Without knowing where the finish line will be, the race to the EU referendum has already begun. Despite the fracturing of the Leave campaign and the lack-lustre beginning from the Stay In groups, the pop-up Facebook pages have begun to appear and Twitter users are attempting to condense a range of complex social, political and economic arguments into 140 character barrages. Along with the social-media frenzy both sides have produced posters to be included as arguments to back their cause and throw scorn on the other, readily prepared for users to post online and help spread the message. Between the lists of economic data, Schengen Agreement maps, pictures of refugee camps and European Union flags (either proudly displayed or on fire) a common theme crops up again and again: Is being European compatible with being British?
Unsurprisingly those who wish to stay in the EU predominately answer yes to that question, while those who wish to leave it answer no. While many who wish to leave the EU have often accused the Stay In campaigners of bias by using the EU and Europe interchangeably, Leave.EU have regularly quoted newspaper articles on how most people in the UK only see themselves as British in order to try and highlight a difference between being a British subject and a European citizen.
While there have always been discussions and debates regarding Nationalism and Internationalism, one aspect that liberal internationalists have failed to engage in correctly, to their peril, is the difference between patriotism and nationalism. While patriotism is to have pride in one’s country amongst other nations, nationalism assumes the superiority of one’s country compared to other nations. While the difference to some may sound subtle, in practice it is the difference between cheering on Team GB and marching with the BNP against ‘those who have taken over my country’. Outside of the Olympics, the question now is: How do we make Britishness (and the British flag) purely about patriotism and not about nationalism?
Before I attempt to answer that question it must also be highlighted that liberals are partially to blame for the British flag falling into the hands of nationalists in the first place. The evolving nature of what is considered to be Britishness, both domestically and abroad, has not been seized on by liberal-minded internationalists and shaped to promote Britain as the birthplace and home of modern liberal democracy, at the heart of international politics and at the head of maintaining peace around the world. Instead of raising the Union flag up those flag poles it has been left limp to be snatched up by those who see Britain’s role as isolated and alone.
So how do we make the British flag, and Britishness itself, about patriotism instead of nationalism? We reclaim it as our own. We remind everyone that to wave a Union flag is not about supporting British Nationalism but about supporting Britishness itself; being able live in a fair, safe, tolerant society that strives to reward people on their merit and not their background, that diversity is a binding and not a dividing factor in our society and that we are an outward-looking, forward-thinking nation.
On that note then, Britishness is much more European than we think.