Tuesday 7 June 2011

Battenberg and symbolism

I’ve met very few politicians over the years who are either able or willing to defend and justify the principle of an hereditary head of state.  For sure, there are plenty who will defend the institution on more pragmatic grounds – “it works” or “the people are happy with it” being far and away the most common; but that isn’t the same as supporting the underlying principle.
It would be a mistake to underestimate the power of those arguments – particularly the first one, especially for those of us who are happy to argue in other contexts that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  However, that isn’t the same as saying that anyone would actually propose heredity as the method of choosing the head of state if presented with a blank sheet of paper.
Republicanism isn’t limited to the ranks of nationalists in Wales, although one might think that from reading some reports in recent days.  Nor is it a particularly ‘Welsh’ issue.  In my experience, many, many members of the Labour Party are also natural republicans; and – whisper this quietly - there are more than a few Tories who take a similar view, although they’re the most reluctant to come out and say so.
I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover that at least some of those who have chosen to attack the four Plaid AMs who want nothing to do with the royal opening of the Assembly are themselves closet republicans; they have simply chosen to adopt what they assume to be a populist position for a bit of point-scoring.  It’s all part of the game, I suppose.
At one level, one can argue that much of what the monarch does is more about symbolism than about practical issues; as long as the Queen never actually refuses to sign into law an Act passed by a parliament at any level, then real power lies with the elected bodies, no matter what the constitution says.  And the exercise of that real power to bring about change is what practical politics is about.
The symbolism is powerful, though.  The royal opening – which even some 'nationalists' pushed for in the early days of the Assembly because they saw it as conferring status and legitimacy on the institution – actually symbolises that power devolved is power retained.  Such powers as the Assembly possesses are by consent of the monarch-in-parliament.  In that sense, it is a symbol not of the power and status of the Assembly, but of the fact that that power and status is only on loan.
The oath of allegiance that AMs have to take is another symbol.  It’s something that they all have to do to take their seats, but I’m certain that the ranks of those who take it with a complete lack of sincerity are not limited to the Plaid AMs.  The idea of swearing loyalty to the head of state (and heirs), rather than to the people represented, is an anachronism from days long gone and should be abolished, and the sooner the better.  (The same applies to the UK Parliament – this isn’t a nationalist issue).
Failing to attend today’s event is another form of symbolism.  It will achieve little, but I’m sure that the four AMs fully realise that.  It symbolises the fact that the AMs concerned see their first loyalty as being to the people they represent, and not to someone who only occupies her position by dint of heredity.
So, I support the Plaid 4 in the symbolic stance they have taken against the royal symbolism.  My only real problem with it is that it draws attention to the fact that only four AMs are prepared to take such a stance.


maen_tramgwydd said...

I too am a republican on principle.

Wales (even more than Scotland) has good reason to eschew the English monarchy because of its relationship with the Crown down the centuries, from conquest, through occupation, subjugation, assimilation and exploitation.

The present-day title of ‘Prince of Wales’ is an affront to the people of Wales bearing in mind its origin and history.

Wales is unrepresented on the royal standard, and on the union flag, as it was considered for centuries to be part of England (at least by the English Parliament and its ruling class). There is no indication that the monarchy or the Westminster government is prepared to address those issues. Not that I would welcome Wales being represented in some way on these symbols, as to me they represent a repugnant imperialistic past best consigned to the dustbin of history.

Neither is it simply a matter of the monarchy. England’s nebulous unwritten constitution vests sovereignty in the ‘Crown in Parliament’, not in the people. That principle has been harmful to the development of democracy in these islands.

One result is the extreme difficulty in abolishing the House of Lords. Another is the creation of a political elite with powers of patronage which is almost impossible to shift. Today we have a Cabinet almost entirely composed of millionaires from a privileged background, whilst the gap between the richest and the poorest grows ever wider. This has happened progressively under all Westminster governments, regardless of party.

Without dignity a people can never be prosperous. Wales is a prime example. If one doesn’t control one’s destiny how can there be dignity? I would rather be poorer and free than under the yoke of another.

Regrettably we are poor and un-free until we decide that we have had enough.

I didn’t watch the coverage of the opening, but no doubt there was the usual lickspittle toadying going on. Sickening, really.

I support the four Plaid AMs in their stance, and I wish that more of my fellow countrymen/women would stand up for Wales and for their principles.

Boncath said...

As a student in Aberystwyth I remember going to the Cinema
We all stood for God save the Queen at the end of each performance -- until one day when half of those present got up and walked out. the following week no one stood and all walked out --the following week the cinema stopped playing the anthem forever.
I watched the opening of the Assembly and all I will say is that we are seeing the end game

Spirit of BME said...

Ref Maen_tramgwydd post.