Unionists are the real Narrow Nationalists
Sun. July 1, 2012
I’ve been meaning to write this blog ever since Ed Milibands’ car crash speech on English identity. I have also taken part in a number of BBC interviews over recent months in which it is sometimes difficult to get your point across when you have an interviewer on the other end barking at you as you challenge unionist perceptions. It also supports why Leanne Woods intervention this week is an important one.
When the Miliband speech was being pre-briefed I had high hopes that we were about to hear something significant – that Labour were going to proclaim that their answer to the challenge posed by the SNPs independence drive was a Federal settlement for the British state. I expected Labour to position themselves as advocates of an English Parliament as the political expression of English identity. Instead what we got was hot air followed by one of the most painful interviews I have seen by a unionist leader on C4 news.
When asked about my identity, I say firstly I’m a son of Carmarthenshire. I consider Wales to be my nation. I have a British identity in that Wales is located in British Isles. I am also European. I might even go as far as Socrates proclaiming myself a citizen of the world. In terms of my nationality I’m definitely Welsh and proud of it.
My interpretation of the Welsh-British relationship is very much on the basis of Scandinavia where the Finns, Danish, Norwegians and Swedes feel completely comfortable with the notion of having a national identity expressed as well as a wider territorial affinity. This is a key point which distinguishes nationalists like me from unionists. Their ‘Britishness’ is rigidly wedded to the notion of a British State, hence their obsession with the parafinallia of statehood – flags and symbols – and their deep suspicion of any ‘competing’ identities. Unionist thinking therefore, as Miliband said in his speech, is if Scotland or Wales were to vote for political independence our people would cease having a British identity.
In a recent Radio Wales phone in interview based on my call for an English national parliament and anthem, the presenter seemed obsessed with making me concede that ‘God Save the Queen’ was my national anthem. It’s not, ‘Hen Wlad fy Nhadau’ is my national anthem. God Save the Queen is the anthem of the political State that Wales is currently a part of, and as long as the Queen is Head of State I have no issue with it being the anthem of the State. England on the other hand, as a nation, deserves its own national anthem.
In a historical sense basing your identity solely on a political State seems a ludicrous thing to do. The British State is a relative modern creation. Only 305 years have transpired since the Act of Union between England and Scotland. Indeed, in its most recent reincarnation, the British State is only 89 years old, since the Irish Free State was created in 1922. It’s fair to say therefore that those individuals who claim to be British (in the unionist) sense pledge loyalty to a political structure that is yet to reach its century. The propaganda agents of the State however would have you believe that it is an entity that has existed in eternity.
Unionists cannot have it both ways. One the one hand they proclaim Welsh identity is not dependent on the existence of a Welsh state. On the other they insist that Britishness can only be maintained in the context of a British state. This absurd hypocrisy underestimates the depth of solidarity the people of these islands feel for one another, and their historic ability to adapt and apply identity in a positive and ever-evolving way.
However, such is the penetration and power of the unionist position that even nationalists like me can find ourselves furthering the misconceptions of their argument. In a recent Radio Wales interview in relation to potential job losses at the Dewhirst factory in my constituency, the presenter told me that having a distribution site in the Amman Valley was economically stupid as it was an isolated in a geographical sense. My weak answer was that Capel Hendre was one of four sites within the UK and was easily accessible via the M4 to the main markets of South Wales and the South West of England.
My mistake was of course to position the Amman Valley geographically within the perspective of the British state. Of course Wales is on the western periphery in that context. However, geographically, nationalists like me should be making the case that Wales and indeed West Wales is at the centre of the British Isles. Considering that the Republic of Ireland is one of the UKs biggest trading partners (importing more exports than China, India, Brazil and Russia combined) our geographical location puts us at the centre of one of the major European trading routes and therefore ideal for distribution and manufacturing companies. My mistake was to fall into the unionist trap of locating solely Wales within the parameters of the British state – and they call us nationalists narrow minded!!
The other great element of the unionist identity matrix of course is Westminster itself. The British State despite devolution continues to be one of the most centralised political systems in the world. For unionists, any seeping away of power from the centre is a concession to Welsh and Scottish nationalism. In these rapidly changing times with Scottish independence firmly on the table, unionism is crying out for a political party that can offer a decentralised vision for the British State – in other words a Federal settlement. If unionists parties continue with their strategy on protecting the primacy of Westminster, the British state is doomed be it 2014 or thereafter.
In the end my ultimate vision for Britain is of a partnership of equals made up of independent political countries based on the historic nations. Unionists often refer to the British Lions touring rugby side as the sporting equivalent of their identity mindset, conveniently forgetting of course that Ireland (minus the 6 Counties) is an independent political state. I disagree, the Lions follow in the political tradition of the national parties, where four independent sporting teams periodically come together on the basis of equal status. There is nothing equal about the current political arrangements.
In a speech last Autumn I proclaimed that unionism is in crisis as a result of the Scottish referendum. In the recent launch of the no campaign, the Chair Alistair Darling said that the UK was a country made up of four regions, which seemed to me to be a strange way to make the case for the union. Ed Milibands fumbled and incoherent effort to define Englishness further makes my point. There is fruitful grounds here for Plaid Cymru if we can follow the SNP in defining what it means to be Scottish and British. We must base our vision of a British identity on history and geography and a social union – a common future based on partnership and equality as a tangible alternative to unionisms obsession with the State.
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