I notice that a new response is being employed against those of us who can, loosely, be termed, the more patriotic element within the nation. This response boils down to quoting President Clinton – “It’s the economy, stupid!”. Which tries to suggest that those wanting to preserve and strengthen Welsh identity are ignorant of economic realities. More misleadingly, it even suggests: ‘You can either have a vibrant Welsh identity, more people speaking Welsh, etc . . . in an economic backwater, or you can have a prosperous Wales with the inevitable corollary of it becoming less Welsh – but you can’t have a Wales that is both prosperous and Welsh’.
The thing about this argument is that while those using it today quote a recent President of the USA we Welsh have been hearing this ‘anglicise yourselves to progress’ argument for centuries. As far back as 1283, or the Laws in Wales Acts (1535, 1542). A more recent example would be the Blue Books of 1847. These, produced by the Commission of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales, concluded that we Welsh had no hope of joining the human race until the Welsh language was killed off. A few decades later Wales saw the British Labour Party hijack and emasculate the indigenous movements for workers’ rights and social justice on the march to the sunlit uplands. Because for the posturing ‘revolutionaries’ of Labour the future was not only bright and proletarian, it was also utterly English. To the point where ‘hanging on’ to the language or anything else distinctively Welsh was either pitied as being a waste of time or else frowned upon as a sign of reaction, perhaps coded support for the murdered Romanovs!
Yet here we are in 2013 and we’re hearing almost the same insulting argument about the incompatibility of Welshness and prosperity! Why? In my opinion, it boils down to attitudes – to the Union, and to the relationship between Wales and England. What I mean here is that the stronger one’s support for the Union then, almost inevitably, the higher will be one’s regard for England and things English. The other side of this coin is a tendency to undervalue things Welsh. Even though this is denied, or disguised, behind the ‘Union of equals’ rationale. A more extreme position states that all things Welsh, including people, are inherently inferior to their English equivalents or counterparts.
Countering this we have the nationalist position that regards prosperity as being perfectly compatible with Welsh identity. I mean, do Finns have to forsake their cultural heritage and become Swedish in order for Finland to prosper! When we use an example like that we can see how absurd the ‘anglicise to prosper’ position becomes. It stands exposed, either as outright bigotry, or else a defence of England’s exploitation of Wales within an unequal Union. For if we did live in a political and economic union of equals, then our rural areas would now have healthy economies, rather than suffering economic decline and loss of population disguised only by English colonisation; the workforces of our declining urban areas would have enjoyed retraining in the industries of the twenty-first century rather than being ignored, or sacrificed to Labour’s cronies in the Third Sector.
Of course, the nationalist vision for Wales can only be fully realised in an independent Wales, which makes it easy to dismiss as ‘romantic’ or ‘unrealistic’. (Though there is a certain irony to be enjoyed in hearing this criticism from ‘socialists’ who have been promising us ‘jam tomorrow’ for over a century.) And yet, the more I think about this, the more I realise there is an obvious intermediate position for nationalists; one that both addresses the ‘bread and butter issues’ beloved of our critics, while also defending Welsh identity, without which independence is impossible. And this approach has the advantage of not even relying on an economic upturn to improve the situation of our people.
This position seeks to do the best for Welsh people within the present constitutional and economic parameters. And on the very issue our detractors say we ignore – the economy. Let us demand that Welsh natural resources be used in the Welsh national interest – no matter what disadvantageous agreements were made by Peter Hain and others. Let us insist on a charge being levied for all energy produced in Wales for England, demand a percentage of the massive docking fees paid at Milford Haven and other Welsh ports, insist on supermarkets sourcing Welsh produce, ensure that contracts within Wales go to Welsh firms, levy a tourist tax . . . And let us help individuals by insisting that Welsh people have first claim on all jobs in Wales, irrespective of deals struck between English employers and English trade unions. If Cwmscwt needs a new postman then the Royal Mail will recruit a local, rather than transferring in Joe Bloggs from Brummagem. Welsh people must also enjoy priority in the allocation of social housing, with no obligation on any provider to meet an external demand. In private housing, build only what we need.
Serve Welsh interests and we help maintain Welsh identity. Do this and we do more to ensure independence at some future date than any amount of faffing about down Cardiff docks can ever achieve. In fact, defending and strengthening Welsh identity through argument, protest, even confrontation, must be the priority from now on. Partly because Welsh national identity is the only thing that gives meaning to ‘Wales’, and partly because it’s the only game in town, seeing as electoral politics is a dead-end in the one-party State that is Wales.
The opposition ranged against us may appear united and strong, but that could be nothing more than an impression. Consider this. How many times have we heard it said that nothing can be done about English colonisation because to do so would contravene EU law on the free movement of labour and goods? I’ve lost count. It was used by Edwina Hart, Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science in response to my petition to the Assembly asking for Welsh jobs to go to Welsh people. She wrote, to the Petitions Committee, “The free movement of workers within the European Union, and internationally, is a non-devolved matter”. (See full letter here.)
I’ve been giving this statement, and the general argument on which it is premised, some thought. The first doubt to enter my head was, ‘Surely, this legislation relates to the free movement of workers between EU Member States, not within them?’ The kind of thing that is now vexing English xenophobes as they look for ways to avert the impending ‘invasion’ of Vlachs and Bulgars. Note also that Edwina Hart refers to “workers”. She was of course answering my petition, but the same ‘EU legislation’ is used to justify, or excuse, the movement of non-workers, indigents and retired people, from England to Wales. So could it be that the EU has no legislation in place at all relating to movement of people within a Member State? If so, then this whole ‘EU’ argument could be what we lawyers call ‘a load of old bollocks’.
But let’s not upset ourselves any more with thoughts of politicians, bureaucrats and other shysters, whether at EU, UK or Welsh level. None of them are worth it; and wasting time and hope on non-existent political solutions has done enough damage already. In the absence of a nationalist party the priority must be the defence of Welsh national identity by other means. Make our people more prosperous by demanding those things that are ours by right. Succeed in this and not only will we achieve improvements for our people in the here and now, but we shall also be laying the foundations for an independent Wales.
The alternatives? Well, if you’re really, really optimistic you could wait until the 2020 Assembly elections and hope that Plaid Cymru forms a coalition with Labour. By which time there will be even less of Wales left to save. Certainly the real Wales. The Wales of the Welsh. The choice is yours.