A few days ago, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came upon a posting which featured a pound coin, and not just any pound coin, but the last of the “Round Pounds.” They have been produced since 1983, and were introduced to replace the £1 bank notes issued by the Bank of England, and are widely used throughout the United Kingdom and the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man (though pound notes are still issued in the Dependencies and by the Royal Bank of Scotland).
While the obverse of the round pound has constantly featured a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen – four to be exact, introduced in 1983, 1985, 1998, and 2015 respectively – the reverse has gone through several designs on an annual basis. Sometimes, there have been two reverse designs in a single year, and result over 32 years has been a collection which displays the diversity of the United Kingdom.
Reverse sides have featured some variation of the Royal Coat of Arms of the UK – sometimes the full coat of arms with a crown atop it, an ornamental version, or just the shield from it – to represent the country as a whole, while other designs have given prominence to one of the constituent parts of the UK.
England has been represented throughout the years by its three gold lions passant guardant, oak tree, and Tudor rose; Scotland by its thistle, bluebell, and red lion rampant within a double tressure flory counter-flory; Wales by its leek, daffodil, and red dragon passant; and Northern Ireland by its Celtic cross, Broighter collar, pimpernel, flax plant, and shamrock.
From 2004 through 2007, reverse designs displayed four of Britain’s architectural and engineering landmarks – Scotland’s Firth of Forth Rail Bridge, the Menai Suspension Bridge in Wales, MacNeill’s Egyptian Arch in Northern Ireland, and England’s Gateshead Millennium Bridge. In 2010 and 2011, the coat of arms of the UK’s four capital cities – the City of London, Belfast, Cardiff, and Edinburgh – were used for the reverse of the coins issued in those years (in conjunction with coins bearing the shield of the Royal Coat of Arms), with the former two in 2010 and the latter two in 2011.
So this popular British coin has had an illustrious run representing the UK and its different parts, and for its last incarnation in 2016, it will display what I call a design of national unity. The farewell reverse rendering for the round pound was designed by Gregory Cameron and contains the four animal symbols of the United Kingdom: the lion of England, the unicorn of Scotland, the dragon of Wales, and the stag representing Northern Ireland. At the center of the coin will be the Crown symbolizing them being united together into one sovereign entity, and along the edge, there is the Latin inscription DECUS ET TUTAMEN (meaning "an ornament and a safeguard").
More than just an ornament, the new coin shows that these four critical parts each make what the UK is – a multinational nation-state which celebrates the cultures of its constituent nations, which in turn contributes to the overall culture and society of the United Kingdom has a whole and the concept of being British.
We saw this last weekend with Scotsman Andy Murray leading the Great Britain Davis Cup tennis team to victory in that tournament by scoring the decisive point against Belgium. That team was composed of three Scots – Murray, his brother Jamie, and the captain, Leon Smith, as well an Englishman – James Ward, and Kyle Edmund – a South African-born Brit who lives in London. Together, they made Britain triumph for the first time in 79 years, and this comes on the heels of Murray’s achievements at the 2012 Summer Olympics, a grand slam victory, and being the first British man to win at Wimbledon since 1936.
All of this is a real-life display of the symbolism contained within the new round pound – that while the UK is made up of different parts and its people have multiple identities, they also come together as Britons to fuse their individual talents into a national synergy which paves the way for the achievement of great things like the Davis Cup victory. It certainly shows that Britain is hardly a clapped-out and washed-up former imperial power; her old Empire has been successfully transformed into the Commonwealth, and the country itself had carried on in modern times. It still has much going for it when the people believe in themselves and are willing to join together in common efforts to advance the country and themselves.
Prime Minister David Cameron said as much in his St. Andrews Day message last Monday, when he remarked that Scotland helps to “put the great into Great Britain” – with its contributions to “the arts, sport, business, philanthropy or cutting-edge technology” – and punching above its weight to make a difference in the world. Scotland, he said, is a “constant source of pride and passion” as part of the United Kingdom, and the people of the rest of the UK support it when it is representing itself in venues such as rugby and football.
For that matter, people across the UK were joining with their fellow British citizens in Scotland as they marked the day which honors their patron saint, with Saltire’s flying throughout the country, including from 10 Downing Street and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. British embassies throughout world played their part in recognizing St. Andrew and promoting Scotland – its culture, food, heritage, and commerce – on this most important of days, as they should because of Scotland being an important part of the UK, and when Scotland succeeds and does well, so does the UK.
Indeed, without Scotland, there can be no Britain, and the symbolism of the farewell round pound shows the UK is not just about England, or London, or [big, bad] Westminster, or the [evil] Tories. There is a social, cultural, and perhaps even, a spiritual element to the UK that I believe gets lost in the debates about the constitution, more powers, oil, the Barnett Formula, and etc. It was that element of the UK that was truly in danger last year, and continues to be at risk – that element which helps to bind the people together into one as they fuse into a common culture with shared values and beliefs, and participate in many of the same things, while also maintaining the elements that make them distinct from each other.
But even then, the distinctions all contribute to the social and cultural fabric of the United Kingdom, for Scottish culture contributes as much to British culture as English culture, and when you break it down further, there a varying cultures within England and Scotland, as well as Northern Ireland and Wales which enrich their respective home nation and the UK as a whole. The Glaswegian accent is as British as the Cockney and Scouser accents; Ynys Môn (Anglesey) is as British as Orkney; Yorkshire pudding is as British as haggis. When one thinks of Britain, they must – without fail – think of the country in its entirety from Shetland to Land’s End.
There are many people, both at home and abroad (including yours truly) who value and appreciate the UK because of its diversity and because of the overlapping identities shared amongst its people. We believe that there is something special about the English, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish being part of the same country – with all those languages and dialects, foods, landmarks, landscapes, and towns and cities – a modern country that values its storied past and heritage, but also embraces modernity and the future.
The round pound – with its many representations of the different parts of the UK, much like the state quarters in the US – has done this very well over the years as it gets set to be replaced by a new 12-sided coin beginning in 2017. Unfortunately, it will be more or a collectors item because it will not be available for general circulation, and will therefore only be available was more of the 2016 Annual Coin Set. However, its final incarnation using the animal representations of the home nations under the Crown does this brilliantly as a powerful symbol of unity and togetherness.
E Pluribus Unum.