A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about how everyone is a nationalist, and every party is a national party.
Helpfully, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in Wales have all now proven my point by voting for a 'Hard Brexit' - against membership of the single market and freedom of movement in Europe.
So if you’re a Plaid Cymru or SNP supporter, the next time someone calls you a ‘nat’, you have a ready-made reply:
“My party supports membership of the single market and freedom of movement, yours doesn’t. So who’s the nat?”
I’ve recently been thinking aloud about what kind of party Plaid Cymru should be, now that Labour seems to be in electoral freefall and the far-right is stirring in Europe and north America.
Plaid Cymru’s role in Welsh politics has now fundamentally changed. Until now, they wielded influence not by winning elections but by presenting enough of an electoral threat to Labour’s core constituencies in the valleys in order to drag the Labour party in Wales to the left and towards Welsh-European nationalism.
They were the little angel on Welsh Labour’s shoulder.
There is now, of course, another party on Welsh Labour’s shoulder which is threatening their core valleys continuances. A little cythraul called UKIP, which is working its own political gravity on Welsh Labour, pulling it in the direction of a anti-European, anti-immigration British nationalism.
Being pulled in both directions isn’t a good place to be, and it’s no real surprise that immigration and Europe are accentuating already deep divisions between the right, the centre and left of the Labour Party.
If UK Labour do founder and Welsh Labour retain their hold on the Senedd, I believe we’ll see Welsh Labour continue to emphasise Welsh nationalism because it will be in their interests to do so.
However, if Welsh Labour suffer an electoral calamity, Plaid Cymru must ensure that it is them rather than UKIP or the Conservatives that are ready to pick up the pieces.
One thing Plaid Cymru needs to do is decide where it stands on the use of immigration, freedom of movement and cultural erosion.
The worst thing they could do is follow the same path as the other parties and simply ape UKIP. You don’t beat UKIP by becoming UKIP.
If UKIP eventually closes its doors because the members feel entirely at home in the Conservative or Labour parties, that means UKIP has won.
We need to remember than 47% of the electorate supported staying in the European Union and the continuation of freedom of movement.
The SNP have shown in Scotland that the support of 47% of the electorate is very a good foundation to build on.
Immigration has always been a tough issue for Plaid Cymru. They’ve had their hands burnt too many times in the past.
They’ve been stung by completely unfounded accusations of fascism (see Richard Wyn Jones’ excellent book on this topic) – a theme that continues to this day.
However, I think the other parties’ dash to the right gives them some breathing space in order to discuss the issue.
The Conservatives and Labour can hardly accuse them of racism while calling on companies to draw up lists of foreign-born workers.
An inability to talk about immigration has been a problem for Plaid Cymru, not least because the party argues vehemently for a future for the Welsh-language.
It’s clear that one of the main issues threatening the future of the language is demographic change.
Young Welsh-speakers are moving out of Welsh-speaking communities and being replaced with an older, non-Welsh speaking population.
This isn’t a criticism of either the movers in or the movers out. The same dynamic is present in any poor, rural area.
Plaid Cymru have not found a sensitive way of approaching this topic, and their support for freedom of movement more generally means that they’ve been open to accusations of hypocrisy.
What Plaid Cymru should push for, in my opinion, is a multi-cultural Europe, but one where all cultures are protected from erosion.
The danger of the European Union was always that Europe would become culturally homogeneous.
This is what nation-states do: They break down the linguistic and cultural barriers between people so that they’re are part of one imagined community.
They become ‘German’, ‘French’, ‘British’ where before they may before have been Sorbs, Bretons and Welsh.
A United States of Europe could even dispense with the French, German, Italians and Spanish. They could over decades become Europeans, as culturally similar as New Yorkers or Californians.
Plaid Cymru should argue for freedom of movement, but with more done in Wales, Britain and across Europe in order to ensure cultural continuity and integration.
And the people of Wales should be given all the tools necessary in order to enjoy the different cultures present in Europe.
Primary schools should be tri-lingual: English, Welsh, and at least one other European language so that the next generation can develop an appreciation of other cultures, and enjoy freedom of movement while integrating themselves into other European communities.
The message should be that we should embrace cultural diversity while also accepting that those cultures will only survive if they're protected, and sometimes need their own geographical spaces in order to thrive.
This point of view allows Plaid Cymru to balance two competing objectives:
- Argue that concerns about immigration are valid in areas where immigration has changed the cultural character of a community. These can be rural communities or inner-city communities, English or Welsh speaking. But the emphasis should be on integration while rejecting the far right’s claim that exclusion based on race or nationality is the answer.
- Present themselves as a pro-European alternative to the Conservatives and Labour, who have adopted a xenophobic, British nationalist perspective.
Maintaining cultural diversity is the right thing to do. Immigration is all important for Wales’ economy and public services. Plaid Cymru needs to get the balance right between these two objectives.
My aim with this blog is always to promote a conversation, so please feel free to respond below, whether you agree or think this is complete nonsense. I’m always open to other points of view.