I’m technically 3/4 Kiwi and 1/4 British, although having lived in the UK most of my life, it doesn’t often feel this way. But when it comes to rugby, I support the All Blacks, and when I go walking in the mud, I wear gumboots, not wellingtons.
So I’ve taken a vague interest in the fact that New Zealand has held a referendum about whether to change its national flag, but has now voted by 56.6 per cent to keep the status quo; that is, the traditional flag which features the Union Jack on it. I can see why this has caused so much tension and why it has divided opinion. After all, New Zealand is an independent, sovereign nation, and while it is a member of the Commonwealth, and plenty of its population hail from Britain (my family included), there’s no real reason why it should feel obliged to keep this nod to the UK on its own flag.
Yet I’m glad that the Kiwis have voted to keep the traditional flag, because it helps affirm the special relationship between New Zealand and the UK. But more broadly, the referendum has made me feel proud of my Kiwi roots, because it is a reminder of just how seriously New Zealand takes democracy. It’s well known that the Kiwi electoral system is one of the fairest in the world. And when it comes to women’s suffrage, New Zealand really showed everyone how it should work long ago, after it became one of the first countries to give all women the vote. That was in 1893. 25 years later, Britain followed suit, but only for women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications. By comparison, Switzerland only gave its women the vote in 1971. The flag vote seems a good opportunity to reflect on all this.
New Zealand may feel far away, but when it comes to democratic rights for its people, it is a pioneer. When I look at the flag in the light of the result, it makes me feel proud to be Kiwi, with a bit of British in me.