The in-built handbrake to New Zealand’s economic progress is demonstrated by the opposition to the long overdue changing of the flag.
Having a flag that the rest of the world recognises as belonging to New Zealand would have deep seated economic and cultural benefits, but is unlikely to happen anytime soon unless 1) vocal portions of the country that are opposed to anything and everything, particularly if it’s not free, can be made to shut up; 2) The Prime Minister’s daft plan for referenda is changed.
Why would a new flag benefit us? Well, putting the imperialist inclusion of the Union Jack to one side, the main issue is, of course, that nobody outside Australia or New Zealand can tell the difference between our two flags. If you don’t think national symbolism makes any difference to a country’s external perception bear in mind it’s about the only thing that almost all politicians agree on, from Hitler to Gandhi. Even the bloody anarchists have a flag.
The idea that we should keep the same flag because soldiers fought under it is sentimental irrelevance. Many soldiers fought to defend the British Empire, should we have kept that too? Like many, my grandfather fought in WWI and were he to come back there are way more things to upset him than a change in flag. The Canadians managed to change theirs fifty years ago without any evidence of mass rolling in graves. Interestingly the main reason they changed it was to avoid being seen as Britain’s lackeys, which is how most of the world see us.
So while it’s great step forward that our Prime Minister supports changing the flag, his proposed scheme is unfortunately set up to fail. Currently he proposes:
1) A referendum to decide on what a potential new flag should be.
2) A second referendum to decide between this new choice and the old flag.
This will fail because the majority of people who want a change in flag, but whose favourite design was not chosen, will not bother to support the winning flag in the second vote. Rest assured the forces of reactionary conservatism will be out in force to support the existing flag.
The best we can get around naysayers is to change the order of referenda:
1) The first vote to decide whether we should have a new flag or not.
2) If so, the second will decide which design it should be.
Another advantage to this system is that in the unhappy event that voters are misguided enough to vote against changing the flag in the first vote, we save ourselves the cost of a second referendum. Of course we would also save a bundle if the government had the balls to make the decision themselves as most countries do. Our preoccupation with plebiscites is the sign of a weak democracy. We elect MPs to make decisions on our behalf, so let them get on with it, and if you don’t like their decisions then vote them out.
This reactionary challenge to progress is what holds us back as a country, yet is at the same time one of our charms. If we want increased prosperity we’re going to have to make some tough and sometimes unpopular calls. But if we continue as we’re going, we might as well just flag the whole thing and remain a global backwater. To be honest, sometimes I’m not sure that would be such a bad thing.