Defense of the Union Jack

The Union Jack of the United Kingdom can be proudly found throughout the world, including here at the Six Pence Pub in my hometown of Savannah, GA, with the Home Nation flags of England, Scotland, and Wales and the flag of the United States.
Image Credit: Wesley Hutchins

     Flags – they can mean many things to many people. They can represent pride and instill patriotism in some, while also causing an affront to others – and these emotions can be felt by people living within the same country.

     Recently, there was a controversy over the British flag – aka, the Union Flag (or Jack) – not being present on the vests that are to be worn by British athletes during the World Athletics Championships in Beijing. The redesigned vest features the national colors – red, white, and blue – as well as “GREAT BRITAIN” spelled out across it in red letters, but not the flag itself, which had been prominently displayed on the uniform used for the last world championships in 2013 in Moscow.

     Not since 1997 has a British athletics competition vest failed to include the flag. For Olympic long jumper Greg Rutherford, it was “wrong and ridiculous” to have the flag omitted, and he took his complaint to Twitter, where he tweeted a photo of the new athletics kit.

     Rutherford, known to be popular and forthright amongst members of the athletics squad, further stated that he was “proud to be British”, and lambasted the new kit – calling it “terrible” and no longer British. He also claimed that there was not one athlete he had spoken to who had wanted the change, and that everyone wanted the Union Flag on the vest. Among his Twitter followers who agreed with this was British steeplechaser Eilish McColgan, who remarked that the vest looked “really odd” without the flag and – as with Rutherford – accused UK Athletics of representing itself, rather than Britain.

     UK Athletics is the governing body of the sport of athletics in the United Kingdom, and its CEO Nick de Vos stated that the objective of the new kit was not to eradicate the Union Flag (which is still displayed on the shorts and socks) but to promote the brand of Team GB and British Athletics leading up to the World Championships being hosted by London in 2017, and that by having “Great Britain” spelled out across the vest, they were actually taking a cue from the success of Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics. In this sense, it was more about the team than the flag.

     This view taken by the governing body is not entirely off the mark. While having the flag on uniforms is preferable in athletic competitions, it is not necessary – especially if the name of the country and its colors are present as part of the scheme. For my part as an American, I do not look for Old Glory on the uniform of athletes, and with regard to the last summer Olympics, I paid much more attention to the performance of the squads representing Team USA, whose uniforms typically displayed small US flags (probably not much larger than 2" x 3"). The substantial prominence of the flag came from the USA fans and its appearance during victory laps and medal ceremonies.

     So flags can become overrated in the overall scheme of certain things and in certain contexts, and if the statement by UK Athletics had been the last word of the controversy, this post would have stopped here.

     But Jonathan Jones decided to take it to another level when he wrote in The Guardian that he had “sympathy” for the kit designers, who he claimed had created an “elegant” vest with the national colors, while dispensing with “that jagged, explosive, aggressive flag.”

     Jones, an art columnist for the newspaper, insisted that his criticism was not about “imperial arrogance” or a “coercive union that keeps Scotland in its place”, but instead had to do with how the flag looked, and he opined that the flag was “cluttered” with sharp-angled lines which implied fragmentation as opposed to unity, as well as being “heavy and overbearing, forceful and strident.”

     Furthermore, Jones asserted that while the flag had meaning when Britannia ruled the waves – and in particular, when fighting in battles such as Waterloo and Trafalgar – it was “crap” today, and that its “sheer pompous ugliness unconsciously damages the image of the union” in a way that gives a “psychological boost” to the separatists who wish to break up Britain.

     For this reason, he suggested that a new flag should be designed to save the United Kingdom and make the British people proud to be British and love their country again.

     However, I find that the commentary by Jones – while a bit refreshing for coming from an artistic point of view – was off the mark and at odds with the Union Flag which I and millions of people around the world have come to know.

     The Union Flag is – quite simply – one of the most beautiful flags in the world, and that beauty is in part derived from the fact that it is, as Jones writes, “a compromise, a merging of different national symbols.” It brings together a vibrant blue field and a white diagonal cross – the Saltire of St. Andrew representing Scotland, with the red Saltire of St. Patrick for Northern Ireland, and the red Cross of St. George representing England, to forge one flag for one country – the United Kingdom.

     It is therefore a flag of unity, and James VI of Scotland knew exactly what he was doing in the early 1600’s when he moved to have the flags of Scotland and England merged when he ascended to the English throne as James I, and therefore became the first man to rule all Britain. The royal union eventually led to the political, economic, and cultural union which has thus far endured for over 300 years, and the flag has become a symbol of the nations of Britain joining together as a single country.

     This is in similar fashion to the United States, where the stripes represent the original thirteen British colonies which became independent states and came together as one, while the fifty stars represent the fifty states of our current Union – all in the spirit of E Pluribus Unum.

My hand-made Christmas ornament featuring Old Glory on
one side and the Union Jack on the other.

Image Credit: Wesley Hutchins

     Indeed, the idea of several diverse areas melding together is especially true of Britain, where various tribes eventually merged into larger and expanding kingdoms, and resulted in the country that we know today. Those three crosses come together as an expression of that unity, as well the possibilities that can arise from that unity of peoples from so many cultures and backgrounds.

     It must be made very clear that the Union Flag is not the flag of any one part of the UK, nor is it the flag of any one ethnic group, nor is it the flag of any one religious group, or of any one racial group, nor is it the flag of any one political party, group, or philosophy. It is most definitely not the flag of “Westminster”, and neither is it a factional or sectarian flag.

     It is the flag of the United Kingdom and thus the flag of all Britons, from Inverness to Southampton, Belfast to Dover, Berwick to Cardiff, Anglesey to Glasgow, Land’s End to Shetland, and everywhere else in between. This includes people who can trace their families to the Normans, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Romans, and the various Celtic tribes (all of which are quite interrelated, anyway), as well as the people who are Britons of the first generation in our time. As such, it is a flag of “relentless dynamism” – a term used by Jones – as the country has changed time and time again while also preserving elements of continuity.

     It is not “owned” by anybody, just as the Saltire in Scotland is not the flag of the Scottish nationalists, for it is the flag of all of Scotland, including those who believe that Scotland should continue to be part of the United Kingdom, and who look to the Union Flag as the one that they share with the people of the rest of the Britain.

     Some may disagree with me on this point, but quite simply, it is my belief that the Union Flag serves the purpose as the national flag of the United Kingdom, just as the Stars and Stripes does as the national flag of the United States – full stop, and it is doubtful that the nationalists will start looking more favorably at the Union with an entirely redesigned flag.

     The one modification I would perhaps make would be to find a way to include Wales, which had already been annexed into England at the time of the unions with Scotland and Ireland, so that it is effectively represented by St. George's Cross. It is not – at least from what I can see – a terribly important issue, but it would be nice to have St. David’s Cross or the Red Dragon incorporated into the design, so that Wales can be represented as an integral part of the Union, as it always has been. My own personal preference would be to have the Red Dragon in the middle to preserve the overall red, white, and blue color scheme of the flag (since St. David's cross is yellow).

A modified Union Flag with the Welsh Red Dragon included.
Image Credit: Yes0song via Wikimedia Commons cc

     After all, the Union Flag has long been established and cemented as an easily and hugely recognized symbol of the United Kingdom across the globe. It is powerfully iconic in its representation of Brand Britain everywhere, whether it is featured on clothes, food packaging, automobiles, ships, airplanes, various forms of media, mobile device cases, pillows and bed sheets, wallpaper, Christmas ornaments, stuffed animals, desktop backgrounds, posters, logos and insignia's for various organizations, and several other things which people use or come into contact with everyday.

     The flag is flown in admiration for Britain and to denote places, people, and things that are British, such as the Scottish pub in my hometown of Savannah which flies it, along with the Saltire and the Red Lion Rampant (the Royal Standard of Scotland) on its premises, as well as another pub which flies the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George, the Red Dragon, the Union Jack, and the Stars and Stripes. When one sees the Union Flag around the world, he or she knows what it is, and no questions need be asked.

Molly MacPherson's Scottish Pub and Grill in Downtown
Savannah with the Union Flag, Saltire, and Red Lion Rampant
Image Credit: Wesley Hutchins

     From this point of view, the true measure of the global influence of a Union Flag is not such much about how many other countries copy its design when in the process of designing their own, but about how many people admire it and choose to use it in admiration of and respect for the United Kingdom.

     When I see the Union Flag, I do see the Saltire of St. Andrew, St. Patrick’s Cross, and St. George’s Cross, and through them, I see the countries of the UK and their contributions to Britain’s history, its achievements, themes, values, issues, tensions, paradoxes, and contradictions, as well as the triumphs and tragedies, good and bad, joys and sorrows, and times of unity and division, as well as its future – all wrapped up into one flag to represent the United Kingdom as a whole in its beautifully complex tapestry.

     Alongside the idea of a bank holiday in commemoration of the entire United Kingdom, the Union Flag ought to be formally codified into law as the official flag of the United Kingdom, and as such, should fly from all public buildings at all times, alongside the flags of each Home Nation where appropriate (i.e., it and the Saltire side-by-side at public buildings in Scotland). There is no reason why this cannot be done, and indeed, the Union Flag should not be in competition with the Saltire or the other Home Nation flags. Except for Wales, it is composed of flags representing the Home Nations, and as such, it complements them and denotes their rightful place in the overall context of the Union.

     This is why I see unity instead of division in a flag of “relentless dynamism” which befits the robust, outward-looking, and tolerant country that Britain is and should always aspire to be, as well the hope that Britain can sort out its issues – constitutional and otherwise – as one.

The Small Island with Big Influence

The island of Great Britain (which is actually the ninth largest island in the world).Image Credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

     Two years ago during the G-20 Summit, a spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin reportedly said that Britain was a “small island no one listens to.” British Prime Minister David Cameron accepted the official line from the Russians that such remarks were not made, but nevertheless responded with a robust defense of the United Kingdom.

     “Britain may be a small island”, he said, “but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a bigger heart, or greater resilience.” He focused on this small island doing its bit in being resolute throughout World War II in the effort to “clear the European continent of fascism”, as well as the island that helped to abolish slavery, invented “most of the things worth inventing, including every sport currently played around the world”, and being responsible for much of the “art, literature and music that delights the entire world” as well as for the world’s language of trade and commerce – English.

     He added that the UK was actually a collection of islands with places such as Northern Ireland, Shetland, and Orkney, and that despite their overall size, these islands could boast of “having the sixth-largest economy, the fourth best-funded military, some of the most effective diplomats, the proudest history, one of the best records for art and literature and contribution to philosophy and world civilisation”, and that this was something to be proud of. 

     At the time, there were skeptical voices in response to Cameron’s statements. Some people on the political left poured cold water on the remarks – saying among other things that Britain was involved in slavery and the slave trade before ending it, that the Soviets were bigger players in defeating Hitler, and the many British “inventions” were in fact only created in their modern form by Britons. On the other side, there were conservative stiffs on the right who thought that it was out of British character to be so boastful about the UK’s achievements – saying that it made more sense just to pay no attention to the Russians. Keep calm and carry on, they said.

     However, the Prime Minister was right to give that defense of the United Kingdom in light of remarks that were designed to belittle a country that has been considered (at least in some circles) to be on the decline ever since the end of World War II. With the United States in the role of a superpower and the rise of countries such as China, India, and Brazil, there are those – including many Britons, it seems – who make it an industry to talk of Britain being a broken-down and washed-up former imperial power with wilting influence and a place in which there is little or no civic or patriotic pride. 

     Of course, it is true that Britain no longer wields the sort of power it once had when it could command the resources of a global empire – the largest in human history – and can no longer expect people to bend to its will. However, Britain does remain a world power of paramount significance through the exercise of soft power.

     Soft power – as defined by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye – is the “ability to affect others to obtain preferred outcomes by the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuasion and positive attraction”, and it works by “using networks, developing and communicating compelling narratives, establishing international norms, building coalitions, and drawing on the key resources that endear one country to another.” This is in contrast to hard power, which involves the use of military and economic might to coerce others through methods such as military interventions, economic sanctions, and monetary payments. In short, as Professor Nye has said, “hard power is push; soft power is pull.”

     Nye coined the term “soft power” in 1990, but admits that it is not a new concept. As an American, Jazz Diplomacy comes to mind as a method the US government used to woo other countries and develop friendly relationships, but the idea has roots going back farther than that, and Nye mentions Lao-tsu’s comment that it is better for people to barely know that a leader exists, rather than for the people to obey his commands.

     As the world becomes more complex, multi-polar, and defined by interconnected relationships which create limits on the effectiveness of hard power, the use of soft power becomes increasingly paramount.

     Here, the United Kingdom is in an excellent position to make a difference as it tops the rankings of a report by Jonathan McClory of Portland Communications in conjunction with Facebook and ComRes, called The Soft Power 30. It ranks countries based on six objective areas: business attractiveness (Enterprise), cultural influence and outreach (Culture), digital footprint (Digital), government structure, public institutions, and public policy (Government), engagement with other countries and diplomatic outreach (Engagement), and the equality of education and the attraction of foreign students (Education).

     The UK came in second place in the Digital, Cultural, Engagement, and Education sub-indices, and was in the top twenty with regard to Government (13) and Enterprise (17). There was also a subjective component which featured international polling data regarding how international audiences viewed particular aspects of a country, such as trust in conduct in foreign affairs, perceptions of contributions to global culture, desire to visit for work or study, and perceptions of cuisine. On these and four other metrics, the UK scored at 7th place in the view of people from outside the country. 

     Altogether, and when compared to other countries, the UK emerged in front with a score of 75.61, well clear of the runner-up Germany (73.89), which edged out the US (73.68) and France (73.64) before the top five rounded out with Canada at 71.71.

     According to the report, the UK’s strong performance across all sub-indices that make up the soft power index was the result of “publicly funded and state controlled” resources, such as the BBC World Service, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Department for International Development, and other critical institutions. It also cited the work of the British Council, the UK’s higher education system, and “publicly funded cultural institutions” – referring to them as “world class” and providing a “tremendous source of attraction and admiration around the world.”

     Aside from these government-backed and government-funded resources, there are also private sector resources which help to exert soft power in more subtle ways, such as Britain’s creative industries (art, film, music, architecture, design, and fashion), renowned and respected British businesses (Rolls Royce, Burberry, and British Airways), and British sports culture with institutions such as the Premier League which “have a positive impact on perceptions of the UK.” In addition, a further explanation on this point cited how soft power is exercised through popular examples of British culture, including Harry Potter, David Beckham, and the Royal Family.

     Soft power from the United Kingdom is also exercised via a “very strong civil society” which includes a diverse range of organizations “from charities, NGOs and the religious community, through to cultural institutions and even trade unions.” Furthermore, Britain is home to various international organizations (Amnesty International, Save the Children, and Oxfam) which are focused on issues and concerns such as development, disaster relief, and human rights, and therefore “form an integral part of British soft power.” In this sense, soft power is exercised on a voluntary basis by the people themselves, including those who are ordinary and often unrecognized for their efforts. 

     Such efforts are undoubtedly made easier by Britain’s significant international clout, which is derived from its “enviable position” in the G7, NATO, the European Union, the UN Security Council, and “at the epicenter of the Commonwealth.” With a seat at the top table of virtually every organization of “international consequence”, Britain takes its role as an outward-looking country, and it may very well be for this reason (on top of all the others) why Britain attracts more foreign direct investment than Germany, Spain, or France, and why it claims the top spot in the soft power index.

     However, the report did note areas of potential concern, such as the possibility of Britain leaving the EU, and on this matter, the report noted that the extent of Britain’s influence will be tested during the negotiations for EU reform and that David Cameron must bring something home from such negotiations, lest he lose credibility as a world leader and deal a blow to confidence in Britain. 

     This comes at a time when, as the report noted, Britain is moving a “more inward looking politics” and no longer committing itself as much to international outreach due to budget cuts to critically important institutions such as the FCO, the British Council, and the BBC World Service. Such cuts in funding, claims the report, “will prove a false economy in the future” because the driving force in global affairs will be large networks forged over decades. Without them, Britain’s influence is seriously undermined, and Professor Nye has said, once soft power is lost, it is costly to re-establish.

     Overall however, this report displayed to a large extent the reason Britain – far from being the broken clap-trap portrayed by nationalists and some newspaper columnists – is a great country with the potential for a brighter future, and also justifies Prime Minister Cameron’s defense of it in response to the alleged Russian comments two years ago.

     That the report states that most British people may be surprised to learn that Britain is number one in a significant global ranking is in indication of how many Britons no longer believe in themselves or their country, when in fact there is much to be proud of throughout these sceptered isles. Indeed, the report remarks that the “success of the 2012 Olympics was a coup for a country struggling to rediscover its confidence in the wake of two recent wars and a major recession.” Watching those Games myself, I was certainly happy for Team GB in winning as many medals as it did and glad to see the British people enjoying themselves as their country exceeded expectations.

     Hopefully, this report can be of some assistance in helping the people of the United Kingdom to realize what they have in their country, and how they take it for granted. This means taking some satisfaction in the capital city London, which the report counts as “the jewel in the crown” among the UK’s soft power resources with its “unrivalled…global outlook, position, and connectivity” which results in it attracting more visitors than any other city in the world.

     London – for all that it has been much-maligned (and for some good reasons) – is a strong resource in the hands of the UK that ought to be embraced, especially as a place that can serve as a springboard for people to visit the UK beyond the capital city.

     The same applies to the BBC, which via the World Service, helps to project Britain around the globe, and I can personally testify to this as a regular listener who values the service and believes that it does so much to help foster positive views about Britain and make it great. For that reason, I am concerned about the potential for the government to make short-sighted changes to the BBC and its funding mechanism, as well as the threat from the SNP, who want control over broadcasting and the BBC to be devolved to Holyrood. The result either way will be to shrink the BBC to a shell of itself and to strike a devastating blow to Britain’s very identity.

     For all of its faults, the BBC is a recognizable and very visible symbol of Britain, and efforts must be made to reform it for all the right reasons, but not for party political reasons or for reasons that are deliberately meant to weaken the UK.

     Indeed, I wish the people of the United Kingdom – from Inverness to Southampton, from Belfast to Kent, from Anglesey to Shetland, and everywhere in between – would just take a moment to pause and take stock in the country they call home and see the things that ought to be treasured, including the Union itself.

     After all, there must be a reason why people from overseas (including yours truly) wanted Britain to stay together and not be broken up. There must also be reasons why they like the Royal Family, why they watch the BBC, why they read Shakespeare, Burns, and Rowling, and among other things. Partly, it is because all of these help to make Britain what it is, shape how we view Britain, make us admire and respect Britain, and most significantly, draw us to Britain. Without them, the country – divided and utterly broken – would become unrecognizable at best and dystopian at worst, and the world would be poorer for it.

     We need a strong and robust United Kingdom that deftly, efficiently, and effectively deploys its soft power, while also keeping its hard power on hand. We need a United Kingdom that is at the heart of helping to resolve world issues. We need a United Kingdom that preserves its institutions while also looking to the future and being confident in everything it does.

     But in order for that to happen and continue, we need the British people to come together as one and value themselves and their country as people on the outside do. To that end, there ought to a designated day for people to celebrate the United Kingdom – its people, achievements, institutions, history, and culture – so that there can be a sense of civic pride in the country and make the bonds that bind even stronger going forward, and I urge everyone reading this (who lives in the UK) to sign this petition to help make it a reality.

     However, a new national day will only go so far, for there must be substance behind it. In time, I hope that more people throughout the UK (from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) will take some time to get out and see their country to appreciate it, and work with one another in a great British civic effort to make it a better and more prosperous place for all at home, and to project it positively across the world.

     This will be the basis upon which the country – these small islands in the Atlantic which punch above their weight – will survive for the ages in the spirit of Burns: “Be Britain still to Britain true, Amang ourselves united!”

Saving a Great British Icon

     Nearly seven years after her last voyage as an operational ocean liner, the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 is still one of the most famous vessels in the world.

     Launched by Her Majesty the Queen in 1967, she sailed on her maiden voyage to New York in 1969 into an uncertain future as ships like her were no longer the primary means of traveling in the age of air travel. Indeed, the Cunard Line, her owner gambled almost everything on her to save it from extinction in the face of this new reality that had seen the transatlantic ocean liner market virtually collapse in less than a generation since the end of World War II.

     Despite the odds against it however, the QE2 – as she quickly and popularly became known – went on the sail the seas for nearly 40 years. With her revolutionary design, she was able to be flexible as a transatlantic ocean liner between Southampton and New York in the summer and as a cruise ship in warmer waters (including an annual world cruise) during the winter months – allowing her to make money virtually year-around for Cunard and remain commercially viable through much of her career.

QE2 in Trondheim, Norway - June 2008
(Credit: Trondheim Havn Wikipedia Commons cc)

     Throughout that illustrious career, she carried many over 2.5 million passengers – from the well-known (including royalty, presidents, prime ministers, diplomats, and celebrities) to people of modest means who would only make one passage aboard QE2 in their lifetime. All were treated to unparalleled and sophisticated luxury aboard a ship that carried the legacy of the great Atlantic liners that had come before her, and she developed a solid reputation for reliability and comfort – setting a standard against which other ships were compared.

     Along the way, she made 806 transatlantic crossings and sailed 6 million miles. This included the period during which she served her country in the Falkland’s War as a troop transport (just as her predecessors had done in the previous world wars). In addition, she was the longest-serving liner in Cunard’s history, as well as its longest-serving flagship. On top of that, the QE2 was the fastest operating passenger vessel until her retirement.

     That retirement came when the QE2 was sold to Dubai World for $100 million and sailed there in November 2008, where she was supposed to be converted into a floating hotel like the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. However, at the time when QE2 was purchased in 2007, the property boom was at its height, and by the time of her arrival over a year later, the global economy was on a downward trend, and this seriously affected the QE2’s prospects in Dubai. Since then, no conversion work has been done on her, and all long-term plans for use of the ship have fallen through.


Queen Mary as a floating hotel, convention center,
and maritime museum in Long Beach, California.

(Credit: Christopher Finot via Wikimedia Commons cc)

     Up until two years ago, she was very visible and well-kept at a berth in Dubai with her engines and internal power systems still running as if ready to head back out to sea again. In 2009, she was drydocked and her hull was cleaned and given a fresh coat of paint, which raised prospects of sunny days ahead. However, the engines have been since turned off, and without them, the ship has been left to bake in the desert sun of the Middle East – with mold and mildew now making themselves present. Worse, she has been placed into a rather nondescript area with tankers and cargo ships, and the latest photos show her looking derelict and forlorn – as if she is being deliberately left to rot. Other photos, including those with workers roasting pigs near the swimming pools, have only confirmed the languishing state in which the former flagship of the British merchant fleet finds herself.

     Rob Lightbody, the founder The QE2 Story – a website dedicated to preserving the memory of the great vessel and to raising awareness to save it – told The Scotsman: “Nothing has happened to it in the last two and a half years. There’s no power. There’s no air. She’s filthy.”

     Dubai meanwhile have been frustratingly silent on the fate of this much-beloved ship. Having promised to be faithful stewards of the QE2 from the outset – with an ambitious plan for her going forward – they have all but signaled that they are no longer interested in what was once supposed to be the crown jewel of their Palm Jumeriah development. This lack of interest is only ripe for them to want to be rid of what has now become a liability, and by any means if necessary, which obviously means the scrapyard.

     However, there are those who are adamant on not allowing this to happen, and have been working to get the QE2 returned home to the United Kingdom, where she undoubtedly belongs. But then, where should she go?

     With regard to suitable locations in the UK for QE2 to enjoy her retirement, I believe Greencock, Southampton, Liverpool, and London should be considered in that order.

     Why Greenock at the top? Well, the QE2 was built on the River Clyde – specifically at the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank (just to the west of Glasgow), where many other Cunarders were also built, and the wharf where those great liners were fitted out is still there. This would make it a suitable location, were it not for the Erskine Bridge that was built downriver from Clydebank in 1971 after the QE2 had been constructed. It has a clearance of 148 feet, which is not high enough for the QE2 – 171 feet tall from the water line – to sail under, unless her iconic funnel and mast where removed and replaced upon her arrival at the old Brown’s yard.

Hull 736 on the stocks at John Brown's in Clydebank before her launch as Queen Elizabeth 2.
(© Copyright James Allan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

     Barring that unlikely scenario, Greenock at the mouth of the Clyde would be the next best option. It was where the QE2 was drydocked for the final stages of her construction and fitting out, and she visited the area in 2007 for the 40th anniversary of her launch and in 2008 during her farewell tour of the UK before sailing off to Dubai.

     In addition, Stephen McCabe, the council leader of Inverclyde (which contains Greencock) pointed out the reception received by the RMS Queen Mary 2 – Cunard’s current flagship and now the only operating ocean liner in the world – when she visited the area along the lower Clyde a few weeks ago to celebrate Cunard’s 175th anniversary. Even though she was not Clyde-built like her predecessors – starting with the first Cunarder Britannia – in many ways, there was a spiritual connection because of the generations of Cunarders that have been built there.

     Many other vessels have been built along the Clyde as well, and the area has also been a major port of entry for maritime trade – so much so, that at one point, Glasgow was considered the second city of the British Empire. During World War II, the Clyde also played host as a strategic landing point for hundreds of thousands of American and Canadian servicemen who were to take part in the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied continental Europe. Many of those people sailed across the Atlantic courtesy of the Clyde-built steamers Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, each of whom were converted to carry over 15,000 people at a time, and for their extraordinary contribution to the war effort, they were commended by Prime Minister Winston Churchill for shortening the war by a year or more.

Queen Mary arriving in New York carrying thousands of serviceman home following the end of World War II. To this day, she retains the record for the most souls ever carried aboard a single vessel: 16,683 (including crew) on a crossing from New York to Greenock in July 1943.
Public Domain)

     With this heritage in mind, Councillor McCabe said to The Telegraph that “it is clear that the QE2 could be a major draw for visitors to Inverclyde and Scotland. It could also boost the promotion of the Clyde and Inverclyde’s proud maritime history to a national and, potentially, international audience.”

     The next logical location for the great liner would be Southampton, her home port for 40 years. This city was proud of having the ship carry its name around the world to various locations – providing it with an exposure that it otherwise might not have had. The people living there treated the QE2 as a semi-permanent landmark – a point of local pride that had a global reach, and they gave the vessel a fitting send-off in 2008 when she departed for the last time. For them, the loss of the QE2 was more than a loss of a ship; it was like the loss of a long-time neighbor and friend – a void left unfilled.

     Southampton is still a major working port, with ships – including modern cruise liners, ferries, and cargo vessels – arriving and departing every day. It is also ancient, having hosted many ships throughout its history, including greatest ocean liners in the world – such as the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Aquitania, and Olympic. The city is particularly known for its connection to the Titanic, since it was the port from which the doomed White Star liner sailed on its maiden and only voyage in 1912.

RMS Titanic casting off from Southampton on April 10, 1912.

     With this rich maritime heritage, Southampton is a suitable location for a vessel that will do more than its bit to celebrate that heritage and to further enhance it.

     Liverpool meanwhile, does not have the substantial links to the QE2 as the River Clyde or Southampton. Liverpool was not its home port, and nor was it the place of its birth. However, Liverpool is in many ways, the QE2’s spiritual home – being the long-time base of operations for the Cunard Line, and it was in Liverpool where the QE2 was conceived and designed. Today, the Cunard Building still stands alongside the Liver Building and Port of Liverpool Building at Pier Head along the River Mersey. These buildings – collectively known as the Three Graces – dominate the Liverpool skyline and stand as a testimate to Liverpool’s own heritage as a significant maritime and trading port.

     Like Southampton, Liverpool was also connected to maritime tragedy – being the port where the Cunarder Lusitania was destined to arrive just over a century ago on May 7, 1915, but was torpedoed by a German U-boat that morning and sank off the coast of Ireland during World War I.

The Three Graces of Liverpool, with the Cunard Building in the middle.
(Credit: Rept0n1x via Wikimedia Commons cc)

     In addition to its association with the Cunard Line, Liverpool also hosted the headquarters of other shipping companies, most notably Cunard’s arch-rival, the White Star Line, whose old offices still stand at 30 James Street. As such, Liverpool was also the port of registry (the official home port) of the Titanic, as well as that of many other ships from Cunard and White Star – although both companies had moved their main terminus to Southampton by the 1920’s.

     By the time QE2 was built, the city was not even included as the official home port with “Liverpool” written across the stern (rear) of the ship, for Southampton had taken precedence when Cunard moved its headquarters there. Nevertheless, Cunard did recognize their shared heritage with the city by sending her there nine times over the course of her 40 year career. Most recently, the company’s latest edition of its fleet – the Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth were all in Liverpool to celebrate its 175th anniversary from the time when Canadian-born entrepreneur Samuel Cunard founded it.

     With these facts in mind, it is clear to see why the first three cities I have mentioned should have a clear shot at being the new home of the QE2. In contrast, London has virtually no connection to the QE2 – not even a one-off visit from the ship. There is nothing against London in my bones, but it simply does not have the same status with regard to the QE2 as Greenock, Southampton, and Liverpool – not even close to it, but it is included in the conversation in part because of its status as Britain’s capital city, as well as a world city that is a prime tourist destination.

     In addition, QE2 London – an organization that is working to get the QE2 permanently berthed along the Thames – have been promoting their proposals since 2012, which are already well-developed and involve placing the vessel near the O2 Arena on the east side of the city. Its project manager is John Chillingworth, a former chief engineer with Cunard who worked aboard QE2 for 20 years. He was also the general manager tasked with overseeing the conversion of the ship in Dubai before those plans were shelved, and has estimated that £100million would be needed to purchase the ship, return it home, and transform her into a 530-room hotel and entertainment center.

A mock-up of the QE2 berthed across from the O2 Arena along the Thames in London
(Credit: QE2 London)

     Chillingworth is also open to the idea of bringing the ship to Liverpool or Clydeside – stating that feasibility studies have shown that all of them could house the vessel with a potential return on investment towards the end of 10 years.

     Given the dire circumstances however, it may be unproductive to be too picky on where the Queen Elizabeth 2 ought to be located. Any of the places mentioned, including London, are infinitely better than where she is right now – in a location for which she was not designed for long periods of time, where her needs and maintenance are neglected by people who were looking to make a quick buck, and are now probably all too happy to get rid of her by any means necessary.

     In contrast, at any location within the United Kingdom, she will be welcomed back into the country where she was built, where was home-ported, and whose flag she flew. She will be treasured and cherished by people who care about her and will care for her, and I’m sure there may even be some people who will gladly volunteer to help bring back the ship to her prime condition.

     Some people will say that as unfortunate as it may be, it is probably time to let the great liner go and be scrapped. After all they say – with justification – that we cannot expect to save all the ocean liners that have ever been built, and the brute reality is that when a ship reaches the end of its intended use of sailing on the high seas, its only realistic destination is the scrap yard. As the last captain of the Queen Mary said upon the great liner departing New York for the last time in 1967: “Ships, like [human beings], have a time limit, and they day must come when we go.”

     However, the Queen Elizabeth 2 is different, and ought to be an exception to the rule. For 40 years, she sailed across the waves representing the best of Britain to the world with a standard of luxury, comfort, style, and class that made her stand out amongst her contemporaries. Many a passenger has said that upon boarding the QE2, they knew what to expect from such an illustrious vessel and were always impressed, especially by the service rendered aboard – whether it was on a transatlantic crossing or a cruise in tropical areas. When people saw the QE2 – as I did in New York several times – they did not have to ask name of the ship, for she was that distinctive from the rest of the pack.


Queen Mary 2 in Southampton. She is a fabulous liner in her
own right and
carries on the traditions of her predecessors,
but unlike them,
does not carry the distinction of being British-built.
(Credit: Barry Skeates via Flickr cc)

     The result is that she one of Britain’s best-known exports to the world.  More fundamentally, as John Chillingworth has pointed out, not only is she the “best known ship in the world and an important part of British maritime history”, but she is also the last British-built passenger liner, and that alone makes her special and worth saving. It is why a location along the Clyde is preferable, for while she is a British national treasure, she was built in Scotland, and is also the Pride of the Clyde – the last of a long line of ocean liners built on the river, and the embodiment of generations of shipbuilding heritage.

     Chillingworth has said that if Scots can but pressure on Dubai and raise funding for an organization similar to his in London, he “would welcome the opportunity to assist them as our ultimate aim is to save the ship and provide a viable future for her.”

     Whichever way it goes for the QE2 in the UK, it is likely that help from the government – financially and otherwise – will be needed.

     Council leader Stephen McCabe of Inverclyde has said: “Bringing the QE2 home is a herculean task, one that requires national support in Scotland and perhaps across the UK, if it has any chance of happening.” Meanwhile, Stuart McMillan, an MSP for the West of Scotland region, said that several agencies and governing institutions would have to work together, including the “Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Inverclyde Council, and Clydeport”, and like McCabe, he is looking to the potential for a boost in tourism and economic development that would “generate more jobs for the area and restore a key part of Scotland’s maritime heritage to Inverclyde.”

RMS Queen Elizabeth - the largest passenger liner built in the United Kingdom.
(Credit: Public Domain)

     In addition to writing to appropriate people and public bodies in Britain, Councillor McCabe has also said that Inverclyde intends to ask Dubai for an assessment on the situation, where the government, according to Chillingworth, have “advised that they are considering their options.”

     As a person who has a passion for the great ocean liners, it is enormously heartbreaking to see what is happening to the QE2, and it would be even more depressing to see her taken away to a beach in Asia to be ignominiously scrapped as the last of her kind.

     In America, we have our own iconic vessel, the SS United States, which like the QE2 was the national flagship and a source of national pride. The “Big U” – as she became known – became the fastest passenger ship ever built when she crossed the Atlantic in just over three days on her maiden voyage in 1952 and beat the Queen Mary’s best time by 10 hours. However like many other vessels, the Big U fell victim to the advent of even faster air travel, and she was withdrawn from service in November 1969. Since then, she has passed through several owners – all of them with plans to resuscitate the ship which have fallen though, and now she is tied up along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and like the QE2, is facing uncertain future.

SS United States
(Credit: The Hartford Guy via Flickr cc)

     Both Britain and America have rich seafaring traditions which ought to be celebrated and cherished. This is true for Britain in particular because of it being an island nation dependent on overseas trade throughout the world.

     For this reason, it ought to be imperative that both ships be saved. In the QE2’s case, there needs to be cooperation between the UK Government, private entities, individuals, and the governing institutions and agencies of the areas that are willing to berth the ship – whether it be in Greenock, Southampton, Liverpool, or London. Indeed, if it is possible, perhaps all of the places that had a connection to the QE2 ought to have a stake in the ship, regardless of where she ends up in the UK. Going further, she can be a great national project for the UK in terms of restoring her to her former glory and making her both a symbol of what Britain was able to go at one time, and a symbol of what it can do going forward.

RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 on her last visit to the Clyde in 2008.
(Credit: Dave Souza via Wikimedia Commons cc)

     Time is running out for the QE2, and there is the real possibility that she will be scrapped, and if that were to happen, I cannot help but to believe that the UK will have lost a part of itself in the process. Bringing her back will not be easy, and will require the cooperation and good faith of many people and organizations. But with help from all stakeholders and the wider public, she – a great British icon, the pride of the Clyde built in Scotland – can be returned home to a more happy and glorious future.


For More Information: