Still British

I particularly liked one of the comments that happened to appear on the BBC website regarding Scotland's referendum on independence.

Steve, Glasgow texts: I'm proud to be English born and bred – but I live in Scotland and will vote yes. This isn't about being anti-English – it's about the people of Scotland deciding what is best for Scotland. I will still be English. I will still be British. But Scotland will run its own affairs.

None of the people of this island will be any less British when Scotland and Wales become independent. It's a false choice. We won't have to throw away any of the history, culture or family ties we might share any more than we did when our neighbours in Ireland gained their independence less than a century ago.

Three independent voices in Europe and the world will always be more effective than one lone voice.

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Anonymous said...

Erm, they will be less British because there won't be a British state.

I'm 'less' Welsh in many aspects of my life and identity because Wales isn't independent. I can't express my welshness ar the Olympics, UN, international affairs because Wales has no international recognition.


Anonymous said...

yes M does have a good while the british isles will still of course exist as a geographical entity should there be a yes vote the political 'state' of britain will no longer exist....

incidentally i really think the snp have puled off a masterstroke in getting the vote for 16 and 17 year olds in the while all the media attention has been on 'devo-max' (which scotland is well on the way to achieving anyway) the real story of today is surely that now an age group among which the yes campaign has a huge lead will be able to vote in the 2014 referendum....

Leigh Richards

Anonymous said...

I have agreed with everything with what the SNP have done EXCEPT this argument that we will not be any less British post independence.

I hope that this is just a bluff to get people on side. As British has been hijacked by England. British = English.

Put it this way - do you think that any body in the Republic of Ireland call themselves British?

Anonymous said...

The key question must be: how will disenfranchised devomax supporters vote? This is such an intriguing electoral dynamic - does Cameron understand it? Whatever, a two year feast awaits political scientists and commentators alike.

MH - don't forget your promised preview of the Elections in Euskadi!

Anonymous said...

It's different to Ireland. Scotland shares a border with England and has more social connections with England. Wales has even more, by the way.

The SNP is right to suggest people can continue to feel British without needing a British state. Incidentally Sinn Fein says the same thing in the north of Ireland, to a less effective extent.

I don't feel British at all, i'm Welsh. I'm not even one of those Welsh nationalists that calls themselves European. But I accept the right of people in Wales to identify as British. I just don't think we need a state for that.

MH said...

M, Leigh, Anon 19:44, I would ask you and others to think more clearly about it. What does "British State" mean? The present state is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Britain does not exist as a political entity; it exists as a geographical entity ... although the various nations on this island of course have a shared history and cultural heritage which we can call rightly call British in the same way as we can talk of Scandinavian or Caribbean history and culture. In that sense many people on this island will understandably think of themselves as British to some degree. And that's fine by me ... in fact I too wouldn't object to being called British in that sense.

The mistake is to assume that having this sense of being British means that people must therefore think of their nationality as being British. But the two things aren't the same. To illustrate this: people from Denmark would be happy to be thought of as Scandinavian, but would never describe their nationality as Scandinavian; and people from Jamaica would be happy to be thought of as Caribbean, but would never describe their nationality as Caribbean.

If we make the mistake of conflating the issue of nationality with the geographical, cultural and historical ties that exist between the nations on this island, we are going to make it that much harder to win over the minds of people who don't have a problem thinking of themselves as British. We need to challenge the false premise that if you think of yourself as British, you should vote to "keep Britain together". As 21:49 says, we don't need a state for that.

But equally, I think we as nationalists need to drop the "Welsh not British" tag ... or at least make it clear that we mean it only in terms of nationality. I know this is a fundamental part of the way some nationalists think and that I will upset some people by saying it, but it is not helpful. In fact it's counterproductive.


The decision about whether Wales and Scotland should be independent is a decision about how we are governed. It is a question about whether we in Wales and Scotland are capable of making decisions about how we are governed for ourselves – or whether we are only capable of deciding a few limited matters for ourselves, but must leave the big issues to be decided by the people of England. And yes, I do mean England, because England has ten times the population of Scotland and seventeen times the population of Wales; so that whenever there is a conflict between what is in Wales' national interest and what is in England's national interest, Westminster will always do what suits England. In that sense, England and Britain are synonymous.

Labour in Wales know this full well. Rhodri Morgan called the imbalance an "elephant and three Celtic fleas", saying that things are unbalanced as they stand but that Scottish independence will leave Wales in an "impossible position". Carwyn Jones has explicitly said that decisions being made by Westminster are not in Wales' national interest.

These are the grounds on which we will win people over to vote for an independent Wales.

MH said...

Yes, 20:40, by refusing to allow any intermediate choice the unionist parties have forced those who want devo-max to choose between independence and the status quo ... or what will be the status quo when the provisions of the Scotland Act 2012 come into effect.

I think this is a major victory for the SNP. The name of the game was never whether devo-max would be on the ballot paper or not (it could only have been if it had been defined and there was a commitment by Westminster government to deliver it) but on who would be seen as responsible for it not being an option. Very clearly, those who feel disenfranchised will blame the unionists for that. David Cameron and Michael Moore (not to mention the media) are claiming it as the one concession they wrung from the SNP in the negotiations. They were completely out-manoeuvred.

The unionist game plan for the next two years will be to say that if the Scots vote No, they will get devo-max. They will make lavish promises, but who will take them seriously? If the unionist parties believed in devo-max, they had every opportunity to amend the Scotland Act 2012 to include it.

With only two options, the number of those who will now vote for independence is bound to increase, which is exactly what the SNP wanted. The only question is what percentage of the large middle ground of Scottish opinion that wanted devo-max will vote Yes and what percentage will vote No. I'm sure the majority of those who had wanted devo-max will now vote for independence.

Anonymous said...

As ever you make a compelling argument MH but i think it has to be recognised by all of us who wish to see wales one day become self governing nation that 'britishness' is an obstacle to that goal...

what i mean by that is if people in wales regard themselves as 'british' in the first instance (as opposed to being welsh) then you have to wonder how such people really view wales? a nation in its own right that will one day be able to run its own affairs? Or do they merely see wales as a 'region' of britain? say like the north east or east anglia?

Certainly polling evidence conducted over the last 15 years has shown that the more people identify themselves as welsh in the first instance...rather than british...the more support for welsh devolution has grown. So there does in wales seem to be a link between how people view their national identity and the degree of support there is for further devolution or out right self government even.

consequently i really dont think its tenable to say to people that after self government for wales you would still be 'british' as that just will not be the case. They would have a welsh passport, pay taxes to a welsh treasury and..if the matter was put to a referendum....hopefully have voted to end Wales links with the british in reality there would be very few things in wales that are currently tangible evidence of 'britishness' left.

Leigh Richards

MH said...

Then the important question to ask is what people who think of themselves as British or both Welsh and British actually mean, Leigh. People, especially those with an axe to grind, are all too quick to assume that they are talking about national identity and the way we are governed. It is that assumption that we need to challenge. Once we unpick that lock, a major plank of the unionist argument simply falls away. The UK is like a huge lumbering machine, but if we hit it in exactly the right place it will fall to pieces. I am convinced that this is the place to hit it.

I agree with you that the more people start to think of themselves as Welsh rather than British, the more they are likely to want to see our country run in a way that suits Wales and what is in our national interest. We've made huge strides in that direction and I expect the trend to continue. But thinking is for the head rather than the heart, and there are many more things—especially in Wales—which revolve around feelings, identity and what people have always done.

For many people, especially older people, a feeling of Britishness is too deeply ingrained to throw away and it is unreasonable to expect them to do it. The crux of my argument is that they don't have to throw it away. In terms of culture, history, family ties and indeed in every sense except a political sense the people of Wales, Scotland and England who feel to some degree British will be just as British after Scotland and Wales become independent as they are now. We are taking away an unnecessary obstacle that would prevent people from voting for independence ... and we need to do it if we are to get the percentage in favour of independence from 30% to more than 50% in Scotland and from 15% (on a good day) to more than 50% in Wales.

100% silk ties said...

In terms of culture, history, family ties and indeed in every sense except a political sense the people of Wales, Scotland and England who feel to some degree British will be just as British after Scotland and Wales become independent as they are now.

Anonymous said...

"But equally, I think we as nationalists need to drop the "Welsh not British" tag ... "

I agree with MH. Even though I do not regard myself as British and have chanted 'Welsh not British' at Wales football games. It doesn't need to be a political tenet of the Welsh nationalist movement. Or at least, it *can't* be one of our tenets if we want to win elections in Wales. Forcing people to make an identity choice means choosing to fight a virtually impossible psychological battle.

Anonymous said...

My heart and soul tell me without any hesitation that I am Welsh.
My passport tells me I am British but I can not get excited about that, although it makes me feel a bit schizophrenic at times.
When I can eventually hold a Welsh passport I will be a very proud unambiguous Welshman, but I can not deny that I will also have British connections - through geographical, historical and social connections, etc - but the big difference is that this is something I can choose to embrace or ignore - it is not forced onto me like the passport.


Aled GJ said...

I recently heard rising Plaid star Steffan Lewis from Blaenau Gwent espouse a similar line to MH in a meeting here in Gwynedd. Steffan gave an impressive performance, arguing that promoting Wales in the context of Britain, made sound historical as well as contemporary sense. In the same way as MH, he urged us to focus on de-coupling the British state from the state of having a British identity as it were.He went even further by suggesting that PC should adopt an "Independence in Britain" slogan in future.

Steffan Lewis is definitely one to watch out for in the future, but I would take issue with both his and MH's approach in two ways. Firstly, pursuing an "equally Welsh and British" approach will inevitably diminish the moral argument for Welsh nationalism, which needs to be argued more forcefully today than ever before. Secondly, I really don't think that we need to trim our sails in such a way, because events are fast moving in our favour anyway. The next two years are bound to see a huge upsurge in English national sentiment as a natural reaction to the independence referendum in Scotland.It really is not too fancible an idea to think that UKIP could take advantage of this by transforming itself into EIP( England Independence Party)with the aim of seeking Independence for England by 2020. I would argue that our own national movement will have to focus entirely on building up a strong Welsh political identity, if we are not be trampled underfoot by the political tsunami building up next door. I believe that the notion of being able to be both Welsh and British(even though MH is right to say that this is the default position of many people in Wales at the moment) will be swept aside by events of the next few years. Our relationship with the rest of the the peoples of these islands will no doubt have to be reconstituted over time( Leanne Wood herself came up with quite a striking phrase about England being a "sister nation") but for now let's focus unambiguously on developing a Welsh political identity.

Anonymous said...

I can see what is being got at with the words you've attributed to Steffan.

It's about how close to public opinion is Plaid Cymru willing to move, and how much is it going to try and change public opinion.

"Independence in Britain" sounds a heck of a statement. Alot harder to resist than "separatism".

I don't share Aled GJ's idea (or his hope) that events will simply sweep away Britishness. The telephone analysis a few years ago showed a range of social connections that exist between Wales and England, especially in the heavily populated border areas. We are talking about some very real family links. Disarming Britishness and supporting it as a non-state concept is a wise tactic.

There is also the concept of solidarity between nations as expressed at the European level. Do we want some kind of solidarity and equality between Wales and England? Gwynfor Evans wanted a Britannic Confederation, remember.

Above all of this, does Plaid Cymru want to construct a political project that is electorally popular? I think they do and it will emerge over the next few years. But social and economic policy, in the context of a global crisis, is probably just as important.

MH said...

I was in a panel discussion with Steffan at the last Spring Conference and we found we had very similar views, Aled. Expanding on them, I think we both saw the Nordic Council as a model for relations between the countries of these islands (Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Isles ... I wish there was a good collective name for them, but "British Isles" isn't quite right).

At the risk of repeating myself, the crux of the matter as I see it is to "debundle" the different senses of the word British, and to point out that even though the nations of this island share things that we can collectively call British, this does not mean we have to be a single political state.

If it is difficult to imagine what this might mean, we just have to ask what the situation will be when (or if, for those who aren't sure of it) Scotland becomes independent. It will obviously still be appropriate to use the words Britain and British in many senses, but people would no longer be able to use it as a lazy synonym for "the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Cornwall and Northern Ireland" (or whatever it gets called). Specifically, nobody would be able to talk of Britain as a nation. But to be accurate, it has never been right to talk of Britain as a nation. For even if we think that nation and state are synonymous (which is not completely unreasonable when we look at bodies such as the United Nations) the current United Kingdom includes the north of Ireland, which is not part of Britain at all.

Because of this imprecision and ambiguity, I think it is better to avoid the use of the word Britain and British whenever possible. Therefore I don't think it would be right to adopt a slogan such as "Independence in Britain" because it would be too easy to misunderstand (and for our opponents to misconstrue) and we would waste far too much effort trying to clarify what we meant by it.

Perhaps I should also make it clear that I am not saying we should adopt an "equally Welsh and British" position. I am saying that feeling British is not an obstacle to voting for independence. That's why I quoted Steve in Glasgow. I've tried to be very careful to say that I do not mind being described as British; however I personally would not go out of my way to describe myself as British, preferring to describe myself as Welsh. The reason for this is because others (especially unionist parties and media outlets like the BBC) incessantly use the word Britain as a lazy synonym for the UK of GB&NI. I will always try and use the more precise term. What I want to break up is not Britain, but the sovereign state currently known as the UK of GB&NI.

MH said...

Gwynfor's Britannic Confederation was in many ways a good idea, but everything hinges on what is meant by confederation, 16:39. If confederation is on the model of the Swiss Confederation or the former Confederation of Serbia and Montenegro, it will do us no good at all. Switzerland has, and Serbia and Montenegro had, just one seat at the UN. We are not looking for an equal relationship between the nations of Britain within a single state (which is better described as federation rather than confederation) but equal status with every other nation state on the world stage.

So in that sense, Plaid is not looking to construct a political project that is electorally popular. That's to put it the wrong way round. We have already decided what the political project is: it is an indpendent Wales in Europe and membership of the United Nations in our own right. Our job now is to convince the people of Wales that this is what is best for Wales.

But, that said, I think it is entirely appropriate for there to be a collective forum for the various nations of Britain and Ireland to decide matters of common interest, and think the Nordic Council is a very good model for us to follow. The current British-Irish Council could well develop into that, but has got some way to go. The name is problematic, but I rather like "Council of the Isles".

Anonymous said...

"The telephone analysis a few years ago showed a range of social connections that exist between Wales and England, especially in the heavily populated border areas."

No, quite the opposite.

The valleys and cities of the southern counties plus Ceredigion form a distinct region that fits neatly with the border. People in Monmouthshire look to Cardiff/Newport/Cwmbran not Gloucester or Hereford. Powys and north Wales are much more heavily integrated with England than the south but those regions are sparsely populated.

Anonymous said...

good points all...i guess what matters at the end of the day is that wales becomes a sovereign self governing nation...with full membership of the UN, with welsh passports, with full member status of the european union etc.....whatever phraseology or language we use to get there.

That wales becomes a fully fledged nation state and takes its place in the world with all the other full nation states...anything short of that is of course completely unacceptable.

Leigh Richards

Anonymous said...

What is meant by the designation 'British' and the tern 'Great Britain/British'? Used by the unionists. it invokes subliminal thoughts of the Great War, and the Second war - winston chuchill and all that. And indeed the 1945-1950 attlee government - which did indeed form a progressive framework of welfare provision which did unite the 'British nation' for a bit. It is associated indelibly with the Union Jack and the British Bulldog. - It might have worked had successive Tory governments not set about rolling back that which might have bound us together.

Before the first war, there was no real sense of Britain - it was (as , too often now) a synonym for England. Local communities lived their lives untroubled by a sense of nationality until the call came from Kitchner to go and die for their country - Britain (=England).

Like the SNP - we need to start subtly reclaim the term Britain from the Britnats, as a geographic term. I must say I am more offended by the assignation'Great British . . . ' as in 'team GB' and 'Great British Bakeoff' - or 'Menu'. The 'Great' is a translation of 'Grande' - Norman for Large, referring to the largest island of this archipelago, not the moral superiority the Britnats like to imply.

So let's be proud to call ourselves British - as the original Britons, but make it clear that we reject all the modern Union Jackery that many people would like to attach to it.

Anonymous said...

"No, quite the opposite.

The valleys and cities of the southern counties plus Ceredigion form a distinct region that fits neatly with the border. People in Monmouthshire look to Cardiff/Newport/Cwmbran not Gloucester or Hereford. Powys and north Wales are much more heavily integrated with England than the south but those regions are sparsely populated."

Is this really true? I would like it to be! Have you got a link to the study?

Ysbryd Penderyn said...

Local rule for local areas in a peaceful connected world.....reclaim the island of Prydain/Britain.......before 1707 the welsh were called british!

Anonymous said...

Anon 23.29

Here is the map

"Tra bod yr Alban yn un ‘rhanbarth’ ar ei ben ei hun, mae Cymru wedi ei dorri yn dri. Yn ôl yr ymchwil roedd pobol o ogledd Cymru yn fwy tebygol o ffonio Lerpwl a Manceinion na Chaerdydd.

Dywedodd yr ymchwilwyr eu bod nhw wedi edrych ar rhif teleffon pob galwad a rhif teleffon yr ardal oedd yr alwad yna’n mynd iddo er mwyn creu’r map.

Yn ôl y map mae de Cymru a Cheredigion yn un ‘ardal’ – ond gan rhannau o Bowys fwy o gysylltiadau gyda dinas Birmingham na gweddill Cymru."

So much for the myth of an 'Anglicised' south and pure Welsh north...

Welsh not British said...

Personally I can't think of anything worse than being British, it's just a made up word to mask the fact that we are a colony of the English empire.

But each to their own.

MH said...

Rather than look at just one image in isolation, the full research article on defining regions by telephone communications is here. There were a number of different algorithms used and these produced slightly, but not very, different results. What 17:56 said seems to sum it up quite well.

Anonymous said...

While I am not surprised that South Wales is a relativley self contained region - and that North Wales has strong ties with North West England - I was more surprised with the Mid-Wales links with English Midlands.

But then I started thinking - apart from the very unpopulated nature of the area which might skew the results, Montgomeryshire does have strong ties with Shrewsbury which in turn links with Telford and then Birmingham - I dont think Machymlleth actually considers itself linked to Birmingham - they are just at different ends of a chain.


Anonymous said...

As things are going, the Welsh will be a minority in Cymru with all this English immigration taking place. Then, gaining a majority in Cymru for Independence will be that much harder.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the map. I made the original comment. I am pleasantly surprised by the results and was ignorant of them originally. There's alot to be encouraged about there.

Can I just object to the comment by Anon 14:03. The Welsh are not going to be a "minority in Cymru", at any perceivable point. I have no time for ethnic nationalism and I don't want people harming our cause by pretending to support us and making unconstructive remarks.

My family moved here from England, then I was born here. I'm a Welsh nationalist with English heritage. We need to reach out to English people not alienate them.

Anonymous said...

"The Welsh are not going to be a "minority in Cymru", at any perceivable point."

Really? Maybe not in the Valleys and pockets of Gwynedd but it appears that we're almost at that point elsewhere in Wales.

Take a look

MH said...

You and pretty much everyone else, 16:50. Nationality has nothing to do with ethnicity, and we need to reject any sort of Welsh "nationalism" that excludes people on the basis on where they or their forefathers came from.

As I've said a few times before: by definition, people from England who come to live in Wales have done so because they think Wales is better than the place they used to live or any other place they could have chosen to move to.

Anonymous said...

Welsh identifiers are now a minority in large areas of Wales. The processes that have allowed this to occur are accelerating.

Anonymous said...

MH- I would suggest your well meaninged efforts to give a positive slant on the way large swathes of even Y Fro Gymraeg are being colonised so that the national movement can appear inclusive and open are dangerously naive.

The truth of the matter is this. We desperately need a new nationalist party to highlight this problem and to kick up a fuss about it. What's the point of devolution, and even more powers for Cardiff, when we are fast becoming strangers in our own land? Nothing will change unless we introduce some struggle and conflict into the cosy consenus that exists in Wales at the moment.

Such a party could even help Plaid Cymru to consolidate themselves as the moderate face of Welsh nationalism, focusing on economic and constitutional advancement for Wales.

Anonymous said...

"We desperately need a new nationalist party to highlight this problem and to kick up a fuss about it."

I completely disagree that this is the right way to tackle these issues. There is an obsession with political parties at a time when party politics is fast becoming a minority interest.

What is needed is a group of serious individuals, academics to speak up about the issue of Welsh communities and in-migration and make serious, practical points, and try and influence policy-making. Not fighting elections or forming new parties.

If credible people start raising these concerns, politicians will have to react and hold a mature debate.

Trying to fight it as an election or party political issue is pointless.

Anonymous said...

It may well be too late in many areas. There is barely a primary school south of Mach that has a majority of native Welsh-speakers. I have tried canvassing for Plaid in many area and besides the very occasional positive response from English-born people the OVERWHELMING response is either hostility or bemused ignorance. As this process accelerates in all parts of the country including the valleys I begin to despair.

Anonymous said...

I also canvass for Plaid in the south (Cardiff), I encounter no hostility but alot of ignorance. The problem is nobody knows the Plaid policies on housing, schools, transport etc.

Welsh not British said...

@anon 9:47 Not really a big shock since all Plaid appear to do these days is attack the Tories.

psd to html said...

when we are fast becoming strangers in our own land? Nothing will change unless we introduce some struggle and conflict into the cosy consenus that exists in Wales at the moment.

amanda said...

incidentally i really think the snp have puled off a masterstroke in getting the vote for 16 and 17 year olds in the while all the media attention has been on 'devo-max'.
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