That’s not to say that I haven’t met people over the years who do hate their ‘neighbours’, sometimes with a passion which is incomprehensible to me. And that doesn’t simply apply to Wales and England; I’ve canvassed many who hate all Germans (mostly this applies to people of a certain generation, which makes it at least explicable, even if not entirely rational and understandable), or (rather less explicably) ‘the French’.
Whether all the people hating their neighbours would consider themselves to be ‘nationalists’ is another question entirely, however. To the extent that they are, they’re more British nationalists than Welsh ones (although that’s a term that I generally prefer to avoid because it’s another of those labels which avoids debate).
But what’s at work here has nothing to do with rational debate; it is, rather, an attempt to do two things. And whilst I’m picking on Farron in this case, I do so only because he’s put what many other UK politicians have been saying into one pithy sentence. (Although there is something very illiberal about claiming that anyone who takes a particular view on the future of his country hates his neighbours.) It doesn’t only apply to the question of Welsh and Scottish nationalism; they do the same thing in other contexts as well.
The first thing they’re trying to do is to take a word, and insist that it has the meaning which they ascribe to it, and that no other meaning is allowable or conceivable. Once they’ve done that, from that point on, the debate is framed in their terms.
It leads to a situation where people who clearly do support the idea of Welsh or Scottish independence (which is all I mean when I say that I’m a nationalist) become so afraid of the connotations put on the word by others that they end up being frightened to use the word themselves. I can certainly think of individuals who regularly proclaim that they are not nationalists, despite supporting independence. There is a danger that this reluctance to embrace a word succeeds only in strengthening the narrative of their opponents.
The second thing that they are trying to do is to avoid debate by the simple expedient of branding people with the negative label which they have created. After all, there’s nothing to be gained by debating with people once you have defined them as having an irrational hatred of others, is there?
This isn’t a one-sided process either, sadly – over the years, I’ve seen attempts to label those who oppose independence as unpatriotic or worse, but I see nothing treacherous or unpatriotic about a belief that Wales is better off as things are than being independent, even if it’s not a view with which I agree.
Labelling is no substitute for debate, and the future is too important to be left in the hands of simplistic sloganeers.