Thursday, December 11, 2008

National Anthems

There is a situation in Britain that has befuddled me for a while now. I speak of course to our criss-cross conventions on the singing of the national anthem. I support the notion that when the Welsh and Scottish players step out to represent their respective teams that they should feel free to sing the anthem that most closely represents their nationhood. I would like to see the possibility of the English being allowed having their own song as well.

When the UK or GB team compete, I also feel that it is appropriate that the British National Anthem – ‘God Save The Queen be played’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is not a straightforward matter.

The official national anthem remains God Save the Queen.

In 2006 the Scottish Executive decided to allow the people of Scotland a vote to decide their own National Anthem. Subsequently, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra placed on their website the five favourites to be the new Anthem. The site attracted 65,000 unique visits and 10,000 votes from all around the world. ‘Flower of Scotland’ which had been played at Football and Rugby matches, secured the highest vote with 41%.

Although ‘Flower of Scotland’ won the vote the Holyrood committee dismissed the idea that the Scottish Parliament should debate this further. Thus, from my meagre legal background, it would seem this exercise has moved ‘Flower of Scotland’ from the status of unofficial-anthem to being the official, unofficial-anthem. ‘Scotland the Brave’ is the song that has been used by the Scottish team at the commonwealth games, this won 29% of the vote.

There is a sentiment in Scotland that ‘Flower of Scotland’ is an anti-English song. The counter argument to this, and perhaps part of the reason it is an appealing substitute to the people of Scotland is that God Save the Queen is also perceived as anti-Scottish. However, only the first verse tends to be observed of ‘God Save the Queen’ and this tends to be more widely acceptable. (Depending on where you look on the internet there are up to SIX verses of God Save the Queen, some seem to vary after the initial verse)

Wales has an official anthem in ‘Hen Wlad fy Nhadau’ (or ‘Land of my fathers’), and must be sang in Welsh. It is recognised by convention as the official anthem of Wales; although not by law. Events concerning Wales, ‘Hen Wlad fy Nhadau’ is played. During visits from the Royal Family, both the God Save the Queen and ‘Hen Wlad fy Nhadau’ are played.

Having looked into the matter on the internet I see that Northern Ireland has ‘Londonderry Air’ as their anthem for the Commonwealth Games, but I does not appear to be recognised in anyway passed that.

So Can England have its own anthem? One which can be observed in English Courts and during English only sporting events? I can’t see why not, eventually, but there would be some issues that would need to be addressed.

It would appear that national anthems seem to be dictated more by convention than law. And as such, there is not much in way of precedence. Assuming that there was a national anthem for the UK and then the separate nations had their own separate anthem there should not really be too much controversy. (Should there?)

There will be a few difficulties to this; the first would be to agree on, or set out a new convention for when each should be played. It would be straight forward to suggest that in sports where teams compete as the individual nations such as England, or Scotland their separate national anthems should be observed.

But what about for example, if there were a Welsh sports person and an English Sports person competing in Sport where anthems are observed. Assuming one wished to observe their component nations anthem, and the other wished to observe ‘God Save the Queen’ – Should a convention be legislated as guidance or would the whole UK be comfortable with allowing personal choice and observation in this matter? Could this be reasonable enforced or observed in an international setting?

There is of course another problem that by observing a National Anthem for both the unitary and component nations is that it would be political issue that may promote nationalistic politics. Not just in terms of calls for a looser union or an eventual breakup UK. Additionally, the anthem, much like the Union Flag may be used as a symbol of hate, rather than to welcome and inspire. My feeling here is actually rather simplistic, (perhaps too much so).

Government, and indeed wider Governments; should do more to show our flags and anthems and national symbols as a reflection of what they truly are; the symbol of shared values, the promotion of hope, symbols of security and good will. It is truly sad that there is a political vacuum of support for something that can inspire and represents so succinctly our shared history and values.

Parliament would also be in the ironic position (perhaps) of observing ‘God Save the Queen’ as UK national Anthem, whilst almost certainly restricting such observations to the first verse… an action that MPs may be uncomfortable with, and might cause some embarrassment to Her Majesty.

Despite these reasons, I still think that the UKs respective nations can observe two anthems each, their individaul anthems and 'God Save the Queen'.

So what would my choice for an English National Anthem be I hear you cry? Answer: ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. It is the anthem observed by the England team at the Commonwealth Games and for a time by the England Rugby Team. I feel it is a fitting, non-offence, self promoting, feel good song. It makes reference to God, but can be observed English people of differing faiths.

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