Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Keeping it a secret

On Monday, the Western Mail published an English version of an article previously written for Barn by Professor Richard Wyn Jones, in which he called for Plaid Cymru to embrace republicanism in the light of the debacle over the renaming on the Second Severn Crossing. 
One of the points that he made was that “Plaid Cymru may not be a republican party but it is a party of republicans”.  In my own experience, that’s entirely true; Plaid’s members are overwhelmingly of a republican bent.  It’s not unanimous though; there are some who, for various reasons other than short term pragmatism support the continuation of the current monarchy, and a few who want the restoration of a Welsh monarchy.  Prof. Jones’ basic point, though, is sound.  Despite the lack of complete unanimity on the question, the logic of seeking independence under a system which continues to locate sovereignty, even symbolically, in the capital of another country has always escaped me.
And a second point which he makes, which is that “…it’s more than likely that most of the Welsh electorate (mistakenly) think that this [republicanism] is already the party’s stance is also probably true, although I’m not completely convinced that many electors (other than those already persuaded one way or the other about republicanism) have given enough thought to the question for me to be as certain about this second point.
Let’s accept, however, that both points are valid, the question that obviously arises is ‘why be so shy on the issue?’  I can think of two apparently good reasons, and they are reasons which led me over many years to be equally shy on the issue; the question now is whether, as Prof. Jones suggests, the time has come to be less shy. 
The first reason is that whilst Plaid’s membership may be, by and large, instinctively republican, the same is not true for those electors who support the party in elections, let alone for the wider electorate as a whole.  And given that retaining the English monarch as head of state has not significantly restricted the independence of countries such as Canada, why conflate the two issues of independence and republicanism?  It’s easy to dismiss the replacement of the monarch by an elected head of state as an unnecessary complication of an argument for autonomy, when it is the autonomy which matters more. 
And the second reason is the way in which the UK establishment and media have managed to attach the word ‘republican’ so firmly to Sinn Féin and the IRA.  It gives the word a connotation which I can easily understand any constitutional party wanting to avoid.  Whether independentistas should allow words to be defined for them in such a fashion is an interesting question in itself; but it’s easier to debate than to change. 
Prof. Jones sees the bridge renaming fiasco as being a catalyst which could enable a committed party of independentistas to challenge what is, as he identifies, a clear attempt by the state to promote a particular view of the world, and to present a clear alternative.  I agree with the need to present a clear alternative vision, and with the reign of the current monarch inevitably drawing towards a conclusion, I suspect that support for republicanism is likely to grow across the UK, not just in Wales.  The time to make the case for the current monarch to be the last is now, not after the next one has been installed.  It would be a curious situation were the argument for republicanism to make greater progress outside the independence movement than inside it. 
I wonder, though, and not for the first time, whether the problem is not that Plaid, as a movement of independentistas, is failing to adopt republicanism as a clear and stated goal, but that it isn’t really a party of independentistas; because if it isn’t, then the expectation is wholly unrealistic.  It’s a point which has struck me more than once listening to people talking about the name of a bridge – much of the criticism has been on the lack of consultation over the naming, rather than over the role of the person selected as a basis for the new name.  It has often sounded as though people are trying to make a point without actually making it.  Reinforcing the idea that people might be secret republicans who are afraid to come out and say it is probably the worst of all worlds.


Glyn Morris said...

"It gives the word a connotation which I can easily understand any constitutional party wanting to avoid. Whether independentistas should allow words to be defined for them in such a fashion is an interesting question in itself; but it’s easier to debate than to change".

Yes John but then using "independentistas" rather than nationalists is the same thing isn't it?

Actually I would prefer to use independentistas myself and am also a republican so maybe I am guilty of this as well.

But of course like you I am no longer a Party member.

John Dixon said...


"Yes John but then using "independentistas" rather than nationalists is the same thing isn't it?". Indeed it is - it's a way of trying to debate the substance rather than the nomenclature by using a word which more accurately and unambiguously defines what I mean. We really shouldn't allow words to be defined for us, but as I said, the fact that it happens is "easier to debate than change"!

Jim Moris said...

Could democratic be an even better tag, since monarchism supports an inevitable divisive class sytem, and our so-called constitutional monarch can be used to bypass open democratic debate and scrutiny, as evidenced by the missile attack on Syria during the Easter recess of Parliament.

Jonathan said...

You "can easily understand any constitutional party wanting to avoid (the word 'republican')
Yes, but its a feeble response isn't it? Much better to try and reclaim the word, as the English reclaimed their Cross of St.George from the BNP and others and Wales reclaimed Glyndwr from firebombers. It can be done.
Republicanism - is based on there being a res publica, a body politic consisting of the people and leaders who are accountable to rules and not hereditary, and with citizens not subjects. Ancient Rome took pride in this at one stage, then Venice then Holland, and so do modern Americans though fewer than there used to be since they stopped teaching civics. Yes you do need the education. And yes technically a Republic could have a Monarch. But the Republic would certainly have a Written Constitution. Drafting one of those for the UK would mean a lot of awkward questions. A lot of light would be let on on mystery and majesty. But the UK system is broke anyway, so lets get another one come what may, starting with Wales.
Similarly with the word "Federalism". You can almost hear the average Brit hiss when saying "federalism". I have often wondered why. Again, I think it has to do with change, any change, and the idea that the Queen wouldn't like it for some reason. But lets reclaim "Federal" too as a good word. Connotes a nice balance of mutual respect and strength, doesn't it? And strength in unity. What's not to like?
They fight about lots of things in the US and Germany. But they all like "Federal".
(Plus of course it will work for the EU too. Eventually.)

Spirit of BME said...

Very interesting post.
From my decades of experience in Plaid I never came across one person who recognised the monarch as the anointed of God and rules by his grace. I came across shed loads of people who have a tragic lack of cojones and want to live the “comfortable life”.
The Plaid leadership today is stacked with Red Tories or of a breed that parachute in and would not know what a political conviction was, if it hit them in the face.
Ninety nine percent of them have a problem, in that when they leave their current post they are totally unemployable in the business world – so be prepared for more applicants to join the House of Lords.