In defence of Welsh nationalism

Picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

I read with great interest the views of Nathan Abrams on nationalism, and believe his contribution was a particularly valuable one.

It can be very difficult for those who have grown up in a linguistic and cultural tradition, such as myself, to understand the point of view of those who haven’t.

In many ways, Nathan represents the exact sort of person that the Welsh national movement needs to win over.

He has made the effort to learn Welsh (and despite his modesty I can confirm that he speaks it very well)! However, he has understandable reservations about associating himself with Welsh nationalism.

Part of the problem here is that ‘nationalist’ is now used as an insult. That is, it’s used exclusively to describe the ‘bad’ in nationalism but not the good.

Nathan Abrams himself noted that he has ‘no objection to Welsh independence’, making him more of a nationalist than many in Plaid Cymru itself!

It’s just that, because his nationalism is benign he does not recognise the term ‘nationalism’ as applying to him.

Preservation

‘Nationalism’ is neither inherently good nor bad. It depends entirely on what kind of feelings it arouses and the motivations of those who would seek to arouse them.

Nationalism can create a sense of belonging that brings people together as a community that together strives towards a common goal that they could not achieve as individuals.

Nationalism can also preserve languages and cultures. All languages that hope to survive in our globalised world need state backing and we, therefore, need a variety of different nation-states to preserve that linguistic diversity and the cultures associated with them.

Finally, nationalism can emancipate a community of people from a nation-state that is undemocratic and/or treats them unfairly.

Yes, there is also a bad side to nationalism, and we are once again at one of those junctures in history when we have become acutely aware of that.

The bad of nationalism is that it’s impossible to have an ‘us’ without also a ‘them’. Some nationalisms can also, by force, seek to integrate a ‘them’ into an ‘us’.

Nationalism can also be exploited by some who, rather than putting the emphasis on what is good about ‘us’ puts the emphasis instead on what is bad about ‘them’.

I do not believe that Welsh nationalism falls into the latter category. The difference between this nationalism and say, the xenophobic nationalism so prevalent in Britain and America at the moment, is that it does not seek to claim that ‘we’ are better than ‘them’.

What Welsh nationalism claims is that ‘we’ are equal to ‘them’ and therefore have an equal right to our own language, culture and a democracy that represents our views and interests.

Neither does it seek to impose ‘our’ culture, language or way of life on any other countries. It recognises and appreciates cultural diversity.

It is, therefore, a defensive rather than aggressive nationalism. We do not seek expansion or empire, but rather to resist the nationalisms of others whose cultural and linguistic expansion would seek to snuff us out.

Opt-out

The truth is that we live in a world of nation-states. No one has been able to come up with a good alternative to this arrangement.

It is, to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s view on democracy, the worst system apart from all the others.

It’s therefore impossible to ‘opt out’ of nationalism. Supporting the status quo of the preservation of your nation-state is just as nationalist as supporting a change.

Rejecting Welsh nationalism means a tacic approval of British nationalism, which has for centuries actively sought to delete all cultural and linguistic variety within its borders and promoted a centralised system of democracy that does not serve the best interest of its peripheral regions.

Tolerant

Nathan’s other complaint is that nationalism is ‘backwards looking’. Well yes, it is, but aren’t we all? We all look backwards to understand how best to tackle the present and the future.

Welsh, British, Jewish – these are all cultural constructs with their roots in the past. If we began every day with a blank slate none of these identities would make any sense.

But nationalism is also ever changing. It’s in a constant process of re-evaluating the past and choosing what lessons need to be learnt, and what practices and tradition we maintain and what we throw away.

We need to become more welcoming and tolerant of each other. But that doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bath-water.

We can tolerate each other without becoming culturally exactly alike, because a world where we’re all alike would be very dull indeed. One of the best things about working at a University is working with people like Nathan who are from different cultural traditions.

In conclusion:

  1. Using nationalism to preserve or fighting for cultural and linguistic variety is a good thing when a larger nation-state would seek to eradicate that diversity.
  2. Using nationalism to preserve or fight for the democratic freedom of a nation is also a good thing when the larger nation-state that would seek to integrate them is not wholly democratic or would use its greater size to marginalise their democratic wishes.

These are things I believe that Welsh nationalism does, and in my opinion that far outweighs any evil in nationalism.

Which is why I’m proud to call myself a Welsh nationalist, and I think Nathan should be too!


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CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

Very nice article. “Neither does it seek to impose ‘our’ culture, language or way of life on any other countries. It recognises and appreciates cultural diversity.” Not sure that works in the south. The education system I went through made Welsh language feel like it was forced – it did more to put off a generation rather than embrace it – later as most of us come to understand our identity that changes but really its got to change at the school level. It is/was in a sense exactly what the English did – so in a way it does… Read more »

Dai
Guest
Dai

Couldn’t agree more with this – that there is a big issue with the education system failing to give the kids a good enough understanding of a Welsh perspective as against a British one and why they should speak the language.

OMcArdle
Guest

I’m struggling to disagree with any of this, and the general message of the article is by no means a Wales-specific one either. I see no reason for nationalism in each nation to exist in a vacuum, rather it’s an ideology that provides a certain view of how the world would best work. As such I do feel that it’s important that nationalism in Wales works alongside nationalism elsewhere to further its core goals. That means solidarity with nations like Catalonia, but also working alongside the progressive side of the English national movement on mutual interests. As someone who came… Read more »

Gareth Rees
Guest
Gareth Rees

A well written piece. That supporting the status-quo is just as nationalist as wanting change – in fact often a lot more so given all the trappings of large states such as the UK – has been an under-used argument.

? one small typo – tacit not tactic.

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

Yes, a well-argued article. I’m delighted also that your colleague Nathan has made such good progress with his Welsh learning. His attitude towards our country despite the criticisms I voiced in response to his article, certainly put other English settlers to shame. I trust he will commit fully to investing in Welsh culture and continue to set a good example. Is he now planning on joining Plaid Cymru, notwithstanding its current questionable position on independence? Welsh nationalism is, as you say, of the benign kind, and this is to its credit considering that it has been fighting a defensive war… Read more »

leigh richards
Guest

“Is he now planning on joining Plaid Cymru, notwithstanding its current questionable position on independence?”. One of Plaid Cymru’s core aims is securing a seat at the United Nations for Wales – hard to think of a stronger commitment to welsh independence than that

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

No, you’re right, I know about the United Nations thing, but Plaid are being too pragmatic and not very pro-active in even debating the issue of independence, as far as I can see. But tell me if I’m wrong on this.

Baner
Guest
Baner

To be honest, I think it’s more important to win over those who were born here than migrants. Why would an English person become a Welsh nationalist? Why would we expect them to become Welsh, let alone Welsh nationalists? I know many English people who’ve learned Welsh and show repect towards our culture but none of them speak with a Welsh accent, have Welsh mannerisms and so-on. This is in stark contrast to when Welsh people move to England… most start speaking RP and adopt English tastes in clothing/food/media/politics before the end of their first term at university! If I… Read more »

sibrydionmawr
Guest

In general I find myself in agreement with this article, however I detected a little of that Welsh tendency, (actually rife in Plaid Cymru) to make too many allowances for those who have chosen to move here. Cultural diversity is fine, to a point, and is not really a problem with any other cultural identity than the English. Whilst I have little personal angst towards the English, per se, many of us find them myopic in the extreme when it comes to them recognising our rights in our own country: for them Wales is merely a part of Greater England,… Read more »

Pen-Cloch
Guest
Pen-Cloch

Welsh Nationalism was hot and I mean on fire in 1979 with the Holiday Home Arson Campaign. Meibion Glyndwr may not have identified themselves as Welsh Nationalists but to many outside of Wales watching the the news on ‘Nationwide’ they were the public/private face of Welsh Nationalism. It can be argued that Thatcher and Whitelaw by giving Wales S4C actually diluted this red hot Nationalism. They realised that ‘Divide & Conquer’ worked and that the Welsh would be no different to everybody else and people sublimated their red hot Welsh Nationalism into securing for themselves cushy jobs in the ‘Cyfryngau’.… Read more »

leigh richards
Guest

Er Wales cannot be ‘independent within the United Kingdom’ – independence by definition means Wales leaving the oppressive clutches of the British state and taking complete charge of its own domestic and international affairs in the same way every other independent nation in the world does. Furthermore not sure where you get the idea ‘the EU is no more’. The EU is very much alive and well and in fact is presently enjoying its best levels of growth for a decade. While i am sure Plaid’s constitution will continue to maintain the goal of securing a seat at the United… Read more »

Anarchist and Welsh Nash
Guest

We have got to remember that banal, unthinking British nationalism is the default setting for most people in Wales. It’s a type of nationalism which is never though of or identified as nationalism as such- but in a way it could be termed nationalism plus.. It’s the cleverest form of nationalism since the individual does not have to do anything at all in effect to assert his/her nationalism. All you need to do is to sit there whilst it is regularly beamed into our living rooms every night, making it therefore as commonplace,comfortable and reassuring as the dear old cat… Read more »

Brian ap Francis
Guest

Indeed and it is that sort of language which puts people and people like me off .
I am Welsh but proud to be British..
Great Britain is in the name – it means Wales as well and both are Great.
Such language is extremism which does the majority of reasonable people in this wonderful part of the U.K.no good at all.

sibrydionmawr
Guest

Proud to be British? Wow, that is sad, very sad.

leigh richards
Guest

Have to point out to you that the flag of ‘great britain’ – the union jack – doesn’t even feature Wales on it. So whatever great britain ‘means’ it certainly doesn’t mean Wales!

Nigel Bull
Guest

Brian, I agree with you totally. Such language has abounded from the nationalist community all my life and it has resulted in what. A tv channel that so few watch that is propped by government, a fine advert for the relevance of the language. The BBC in Wales that behave like TASS. There is also The Assembly which has covered itself in failure and embarrassment. There may be a chance to alter things if we end up with less MP’s, which is entirely fair and reasonable if you are a democrat. The call then for more AM’s then makes sense… Read more »

Ade
Guest
Ade

You don’t have to defend Welsh nationilsm, you just have to prepare for independence. The UK is done, the tribes of this island are deciding this union is failed and they are rejecting it. Look around, do you think Manchester is getting devolution because the union is working? Did London get a mayor and assembly because they wanted a pretty building? All the new city mayors are being appointed to lower the unemployment stats? It’s because the union is dissolving. The devolved powers are not progresso, they are reactive. We demand and we will get. We are winning. The United… Read more »

Nigel Bull
Guest

Ade,

You will have more success in planning for the second coming. I will tell you that you are wrong, not because it does not fit with my view of the best way forward, but because the facts disprove it. Against the worst election campaign in living memories by the Tories, and Labour having the third team in place, Plaid got absolutely nowhere in terms of the percentage vote. You have more in common with Timothy Leary than Mystic Meg in the political soothsaying stakes!

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

Plaid Cymru have not offered enough to the Welsh people to gain a majority in the Senedd. What’s needed is a change of heart by the party, or they will be eclipsed by any new pro-independence party that offers workable solutions to Wales’s problems. What’s also needed is Welsh control over its own media so that the Welsh people can be informed of what is happening in this country. Independence will come, but it won’t come until the majority are on board. Let us hope that Plaid, or else the new party currently being formed, will achieve the means for… Read more »

Nigel Bull
Guest

The very reason that Plaid has and is not getting anywhere is that by associating themselves with the radical elements of the Welsh Language, Independence Movement and those offering to light a warming fire for absent homeowners, they have alienated themselves from the vast majority of the electorate who disagree entirely with these issues and profoundly too. Many of these were not born in Wales, are second generation immigrants, or live near England and have first hand experience of the English without two heads. Unless all three issues are dropped entirely they will never achieve the critical mass required to… Read more »

John Young
Guest
John Young

‘The very reason that Plaid has and is not getting anywhere is that by associating themselves with the radical elements of the Welsh Language, Independence Movement and those offering to light a warming fire for absent homeowners, they have alienated themselves from the vast majority of the electorate who disagree entirely with these issues and profoundly too.’ Radical elements of the Welsh language ? Agreeing with the idea of providing Welsh Medium schools as an option within Wales is radical ? Promoting the teaching of Welsh in Wales is radical ? The silliness of that deserved two questions. The vast… Read more »

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

No, the reason Paid Cymru has failed to make further inroads is because they have not been pro-active enough in raising issues that adversely affect this country, choosing instead to go for an irrelevant agenda imported from the liberal elite of Metropolitan London. But you’re right when you suggest that their other failing has been their cwtching up to Welsh Labour and thereby being complicit in the wasting of Welsh public money on Third Sector scams as well as turning a blind eye to the machinations of the Planning Inspectorate. It is the remit of any Welsh party (and especially… Read more »

Kairdiff Kid
Guest
Kairdiff Kid

It appears that Nigel Bull is really just John Bull, and appears to have strayed over here from the BBC Wales HYS anti-Welsh language pointy-head zone. We’ve been listening to these people for 50 years, they are the establishment, and they represent the Labour party stranglehold on Wales. The reason Plaid is failing Wales is because they’re cosying up to Labour, not because they’re taking them on. And what , pray , is a ‘radical element of a language’? You having trouble with your English? As for “The Assembly which has covered itself in failure and embarrassment” , we know… Read more »

Edeyrn
Guest
Edeyrn

How will we know Wales is no longer a colony though? I have seen countries declare independence but are still heavily dependent on their colonial mother

Nigel Bull
Guest

My postings are intended to serious, provocative, still somewhat tongue in cheek, but observations rather than political dogma regurgitated! Firstly in general. Plaid are all but spent. Given the disarray in all the opposing parties for various reasons, that they cannot make even a dent means that they never will in their present form. This is not a viewpoint, but a statement of fact. A well meaning leader, but one without the intellect, vision and presentation skills to make a real difference. The disproportionate exposure to media that she receives cannot make up for this fact. There is a complete… Read more »

Red Dragon Jim
Guest
Red Dragon Jim

I grew up with a Labour MP and council, although we are (Castell Newi). Plaid now wins all the time because of nationalism, although nobody calls it that. It is down to language and our AM, MP and party being “ours”. All of the things in Ifan’s article. This is considered natural Plaid territory but really we only went with Gwynfor for a bit then turned back to Labour for decades. If anything its going more Plaid, not less. Problem is that kind of nationalism won’t work anywhere else. You’ve got to have Welsh speakers and a community where people… Read more »

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

(Sigh). Here we go again. 1/ Plaid Cymru. You’re repeating the same points I made with regard to their current failure (which some people think is deliberate) to increase their vote throughout the country. The wrong turn that they took after they ‘did a McEvoy’ on Dafydd Wigley is common knowledge. We know they’re Welsh Labour’s bitch, but for the present they’re the only party we have that is ostensibly outside the BritNat framework, and we can still hope for a change of direction before a more pro-active party comes along. 2/ The Welsh language. Of course there will always… Read more »

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

The above comments were in reply to Mr. Nigel Bull, not to Red Dragon Jim. Must have pressed the wrong ‘Reply’ button.

Kairdiff Kid
Guest
Kairdiff Kid

Hah brilliant! thank you for finding out who Nigel Bull is! Love it. True Wales. In other words, the most anti-Welsh, devolution-hating outfit there is. Stayed silent on the Westminster duck house expenses-guzzling scandal (’cause they love their MPs, these butties do, they prostrate themselves before London rule which for them can do no wrong) but went on and on about the Assembly ‘trough’. I once met a chap from True Wales at a stall in Cardiff who started about the need for bringing power closer to the people, told me how corrupt the assembly was etc, and within 5… Read more »

Kairdiff Kid
Guest
Kairdiff Kid

Nigel and True Wales have big support here, among Christian Doctrine. I especially enjoyed the allegation that the Welsh Assembly creates an ‘apartheid’ system against us English-speakers.
We’re talking about a nasty, retrograde, dog-whistling outfit. And Christian Doctrine aren’t so great either…

http://www.christiandoctrine.com/politics-list-view/725-the-true-wales-no-campaign-pokes-one-in-the-eye-of-the-welsh-political-elite

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

I don’t think you’ll find them singing ‘Blaenwern’ in the local Methodist chapel of a Sunday morning… I can’t fathom the link between a Christian group and an anti-devolution lobbying group. I may be wrong, but Labour Party membership seems to be a leitmotif running through True Wales, although their big noise, Rachel Banner (a teacher whose accent suggests that she is not a Cymraes) left the party amid a small amount of clamour in 2013. A main element of True Wales’s talk seems to be an assertion that the Welsh people are not being consulted whenever new devolved powers… Read more »

Bendigedig
Guest
Bendigedig

““Neither does it seek to impose ‘our’ culture, language or way of life on any other countries. It recognises and appreciates cultural diversity.”

Not sure that works in the south. ”

Are you claiming that the south is another country?