jacobi, Wales

Mr Gallie's phrase "ridiculous tokenism" seems to sum up the situation perfectly. Not all ethnic minorities are black.
John Smeathers, UK

I was born and brought up in the UK, am 23 and of Indian decent. I am appalled at this proposal. We are multicultural, and what makes us so is the people, not the flag we fly. The union jack is part of our heritage, our past and it should be a part of our future.
Anita Patel, UK

This is more likely to polarise opinion. With far right parties gaining a foothold in local councils, why give them a way of distinguishing themselves by holding on to the old design if the new were adopted?
Nathan Surendran, UK

How much symbolism should one flag represent? The union flag represents a union of countries. It is arguably racially and religiously neutral. Let's keep it that way.
Peter, Wales, UK

The idea is fine in principle but the design is all wrong. As far as I can see the blue and red people of this country as still massively over represented. Perhaps we could use a system of proportional representation and update the flag at each census.
Martin Steven, UK

MSP flaps over Union flag
10 Jun 03 |  Scotland

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