Only an argument for better governance can unite Wales behind independence
Having grown up in the 80’s and 90’s with family in the Rhondda, it was very apparent how post-industrial decline affected the communities of the Valleys. So watching the then Welsh Secretary John Redwood in 1995, announce proudly how he had returned a part of the Welsh Office block grant back to the UK Treasury in the name of thrift and good governance marked a low point in what was a particularly dismal period in office.
This was a truly formative experience for many who became politically conscious during this time. It demonstrated so clearly the need for Welsh political agency and accountability over the matters that affected Wales. We must surely be grateful for John Redwood’s disastrous tenure in Wales, if only for the motivation it provided just a few years later when the referendum to establish the Welsh Assembly was won by the Yes vote.
Ultimately, an appeal to national identity alone would not have won that referendum. What won it was a feeling that the UK Government was doing a bad job of governing Wales.
Recently, leading figures in Britain’s established political parties have decried the “narrow nationalism” of those in the independence movements in Wales and Scotland. It appears a rather childish analysis, a binary moral portrayal whereby support for the UK State is at once patriotic and progressive and support for Welsh and Scottish States is “narrow”.
It is a particularly unfair allegation in the midst of the perpetual drumbeat of news and comment promoting a British identity in the Brexit-supporting media. Perhaps the perceived need to appeal to people’s British identity explains why they see Welsh and other identities as so much of a threat.
But we should be careful that we do not make it easier for them to create the conception that support for Welsh independence is a matter of identity alone. Identity is not enough to ensure that people support independence. The majority in Wales are already content to record their nationality as Welsh but that does not translate into majority support for independence.
But many are comfortable describing themselves as British also, and they need to be won over if the campaign is to be a success. It is a fairly prosaic matter to be Welsh, British and European all at once. Indeed, not everyone would necessarily hold to a national identity and other causes and movements may be more important to some.
Brexit shows us that to make identity the battleground would be a profound mistake. This can only lead to the othering of those who do not feel they can subscribe to that identity, when the independence movement should ultimately aim to include everyone.
Therefore, those of us who are in favour of establishing a Welsh state must be brave enough to decouple identity from the debate. People with all kinds of identities should be able to align with the case for Welsh political agency to be exercised in a Sovereign Welsh Parliament/Senedd and build an electoral coalition in its favour.
When the independence movement makes its focus, the better governance of Wales, the superficiality of the “narrow nationalism” jibe will be revealed and the conservative arguments in favour of the current constitution will crumble.
Because it is the argument for better governance that will unite what is a politically divided nation. It does not discriminate on the basis of identity. It would not be a project owned by exclusively by the left or the right. Its purpose would be to strengthen the economic fabric of Wales as a starting point for improving our prospects, our standards of living and the resilience of our communities.
And let’s be honest. We desperately need that. The GERW report reveals the extent of the misgovernance of Wales. The UK Government (and as currently constituted, the Welsh Government is an executive arm) has and continues to enact policies that have led to the difficult economic outcomes that plague our small country in myriad ways.
The case needs to be made that the impulse for Welsh self-governance is one of democracy and self-improvement, not ‘narrow nationalism’. The political philosophy which underpins this movement must be publicly debated, developed and clarified. It must be one that welcomes a plurality of identities. It must be one that foregoes frustration and brushes off slights (real or perceived).
It must pursue a progressive agenda of democratic constitutional reform with an unwavering focus on its purpose – to secure the best possible Government for Wales for the economic, social and cultural benefit of its citizens. Otherwise, it will fail.
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As someone who’s Manchester-born and -bred, but who spent my twenties and thirties living and working in Wales and came to like the country so much that I returned to live here in my old age, it’s perhaps unsurprising, just from a personal perspective, that I agree entirely with the thrust of the argument here!
A few weeks ago I heard a leading SNP politician reiterate, twice in the course of a TV interview, ‘If you live here in Scotland, you’re one of us’. That seems to me quite unambiguously the proper starting point in this debate.
That is the “civic nationalism” also espoused by most Welsh nationalists? It is a moderate and liberal nationalism, but ideologically it is nationalism all the same? I read the argument in this article to be going further. What of those non-nationalists who reject the “us and them” idea altogether? They reject ‘you’re one of “us” ‘? A better governance argument might have traction. Well, it does with me.
Perhaps it is – nationalism, that is. But ‘civic nationalism’ is fine by me – it’s the ‘blood, soil and empire’ varietythat raises my hackles.
yes john I agree, personally I’ve always wanted independence for better governance. We have to be inclusive – if you love living here amongst us then you are one of us – part of the cymru.
Whilst this article makes some valid points, the assertion that identity can somehow be ‘decoupled’ from any debate is totally unrealistic. The lack of Welsh identity among a substantial proportion of Wales’ population is probably the most significant factor of all in national movement’s lack of appeal. Those many people who feel both Welsh and British are not the main obstacle – whilst not many of these might support independence, they could favour greater powers for Wales. The real issue is the estimated 40% of the population who see themselves either as British only or as English. No amount of… Read more »
For many, discussions around identity are an intellectual luxury they rarely access. They are to consumed with surviving poverty, failing communities, crumbling care services, lack of infrastructure and opportunity, on and on. Self identifying doesn’t address any of those realities. Trust must be built not with detached discussions of identity but with the reality of positive change. Most people just want cupboard love and whoever keeps the cupboard full will get called mammy.
Wrecsam . African taxi driver to me “Oh, you are Welsh too. When I ask people here if they are British they all say they are Welsh, ha ha”.
JR, the same taxi driver said that to me, too. It seems he’s got the message.
What the author characterises as “narrow nationalism” is a nationalism based on a people’s heritage and culture developed over millennia. World over, it’s based on inter-related families forming communities in a specific location with a shared identity. That’s deep nationalism. Nationalism based simply on anyone “with all kinds of identities” is shallow nationalism, often called ‘civic nationalism’. It has little substance or staying power. Courting it leads to a downward spiral to national destruction. When ‘Wales’ just becomes a place where an increasing number of ‘citizens’ have no ancestral roots linking them together, the nation first become diluted and then… Read more »
thanks a commons sense approach to what is required rather than the Plaid Cymru argument of preaching socialism and left of Corbyn tripe which turns majority of Welsh people off the idea of an independent Wales
I think that boat has sailed – especially for Wales, which has a much longer and not infrequently a more accessible land border with England than Scotland has, And, indeed, that it sailed rather a long time ago; inward migration to Wales is no new thing., as, to judge from the arguments, some appear to think. When I lived in Radnorshire over forty years ago I was intrigued to discover that, among the run of commonly found local Welsh or at least originally non-native but widely adopted Welsh surnames – Lewis, Davies, Thomas, Bowen – there was a whole clan… Read more »
An interesting observation. How is Welsh identity to be determined? This is a discussion that we need to be having. A simple answer is that anyone who identifies as Welsh, or least part Welsh, could be considered for Welsh citizenship. For the latest figures I have, people who identify themselves first and foremost Welsh range from the highest in Merthyr Tydfil (80.7%) to lowest in Flintshire (35..3%). Broadly speaking, the most Welsh-identifying parts of Wales are the Glamorganshire Valleys. Every region is over 50% apart from Denbighshire (49.3%), Powys (45.8%), Conwy (45%) and Flintshire mentioned above. Since you mention names,… Read more »
It isn’t about DNA, it’s about whether an English settler invests in Welsh culture and the language (i.e. ‘chooses to become Welsh’) in an independent Cymru or whether he chooses to bring England with him. This applies in both Welsh-speaking and Anglophone areas. The same would apply to overseas immigrants. Otherwise, what’s the point of Wales any more? Looking at descendants of English migrants from the 19th Century or earlier misses the point because the country was overwhelmingly Welsh-speaking and a settler would starve if they didn’t learn Welsh. The situation today, with in-migration at unsustainable levels and with the… Read more »
For Britain, read England.
I was born in England but have spent 34 years in Wales, married to a Welshman. I believe that an independent Wales is a must now the government are concentrating on ‘little England ‘. Wales has been starved of government money with England getting the lions share.
And, inside England, London and its travel-to-work area hoovering up most of that lion’s share.
I agree with this analysis. However those who are against any form of further devolution , let alone independence, use the last two decades of Welsh Government as evidence of poor governance as opposed to better government.
We can only hope that the tarnished image of “The Mother of Parliaments” is enough for the Indy dubious to reconsider.
The article highlights so many of the issues that need to be resolved in order for Wales to progress. It starts with the basics and that is the quality of representative and expertise supporting our governance. It’s absolutely appalling. Its tribal, polarised, inadequate and ignorant on so many levels. Spend 10 minutes watching the chamber and you will get a clear idea of why Wales is being forced to fail. Anybody who works in a specific field will know who the experts are in that field, how many of those have been engaged for their talent? 3rd rate academics or… Read more »
Completely agree that we need to separate identity from the argument. Though I also believe allowing any kind of ideology into the mix is equally as fraught. Solutions to bad governance and what exactly we want our Wales to be are discussions that will inevitably fall into that trap. When we hear people talk about what they want Wales to be we get a roar of cheer… but the solutions are inevitably dragged down by identity, ideology or accusations something isn’t progressive enough. I don’t think there’s anyone in our movement that doesn’t want a better Wales… but everyone’s idea… Read more »