Britain is dying – and Welsh Labour need to let go of it
Ben Gwalchmai, co-founder of Labour4indyWales
What do The Great Fire of London, Owain Glyndwr, and Mao Zedong have in common? They all burned brightly in the first half of September.
Interestingly, Winston Churchill married Clementine Hozier on September 12th, 1908, closing one chapter of their lives and beginning another. Our current UK Prime Minister has chosen to mark it with a chapter closing of his own – the Proroguing of Parliament. Considering his love for Churchill, he might think it funny.
It’s not. It’s the beginning of his end.
Britishness is already dead, and if Boris Johnson does lead the UK to a No Deal exit then so too comes death to the political entity known as The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I’ve been saying it for almost three years and I’ll keep saying it: Britain is dying, get over it – better yet, get ahead of it.
The British Generations
However, it seems our First Minister, Mark Drakeford’s initial response is to try and reinvent Britishness. Or, at least, that’s what Alun Davies hinted at on last week’s Vaughan Roderick’s Sunday Supplement – it was a complex discussion but he said ‘I hope we can create a different British identity as well… We need to find a British identity that is a lot more inclusive and holistic…’
Now, Alun also said that the old Britishness was uncomfortable to him and is on record saying he wants Home Rule Parliaments, so I can’t help but wonder how much of this desire for a ‘new Britishness’ comes from Labour HQs in Cardiff and London.
Sure, there’s subtext to the ‘The future of the United Kingdom’ report commissioned; sure, Carwyn Jones and others are reasserting their interest in Welsh self-determination; but why must it all be done in the name of ‘The future of the United Kingdom’? Why not, explicitly, ‘The future of Wales’?
Because most of those in charge cannot let go of what they knew. Even when they know better. They grew up with God Save The Queen playing at the end of the cinema but anyone my age hates the dirge and now more people than ever before are waking up to the need to #AbolishTheMonarchy.
This is a question of generations. Millennials know their history, they know that ‘British’ means Empire – we don’t want an empire and we don’t want to be associated with it any more than is necessary to do the work of healing the rifts it created.
I understand it can be tough, but any exercise in reinventing Britishness is now merely an exercise in denial. This is not the time for it. The Welsh Government is not the body to do it. Not now.
There are plenty of the people of Wales who still and will continue to feel British, British-Welsh, or a Briton. They will make the case for Britishness and any new kind of Britishness in academia and culture.
What’s key for Alun Davies’ report is understanding the growing feeling of ‘Welsh not British’, of the desire for post-colonial reparation work to take place, and of the need to protect ourselves from the bonfire of the constitution that is taking place and is going to take place – yes, further – in London.
As a Welsh Labour member, it’s my job to both support and critique the party so: I congratulate our leadership on sensing the shifting tectonic plates in our country, I would urge them to follow Mick Antoniw’s lead and take head of his warning that ‘…we must now start making long term preparations for a UK breakup to protect Welsh economic and social interests’.
We must embrace the radical opportunity of this moment, and perhaps that’s what Alun’s report will do; but I must also warn against protecting and relying on old alliances & identities, I must urge our party to understand that the changes happening now need to be reflected within our party structure, and I urge our First Minister to become ‘Welsh not British’ – very quickly – in his dealings with a hostile Westminster that is willing to break the law to get its Brexit.
If we need another lesson from history: the last time a British Government flaunted the rule of law was with regard to Irish Home Rule leading to the Home Rule Crisis, something only temporarily sated by – did you guess – mid September, 1914.
Of course, the Easter Rising took place just two years later. We would all do well to remember the ‘British’ role in that and the awful things they did; Britain is not above doing them again.
The Bay can finally sense the tectonic plates shifting, our First Minister has acknowledged that in commissioning his report, but I would urge him to get ahead of the electoral death rattles of Britain that are yet to come – I would urge him to ready & publish crisis models, soon, that keep Wales safe from The Great Fire of London & Britain in 2019.
Because the truth is, the tectonic plates of Welsh political life have already shifted.