Friday, 24 June 2016

For Wales, see England

Thus read the 1888 version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.  It wasn’t fair then, and it isn’t fair today, but in political terms it seems to be becoming more, rather than less, true as a result of elections over the past few years. 
The full implications of yesterday’s vote will take some time to become clear.  The dust hasn’t settled yet, but as I’ve posted before, I’ve never really believed the warnings of economic doom.  The issue for me has always been about the way forward for Wales, and the context in which those of us who want to see an independent Wales can best realise our aspirations.  But that’s for another post after a lot more reflection – for today, I’ll content myself with a few comments on the nature of the ‘Welsh’ debate.
Insofar as there was a Welsh element to the debate at all, it seemed to start with Wales’ establishment politicians largely taking the result for granted and engaging in idle speculation about the constitutional implications of a Welsh ‘remain’ and an English ‘leave’.  There was never much of a basis for believing that the result in Wales would be very different from that in England, but it has seemed throughout that the politicians didn’t really understand that, preferring to cling to a vision of the political Wales of the past rather than that of the present, let alone that of the future.
For most of the campaign, that initial speculation was replaced by an argument that Wales did better out of the UK than any other part of the UK, and that Wales should vote to stay in because of the financial benefit.  It was always a weak argument, but it was based on the conventional wisdom that people would, ultimately, vote in the way that best promoted their own personal financial interest.  If there’s any good at all to come out of the vote, it is surely that it has demonstrated that people can indeed be motivated to vote against their own direct financial interest if presented with an argument which appeals to their sentiments and prejudices. 
It might not have been a particularly honest argument – worse, many of us found it downright unpleasant – but there can be little argument that it was anything but an appeal to simplistic financial selfishness.  That in turn highlights another learning point – if we don’t tackle and debate prejudices and sentiments, the unscrupulous and unsavoury can and will exploit them to promote their own agenda.  If politicians are serious about changing Wales for the better, they need to stop pandering to those pre-existing prejudices and beliefs and start trying to change them.  Positive change comes from leading public opinion, not following it; and that’s as true when it comes to the independence debate as it is in relation to immigration.
The campaign in Wales ended with an appeal from Plaid to use the vote as a test of Welsh nationhood, and to decide whether we see ourselves as a European nation or a western province of England.  Would that they had seen it as such; but insofar as the voters chose to respond to that question at all, they plumped for the latter.  The trouble with that appeal, as with so much of the campaign, seems to me to be that politicians have started out with their own preconception about Welsh voters’ political views chiming with those that they elect, and assumed it to be fact, even when the polls and previous election results were increasingly showing something very different.
At this point, I’m not sure how Wales as a political nation will move forward from here; but recognising the extent to which reality differs from perception and wishful thinking might be as good a starting point as any.

5 comments:

LeighRichards said...

Bitterly disappointing to see the electorate in wales broadly voting along similar lines as the electorate in england (or england outside london rather). A result made even more depressing - not to say embarrassing - by the fact that voters in both scotland and northern ireland strongly voted to stay in. Yesterday's results clearly means we can no longer speak of england 'dragging wales out of the eu against its will'. But recent elections in 2014 and 2015 should have warned us that politically speaking wales is no longer as different from england as some people would like to think.

Where this leaves wales - and its political and economic future - is anyone's guess. But you dont have to be mystic meg to predict that the immediate prospects for wales are not good. And it's a crazy irony that those communities in wales that will suffer most as a consequence of this result will be those parts of wales (like RCT,Caerphilly and Torfaen) which most enthusiastically swallowed the lies of and wild promises of 'bojo' and farage and co.

And from my own experiences campaigning in swansea many of those voting leave were motivated by the same hostility towards immigrants and the same barely disguised racism as voters in places like barnsley and sunderland evidently were.

So what does this vote say about wales and what exactly does it say about the direction wales going in as a nation? I think it strongly suggests that Wales isnt gong in the direction some of us would like.Indeed when surveying yesterday's results in wales you could be forgiven for thinking that wales is just another part of england, and that we only actually exist as a 'nation' on the rugby and football fields."For Wales,see England" indeed.

Certainly after yesterday's result the aim of a self governing wales in the EU seems a million miles away.

Anonymous said...

I think Wales was voted out of existence yesterday, yet think back just 5 days to that balmy night in Toulouse when Wales stood on a European stage, played good football and made a nation proud, they showed us what was possible. The cold hard reality is the opposite for Wales, see England and has been for sometime.

I also don’t see how Carwyn Jones and Leanne Wood can carry on as still leaders of their respective parties after such huge failure; both are severely out of touch with the electorate who chose UKIP to speak for us yesterday.

The result for Wales is worse because it gives Scotland a second chance at independence, Ireland could unify, meanwhile you could make a strong case that Cardiff doesn’t represent Wales in the same way London doesn’t represent England, again more like England than Scotland.

We should change the sign at the Severn Bridge to ‘Welcome to Western England’ and be done with it.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that the social construct of modern-day Wales as a nation state has run its course?

I suspect so.

It's time to move on.

John Dixon said...

Anon,

I'm not sure why you would single out the "social construct of modern-day Wales as a nation state" as being somehow different from the social construct of a nation-state in the more generic sense. If we discuss the generic, I'd be inclined to agree with you - the idea of stand-alone nation states in Europe very much belongs to the past; the future is about how and on what terms nations work together. That is, in essence, what the EU is about.

There's plenty of scope for debate about whether the EU is the right way of doing it, and there is much about the EU which I'd like to see done differently. But I suspect that many of the leave voters have some sort of romantic attachment to the idea of the UK as a 'nation-state'; that's an attempt to return to the past rather than look to the future. In short, those wedded to the outdated concept of a nation-state aren't the Welsh nationalists who wanted to remain, but the British nationalists who decided to leave.

Spirit of BME said...

It is often said that someone always makes money from other people’s calamities.
No more so than the result last Friday. The demand for white wine in order to treat the shock being felt by the political luvvies in Collaborator’s Cove in Cardiff and again at Westminster, has been outstanding. This demand has been further boosted by the cleaner-owing classes in Cardiff North, Islington and BBCland, where reports emanating out of this weekend’s dinner parties, is to stop the peasants voting like this again and do as they are told. This includes taking the vote off the over 60`s, as they are stuck in their ways and are more likely to die before the next election and also to take the vote off the under 25`s who do not have a university degree, as they are stupid and irresponsible. Anyway, it would avoid them having to meet these type of people when casting their vote – “hic!, more wine Diana?”