Tuesday, 24 August 2010

An important lesson for Plaid to learn...

Today, Cerith Rhys Jones, non-portfolio officer on the National Exec writes about an important factor that Plaid should consider, as it moves with Wales towards independence:

"A discussion with my grandfather (who, for the record, is English) got me thinking yesterday, about one of Plaid’s major challenges in the years to come. One of the biggest misconceptions people have, is that a nation is the same thing as a nation-state. People will gladly say that they are Welsh before they are British, but they will sometimes think of their citizenship as being the same thing as their nationality.

"There has been plenty of discussion about Plaid being in a crisis. As a party activist and an executive member of the party’s youth wing, I would take the view that the party is not in a crisis but rather, that it really needs some thinking time about its way forward. No matter how much Plaid members and activists say that the election wasn’t all that bad, the truth is that we didn’t do as well as we had hoped and expected and we, as a party, need to think long and hard about our message for the Assembly elections next year, and the local elections on 2012.

"In the long term however, as Wales works towards, first, a full parliament with fiscal autonomy, and eventually, an independent Wales, Plaid needs to focus on changing people’s view of a ‘nation’. (I would say that this would go for other parties too, but how keen they’d be to do this is another matter.)

"Too many people think of a ‘nation’ as a physical entity with a clear geography. To me, and I would think, to the party, a nation needn’t have defined borders and the people of that respective nation needn’t share a specific patch of land. Take Patagonia, for instance. The Welsh people who moved there to establish Y Wladfa (the Welsh Settlement), they went there with the intention of creating a ‘second Wales.’ To this day, their descendants think of themselves as being Welsh Argentine. If we look at that phrase – Welsh Argentine, that is – it can be split in two; into ‘nationality’ and ‘citizenship’. The citizenship is clearly Argentine; of that, let there be no doubt. This works in the same way with us here in Wales. I will always say that I am Welsh first, European second, and British third. As much as I may be against the British institution, I can’t escape the fact that I am a Briton, by law. Wales doesn’t have its own sovereignty (yet), so it is legally impossible to be a ‘citizen’ of the country, in the conventional way. The nationality of a Welsh Argentine person, however, is Welsh. This will confuse some people as it did my grandfather. A ‘nation’ to me, doesn’t mean a group of people who inhabit a specific piece of territory; it is a group of people (or peoples, as would probably be appropriate) who share a heritage, a history, and a feeling. So yes, while a resident of Y Wladfa may hold an Argentine passport, his or her nationality is Welsh, in so much as he or she shares our heritage and history here in Wales.

"This very principle will apply to the Quebecois of Canada. They are by law, of course, Canadian. However, in nationality, they are Quebecois. They are a group of people who share a history and a heritage. I guess this principle could go for any group of people within a nation-state, anywhere on Earth.

"Plaid’s challenge is teaching the people of Wales that although they may be subjects of the United Kingdom, they do have their own heritage and history - an Unique Selling Point, if you will - that makes them Welsh in nationality. Let them think of themselves as British, and what makes them so, and they will list things that are primarily English. As Gwynfor said, “Britishness…is a political synonym that extends English culture of the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.” This hits the nail right on the head!

"The difficulty that Plaid faces of course, is that too many people in Wales still have trouble thinking about Wales as a country in its own right; they challenge that idea, even. The question they should ask themselves though, is ‘what is a country? What makes a country, a country?’ Again, people will often think that Wales can’t possibly be a country, because it’s a ‘constituent region’ of ‘the mother-country’ of Britain. Britain, though, is not a country. It’s a nation-state. Britain is simply the entity, which contains the countries of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, which are countries and nations in their own right.

"When Plaid looks forward in terms of how it can raise support for full autonomy within the European Union and the United Nations for Wales, it really has to get people to understand that whatever their passport says, their nationality – their heritage, their history, their national persona – is different to that of Britain. If Plaid is to succeed, it needs to ensure that the people recognise Wales as a country in its own right, which is being dictated to by another country.

"Those who disagree with me (or who are unionists), will argue that we are not being dictated to by another country at all; we are part of the UK and so we are governed as part of Britain. Here again, the problem that people think of Wales as a region and the UK as a country, is raising its ugly head. Of course we’re being dictated to by another country – England! Was it not the English who annexed Wales to England, extended English laws unto Wales, and oppressed the Welsh language all those hundreds of years ago – and still do to this day? Does the British government not create laws, which apply only to England and Wales? Is it not true that Wales is treated differently to Scotland? Yes. Yes. Yes.

"The biggest challenge to Plaid, to the SNP, Mebyon Kernow, in fact, any nationalist party, is to show their people, the citizens of their respective nations, that they are their own people, and that there is a huge divide between Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Cornwall – wherever – and the nation-state which ultimately governs them.

"It’s all very well and good Plaid in the short term focussing on its successes in the National Assembly as part of the One Wales government (and I wouldn’t for one minute say anything different to that) but if Plaid wants to keep itself as the Party of Wales – to keep its USP, to remain a nationalist party, which will do its best to govern in the short term, but all the while working towards an independent Wales – it has to realise that people still think that they’re country is Britain, and break down that idea.

"People may also rebut my ideas by saying that one’s nationality can also be interpreted as British, in that we as Britons share our own history and heritage. I can accept this to an extent, but here rises Gwynfor’s quote again; that what we perceive to be British is actually English.

"Plaid needs to campaign to teach people that their nation-state is Britain. They are British subjects. They pay their taxes to the British government. But as a people, they are Welsh. Their history is Welsh. Their heritage and their national persona are Welsh. When people grasp and believe this, Plaid won’t have much bother on election day.

"While our passports may tell us that we are subjects of the British crown, we are and always have been citizens of the Welsh nation. It will remain that way until we can look at a Welsh passport and see that we are citizens of the Welsh nation-state.

"The challenge for Plaid is to lead the way on that (long) road to independence, but all the while, making sure that we’re re-elected to the Assembly Government and we continue to do a good job of it."


Anonymous said...

I agree entirely with your post. It is true that our people need to learn more about our nation's great history and not to just throw out the idea of supporting Wales as a nation because they cannot see us (yet) as a country. Thanks as well for the information on Patagonia, I knew that they were Welsh immigrants who spoke Welsh but I didn't realise that they associated themselves as much as you stated with the Welsh nation.

Michael said...

Thanks for your post Cerith - very insightful. I'm slightly confused by your discussion regarding constituent nations and the state. The United Kingdom is clearly a country and to deny that is to stamp on one's own foot. Why not accept that Britain is a country and make your case to the people of Wales to become an independent country?

I disagree with your suggestion that to be British is to enjoy those things which are extended from England. When I think of British culture I think of Roald Dahl, C. S. Lewis, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Beatles and so on – one of from each of the constituent nations of the UK. Many Welsh men and women enjoy their British identity, and to persuade them to give that up is to do them an injustice. After all, it was a Welshman who named the UK "Britain"!

Luke said...

Good article. The distinction between between nations and nation-states can be hard to grasp at first but well presented.

However, I would actually argue that, even to call Britain a nation is farcical. A true nation is one with a common language, shared history and culture. Within the parameters of what is called Britain you have a number of different languages, cultures, literatures, behaviours and attitudes. That being said, I do agree that instilling a stronger sense of national pride in the people of Wales is a paralell process with creating a bigger appetite for political and economic independence.

I would also disaggree with Michael who suggests British culture is represented by various different aspects of Scottish, Welsh, English and Irish symbols. To a certain (v. limited) extent it is, but to those out side of England Ireland Wales and Scotland British culture is generally taken to mean English culture, the same as when people think of Spanish culture they never think of Catalan or Basque histories/languages/cultures. Its an unfortunate fact.

Ógra Shinn Féin

Michael said...

I concede that many of the facets of British culture were originally English, but now that Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland have adopted these symbols, it would be foolish to say that they are not now also a part of our culture.

Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir Tom Jones, Richard Burton, Dylan Thomas, the Stereophonics, the Manic Street Preachers, and many others have benefited hugely from being part of a bigger nation. These popular figures would not have gained the successes that they have without the economical and social benefits of being part of a bigger nation.

Besides, the amount of money spent on the average Welshman is far greater than the average Londoner - one has to remember that our earnings are lower because our resources were sponged throughout the early twentieth century (forty per cent of British exports having come from South Wales). To become independent would economically deprive us of a huge income (close to six billion pounds annually). The cause for independence is weak, and is primarily motivated by a nationalist mentality which places culture above the economic livelihood of the nation. Besides, even culturally, our nation would suffer from independence - as previously mentioned, the economies of scale provided by being part of a bigger nation is vital to the cultural workforce of the Principality.

This is why Plaid continues to lose at elections, because it has failed to make note of the obvious which the rest of the electorate have grasped. Plaid continues to have a strong vote, either as a protest vote or as an extant remnant of nationalists who place culture above all else. Stop living in the fourteenth century, and enter into the new world.

Many thanks for your post Cerith. While I do disagree with you, you present your arguments coherently. You would make a great politician for Plaid Cymru if you so wished.

dizi izle said...

Thank you

Anonymous said...

"the economies of scale provided by being part of a bigger nation is vital to the cultural workforce of the Principality. "

Wales is not a Principality. That term has no legal basis. The British term 'Prince of Wales' does not confer the Prince with any powers over Wales whatsoever, or any rights of ownership.

There is nothing fourteenth century about wanting self-government- it is a relevant and current trend in European politics being expressed in Euskadi, Catalunya, Scotland, Flanders and the north of Ireland.

Michael said...

I do not use the term "Principality" disparagingly. It is a term which reminds me that my nation plays an important part in a bigger state. Admittedly, "Prince of Wales" is merely a title, but our nation has been described as such for many years. I don't use it to belittle our country - I see it as being synonymous.

My comment about the fourteenth century was not meant to belittle Welsh nationalists by saying that their views are "old-fashioned". I simply believe that Welsh nationalists have a romantic notion that Wales is some kind of English colony, glorifying Owain Glendwr as some messianic being who lives with us in the here and now. Today's reality is simply not the case - Wales plays a vital part in British cultural life, and Wales enjoys the benefits of being part of a larger nation - hence my comment regarding economies of scale.

Having a powerful banking and financial sector based in London as well as a strong corporate tax revenue from big British businesses puts more money in the coffers, which leads to Wales benefiting far more than she would if she were to become independent. As previously mentioned, Peter Hain's calculations earlier this decade indicated that Wales would lose £6 billion annually. It is rare that Plaid Cymru politicians actually discuss the figures, and instead prefer to focus on cultural identity - knowing that that will retain voters who don't wish to be part of the United Kingdom.

My advice is not intended to inflame hatred towards the majority of Wales - which is in fact Unionist (only around 8% according to CREST's (Oxford University) research into Welsh and Scottish independence sentiment) - but to suggest that Plaid Cymru change tact. Focus on the economics and politics of their independence argument rather than the cultural argument. I think that the party avoids these issues because they know better than anyone else that the nation would struggle if she were detached from her British compatriots - something that would devastate Wales rather than strengthen her.