Andrew RT Davies is the leader of the Welsh Conservatives and Assembly Member for South Wales Central.
Flags are an important symbol of national identity. As a proud Welshman and a proud Brit, I feel very lucky to be able to fly the iconic Welsh dragon flag as well as the Union flag. These flags fly alongside each other outside the Welsh Parliament, a pairing which symbolises Wales’ place in the United Kingdom.
They stand side by side defiantly, as inside the building some separatists would like to see one of those flags taken down.
I found it strange that last week the Welsh Parliament’s Presiding Officer told Members of the Senedd that we should refrain from displaying flags in our backgrounds during virtual parliamentary sessions. This followed a contribution from one of my Conservative colleagues, who asked a question via video link. In the background, Janet Finch-Saunders MS had a Union flag on show. The Presiding Officer, Plaid Cymru’s Elin Jones, asked that Members observe a ‘flagless’ rule going forward.
Wales has two national flags. If members want to display them in their offices as proud symbols of national identity, then what is the harm? There should be no reason why the First Minister can’t display his beautiful Welsh dragon statue in his background, and no reason why Janet or any other Member can’t show off their Welsh and British national symbols.
Indeed, for many months other Members of the Senedd have displayed flags and national symbols in their backdrops during parliamentary sessions, including the First Minister.
Former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Elis Thomas, a giant of Welsh politics, used to wear pin badges of the Welsh flag, or a Welsh flag and a EU flag together, in the chamber and on Zoom. Though he and I come from vastly different places politically, I think it is right that he was never told to stop displaying symbols of the things he believed in passionately and campaigned on.
I fear that there may have been a double standard at work, and that the displaying of the Union Flag in particular was what provoked the Presiding Officer’s request for ‘flagless’ parliamentary sessions. I hope that is not the case.
I am saddened that, going forward, Members will not be allowed to show off their national symbols in their video link backgrounds. Since we have been holding virtual and hybrid sessions of the Welsh Parliament, there have been laughs, gaffes, bad lighting, technological problems and quirky backgrounds. Although there are many in the Senedd I disagree with, we’ve all been going through the same thing over the last year, and it’s been a profoundly human experience.
While I am keen to get everybody back into the chamber safely, MS’s backgrounds have been an interesting opportunity for expression, and I’ve enjoyed seeing the different flags, guitars on walls and messy tables.
I will continue to wear my Welsh flag face mask in and around the chamber of the Senedd. I’m proud of that flag and, like Dafydd Elis Thomas’ badges, it’s a symbol of what I believe in and what I campaign for.