Why I changed my mind about the flag

The second flag referendum. The great angry showdown.

With a huff of principled indignation, I voted for the Union Jack flag. I ticked the box, sealed the envelope and put it on the kitchen bench ready to post.

And then I changed my mind.

Why?

Last week, a yelling match unfolded on social media. It seemed particularly nasty here in Tauranga where there was an argument about raising the alternative flag on the city flagpole. Never mind the details of the dispute; the comments flying around were awful. From my observation most of the nastiness came from the anti-change side.

As someone who was planning to vote against the silver fern flag, I was embarrassed and disappointed by the way people were being spoken to.

Sure, you can be angry, but don’t inhabit that anger so much that you forget how to treat other human beings. The New Zealand I want to live in is a country where we can have a conversation about a flag without anyone getting accused of being unpatriotic.

I found myself defending the right of silver fern flag-supporters to hold their views. (I wrote this post on their behalf.)

flag-off

The anger on display was so distasteful it made me question my own position.

  • What is so objectionable about this new flag ? Is it the flag itself that is the problem, or is it more about what the flag represents?
  • Does the flag represent things so objectionable that it will stink of those objections for the rest of its life? Or will the flag transcend its troubled origin story and take on a life of its own as the national flag of New Zealand?
  • How would I feel about this flag if I knew absolutely nothing about the political agenda that had pushed it to the front of the referendum queue? How will I feel about this flag in ten or twenty years when the noise has dissipated and when it no longer screams at me of one particular prime minister of the moment?
  • Have I disappeared up my own arse just to spite the National Party?

Suddenly I wasn’t so sure of the robustness of my objections, despite how good they felt in all of their righteous indignation.

I checked the flag again, as objectively as I could, just in case it looked any better.

Silver fern flag

Um. Nope, still disappointing. I mean, compare it with this quick variation that aims for symbolism over a literal drawing. Toby Morris’ improvised version made my heart skip a beat in a way that the original never did.

 

I’ll admit to enjoying the smug satisfaction that comes with knowing the Lockwood flag is not well-designed. It has been intellectually pleasing to align myself with the design champions of this flag debate, those who know how to spell vexillology and who are voting against poor design and lost opportunity.

But how far should I take my design-sulk? Given that this is the only choice we now have, which of the two flags most strongly tells the world that we are New Zealand?

NZ flag  Silver fern flag

I looked at the silver fern flag flying on its flagpole outside Baycourt and I thought (with a bit of a sigh) okay, it’s far from perfect but I can still imagine it flying at the Olympics. It looks a lot less gaudy flapping on a pole than it does on a screen.

2 flags Baycourt

It’s not really that bad.

Is it?

How bad does it have to be for it to be fatally flawed?

It will transcend John Key, the National Party, the TPPA and any other political complaint that we have projected onto it, even the cost of the referendum.

It will transcend any grumbling that it could have been better designed.

We will make it ours and it will become the nation’s flag.

Yes, so much about the flag change process was disappointing and aggravating. But here we are. The budget has been spent. We either make it work or we stick with the current flag for who knows how long.

It was put to me this week that if the flag doesn’t change, this debacle will be the millstone that hangs around the neck of every subsequent government. “Hey, let’s try changing the flag again.” “Are you kidding? Do you not remember what happened last time?”

There’s a plausible argument to suggest that setting a precedent for change will make future change more likely, not less. I don’t know about that, but it’s food for thought.

You know what? I’m starting to like that silver fern option. In this punch-up between the Union Jack and the silver fern, I would prefer to see the silver fern flying as our national flag.

I went onto the elections website and requested a new voting form.

That’s right. I’m voting for the expensive, shitty Lockwood flag as a step forward for New Zealand.

And no matter what happens, I’ll still be a proud New Zealander – just like you. Like I said last week, yay for us.

flag-off

Earlier thoughts about the flag change process

A new New Zealand flag? 9 Feb 2014

NZ Flag Idol. 9 Nov 2014

No compelling reason to change the flag. 12 June 2015