Something in the wind, says new flag
"What I find remarkable is the sense that as soon as the referendum result was in, something changed."
Until last weekend I wouldn't have said this, but I think we're going to change the flag. Furthermore, I don't think that is a remarkable statement, which it would have been until last weekend. Even John Key knew he was losing this one.
What I find remarkable is the sense that as soon as the referendum result was in, something changed. We had chosen a flag. No one I know is especially excited about it but all seem suddenly satisfied. It feels like we have discussed the subject enough and come to a decision.
In my case, it is not the decision I was going to make.
When the voting papers arrived I was still of a mind to ignore them. Key had gone about the exercise completely the wrong way, to my mind. It had ended in an offering of amateur designs selected by a panel of amateurs.
Then there was Red Peak, which wasn't a flag. Nice abstract art but not a flag. It was Red Peak that made me vote. I had believed social media to be a serious reflection of public opinion. I had to do what I could.
So I looked hard at the two Lockwoods. The red was more striking but the black more distinctive. It said All Blacks in place of the Union Jack. I could settle for that. But while voting I still thought I would stick with the current flag when it came to the second referendum.
Not now. There is a certain satisfaction in picking the winner but it wasn't just that. When the chosen alternative was pictured in the paper alongside the present flag, the new one simply looked so much better.
Having come this far and made a choice, it would feel like a backward step to vote for the status quo and I get a sense this is now the way most people are thinking.
Diehard opponents of change sense it too. Their letters in the Herald used to have a complacent tone, now they sound desperate and some are turning nasty. Glen Stanton of Mairangi Bay said the new flag he had flying at his home was vandalised this week. Kent Millar of Blockhouse Bay said he wasn't surprised.
"Any new national flag will be burned and torn up by the very citizens it is supposed to represent."
The diehards will say people like me have been cunningly manipulated by the design of the referendums.
"It was Red Peak that made me vote. I had believed social media to be a serious reflection of public opinion. I had to do what I could."
Denied a vote for the status quo in the first round, we were obliged to choose an alternative and that very act of making a decision has changed our minds. I think they are right and they can call it manipulation if they wish, but to me it feels like we have made the kind of decision people normally make around a table where different views are given a good airing and the reasonable modify their thinking to produce a collective decision.
Democracy is not normally like this. In the lead-up to elections, we do not really have a discussion. Parties take positions they fiercely defend through the campaign and on voting day most of us do what we were going to do before the "debate" began. Parties' campaigns are primarily designed to reinforce our allegiances rather than change our minds.
The reason the flag referendum result feels different may lie in the system of voting it used. We do not do much preferential voting, at least at a national level. The counting of second preferences makes an election more like a decision around a table. If the range of views at the table is so diverse that no one view has a majority, the council or board does not settle for the one that wins a headcount, it continues talking until enough of those present come around to a single view. For some it will be second-best.
In my case, the conclusion reached by a majority in a referendum with a 48 per cent turnout, twice as high as I expected, has caused me to rethink my approach to this decision. I realise now I have been hoping for too much. I didn't want to change the flag until somebody came up with an inspired design that had just about all of us saying, "Wow, that is us". I had found one that did that for me, and for some others when I published it. But clearly not enough others.
Few national flags probably had the wow-factor when first conceived. We need a new flag, the old one looks even more dated now than it did last week. It is recognisably us. It will do fine.
John Roughan - New Zealand Herald
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