Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Clinging to the past

In recent days, I’ve read two editorial pieces in newspapers urging the Scots to vote no tomorrow.  The first was in Saturday’s Western Mail, and the second was in the Sunday Times.  Both echoed the Prime Minister’s comments about the enormous contribution which Scots have made to the UK – and they both equally echoed his failure to explain exactly what Scotland had gained in return for this contribution.
Both also manage to “mention the war”, albeit obliquely in terms of “wars against tyrants” in the one case, and “leading the fight against fascism” in the other.  In recent weeks, others have attempted to use past military activity in a blunter, even offensive way, such as the suggestion by a former general that independence would be a betrayal of those Scottish soldiers who had died for the Union.
There is a more general point here.  Many of those espousing the values of ‘Britishness’ – even when there isn’t a referendum on – have enormous difficulty in doing so without mentioning the war, or wars.  I can understand their general difficulty in defining ‘Britishness’ (I have the same difficulty in defining ‘Welshness’, as it happens), but falling back on past military glories isn’t the easy and unifying answer which they seem to assume. 
Rather than defining an inclusive something of which we can all be part, the inclusion of military actions as a part of the definition always sounds to me more like an attempt to impose their own definition on the rest of us.  And for those of us of a less warlike bent, it is counter-productive; it serves to emphasis the gulf in perception.  It’s very much an Establishment view of the UK’s history and of what it means to be British.
Perhaps the problem lies not in the nature of the definition being offered, but in the attempt to make any sort of definition at all.  I cannot define what it means to be Welsh – of course there are a range of factors involved including geography, language, culture, and, yes, history – but I’m not sure it matters.  If enough people consider themselves Welsh, then ‘Wales’ exists.  The fact that all of those who consider themselves ‘Welsh’ mean something slightly different is, ultimately, neither here nor there.
So – why does anyone need a definition of ‘Britishness’ at all?  It seems to me that the various attempts to come up with one reflect a growing sense of insecurity amongst those making the attempt.  The world is changing around them – the UK is changing around them – in ways which are deeply discomforting to them.  Old certainties are being challenged and found wanting.  And instead of adapting, they are clinging to the past, and demanding that the rest of us do likewise.
But, in the words of a certain relevant song, “those days are passed now”.  Whatever the result tomorrow, things will never be the same again.  Those who want the UK, or whatever is left of it, to continue will need to start looking more to the future than the past.


Anonymous said...

An enjoyable post; thought provoking, enlightening and a good read.

Mind, there is one issue that I must take issue with ... 'If enough people consider themselves Welsh, then ‘Wales’ exists.'

'Wales exists' in its current form just as Yorkshire exists. Or Cornwall. Or Merseyside. Or anywhere else for that matter. It's just a name given to an ever changing piece of land. Little else.

'Welsh', in your context, is something entirely different. It is a cultural or civic value. A state of mind, a badge of honour, a statement of direction or a proclamation of intent.

It is interesting to see how the SNP has benefitted in Scotland by completely understanding the two constructs whereas most Plaid Cymru politicians here in Wales flounder the moment 'nationalism' is taken off the table.

John Dixon said...

Fair point. I was using 'Wales' in this context as a sort of short-hand for the concept rather than the geographical entity; hence the quotation marks. But it would have been better, perhaps, if I'd said that 'the Welsh nation exists'

Anonymous said...

My thoughts on the events of yesterday.

Firstly, the ‘silent majority’ has found its voice. And it is a voice that the UK nation as a whole was happy to hear. This will have significant implications for certain policies and policy making here in Wales where the ‘silent majority’ have, to some, remained silent for far too long.

Secondly, the Union has been strengthened way beyond current comprehension. Never again will it be threatened by ‘the Proletariat’ seeking more for less. The Barnett formula is now an irrelevance as each part of the UK will gradually be forced to live within its own funding means (or seek external funding from neighbouring parts …….. and be seen by everyone to have sought such). Accountability for contribution to the Union, in all its forms, will become the new mantra for UK plc.

Thirdly, nationalism in all its forms is now stone dead. The movement has lost credibility and suffered a crushing blow, the effects of which will only be fully understood over the coming years.

Nothing knee-jerk here, nothing divisive and certainly nothing radical. Incremental change rather than maximalist, as has always been the British way.

John Dixon said...

I'm not going to go through this point by point - "nationalism in all its forms is now stone dead" is enough in itself to demonstrate that you really haven't a clue. Like the rest, it's just wishful thinking on your part.

Anonymous said...

Well, if nationalism isn't stone dead and particularly stone dead here in Wales I think you will find partitioning of the country (Wales) becomes an increasingly attractive option.

Eastern Wales has found its voice. Western Wales can do as it wishes.

John Dixon said...

You are, of course, entitled to believe anything you wish, no matter how poorly grounded in facts it may be. But if you want to be taken seriously, you'll have to do better than this.