The ‘back row’ and Welsh Nationalism

Chris Arnade has been key to my understanding of Trump supporters since the election last year. He sees the country as being divided between what he calls the ‘front row’ (cosmopolitan, coastal USA) and the ‘back row’ (rural, inland USA) and argues that calling the latter ignorant, reckless or irrational is self-defeating, and is likely to harden their resolve rather than weaken it. The ‘front row’ and ‘back row’ are separated thus:

Front Row

Back Row
Global outlook
Stay where they are born
Little education beyond high school
Social network based around higher
 education and career
Social network based around community institutions
Intellect and rationality give their lives meaning
Belief and hard work give their lives meaning
Beyond race and gender
Traditional views of race and gender
Believe the world is getting better
Believe the world is getting worse

These definitions are perhaps over simplistic, even in their original context in the USA. For instance, a lot of ethnic minorities that find themselves in the ‘back row’ are ardent Democrat supporters.

It’s worth noting however that this isn't just a wealthy/poor divide: We know that a lot of Trump supporters are actually well off, but it’s the world-view rather than how much money they have in the bank that’s important here.

Brexit and Trump

If you’re reading this blog, it’s very likely that you fall into the ‘front row’ category. In fact, I don’t think it would be particularly controversial to argue that Welsh nationalism as a whole has been primarily a ‘front row’ pursuit. If you were asked to picture a Welsh nationalist you would probably see in your mind’s eye an academic such as O.M. Edwards scribbling away at his desk, or the Archdruid crowning a bard. This becomes even clearer if you consider Welsh nationalism’s primary complaints:

  1. The UK’s neglect has stopped Wales from reaching its full potential and taking its rightful place as an equal amongst the other nations of the world.
  2. Cultural colonialism has weakened the Welsh language, and in doing so has narrowed our cultural and intellectual perspectives.

On the other hand, British/English nationalism is very much a ‘Back row’ nationalism. It is sneered at by liberal commentators. The primary image of British nationalism is a skinhead English football fan upending a cafe on the continent, or Nigel Farage holding a pint in a pub. Brexit is ‘irrational’ and ‘racist’.

The problem is that this ‘front row/back row’ divide also explains why Brexit and Donald Trump’s campaign were so successful, while Welsh nationalism continues to move forward, in the words of Captain Blackadder, “at the pace of an asthmatic ant carrying some heavy shopping”.

Democracy does not favour the intellectual and rational. It’s all down to numbers. Wales does have small pockets where the ‘front row’ are in the ascendancy (university towns and cities). It is, however, primarily a ‘back row’ country. Over half of the vote is locked up in the post-industrial south-east, the ‘costa geriatrica’ of the north Wales coastline, or in socially conservative rural areas.

The primary question that Welsh nationalism faces, therefore, is how does it make itself relevant to the ‘back row’? Moreover, does it really WANT to make itself relevant to them? Does it have the stomach for it - do the ends justify the means? Can, and does it, want to bring out the inner Trump, the inner Nigel Farage, and appeal to this demographic?

I'm not sure it does.


  1. I agree with the premise of your post that much of the support for UKIP/Brexit/Trump is from disaffected people, but not your contention that in order to appeal to the back row that Welsh Nationalism has to follow the same neo-Fascist policies as UKIP/Trump in order to succeed.
    The reason why many disaffected people support the far right is because the far right has persuaded them that foreigners, the EU, bureaucrats etc are the reason why they have been left in the back.
    In days gone by the disaffected of Wales were persuaded that it was The Church of England, Tory Landlords, the Devil and the Demon Drink that was the cause of their woes and they became nonconformist Liberals. They were then persuaded that all their problems stemmed from Iron Masters, Coal Barons and the Capitalist Class so they turned Labour.
    What we need to do is persuade the back row that their problems are actually caused by Wales being governed by Westminster governments who know nothing about the needs of Wales.

  2. Diddorol ac yn berthnasol iawn Ifan. Cytunaf ar yr asesiad sy yma,er ei fod yn weddol gorsyml, fel y dywedoch chi. Anodd gwybod sut mae Cymru n gallu ehangu ei gorwelion heb fwy o reolaeth annibynnol a heb fwy o ddylanwad o Ewrop a llai o Lundain. Stopio Brexit neu gobeithio bydd Brexit n darparu annibyniaeth? Dyna'r cwestiwn. Wrth gwrs,gallai'r ddau arwain at uffern hefyd.

  3. Diddorol iawn ydi hyn, ac mae o'n dangos y rheswm tu ol i dyrchafiad UKIP a Trump, cwymp y Blaid Lafur/Democrats a twll disymud y Blaid! Mae UKIP/Trump wedi ffendio targed (mewnfudwyr/foreigners!) a bangio mlaen amdano digon nes bod pobol yn cytuno, er mae amheuaeth o ddieithriaid yn ddwfn yn y psyche dynol ac yn dipyn o ddrws agored iddyn nhw mewn gwirionedd. Mae'n rhaid i'r Blaid ffendio targed a'i fwrw'n ddidrugaredd! Awgrymaf 'Brexiteers cyfoethog' - y rhai sydd a grym go iawn sy'n rhedeg y wlad, a chwmniau mawr rhyngwladol! - (Liam Fox er eng, sydd yn elwa’n aruthrol o’r sefyllfa bresenol – gweler George Monibot yn Grauniad!) "Nhw sy'n cymryd eich jobs chi! A'ch gadael yn dlotach!" Mae'n rhaid gadael achosion (er mor deilwng) 'front row' yn y cefndir a phregethu'r neges yma hyd at syrffed!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I am just an ordinary person, have not been employed for 10 years since redundancy and closing my sole trading business. Am I in the 'back row' you mention?
    Possibly, but really I know that brexit is causing economic instability and will serve no purpose. This whole crisis is caused by over-centralisation of wealth and power, supported by corrupt economic and civil politics.
    The USSR collapsed as it was over-centralised, so will the UK collapse if it does NOT devolve more power and wealth to its countries and regions, so Wales and Scotland must prepare to become a new nation now.

    I realised that I needed, not to waste time nor money, but to seek further and higher education as I was lacking the skills.
    and to look out for new opportunities that come along.
    To remain confidence in yourself and 'I can/we can' attitude.
    Bring confidence to your communities.

    It comes to those on the 'back row' will need to seek to get to that 'front row' to survive.
    They need power to obtain the policies to make that happen

  6. Unless our people are offered something really different and Celtic then all some are doing is perpetuating the same Anglo-Norman system a process of elitism and right wing English politics with begging bowls passed around to the indigenous. Accept or deny it is your choice!
    Some of the many people have already tried this what you are proposing and just ended up as Welsh Llackies to the English by having their ego's stroked with titles and a little bit of wealth.
    We have educated people who will do nothing to upset the English and to destabilise their own academic careers. I am not saying they do not have a place, just that, where are they?
    Like where is my link to Nation.Cymru gone? Where are my comments? You can block me for telling the truth, but I shall continue with patriotic pride listening to, talking with and answering anyone whatever politics or nationality.
    Without unity we are nothing.
    Dafydd ap Gwilym


Post a Comment