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Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Parties sounded out on a new flag for Northern Ireland

In response to the ongoing flag dispute in Northern Ireland, former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass has invited the views of the main parties about creating a new flag for Northern Ireland. Dr Haass is chairing talks aimed at resolving some of the many areas of contention within Northern Irish politics which were not resolved during the initial peace process.

Northern Ireland has not had its own flag since the suspension of the Stormont parliament in 1972, prior to which it used the ‘Ulster Banner’, a flag which today is exclusively a unionist and loyalist symbol. It consists of a Cross of St George with a six-pointed star in the middle, containing a red hand and topped with a crown. Prior to Irish independence the Cross of Saint Patrick – the red saltire on a white field which represents Ireland in the Union Jack – was used as the Irish flag.

A selection of proposed new flags can be seen on this Facebook page. The main concern with any flag is making it acceptable to both communities – green and orange are certainly out as a combination, as are red, white and blue. To my mind the two viable options are either the St Patrick’s Cross, which is often used to support all-Ireland sports teams and lacks sectarian undertones, or something based on the red, yellow and white colours of the Ulster Provincial Flag (but a specifically Northern Irish design). Luke Sproule makes his case for a new flag on Open Unionism today.

Just as important as cross-community acceptance, of course, is that the flag actually look good. The people of Northern Ireland had better keep a close eye on anybody appointed to oversee them getting a new flag, because the capacity of compromise-seeking committees to produce hideous things is boundless.

Former Green MSP breaks ‘radical’ ranks to back the Union

Robin Harper, an MSP for the Scottish Greens until 2011, has broken with his party’s official line and declared that he will “absolutely vote No” in the 2014 referendum – and that he is happy to play an active role in the Better Together campaign, where he will (theoretically, at least) come face to face with his party’s separatist spokespeople.

Intriguingly Harper – who became the first Green parliamentarian in British history when he was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 – claims that a “significant minority” of Green supporters are unionist. The apparently automatic connexion of Green politics with nationalism has baffled me ever since the Green Party (UK) split into its three successor parties, with the Northern Irish wing becoming a ‘regional division’ of the Irish Greens – much to the chagrin of its unionist members and supporters.

It’s good to see that this tendency is not monolithic and hopefully Harper will expand on how this came about in the course of his work with Better Together. In the meantime, you can read his article setting out his reasons on the Better Together website.

Scotland performs well in PISA rankings, as Wales lags behind

This column has dwelt quite a lot on the state of Welsh education in the recent past, so to avoid repetition in the face of Wales coming bottom of the home nations in the latest PISA rankings, I shall link you to my last column that looked at the issue. It links to quite thorough explanations of what went wrong in the Welsh education system and the efforts of the Labour administration in Cardiff to put right the mistakes it made in the advent of devolution.

These figures will bring more pressure to bear and hopefully strengthen the government’s hand against recalcitrant elements of the Welsh educational establishment who would very much just like to be left alone and unscrutinised. Conversely, Scotland had the good news that it topped out the home nations in maths and reading (although fell slightly behind England on science).

Although Michael Gove’s school reforms have not yet had the chance to filter through into our PISA scores (no matter what Tristram Hunt might tell you), beyond 2015 it will be increasingly interesting to compare English PISA performance to that of the other home nations. One of the upsides of devolution (there are a handful) is the ability to ‘test out’ different policies in different parts of the UK, and it will be interesting to see how Labour and nationalist disdain for ‘market based’ Tory reforms in England holds up if there is an upturn in English results.

Senior RUC officers murdered by IRA victims of “Garda-IRA collusion”, tribunal claims

A tribunal into collusion between the Garda – the police force of the Republic of Ireland – and the IRA has claimed that two senior RUC officers ambushed and murdered in 1989 were caught after an IRA mole leaked information on their movements from a Garda station. Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan were killed on March 29 1989 on the way home from a meeting with senior Gardai in the Republic.

The investigating judge, Peter Smethwick, has not accused any individual Gardai but has sharply criticised “misguided loyalty to the force or to its members” which had prevented an immediate and proper investigation into the collusion allegations.

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