Facts alone won’t win Welsh independence – we need emotion too

Picture by Holly Victoria Norval (CC BY 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

A few days after the Brexit vote I made the argument that the people who were convinced to vote for Brexit were the exact people most likely to be convinced to support Welsh independence.

The less prosperous working class who voted for it wanted to force a change – any change – that would shake up the establishment and improve their lives.

However, what has struck me in the more than a year since then is how bad we are at actually making that case to them. We have failed quite spectacularly.

Specifically, we’re bad at speaking the language of emotion.

This is somewhat ironic, since nationalism is – according to its detractors – an illogical, emotional, primordial urge.

But Welsh nationalism is in many ways not a nationalism but an anti-nationalism. It is a reaction to British nationalism.

It seeks to protect those things British nationalism would take away from us – wealth, resources, people, culture.

And it usually responds to illogical, emotional British nationalism by forming logical arguments we think will convince people to change their opinions.

No, Wales isn’t too poor to be independent. Yes, Westminister is neglecting us. No, our culture isn’t inferior – here’s the evidence. Have a pile of books.

Anyone thinking logically, we think, looking at the evidence, would surely be convinced by our arguments. The problem is just in getting these ideas out through a hostile British press.

But it isn’t that simple. We tend to overstate the role that facts and logic play in politics.

Politics is, rather, a game of emotions. It is driven not by a cold, calculating impulse to make the world work more efficiently but by people’s gut instinct when presented with ideas they may or may not like.

Neuroscientists have long shown that the part of the brain that makes conscious, logical choices just isn’t open for business when people think politically.

If people come across facts that challenge their dearly held beliefs the emotional part of the brain simply overrules the rational part.

This is why it’s almost impossible for rational, logical arguments on both sides of the Brexit debate to get a look in. People have made their mind up and will cling to it like an only child on Passover.

Identity

The way around this shield is not to double down on the logic but to suggest that your argument is the one that speaks most clearly to the audiences’ identity, their values, and their beliefs.

People aren’t attracted to facts and figures. Rather, they look for politicians they can identify with, who seem to share their general values and approach to life.

People would rather a poor, illogical politician who shares their view on life than a competent, proven politician who doesn’t (look at Trump and Clinton).

Politicians in the United States understand this to a tee. Look at Mitt Romney’s advert for his Senate run in Utah.

There’s no policy in there. There’s no argument about how he would be a better senator, in practical terms, than his opponent.

The advert is almost all emotional manipulation, with a clear message: I am like you. Ignore the fact that I’m a billionaire. I share your values: families, health, national pride, belief in hard work, belief in religious freedom.

This identity issue also shows why opponents of Brexit have hit a brick wall when trying to convince people that it’s a terrible idea.

Calling people who voted for Brexit ‘stupid’ does the opposite of making them identify with you – it tells them that you’re not like them. In fact, you reject their way of seeing the world.

When we wheel out experts from the world of business and academia to tell the people who voted for Brexit that they’re wrong, they have their shield up straight away because they imagine that this person isn’t like them.

Picture by Ade Rixon (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Understanding

So how has Welsh nationalism used emotion and identification in order to win the day?

Let”s look at the seats where Plaid Cymru have gained ground over the last few years: Rhondda, Ceredigion and (to a lesser extent) Cardiff West.

What these seats had in common were candidates in which the voters saw ‘someone like them’ asking for their vote.

Leanne Wood didn’t need a Mitt Romney-esque advert in the Rhondda to manufacture such an identity because she already embodied it.

People in Cardiff West see McEvoy and they see ‘someone like me’. Plaid’s intelligensia baulk at his populist campaigns but he has a clear understanding of what appeals to his audience at an emotional level.

In Cerdigion, Plaid had fielded a string of dazzling candidates – a brilliant parlimantarian, an university lecturer and a well-known author – and failed. It was Ben Lake, a likeable, down to earth 23 year old from Lampeter, who people ultimately identified with.

But when it comes to using emotion to win arguments I think that Welsh nationalism is still some way behind.

Too often we construct detailed essays on why our ideas are better and policies superior without realising that we’re speaking to people in the wrong language (no, not Welsh).

We’ve bashed away at the valleys for years. But we won’t break through until we realise that people stick with Labour because they identify with them, not because they necessarily agree with their policies.

This is why Labour are so keen to portray Plaid Cymru the ‘other’ – north Walian nationalists, who are not like the valley’s voters. Plaid must forge an emotional message that overcomes such divisions.

Perhaps the most successful person at doing so in recent times hasn’t been a politician at all, but rather an actor. Check out Michael Sheen’s St. David’s Day message:

This is a purely emotional message of national pride. But in delivering it he brings together Wales’ fractured history and identity together into one resonant image.

This kind of emotional politics can be sneered at, but as long as we’re doing the sneering others with no such hang-ups and darker motives will be playing the role of the political pied piper.

For too long, Welsh nationalism has been winning the logical argument but losing the election. We need to win not just the logical argument but the emotional one too.


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Benjiman L. Angwin
Guest
Benjiman L. Angwin

Ifan, I agree Plaid needs identifiable candidates. But make no mistake, Emotion politics would push Welsh Nationalism towards the extremes. I have faith in people, faith they can make rational decisions about the future of their country based on evidence. Too much Emotion-politics leads to casting people into opposing groups and losing rationalism. Most importantly, it loses Liberal individualism and any focus on civil liberties. The Parliamentary system works precisely because its mixture of emotion governed by reason and tolerance. Have faith human beings can and will use reason to make the right choices on their own if we create… Read more »

ERNEST
Guest
ERNEST

Benjamin, Each candidate needs the right balance between emotional and rational politics. The Liberal democrats certainly have emotion on the EU/Brexit issue: Yes, it will be a disaster to lose our export markets. …and also the axe-the-tax campaign. Charles Kennedy seem to understand this balance. I agree with most of what Ifan has said, that Plaid need to concentrate on presenting its rational policies with an emotional appeal to which it is quite capable of doing. You can emotionally feel that the UK is denying Wales its own wealth and decision making, especially if many remember what the tories did… Read more »

Ifan Jones
Guest
Ifan Jones

It’s about balance. There’s no point having the emotion without the logic or you won’t achieve anything. But emotion can oil the wheels of political progress. Since you’re a liberal I’ll use the example of the Welsh national movement in the 19th century. Take this famous speech by Henry Richards n Merthyr before he won the election there in 1868: “The people who speak this language, who read this literature, who own this history, who inherit these traditions, who venerate these names, who created and sustain these marvellous religious organizations, the people forming three fourths of the people of Wales,… Read more »

Benjiman L. Angwin
Guest
Benjiman L. Angwin

Diolch.

Dyn ni’n dweud rhywbeth tebyg iawn, wsti?

T
Guest
T

Benjamin – you state that emotional politics by Welsh nationalists would lead to extremism, you also state too much emotional politics can lead to the loss of rationalism and that the parliamentary system “works” – precisely because there is a balance between reason, tolerance and emotion. So essentially you agree with the article’s thesis which argues for a balance in Welsh nationalism between rational arguments and emotion? It seems to me however that your response illustrates why nationalists often stick to logic and reason, because any use of emotion in arguments is characterised as “extreme”, this is in fact a… Read more »

Benjiman L. Angwin
Guest
Benjiman L. Angwin

Jeremy Corbyn’s emotional plea is based upon hatred. Pitting the Few (whoever they are chosen to be at that moment) against the Many (whoever they are chose to be at that moment).

Rees-Mogg’s Hard Brexit is an emotional plea also based upon hatred. Hatred of the other, hatred of lesser savages who infringe upon Glorious Brittannia

My comment was a warning sign, that is all. Heed it or don’t, you are an individual with the right to choose. You are T, not a group. Emotion can turn us into hostile groups.

apgras
Guest
apgras

I think the answer is in the piece. The emotion should be shown to counter imperialism.

Jonathan Edwards Sir Benfro (+North Carolina)
Guest
Jonathan Edwards Sir Benfro (+North Carolina)

Don’t agree that Welsh Nationalism has been winning the logical argument. If only they had. But there is a gaping hole in the logical case, Some people are interested in and have studied the art of nation-building. There are some simple techniques and steps for taking a nation from servitude to freedom. Just taking the British Empire, it has been done many times. 2 simple examples are Ireland and North Carolina (or any of the 12 other American colonies). This about statecraft, political meetings leading to Convention(s) ratification and, yes, probably the odd stand-off with London at some point. It… Read more »

Ifan Jones
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Ifan Jones

Hi, Jonathan. What you’ve identified is I think is Plaid’s inability to present itself to the voters in a way that would make them identify with the party. They do use emotion, perhaps, but to appeal to the wrong demographics, which is a problem I’ve discussed here: https://nation.cymru/2017/how-a-pragmatic-plaid-cymru-can-win-power/

Eos Pengwern
Guest
Eos Pengwern

I just re-read that article; it’s very good. Ifan is a rare beast in that, although I think his own views are standard Plaid Cymru, he ‘gets’ things in a way that I feel very few others in the party (except perhaps Neil McEvoy) do.

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

I don’t think I can move far from the “rational economic man’ argument when casting votes. The party or person that best articulates my views, in favour of my own interests. A mix of policies, and cultural links. But Ifan’s references to the Brexit vote and the reasons the lie behind it for the less well off, or disenfranchised should not be dismissed. There is much to learn. Any political party who seeks power in Wales fails to win the majority of votes in the Welsh Labour heartlands will not succeed. I’m thinking mostly of the s Wales Valleys. I… Read more »

Warren Davies
Guest
Warren Davies

Emotion and facts as separate entities will not win through. Facts alone have failed, and emotion alone can be manipulative and leave you pandering to provide populist solutions. We need to clearly articulate our values using a narrative that is easy to understand and easy to identify with. Values should be the bedrock, then facts and emotions that are true to your values can be combined to create a story. Stories are very important. Stories about independent Wales will get people excited and voting for that indepdent vision. Ben Gwalchmai’s story from last week (https://nation.cymru/2018/whenwalesisindependent-building-the-wales-of-the-future/) is an example. I’m not… Read more »

JR Humphreys
Guest
JR Humphreys

I’ve warmed a bit to Ben’s WEC idea in that it would create a bond between the youth from the various parts of Wales. If he could flesh
out the idea………leading to the thought that why should we wait for “independence” before doing this, why not now?

One thing though, I don’t know about others, but internationalism “Wales can be a beacon for the rest of the world” -crap, when the
rest of the world, quite rightly, couldn’t give a fart what we do , leaves me cold.

Rhydian
Guest
Rhydian

Maybe it’s just me, but so far the independence case has been 100% emotion and no facts, so I’d suggest the opposite of more emotion is needed. Where’s the explanation for how we plug the 26% fiscal deficit?

John Young
Guest
John Young

Rhydian. Could you explain to us where you get the notion from that Wales has a 26% fiscal deficit please.

Rhydian
Guest
Rhydian

Hi John, The IWA’s “Government and Expenditure Review of Wales” for the year 2015/16 found that public spending for Wales amounted to £14.7bn in excess of tax receipts, the equivalent of 24% of GDP (not 26%, apologies). To put this in some context, the UK as a whole has just this month entered a slim surplus (0% deficit), from a high of 9% during the financial crisis. Most developed countries have a budget balance of plus or minus c.4%, To compare with a few small states often cited as comparable with Wales, Ireland has a deficit of 3%, Denmark of… Read more »

Carnabwth
Guest

But it is surely not emotive populism to state that if other countries often compared to Wales (Ireland has a deficit of 3%, Denmark of 4.6%, Estonia of 0.4%, and Slovenia of 5.8% deficits) can go it alone, then why not us? That is surely rational thought. Haven’t you just made the case that being in a Union/colonial relationship with England isn’t doing our economy any good at all? But we can’t get out of this hole until we at least have a federal system in order to address the issues you have raised.

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

It’s clear Wales cannot continue as we are sitting defenceless, where Mark Hooper of Indycube in a recent contribution talks of the potential of 40% of children in Wales living in poverty the coming years. I understand it’s currently around 20%,. I firmly take the views of Carnabwth. To do nothing is not an option. There’s no magic wand anywhere to be found, not from the London Treasury. It’s business as usual, austerity and more food banks. The way we are addressing the economic problems cannot be sustainable when locked in an Union. There’s no point in blaming Labour or… Read more »

Carnabwth
Guest

Well, believe it or not, we have been living through pretty much ‘good times’ for the last few decades. We are on the verge of a paradigm shift in the world economy. If we thought it was hard up until now, we have seen nothing yet. We need economic levers just to try and keep our head above the waves.

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

I find new words have crept into the political speak since Brexit. It’s put a whole new meaning to ordinary everyday life when politics was just, um , politics. Tory or Labour, Labour or Tory. A kind of revolving wheel until opps the wheel has fallen off. Yes a “paradigm shift” if we mean a corruption of doctrine. A new mode of understanding. A popular theme that has resonance. I would agree. We have yet to recover from the financial crash of 2008. And now the start of a crash as devastating as Brexit with even more and longer term… Read more »

Dafydd Thomas
Guest
Dafydd Thomas

Hi Rhydian,

Take a look at.

https://youtu.be/7UrErHKq-rc

John Young
Guest
John Young

Thanks for the detailed reply Rhydian. I know the numbers you’re referring to. I asked my question in case there was something I was missing. Regarding the Welsh fiscal deficit, The numbers reported, as you say, were £24 billion revenue as against £38 billion in expenditure (approx). In all the reviews done since the second World War up till the mid 90’s Welsh revenue and expenditure was essentially in balance, sometimes in surplus. Then in the last 20+ years we’ve had a number of reviews where, all of a sudden, there’s this huge deficit culminating in the figures mentioned above.… Read more »

sibrydionmawr
Guest

It’s probable that there is also a substantial amount of income tax paid by Welsh workers is collected in England as payrolls tend to be made up at head offices – this would most likely be the case with companies such as Tesco. It’s interesting that the argument that Wales is too poor to be independent has a very long history, and even in the early 70s that line was being peddled, especially by the Labour Party. Strange thing was, at that time Wales outperformed England industrially that it was the case that Wales was subsidising England rather than the… Read more »

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

There are observable means of determining our worth , or more appropriate our GDP or GVA. but there are receipts that lie undedicated or hidden. Indeed expenditures that are listed and attributed to Wales that need looking at. The story of a failed state relying on handouts, ( and yes we have been underfunded for the last 30 years under the Barnett formula) needs addressing. I believe the stigma associated with an overly dependent Country and fallout politically in terms of perception needs clarifying. It serves to keep this notion about poor Wales and helps the integrity of the Union.… Read more »

owain
Guest
owain

The author makes a good case for how appealing to emotion can help win an election. I would argue that building an independent Wales is an entirely different task, one that requires the support of nearly everyone in Wales rather than just a simple majority in one constituency. Appealing to emotion might win over some disenchanted voters, but it’s no way to build a long term political project. Perhaps more importantly, I would argue that the current turn towards emotion in politics is an historical exception rather than the norm. Nearly every developed democracy has a party system organised along… Read more »

CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

Problem I find with the economic side is as we head towards Independence our economic situation is likely to improve as WM tries to buy us off (we all know they will – they bought the DUP off). Powers and more money are all about us deciding our obedience is not free. So its a difficult situation… the country isn’t going to get any better unless we start upon that road… then they’ll offer us money and powers. But as we’ve seen with the Brexit talk… we’re an afterthought and they are trying to wind back devolution. Anything they give… Read more »

Simon
Guest
Simon

Truth is labelled hate by those who hate the truth.

Red Dragon Jim
Guest
Red Dragon Jim

Ifan, I just don’t think this is true: “A few days after the Brexit vote I made the argument that the people who voted for Brexit were the exact people most likely to support Welsh independence.” There has been research looking at this and Brexit voters have a stronger British identity. It does not follow at all that you can just pretend the Brexit vote was equally a vote for Welsh independence. Support for independence is higher if it is presented as a way of being in the EU (I don’t think it works legalistically, sadly). You are right more… Read more »

Ifan Jones
Guest
Ifan Jones

Hi Red Dragon Jim – I’m sorry if that sentence wasn’t clear. What I meant was that those who were convinced to vote for Brexit would be most likely to be convinced to vote for Welsh independence, not that there was any correlation in support at the moment. Will amend.

J Edwards
Guest
J Edwards

How would I be labelled? I’m a 56 year old, working-class woman who supports Welsh Independence, voted Remain and despairs of the hate-filled propaganda that brought people like Trump to power.

Eos Pengwern
Guest
Eos Pengwern

Or me? I’m a 48-year old, middle-class chap who supports Welsh Independence, voted Brexit, and despairs of the hate-filled propaganda aimed at Trump, who I think is a fine president. Today’s political discourse tends to pigeonhole people into categories which very, very few people actually fit into. I’ve been voting UKIP for the last few elections, and although stopping short of joining them (their statement of principles is explicitly Unionist, so I couldn’t sign up for that) I spent a fair bit of time leafletting on their behalf and meeting many local members. None of them bore even a passing… Read more »

sibrydionmawr
Guest

Trump a fine president? I think that comment sums up delusion! There is no need to participate in hate filled propaganda to regard Trump’s behaviour as questionable. We have to remember that he didn’t even get a majority of the votes, and only became president due to the electoral college. Personally I regard Trump as a very dangerous idiot. The fact that he is surrounded by controversy is also something to be concerned about, as are the kinds of people he has surrounded himself with. I don’t see that not joining UKIP actually lets you off the hook, as you’ve… Read more »

CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

Nice article. Do think thats a good point about Michael Sheen – I don’t think people trust politicians and hes that neutral non-partisan voice. Agree with your point about McEvoy and Leanne and the popularity they have in their locale. Problem with WM politics is they parachute people into safe seats… which added with the levels of technocracy distances politicians from the people they represent. Actually think Leanne could beat Chris Bryant – but I don’t think PC should bother taking their seats anyway. Something I’ve become more convinced of in recent days with no Welsh or Scots at the… Read more »

Robert Williams
Guest
Robert Williams

I think Owain hits a lot of nails on the head. Like him, I am ‘indie-curious’ but far from convinced, and for much the same reasons. How would we maintain current levels of public spending – or anything close to them – with a drastically reduced tax-base? And however Ifan may argue about the perception of many working class people of public spending, a sharp reduction would mean rapid catastrophe for health and education. Too many of the counter-arguments – if that’s not too flattering a term – are pretty closely aligned with brexiter rhetoric – stuff about liberating creative… Read more »

apgras
Guest
apgras

You’ve been taken for a ride for many a year. When we finally find out how much tax Wales actually raises. In the 60’s the whole of public expenditure in Wales was £59m and tobacco tax revenues alone were £65m.
Don’t people realise that we give our money away and get a partial receipt?! It’s crazy.

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

Much of the pocket-money we get from Westminster and the EU is wasted, because there is insufficient accountability and no political will to change the ways that that money is spent. Tourism revenue is not invested in Wales. The Welsh NHS budget is burdened by the consequences of granny farming. We are paying taxes for services outside Wales that are of no benefit to us. We do not own (either publicly or privately) many of our means of production, and end up paying for their use. Our farmland is made unproductive through excessive housebuilding that we do not need. Like… Read more »

JR Humphreys
Guest
JR Humphreys

I will bore everyone with “heart on fire, brain on ice”, but isn’t it the best way?

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

Yes. ‘Cool head sharpe mandril’ . A saying from the coal fields of sWales.

JR Humphreys
Guest
JR Humphreys

Oh that’s a better one! Must remember. Thanks.

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

I just thought we might lit upon usury on the road to the greatest prise offered to a Nation. It’s self respect. That which is extracted, taking or receiving of a greater rate than is allowed by law. Funding not based on the true identified needs, a fudge of accounting, a denial proper distribution of wealth amongst the constituent parts of the UK to allow for, say, infrastructure spend. Even asset development and investment in enterprise. It’s difficult to understand why Wales as a Country decided on Brexit as a way of renewal. It’s been proffered it may be anti… Read more »

JR Humphreys
Guest
JR Humphreys

Isn’t “Ich bin Berliner”, what he should have said? As he included “ein”, it meant “I am a doughnut”.

JR Humphreys
Guest
JR Humphreys

Answering myself, there is much controversy over this ein insertion, Some also say that he said ein, not eine, which makes a
difference. Americans are particularly sensitive on this one

Trailorboy
Guest
Trailorboy

It’s the proudly identifying as British that does it. I suspect the next census will show an increase in numbers of people saying Welsh and British.

The Brexit issue has increased that feeling of Britishness – the media has been on overdrive since Londin 2012 – my opinion obviously and no evidence to back that up, but a strong gut feeling.

Tegid
Guest

For those worried about the “Welsh deficit”, the authors of the iwa report which calculated this deficit made it clear that it did not reflect the financial situation of indy Wales.

Comments on this article explain why, and is well worth reading:

http://www.iwa.wales/click/2017/12/independence-debate/

Apologies for the lack of emotion on this comment.

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

Dafydd, in your response to Rhydian you posted a highly interesting vid of a talk to the Yes Cymru Llanelli. The introduction named only Eifion, I think, but not the full name. Have you got it please. It does reflect a better analysis of the case for independence. Showing the slight of hand that embeds the Union position of clever rigging of the status quo. Wales forever used by default . It needs flushing out and publicity. The sad part is the feelings that our politicians at the Bay seem aware but choose to do nothing about it. I suppose,… Read more »

Gillian Jones
Guest
Gillian Jones

Hi Graham, The name of the person who gave the talk for Yes Cymru Llanelli on the budget deficit is Eifion Thomas. He is an economist, that is to say an economics graduate but also with higher degree in engineering and physics.He has has worked world wide on multi billion dollar projects.This information is on the Yes Cymru Llanelli facebook page.

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

Diolch Gillian, caredig iawn. Eifion gave a complelling case for independence. It was quite masterful. Yes Cymru is establishing itself as a strong voice for Wales. The messages are clear. We must go forward or diminish as Nation and with it our culture and self respect. This can only be achieved not within the political arena but by grass roots agitation. Thus was it any different. ‘ Wales Rising’. Thanks again.

Jonesy
Guest
Jonesy

Those who voted brexit should be accessed on an emotional level.

Do those who voted brexit lack reasoning skills. That being a cognitive process, are they somehow less, than those who can reason?

Disgusting article.