Under the circumstances, it might make more sense if I explained why I haven’t joined Plaid Cymru so far,
Firstly, I must admit that I’ve always resisted joining this political party. I come from a Welsh-speaking, dissenting-Christian, Gwynedd-residing family. The choice of Plaid Cymru seemed too obvious, too pre-ordained. Wales has always been beleaguered by denominational schisms, and I didn’t want to be just another person who voted the way he did because his father and his grandfather voted the same way. I am the master of my own mind (go to hell scientific materialism), and if I wanted to join Labour, the Lib Dems – even the Tories, whose name I don't equate with the bogey-man – I wasn’t going to let my background, or any friends or family members, stand in my way.
Secondly, I was until 2011 a professional journalist, and have since then been an academic. It’s probably time I admitted to myself that I’ll be an academic for the foreseeable future and that I’m not going to return to journalism anytime soon. But I was always hesitant in making my own political views clear while that option remained open to me. However, as I argued when Rhun ap Iorwerth declared his Plaid candidacy, I think you can hold strong political opinions and also be a good journalist – you can be professionally objective and impartial whatever your own opinions are on a specific matter. (Look at all those journalists on Twitter who aren’t exactly shy in weighing in with their own opinions while simultaneously reporting on the day’s events.)
Thirdly, I was genuinely unsure where my political allegiances lay. I suspect that none of the political parties in Wales are a perfect fit for me. I am at heart a socially liberal but economically conservative Welsh nationalist – while Plaid Cymru has tended to skew increasingly to the left on economic matters, of late. I would probably make a good Lib Dem, and indeed, I very much respect the liberals’ contribution to Welsh politics over the last 200 years. But ultimately the liberals have promised much when it comes to Wales, and delivered little when they had the chance, going back to Tom Ellis and Lloyd George. I suspect that accepting that no political party is a perfect fit for you, and making do with what is available, is part of growing up.
So why have I joined Plaid Cymru?
I’m a Welsh nationalist. Hobsbawm declared that “... no serious historian of nations and nationalism can be a committed political nationalist... [it] requires too much belief in what is patently not so.”
(Hobsbawm, 1990, p. 12) I must disagree with the most esteemed historian in this case. Yes, most nationalists are misinformed regarding the primordial roots of their own nation. The modern nation state, which replaces the feudal system, is a relatively recent invention, dating from around the end of the 18th century. Nations are very much ‘imagined communities’ – it is absurd that the Welshman from Wrexham would think himself to have more in common with a man from Tenby that someone from a few miles over the border in Chester. Nationalism is not about language, or religion, or liberte, egalite or fraternite – it is ultimately a discourse, a discourse that talks of ‘us’ and ‘them’. How can it not be something toxic and divisive?
But if we reject Welsh nationalism, do we really extricate ourselves from this toxic and divisive discourse? After all, the world is made up of nations, and just because these nations are the status quo, they’re still held together by the glue of nationalism. One only has to look at the front page of any national paper (particularly the Mail) to realise that British Nationalist discourse is an ever-present aspect of our daily lives. Just because this nationalism is of the ‘banal’ kind,
(Billig, 1995, p. 6) less obvious in its daiily reproduction, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Until a serious alternative to the nation state presents itself, everyone is a nationalist to some degree – if you have an opinion on the territory and governance of your own nation state, even if that is to support the continuation of things very much as they are, you are still a nationalist.
I’m a Welsh nationalist because I don’t belive the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ is a creation of Welsh nationalism. Nation states were set up all over the world based on liberal principles, but they’re ultimately monopolies to protect the interests of the ruling class. ‘They’ – the British establishment – already exist, and they’re not sharing power with ‘us’, unless it’s on their own terms. There’s no doubt that any person, of whatever background, race or gender, can join the British establishment with a lifetime’s effort. Even someone like John Prescott, who campaigned to abolish the Hourse of Lords, can ultimately become a Lord. This is where British nationalism has succeeded where others have failed – they’ve left the door open to anyone who wanted to assimilate. But to do so you have to play by their rules. You have to be ready to be absorbed.
The backwards, under-developed economy we have in Wales today does no-one any favours. It serves only the British establishment, because they know that, ultimately, national independence depends on economic independence, and if they are to keep Britain as a centralised state under their control then it doesn’t pay to invest too much in the regions. For good or ill, Wales is my home, and I don’t much appreciate being a pawn in this particular game. Wales could, with a modicum of investment in its infrastructure, do much better economically than it is doing at the moment. In the meantime, however, we have to sit back as Crossrail, then Crossrail 2, (and presumably Crossrail 3), then HS2, (and presumably HS3 and HS4) and similar multi-billion pound investments are ploughed into London and the surrounding regions. In return, we’ll get the electrification of the Cardiff-London railway, which should cut a whole 10 minutes off travel times. North Wales awaits its dividend from the so-far non-existent 'Northern Powerhouse'. These investments, if they ever arrive, will of course benefit Wales – as long at Wales is dependent on breadcrumbs from London’s table. But if Wales is to develop economically it needs to be more than a spoke in London’s economic wheel – it needs an internal economy that operates under its own steam. Being tied to the whims of a British establishment that has a 500+ year record of not caring a jot about Wales, and a financial sector which is about as stable as a Jenga tower made of jelly and is already overdue another crash, is not a sustainable option for Wales in the long term.
It sounds like a monumental cliché, but it’s true - Plaid Cymru, for all their flaws (of which there are no doubt many), are the only party that put Wales first. For Labour, Wales is just a building block towards power at the UK level. For the Conservatives, scoring a few seats here and there is nothing more than bragging rights. For UKIP, Wales is no more than an opportunity to claim an advantage under proportional representation that they can’t under first past the post, gain a few seats for former Tories, shore up Nigel Farage’s support, and smooth over internal party divisions. The liberals had complete political control over Wales for 50 years, but turned their backs on Wales as soon as the British political establishments offered them plum posts. For these parties, Wales is, at best, a stepping stone to greater things. We've voted for each of these parties in turn for over a hundred years - what has changed?
This thing we call ‘Wales’, like every other country, may be an accident of history. We may as well ask 'which Wales?' But it’s as good a region as any other in order to hoist a banner and distance ourselves from the self-serving cartel at the heart of the British establishment, who sing the praises of the free market when it affects the people of Port Talbot but promote state intervention when it preserves their own interests. If there were any evidence of a pan-British solution to this problem, I may well hold back. But I suspect that this elite are too firmly embedded at the heart of Britain to remove, that any solution would be another compromise that wouldn't really change anything. When any effort is made to change the established order, they call upon the combined might of the state, the judiciary, the media, and close ranks. But they care little for Wales. Good. Let’s turn that to our advantage, for once, and, in the absence of any alternative, begin the long overdue process of excusing ourselves from this sorry mess.