Thursday 14 September 2023

Proudly un-British

One of the least attractive tendencies of some nationalists is their attempt to define what national identity is and what belonging to a nation means. We see it at times in Wales when some people insist that it is impossible to be both Welsh and British, and that people must make a definitive choice between the two, with the implication that not choosing to be exclusively Welsh is effectively opting for Britishness. Given that, in practice, large numbers of people in Wales are quite happily living under the impression that they can indeed be both Welsh and British, it doesn’t strike me as the most useful or productive of approaches, and is part of my own reason for favouring the term independentista as a description of those seeking independence for Wales. Strangely, many of those demanding that their compatriots make the choice are quite happy to regard their own identity as being both Welsh and European.

The phenomenon is far from being restricted to nationalists of the Welsh persuasion however. The Anglo-British nationalists whose defining characteristic is their deluded belief that they’re not nationalists at all are just as bad, if not worse. ‘Keith’ Starmer is at it today, declaring that it is ‘un-British’ to disagree with Labour’s policy on immigration. It’s a counter-productive approach which serves only to make me, and I’m sure many others as well, feel even less British. And proud of being un-British. Just like the Tories, Labour see the problem as entirely one of policing – stopping people from getting into boats and smashing the smuggling rings – rather than about understanding the reasons for mass movements of people and addressing those causes. I can agree with Keith that people traffickers are vile and the trade needs to be stamped out, but one of the reasons that some people live in rich countries (and oppose immigration) whilst others (those getting into the boats) live in poor countries is the actions of the people traffickers of the past, many of whom grew rich on the trade and were feted and honoured in their home countries. Inequality between different parts of the world didn’t happen by accident, fate, or act of god; it is the direct result of a process of colonialisation and exploitation which systematically stripped wealth from some parts of the world and shipped it to others. We can’t undo that past, and whilst ‘reparations’ sounds like an attractive idea, it’s not clear to what extent it would solve the underlying problem.

That underlying problem is global inequality (exacerbated, of course, by war, famine, and repressive regimes, all of which are ultimately caused, armed, and sustained by the richer countries of the world), and with no plan to tackle that – and Labour clearly has no more of a plan to do so than the Tories – then ‘policing’ the symptoms is the only remaining option. It’s not a ‘solution’ though, merely a way of seeking to ‘manage’ the problem into the long term. And because it’s not a solution, those who claim that it is are forced into ever more repressive and draconian measures in order to demonstrate that they are ‘dealing with’ an issue which they themselves have chosen to exaggerate for political gain. It’s a long way removed from the ‘brotherhood of man’ espoused by Labour’s pioneers. Unless and until we are prepared to treat the Earth’s resources as being held in common for the benefit of all, rich countries are going to have to spend an awful lot of time and effort on reinforcing the wall to keep the dispossessed out.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

When I see the label 'British I find it helps to put in 'English'. Very revealing. Most of the rest of the world calls the UK 'England' and has done since the Middle Ages. We'd do better to just accept this. It throws into relief (1) a truth about the drive towards Brexit, not rational but very English (2) another truth about attitudes to Wales, Scotland and Ireland (3) another truth which is that England has a serious democratic deficit ie no English parliament and a rubbish constitution and (4) yet another truth, about social integration. Asking someone to whether they identify as 'English' is very different to asking them if they identify as 'British' - ouch! All this being so, I feel encouraged to say that Wales can assert its own route forward via an All-Wales Constitutional Convention. A UK one would get nowhere.