The world cup and the rapidly disappearing union jack
In 1966, England hosted (and won) the world cup finals. The country was a awash with patriotic fervour, and there were union jacks everywhere. Even the Mascot, World Cup Willie wore a Union Jack.
Fast forward 40 years to 2006 and it's all very different. The England supporters are still talking about 1966 and the flags are everywhere, but this time the union jacks have been replaced by the St George Cross. What's happened? Is this is the end of the United Kingdom? Have we stopped becoming British and transformed into a nation of English, Welsh and Scots?
Last week, BBC Two screened a programme: "The Union Jack: A banner for Britain". Various people were interviewed who suggested the union jack has had it's day. Billy Bragg (predictably) said it's reputation was tarnished by the far right. Some British Muslims viewed it with suspicion. Other's saw the United Kingdom as an artificial entity.
The British have always felt awkward about flying the flag. Dr Johnson once called patriotism the "last refuge of the scoundrel". Over the last fifty years, Europe's political elite has seen the nation state as an aberration, the cause of Europe's wars, an anachronism that should be replaced by transnational institutions such as the European Union and the UN. At the same time, they have promoted the cause of regional devolution. Spain has given autonomy to the Basque and Catalan regions, and Britain has devolved power to the Scottish and Welsh partliaments. Whilst national identity has been weakened, regional identity has been strengthened. Not surprisingly, England's supporters have been affected by all this, and are more inclined to see the national team as English rather than British.
Personally, I think this is all a fad that will last as long as the world cup tournament. Yes, there have been one or two attacks on English supporters in Scotland but this hardly heralds the break up of the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, for the first time in 60 years, German football supporters been flying their national flag with pride, and without nationalist overtones. As Gerard Baker wrote in last Friday's Times, they have finally moved on, and in doing so have proved to Europe's political elite that despite their best efforts, you can never snuff out the nation state.