|Wales faces ruin. Picture by Les Haines (CC BY 2.0)|
In two or three years, we could be looking at a very different United Kingdom, if it exists at all.
Scotland could be an independent country and Ireland a united one. Corbyn will have led Labour to a cataclysmic defeat, reducing the party to an ineffectual rump of some 150 seats.
Wales will become an economic backwater as Brexit wipes out much of the manufacturing and agricultural industries. The economy will be even more centralised in the South East of England.
This is the bleak future that we face here in Wales. However, both Labour and Plaid Cymru, the small and capital ‘N’ nationalist parties in Wales, have been very slow to adapt to these changes.
If you look at the issues being debated in the Welsh Assembly, it’s as if nothing has changed at all.
Labour and Plaid Cymru’s paralysis is best understood when you realise that nationalism is ultimately driven by self-interest.
Labour supported the creation of the National Assembly because they knew that they would be running it. And the kind of nationalism it has nurtured while in office has been carefully calibrated to ensure that this remains the case.
Andy Burnham identified this nationalism while discussing devolution for Manchester last week:
“Compare what happened in Wales and Scotland. In the former, Carwyn Jones pioneered a distinctive, patriotic brand of 'red-shirt Labour' dressed in the national rugby colours. In the latter, following the death of Donald Dewar, no high-profile Labour figure arrived to pick up the devolution torch and a large hole was left for others to fill.”
In other words, Labour has deliberately nurtured a form of nationalism that is ultimately a thin veneer that can be donned where needed to win public support.
This is a brand of nationalism that reminds their core vote of their working-class, industrial, Labour-supporting Welsh identity but at the same time:
a) avoids the cultural nationalism that could make them sympathetic to Plaid Cymru
b) is too ‘banal’ to stir up the kind of ‘hot’ nationalism that could lead to independence, and as such make it harder for Labour to win power at Westminster.
This non-offensive ‘rugby-nationalism’ allows the people of Wales to blow steam for 80 minutes during the Six Nations but does not allow for a broader discussion about Wales’ constitutional predicament.
It’s no coincidence that Shane Williams was the poster boy for Wales’ devolution referendum in 2011, or that WRU chief Roger Lewis was the chairman. Rugby-nationalism is Labour’s favoured brand of nationalism.
Plaid Cymru’s cultural nationalism
Plaid Cymru, meanwhile, have settled for a form of nationalism that embraces the cultural differences between Wales and England but does not call for any radical constitutional change.
This is because it has not ultimately been in their supporters’ interest, either, for Wales to break away from the United Kingdom.
Plaid’s cultural nationalism depends on Wales’ national institutions – be they libraries, museums, TV channels, universities, publishers or theatre groups – for sustenance.
But it is felt (rightly or wrongly) that without the Treasury’s largesse these institutions may not exist at all.
Cultural nationalism can be ‘banal’ too, especially if one has a well-paid job at a cultural institution, or is happy as long as ‘Pobl y Cwm’ is on every night at 8pm. And although Wales’ culture is being slowly eroded, the process has been too slow to shock cultural nationalists into action.
Both these nationalisms, Labour’s rugby nationalism and Plaid’s cultural nationalism, have served both parties well so far.
Plaid’s cultural nationalism has little appeal among the working class in the valleys. And Labour’s rugby-nationalism seems awfully shallow to middle-class Welsh-speakers such as myself. But between them they’ve locked up 52% of the vote and 41 of the 60 seats in the Welsh Assembly.
So far there’s been very little incentive to change and embrace a radical ‘hot’ nationalism that demands constitutional change. But the situation is now fast moving, and they’re going to have to do so or risk losing their grip on power at the Welsh Assembly, and in doing so lose Wales itself.
If Scotland and Ireland do leave the UK, Wales is very likely to revert back to its pre-1707 Act of Union role as a constituent part of England.
Wales has since at least the 19th century ridden on Scotland and Northern Ireland’s coat-tails and claimed that it too should be given special status within the United Kingdom.
It’s difficult however to see Wales on its own being able to make a strong case for special treatment. It will soon just be another region of England, like Manchester, that enjoys some devolution.
Labour fully recognise that this scenario is a possibility, but continue to delude themselves that Wales will have special clout within a post-break up England.
Carwyn Jones has over the past few years claimed that the House of Lords could be re-formed in order to give Wales equal representation, or that the UK could be federalised.
This week he seems to be belatedly concluding that a Tory-run UK Government has little interest in Wales.
No one can blame them either. There are only two things that the Conservatives fear – one is that they lose power, and the other is that they lose part of the UK.
Wales can’t threaten the first. The country would make up just 5% of the population of ‘EnglandandWales’. And Wales isn’t a ‘swing seat’ in electoral terms, but a solid Labour one. There are a few seats in the north-east (and Carwyn Jones’ own Bridgend) that the Tories would love to have, but they don’t need them.
If Wales was a US State, it would be somewhere like Georgia. Very few electoral votes, and so solidly partisan that no presidential candidate would ever bother visiting.
But Wales can threaten to leave the UK. The Conservatives, staunch British nationalists, fear the continued break-up of the UK more than anything else.
The thought of Wales breaking away, even if they don’t care how Wales gets on the rest of the time, would be enough to make them reconsider their neglect of the country.
The above seeems obvious. But Welsh Labour don't see it because they suffer from a contributionist mindset which has plagued the country for centuries.
It can basically be summed up as the belief that if Wales behaves and contributes to the British Empire it will be rewarded.
This belief had some (mistaken) foundation in the 19th and early 20th century when Wales was booming due to the industrial revolution. Wales desperately wanted to be recognised as an equal partner in the Empire alongside England and Scotland. Minor triumphs such as crowning the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon castle in 1911 made them think that they were finally being rewarded and recognised for their loyalty.
This delusion continues to this day. In the aftermath of the first Independence Referendum in Scotland, Wales’ former First Minister Rhodri Morgan called for Wales to be rewarded because “the country didn’t put the whole of the UK through the mincer via referendum or civil war” as Scotland had.
It is Scotland of course that has subsequently enjoyed all of Westminster’s attention – and all because that threat of separation hangs over Westminster like the Sword of Damocles.
A grim future
Wales may have only two years before the UK is ripped apart and replaced by EnglandandWales. But it won’t be called EnglandandWales - it will be called England.
If we want to survive as a nation, it’s time to put the contributionist mindset aside and consider how we can stop a dominant Conservative party ignoring Wales culturally and economically.
The Welsh language and culture would be done for. The cultural institutions which nurture the ethnic nationalism that is at the heart of Paid Cymru would be closed.
There would be no justification for a Welsh rugby or football team. The neglected post-industrial Wales which is the bedrock of Labour’s electoral dominance would rapidly de-populate as public investment dries up completely.
The population would age rapidly as the young migrate to the South East of England. Only retirees would move in the other direction. Wales’ seacoast would be a streak of Tory-voting blue.
The core vote Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru rely on would soon cease to exist. Neither rugby-nationalism or cultural nationalism can survive without a rugby team or a culture.
Neither of these parties can sit back and hope for the best. One is a Welsh National Party and the other is only now electable in Wales. If they don’t change, they will quickly face an existential crisis. And so will the country.
Wales needs them to back a radical independence movement.
Wales needs them to back a radical independence movement.