I Paradigm I

It’s an odd time to be a Briton. The UK will formally start the process leaving the EU next week. About half the people of Britain and Northern Ireland will lose something they have had since birth, EU citizenship. For some this will make them feel less European as a part of their identity is stripped away. It may present a paradigm shift.

A paradigm shift is a change to what is normal, a change in mode of thinking, adopting a new set of rules and identities. For example, going from being an anxious to a confident person completely changes one’s worldview. There seem to be rather a lot of these shifts occurring at the moment due to Climate Change and Brexit, to quite fundamental parts of whom we are as humans, what we eat and our identity.

Food

I have written recently about this whole debate between whether the most sustainable diet is plant-based or contain some quantity of meat. There are some visceral arguments flying around. Between the meat fraternity and vegans about which diet is more sustainable, which diet requires less land and is a sustainable management of that land. In my opinion the answer lies somewhere in the middle. However it seems that much of the argument is not based on the science, but rather the “naturalness” of the diet choice.

This “naturalness” concept is rather bizarre as there is very little that is natural about how humans produce food when you consider that humans developed as a species as hunter gatherers. However across the millenia agriculture has developed, allowing larger populations. This agriculture has undergone massive changes since the industrialisation period began some two hundred years ago. Keeping animals inside in a controlled environment feeding them a grown diet, injecting them with chemicals and an industrial process for slaughtering them, is much at odds with practices for the first few thousand years of agriculture.

It is because this form of agriculture has persisted for so long that it has been normalised. Our increasingly urbanised societies do not generally spare a thought for the lived conditions of the animals they eat every day. People who become vegans and vegetarians have thought about this and concluded that modern agriculture is very strange and not “natural” and often make a decision to either stop eating meat or change how they get their meats.

Arguably the debate between these two groups are the traditionalists (even if that tradition [intensive agriculture] is only around one hundred years old) and those that have gone through a paradigm shift in how they think about the rearing of animals for food. Hold that thought.

Identity

Brexit has divided the people of Britain quite fundamentally. Even those of us in the middle have been forced to take sides. The question was whether the UK is better of in or outside of the EU, but Brexit is something else, it is perhaps about differing views of national identity and what is a normal way of thinking about your national identity.

Generally there are those people that consider that the UK nation state is normal, to feel patriotic towards the UK and those that feel differently or are more pragmatic about it and open to different possibilities. This makes sense in the context that the Brexiteers are generally older and remember life before the EU and the Remainers aren’t.

The Brexiteers seem to regard a particular form of British Nationalism as sacrosanct, one which has parallels with the Imperialism and authoritarian nature of the British Empire period.

For example, there have been objections this week to the announcement of Gaelic becoming the default language of instruction in Schools in the Western Isles of Scotland. In Wales, Welsh medium schools have been in existence for quite some time, yet these are often objected to. I don’t get these objections as Welsh and Gaelic are native British languages, so as patriotic Britons do we not all want to maintain the tradition of these languages? It seems these Brexiteer British Nationalists do not view British culture in this way, that they only support certain facets of “Britishness” and not others. You have to be one of this sect to understand what they like and what they do not. These people seem to object to people using other languages than English in Britain, whether it’s Hindi, Polish, Welsh, Gaelic or anything else it seems. It seems to be part of this intolerance of different people.

There also those who object to people who are LGBTQ. Someone said recently that there are two sexes, men and women and this is basic biology. I am a Biologist and I said to her that that is very basic biology, the reality is a lot more complicated and indeed different sexualities exist in other mammalian species. Sex is in our genes and it’s just how biology works. Yet people seem unable to listen to expert advice nowadays. It seems feelings and identity trump science and as a scientist I find that hard to conceptualise.

I believe that the solution to the decline and malaise in the UK economy is to revitalise democracy re-building the economy with Welsh and Scottish independence, Irish re-unification and regional government within England. This just makes sense to me as the most sensible way to improve things. However there are many that object to this, yet they seem to be unable to articulate an argument for the union of the UK, beyond a denial that Wales can govern herself  and a sentimental attachment to the UK nation state. They seem to have not passed through any paradigm shifts.

Diversity Education

There seems to be a general trend in this division between those with a university education and those who don’t. I have even heard it said that universities encourage liberal thought to the detriment of conservatism. There is some truth in that.

A university education is essentially about challenging ideas and assumptions about how things work. It’s about learning how to build a logically sound argument and testing premises. So any traditional conservative values are tested and the only ones that survive are those that have a positive beneficial value and  reason to be conserved beyond sentimentality.

The university experience is also about exposure to diversity, where living with diversity is part of the life of people at universities. When someone goes to university for the first time, they usually live away from home in an area with a different culture. For me I went from a rural Welsh existence to living in a big city in another country; a huge culture shock! You then meet and work with people from different backgrounds, from different parts of the world and you just accept things that are different to what you knew. Through an undergraduate degree course you make multiple paradigm shifts in worldview and your understanding of your subject. Paradigm shifts become second nature.

However for those who do not go to university and never live in a different country, may not get this exposure to diversity or have their ideas so rigorously challenged. It may simply be a lack of training in the skill of coping with paradigm shifting.

Brexit

This Brexit division really has torn apart the paradigm of Britain. The Britain I love and grew up in consisted of people of different backgrounds and places whom for the most part got along doing our own things. I grew up in an area that produces people who are loosely defined as Welsh-British and that chimed perfectly with my identity and as such my identity was of as much value as the identity of any other Briton. However Brexit has blown apart that tolerance of all the huge variance in the people of Britain, there now seems an increasing divide between a narrow British nationalism of arguably the largest minority ethnic group in the UK, the White English and everybody else. The White English, may in actuality be a majority of the UK population, however when you take away those that went to university, the LGBT community and those who married outside of their ethnicity for example, you do perhaps end up with a minority, yet one which has acquired power through Brexit and now seems to feel legitimised and emboldened by Brexit that they don’t need to listen to any voices of dissent and are at liberty to abuse people who are different.

This I find disturbing as Britain  seems to be have become in the control of an insular sect which ignores experts at a time when new modes of thinking and a new economic relationship are kind of required by Brexit and even more so by Climate Change. Britain leaving the EU doesn’t really bother me all that much in itself, but ceding control to people who lack experience of paradigm shifts when the nation state is going through a paradigm shift is worrying indeed.

I just feel that the direction of the UK becoming a less tolerant society is one I do not feel part of anymore. Hence I am Yes Cymru.

I Palindrome I

English Nationalism: A Tale of Two Nations

On Twitter today I saw a tweet which went like this:

Scottish Nationalism Good, Welsh Nationalism Good, Irish Nationalism Good, English Nationalism Bad, Why is England the exception?

The answer is that it isn’t. If we re-frame the question:

Scottish Nationalism Good, Welsh Nationalism Good, Irish Nationalism Good, English Nationalism Good, British Nationalism Bad.

There is then a clear difference, in that the first four are not really nationalism whereas the last is, if we define Nationalism as the belief that a nation is superior to other nations and thus is justified in exploited other inferior nations.

The difference is that these first four national movements include everyone in that nation, whether they identify with that nation or not. They seek fairness and a better political arrangement to allow innovation, investment  and economic development of infrastructure and for their nations to not be ignored. Whereas the true nationalism only serves the elite that identify as British Nationalists to the detriment of everyone else in Britain, allowing policies of repression towards those that don’t fit this narrow definition of “British”.

I think that English Nationalism struggles for it’s voice to be heard, because people find it challenging to differentiate itself from British Nationalism, which is racist and often the Nationalists have adopted both the English and British flags and some identify as English Nationalists. I should point out here that this splitting is in itself complicated, as you can identify as British and not be a British Nationalist, it’s this issue which makes the differentiation unclear.

I grew up in rural Powys, in British Wales and whilst most people from there identify as Welsh, they often share the views of British Nationalists, this certainly doesn’t make them bad people, but they are those that divide the people of Britain (the Britons) into them and us. An issue for the Welsh national movement is that we need the support of these people, but their British Nationalism holds them back from embracing the national movement. It is these people who value conformism and that is a very difficult habit to break, which I talked about in my last weblog.

I feel I could have very easily been one of these British Nationalists as it was part of the culture I grew up in. I just didn’t fit in and in being so kind of picked out the bits that made sense and discarded the rest. It was only through being different and an outsider that made me ask lots of questions, rather than accept what was around me as gospel.

What are these specific things you need to be a member of the British Nationalists beyond valuing conformity. You need to be white, you need to be from a Christian background (actual belief in Christianity isn’t important), you need to be a monolingual English speaker, you must have a distrust of intellectuals, you must not value the arts, you must regard those not in the club as inferior, you must not question authority. Essentially it isn’t merely valuing conformity, it’s being sceptical of questioning or exploring of issues.

When I was at school in a history lesson we were looking at the Cuban missile crisis. One of our activities was to have a mock debate, the class was split between pretending to be representatives of the USA and the USSR. I ended up on the USSR side and made that case as part of the activity. I was pretty much the only one who seemed to understand the logic of the USSR position, indeed a friend of mine admitted they they could not have done what I had just done, I think because it was somehow unpatriotic as the British position was to support the USA, even to the point of not trying to at least understand the other side. So, if you are unable to look at both sides of an issue, how on Earth are you supposed to get to the truth?

It’s ridiculous, how some people are now wary of talking about the Welsh language to me, now that I am a speaker of it. I’ve crossed that divide, there is no problem and it’s quite a nice place to be thanks.

I think it is this lack of questioning that is the mark of the British Nationalists, it explains how such awful politicians as Boris Johnson could have “won” the 2019 UK general election. For example, if you point out how awful it is that food bank use has risen so much in the UK, when there had been no need for such things relatively recently as a terrible development, you get the reply along the lines of “These people whilst perhaps deserving our pity are at fault for getting themselves into that position as people like us wouldn’t” When you point out examples of people who got there by bad luck or being made redundant, they can be dismissed as exceptions!

It is frightening, because when I was young I read the history books there were around and they very heavily promote the idea of British history as glorious and entirely ignore the damage that British policy has done to parts of the world. That accepting that interpretation is patriotic and any questioning makes you instantly ‘the enemy’. The idea that you base your belief system on a lie and adopt a position of not questioning anything is very scary indeed.

How can we bring across people from British Nationalism to the national movements of the nations of Britain? The UK has the highest  inequality in Europe, some of the most expensive housing and transport and is an unproductive and innovation averse economy that is falling behind, when there is no need for it to be.

Wales is not a poor country that couldn’t stand on it’s own two feet without the “help” of the “British elite”, we can afford a National Health Service, free education, affordable decent housing and a coordinated transport infrastructure. The UK is just wedded to the Tory party of not questioning why things are not going well and must, as always lay the blame on others, those who are not British Nationalists.

Brexit as framed as a perverse patriotism is causing unnecessary damage. Only yesterday there were anti-Semitic activity in London. In general there seem to be increases in racism, homophobia and even attacks on people for speaking Welsh.

The portents for 2020 in the UK are not good. Brexit seems to have allowed the nasty Nationalists to feel legitimised by the Brexit votes and all these repressed concerns about our society come out not directed at the useless Tories in charge, but at those who do not share this frankly bizarre adherence to not questioning authority, be they Welsh, Scottish, Irish, English, Black, Catholic, LGBTQ+, Jewish, Muslim, from Mainland Europe, Africa, or Outer Space. Why value being in this British Nationalist minority and ignore the great potential of all the people of Britain? It’s just very disturbing and there seems no clear way of getting people to come together as our nations for the greater good, to open minds and get people to think about these things.

Perhaps the question now is what do we want Britain to be? The Britain of national movements to unite everyone together to make things better or the Brexit if British Nationalism that divides us into us and them. Do we want to go down the path of 1930s Germany that my grandfather took up arms against or be nations progressing together to make a better world? Remember that only 36% of Wales voted for Boris Johnson’s Brexit, or 44% of the UK as a whole. We are the 56%, we can do this.

 

 

 

Brexit’s Coming Home

I’ve just written a piece about British Identity and am thinking that threatened identities is a large part of the appeal of Brexit.

I’m reminded of a few years ago when I was living in Southern England and was very unhappy. I listened to the Welsh song ‘We’ll keep a Welcome‘ which brought me to tears and made me realise I needed to go home. It is a very powerful song that resonates closely with Welshness. Wales is a small country and there is a srtrong cultural idea that many people need to leave for work or to develop a career, with the understanding that as Welshmen or Welshwomen that they can always come home and there is a hope that they do.

As Welshfolk and perhaps as do people of other communities all around the world we feel that our home may be a shithole, but it is our home. So when things go badly, working with others isn’t really working and you need to go back and re-build or start again there is a hiraeth for home.

This longing for home is very similar to a longing for a time when things were better or stabler. The whole of the UK economy kind of feels like that. You only have to walk down the road outside your house to see the potholes in the road that used to be repaired, or the homeless people on the street who used  to be looked after and helped back onto their feet. So there is perhaps a collective desire to return to how things once were, when things seemed as though they were fine and getting better. From a Welsh perspective it seems that the unions we are a member of are not working for us and that applies to both the EU and the UK.

Hence Brexit, the feeling and the desire for a thing that is akin to finding a place for re-building. I completely understand this, however the problem with Brexit is that there is no plan to enable any such re-building. Brexit falls apart on any hard-headed economic or political assessment.

The Brexit position is generally supported by those over fifty years of age. Those that can remember the post-war period from 1945 to 1979. A time of strong identity with the UK state, which had just won a war with the Nazis, was rapidly losing it’s Empire and there was a consensus to build a new Britain from the broken infrastructure after a major war. A time of collective identification where everyone was working together to build a better future, to grow the pie and everyone made a contribution, whether they were a coal miner or a banker, whether a Yorkshireman or a newly arrived immigrant from a former Empire country. It was perhaps only those who didn’t work who were looked down upon if they weren’t trying hard to find new work.

Then in 1979 everything changed. Thatcherism became the new economics. The people of Britain were no longer told to work together for the common good and grow the pie, but instead to seek  to make your share of the pie bigger, even if it makes the pie smaller, so those who can do this can get more pie and those not willing to be so cut-throat in their economic actions will be the ones to disparage. ‘Greed is Good’ was now a virtue rather than a failing.

Such economics hasn’t worked as fewer people are able to grow their share of the pie and realising the pie really has shrunk an awful lot and some people seem to have very large slices of it. Hence Brexit, a desire to re-build, to return to more old-fashioned ways of doing things that at least worked and produced genuine growth. Hence a desire to leave the EU as there has never really been a true desire in Britain to grow the European pie, all that matters was it was a means to make the UK pie slice bigger, the post war consensus in the UK was never really about re-building Europe.

It seems that if Brexit does finally occur next year, the UK won’t actually be home as there is no home to go to, it is simply a leaving with no idea where to go. Indeed any suggestion  about re-building the UK home such as  electoral reform, confederalism or a return of social democracy have all failed to gain enough traction. All that seems promised by the charlatan Boris Johnson is lies and hot air, which isn’t enough to re-build anything from.

Brexit was tempting to me, I don’t like the idea of centralisation unless there is genuine option to say no and say we can actually do this better on our own thanks, some things are simply cases of too many cooks. Co-operation is great, but you always need to ensure the people tasked with making the decisions are making the right ones, and that has increasingly not been the case. All this Brexit seems to offer is taking control from the EU to give it away instantly via trade deals, in particular with a Trumpian USA.

This Tory Brexit is doomed to failure. We must never forget that we actually want things to get better and that is the motive for doing anything including Brexit. However this Brexit won’t achieve that. As I’ve said so often, we need electoral reform across the UK, to re-build structures so the right decisions get made more often. For me that’s Welsh independence, so the population has some genuine democratic control over the legislature that affects the country.

British Identities

I wrote in an earlier blog that I didn’t understand how people hadn’t established their national identities in the same way as I had. I think I now get it. National Identity isn’t a fixed thing, it’s fluid.

I define my national identity like this: Welsh, British, European, World Citizen in that order with being Welsh as the prime identity. I felt I had this identity because I grew up in Wales, and thus have an identification with Great Britain & Ireland as it’s nearby and influential, then European, then the rest of the world. This reasoning is based on where my cultural influences stem from.

However this is not the only way of defining nationality. An alternative view  and perhaps a more advanced one is that cultural influence is the prime factor but isn’t geographically based, it’s more based on personal association. The more you associated with a particular culture the more it forms part of your nationality.

For example, I went on a holiday to Iceland and loved being there, ever since whenever I watch an international football match featuring Iceland I now have a preference for supporting them over any other country I have less association with, (with the obvious exception of England!). This is true of other countries I have visited or spent more time in, like Madasgascar or Honduras. I don’t think this bias is all that uncommon.

I know people who have come to live in Wales and over the years they slowly become more Welsh, understand the culture better and take some ownership of it. I have done the same. I have lived for many years in England and Scotland and most of my family live in England  and identify as English and that has strengthened my British identity.

For me there is actually a case for placing world citizen ahead of European as I have spent more time when I’ve been outside Britain in the rest of the world than mainland Europe, yet common European culture is strong enough to not justify this, but I can imagine a year living outside Europe would probably tip the balance.

Everyone, in the island of Great Britain is a mixture of different nationalities as the four nations are bound together by geography, history and culture. I was born  in England, yet because I grew up in Wales, have a mainly Welsh family and have lived in Wales as an adult it has always been my prime identity.

However, people move around a lot more these days, dragging their children with them. It is not uncommon now for someone to have family from one or more countries, be born in another, then spent their childhood in several other countries. Such a persons national identities would be a broad rich mixture and when asked may simply describe themselves as a World Citizen as their primary identity with some justification.

It used to be much simple as most people would have one nation where they lived there entire lives within one country where their families had been for generations uncounted. For such people nationality and ethnicity would be the same and indistinguishable.

A difficulty with this is that having this close identity with a country, of nationality and ethnicity allows some to believe that there is some kind of special relationship between ethnicity and nationality or even that they are the same thing. I was even bullied at school as I was ‘English’ because I had been born there. To those bullies my Welsh ethnicity and identity apparently meant nothing. Is it not then possible for someone to be forced the accept a nationality of a country they spend only their first weeks of life in and never visited again. Place of birth often does matter for another kind of identity, citizenship, or the nation state responsible for you and there has been a tendency in some people to identify with their citizenship, indeed many countries insist upon it in order to be granted a change in citizenship.

I think all this bullying of those who may arguably have a shallower relationship with a particular nationality as they have a broader richness in nationalities is because as human beings identity is important to us. When we are stripped down to our ineermost selves as perhaps we’ve lost relationships with loved ones, it is our prime nationality we return to with proud happy tears. Nationalities are very complicated and mixed up with all our other identities, our selves and our minds, that they are often something we as people don’t want to think about, we just want it to be a given. So whenever anyone questions our prime nationality, we feel very deeply attacked.

This happened only this week. The UK is currently preparing forms for the 2021 census; A survey of the whole population done every ten years. The controversy this time is the ethnicity question. In the current draft if you are white your ethnicity can be Welsh, Irish, English, Scottish, British or other. However if you are not white the only option is British or other. This was brought into the media spotlight by Kizzy Crawford, a wonderful Welsh singer-songwriter, who was upset that she had no access to a tick box to state Welsh ethnicity, whilst white people could. She wrote a passionate piece in a newspaper describing how she felt alone as a child as a lonely non-white child at her school and it was her Welsh identity that gave her strength. We dismiss people’s identities at our peril.

Kizzy Crawford – Adlewyrchu Arnaf I (Reflecting on Me)

Across the Brexit divide

The Brexit chaos at Westminster is shared by people in my life. This week I even had a conversation about Brexit at the supermarket checkout. In normal times politics does not get discussed in this situations. the pace of some very confusing politics is causing a wider confusion.

Brexit has been an interesting subject for me. As for once I am not in either groups at the ends of the spectrum (the Union Jack waving Brexiteers and the EU flag waving Remainers). I’ve fallen into the remain camp as perhaps I don’t really like sitting in the middle. Britain has been regarded as a tolerant nation but seems to be becoming less so. This division is quite worrying. Such a division is where a community focuses on where they are different rather than what they have in common.

I’ve written before about how if the Brexit referendum had been ‘Should the UK have a looser relationship with the EU’ to hold back from a centralising political project and just cooperate as much as possible, I feel there would have been a huge majority for this. I also feel that the people of the UK would agree that our political system is broken and that our economy is weakening, that these two things are linked and that we should do something about resolving these problems.

However this Brexit has instead divided us into Brexiters and Remainers. With all the chaos in Westminster and now we are into a two week extension of the ticking clock of No Deal explulsion from the EU, to me the sensible thing to do is revoke Article 50, drop the weight of concern about the relationships of Europe and instead fix things in Britain. However the Brexiters seem to have an obsessive zeal with leaving the EU at any cost and fixing the mess afterwards in a chaotic political situation. This seems a somewhat unreasonable position, especially as the Brexiters have not spent the last two years building consensus and putting forward a plan of action for a post-Brexit situation.

There was a pro-Brexit march in London today. Watching these things I just see a tide of angry white grey haired men.

I have talked  about outsiders, or minority groups and privilege on these pages. If one thing defines this group of people, the Brexiters is that they do not consider themselves outsiders, they consider themselves the majority. On paper, from opinion polls and so on, it is clear that they are a minority, albeit a sizable one. As white men they are privileged and usually get there way, they vote Tory and get Tory governments, they vote for Brexit and Brexit happens. As a group they seem to little realise how much privilege they have and what it is like to be in a minority group. I have never voted Tory, I’ve never voted for anyone who has won an election [well apart from once for a Police commissioner, but no-one else really cared much about that election, and my area has not become a post-apocalyptic crime riddled wasteland since]. My interests are minority interests. but many of the Brexiters don’t perhaps get this because they feel they are in the majority for most things. Whilst everyone else may be making reasonable arguments and trying to find a consensus, they worry that everyone else is trying to stop their Brexit as if they are people who have never had anything their way and this is the one thing they are passionate about. Yet on any other topic this group tend to be dismissive of the ‘one thing’ of other groups, whether that’s LGBT rights, the Welsh language, Vegans and so on.

I just feel hope that understanding will increase and that we can all work together to make our society a better one to live in. to do that we need to listen to every group and genuinely engage and look deeply into grievances rather than casually dismiss them as many of the Brexiters (and indeed Remainers) seem to do. In some ways I feel that Britain needs more chaos just to ram this point across to everyone. Hopefully we have reached peak-chaos and can start re-building our society and our political system.

Brexit Nationalisms

Really Brexit is about nationalism. What complicates Brexit is that there are so many competing nationalisms at play, it is this which has made Brexit so confusing. A further problem with nationalism is that it often has negative connotations with racism. Historically nationalism has been associated as a creed of the dominant nation or race, blaming their ills on other groups of people.

Nationalism can be defined as simply as promoting the nation and defining the nation as the people within that nation. If that nation is defined geographically and include everyone withing that region then it can be a positive thing. Conversely where a dominant sub section of a geographical region claims neglect, such as white people within a culture, blaming another smaller people, then nationalism gets nasty. There is always a tendency for the rich and powerful to greedily seek more of the pie and thus the people or the nation suffer as their share of the pie is diminished. All politics is essentially nationalisms of groups demanding fair treatment.

Economic growth in the 20th century allowed most people’s slice of pie to get larger, so it didn’t matter so much if some people were getting larger increases in share of pie. However the current situation in the UK is that there is some economic growth, yet most people are getting poorer, whilst the very rich get richer without really contributing to the society. This means that the people (everyone not in the elite) see this as unfair and seek the interests of the masses/ the country to become more prominent. Democracy has failed, so more or at least a reform of democracy is required.

Brexit was often argued for in terms of taking back control, for more democratic accountability, to desire ‘my country back’. As such a mixture of Welsh, Scottish and English nationalisms. Largely  older generations noticing that the UK state had declined and wished to reverse this process. But it is has been the Tory party and the neoliberal orthodoxy that has caused this decline, it’s simply gone unnoticed as it hasn’t suited the mass media to highlight long term trends or give them sufficient prominence.

Instead we have a British State nationalism of the British establishment clawing back powers from a centralised EU as conducted by the Tories. In a sense the establishment have effectively pitted the European nation against the British one, when there is no real conflict between the people of Britain and the peoples of the rest of Europe. For I am a member of both the European and British nations, it’s fighting amongst ourselves.

However Brexit never became a mass movement of the people of Britain, only of a dominant minority, as no-one has since argued for nationalism in geographic sense.  Instead it seems the establishments Brexit has become dominant in the subsequent debate. So we have a situation where the people cry out for more power, but the establishment are using it for their own selfish ends. Really I expected the post Brexit era to be full of discussion of how to reform democracy across the UK. Instead the debate seems to be about how important is for the UK to negotiate a good trade deal with other states, say Mongolia which the EU had supposedly cruelly denied them, which I am sure was not to the forefront of the minds of those voting for Brexit.

Brexit nationalism became a negative force as instead of a focus on democracy, it has focused on scapegoating, of defining those groups who are to blame for everything as those who are not being British, specifically EU immigrants. Indeed most the EU migrants I know have stated that they feel a lot less comfortable in the UK these days, which is very sad.

The British establishment is very happy about all this division between the Brexiteers and the Remainers, as a culture of blaming other people detracts from a nationalism of reforming democracy, which is what should be happening. The people want change, but of people are kept fighting about what that change should be  the establishment can carry on regardless.

Nationalism has become such a taboo word, yet really the political battle is between the nation (the people) and the state (establishment). The state has failed to serve the interests of the nation. The establishment tactic in this battle is to divide and rule, to pit nation against nation so the focus isn’t on the failed establishment but viewed as the fault of one group or another, such as the failings of the Brexit process being blamed on the Remainers or sub sections of Brexiteer opinion. In essence it is the establishment which is practising bad divisive nationalism, whilst many the various British nations seeks a positive nationalism for the good of all.

British nationalism, in the sense of the argument for a more democratic accountable UK, would be great. However I am a Welsh Nationalist, because what the British people need is to get away from tyranny of large minorities and a too powerful centralised establishment. Achieving a true democracy at a UK level is much harder to achieve directly. Bottom up democracy is I believe the way forward and once systems are in place in geographic nations, then cooperation across Britain and Europe can be re-built.

However it often seems that British Nationalists are arguing with Welsh nationalists, when both groups want the same thing, more democracy that registers their specific needs. The establishment is happy to encourage such infighting. For me nationalism isn’t about wrapping one flag around you, but is about gathering as many flags as you can to wrap around yourself to acknowledge how many nations we belong to, including the human nation, to include all people of all nations, to ensure nationalism doesn’t divide and lead to scapegoating of any minority group.

 

What do they know of England? Only England knows

I read an interesting article in today’s Irish Times. My summary of the article is that is that Brexit has intensified speculation on what it is to be British or rather English. Indeed the Brexit debate has ostracised the different elements that make up British Society; that in England there is a recent re-awakening of exploring what it is to be a nation, which has long been silent in England. The article makes a point of hardly mentioning Wales, because Wales would make things too complicated and detract from the thrust of the article

I’m also in the middle of reading Gwyn Williams’ ‘When Was Wales?’ This book also explores the concept of nation. It seems that it is quite possible to argue that Wales, England, Scotland and indeed Britain have never really been nations in the modern sense. The concept of Britain was perhaps formed from the union with Scotland and the beginnings of the age of the British empire. Hence Britain has never been a true nation, it hasn’t had the opportunity to gain a sense of itself as it has long been the seat of empire, a global superpower which has been the primary influence on how the state of the UK has operated. Arguably the UK has only been a nation from the early 1950s up to the early 1980s, a scant 30 year generation, a nation formed glowing in the unity brought about by winning a just war, the collapse of empire and an era of discovery of who the Britons were themselves. a fortunate era of  rapid economic growth and living standards from the 50s to the end of the 60s. In the 80s there seemed to be a halt to this process of nation forming.

I left Wales when I was eighteen to go and live in England. Admittedly I ended up surrounding myself with a mainly liberal bunch. what perturbed me was that none of them identified as English and saw any identification with a nation as being a rather divisive thing to do. I found this odd because I am Welsh, I couldn’t get my head around what exactly was supposed to be wrong with being Welsh? For to be Welsh was to believe that the Welsh are anyone’s equals and to be interested in exploring other cultures. In contrast to the the sense of Britishness, formed of the empire, which seemed to regard itself as superior to anyone else. That I could understand as being a nationalism akin to Nazi Germany and something to be opposed to.

I also noticed this when what was the  Fiive nations or international football came up. I support Wales and whoever plays against England, which is a very internationalist thing to do, where everyone can be a friend. This wasn’t understood by my English friends, they saw this as somehow being anti-English and even anti-British. From my perspective England were our local rivals, so I of course support the other team, in exactly the same way as I support anyone who plays against Manchester United as a Manchester City fan.

However having spent time in England I have understood that there is a different attitude in England. Where England  is perceived as the principal representative of the UK, so Welsh folk should support the England team as such, for Wales is but a parochial regional team. Perhaps there is a wider sense that England sees itself as the most important player in the UK, whilst in Wales, we see the UK as a partnership of equals, though we are aware that often this isn’t reciprocated. Yet in any case, there was no sense of an England, England is perhaps only a collection of various regional identities that share a British identity, but little sense of what it is to be English itself.

If you look at footage from England football matches from around twenty years ago, the England supporters wave the Union Jack and not the St George Cross. it seems the supporters were supporting Britian rather than England.  Things have changed, at England games, even the England cricket team, you will see St George Crosses everywhere and only rarely spot a Union Jack. It does seem that Englishness is quite a new thing and you meet more people that identify as Englsh these days.

My perspective on these questions is interesting. I am a child of Thatcher, of a prevailing political culture that proclaimed that ‘there was no such thing as society’, culture and communities are not important, to abandon your family and community to seek work, that identity is not something of any value and is a hindrance to economic growth. So Brexit was interesting as the majority of people younger than myself, with no direct knowledge of life under Thatcher were against Brexit, yet the majority of people older than me of whom many remember life before Thatcher were for Brexit. It makes me feel very middle aged! Perhaps it is only the appeal of Brexit to the ‘English’ in that it seems to offer the opportunity for England to become a true nation, to return to identity and culture being valued, whereas in Wales, perhaps especially in regard to the Welsh language, we kind of have known for a long time that such things have value in themselves. Yet Brexit has occurred at a point of flux, during a period where a sense of English identity is still a relatively new concept. We witness the rage of the far-right English ‘nationalist’ movements spurred by hate of others, yet there is much less sign of a considered mature English nationalism.

But what is England? What separates England from Britain? This remains a difficult question to answer, for many never used to not see any difference and why the question of an English identity is problematic. It’s less of an issue from a Welsh perspective, it is easier to pin down things that are Welsh and which are British and where they overlap. Yet as a Welshman I have a dual perspective on England and Britain. To me England is the mixture of peoples and regional identities all the way up to Scotland, whilst Britain is both the shared culture of the people living across the island of Great Britain as a separate thing to the British establishment.

Ireland occupies a special relationship with Wales. I have always viewed Ireland as being our neighbours across the sea and Ireland is no more foreign than England to me. I only feel slightly foreign in uireland in the same way as I do in England. The idea of no longer being able to arrive in Ireland after Brexit without needing to show a passport just seems incredibly odd.

Having grown up under the shadow of Thatcherism, I do not share the sense of belonging to a British state and the British establishment that my parents and grandparents had that was forged in the post world war period and belittled by Thatcherite policies. Yet I feel a belonging to Wales and a sense of being a Briton. My generation is perhaps the last to have any sense of what it is to feel a belonging to the British state, it’s a force I have seen weakened as I have progressed through life.  Those younger than myself surely have very little sense of a shared belonging with the British state, it may be seen to be a relic of history and hence the notion of taking back control from the EU seems baffling. The inept directionless nature of the process of the UK leaving the EU seems but a bizarre sideshow to the the fundamentals of whatever Brexit is; and whatever it is isn’t what the majority of people who voted for Brexit voted for.

I don’t get why the calls for Welsh independence are not being more widely being taken up. Wales as a partner in the global British Empire and sharing in the  benefits and advances that come with being a part of it, I can kind of get my head around. Yet continued membership of the UK now doesn’t offer anything apart from continued neglect and sheep jokes. A neglect that will likely intensify as England struggles to come to terms with itself and which has no money or resources to invest for the future anymore in any case, that Britian is in decline is palpable every day.  The resources Britain took from Wales have not been repaid. Surely, now is the time for Wales to ‘take back control’ to find it’s own way to develop in the twenty first century. Looking across the water to Ireland we see an independent state that has done fairly well free from the shackles of the British establishment, whilst Wales remains as the poor disregarded relation of the powerful in England.

Yet the fact that ‘Wales voted for Brexit’ does suggest that there is an appetite for change, to no longer accept decline. Wales is very different to Britian as a whole and has a very different set of problems. However neither the EU nor the Britain state offers Wales the chance to develop. It is surely time for independence.

 

The Few – Billy Bragg

Children’s telly, literature and Brexit

Britain is over a year after the Brexit vote. The rest of Europe appears to be looking on wondering what exactly it is that ‘Britain’ wants. I think that the answer is that we don’t know. The opinion polls over the past year have remained steadfastly around the 50:50 split on the Brexit question, no consensus has been reached, the British media is still awash with uncertainty and many variants of an answer to the Brexit question. The UK seems to have voted for Brexit with no idea about what to do with it. If there was a clear objective, that would be so different to the confused mess we seem to find ourselves in.

Looking back at the arguments for Brexit, they essentially pool around the idea of greater powers for the UK government to enable a reduction of net immigration. I am all for a decentralisation of political power, though I would argue that the UK is the wrong level for this, I argue for bottom-up democracy and more power for local councils and the Welsh government. However the Brexit debate wasn’t really about this dry constitutional stuff. The emotional side of it and much of the rhetoric of the Brexiteers centred around the idea of British sovereignty, to restore a sense of Britishness.

Which is just plain strange. I am British, born and raised, but being British is only a small part of my identity. I just don’t see the point of trying to expand/ restore the prominence of this identity it once had. The identities of the people of Britain are many, varied and complex, so it isn’t clear exactly what this Britishness we are perhaps supposed to support is.

Many associate Britishness with the British Empire period. The period of history where Britain went around trying to control as much of the world as possible, mainly to create markets for British goods and services, to provide ever increasing wealth for the elite. Some good but a lot of harm was produced though this imperialist period. It is now history and is not going to be replicated anytime soon  and it isn’t anything to feel particularly proud of anyway.

Is it the sense of unity, of a united nation of the British people that had suffered together and won after the UK was dragged reluctantly into the two world wars of the last century. Ever since 1945, the forces unifying the country have been in decline. I can quite understand people wishing to restore the sense of a country working together in common cause again. However, it is difficult to see what exactly this common purpose would be. Politically the UK is a very divided society, it is just very hard indeed to imagine unity for common positive purpose.

Or is it just to be British and increase the common bonds between the peoples of these isles? What I have noticed as I have grown up in Britain is that so many of the common cultural ties have been steadily eroded. Partly this was the result of Thatcherite government and the whole concept of ‘there is no such thing as society’; if there is no society that what is being British and supportive of the state? Bizarrely it has seemed as though it has been the Conservatives who most want to restore this sense of Britishness, yet their party has been the one that has allowed this force to decline, through a promotion of market fundamentalism and corporate power running riot over local needs. This is what makes the Brexit debate so very strange to me.

It is only really possible to truly understand your cultural identity when you go away from home, to experience other cultures, where you begin to appreciate some of the peculiarities of your native culture. you discover exactly what are the common bonds between the British.

One of the first things I noticed was that I was more Welsh than British, that I come from a community that cares more about preserving traditions and culture than a typical British person. I am from a genuinely conservative culture. Yet it is meeting other Britons abroad that is the real eye-opener. You realise that you share a hiraeth, a homesickness and start yearning for some quintessentially British things. These British things are quite traditional, but in themselves are mere nostalgia, things such as tackily British brands of sweets and chocolate, ale, proper cider, tea, greasy curries, cake and other foods. Then while seeking these things with a fellow Briton abroad, you end up discussing the children’s television programmes of our youth. Yet apart from childhood comfort food and comfort television, what else is there, that is British?

As an adult, there doesn’t seem to be as much that is shared in common. Delving deeper, I begin a hiraeth for Welsh culture when away from Wales, and I can only share that with Welsh people and it connects me with my roots. I wonder if the millennial generation, who are much more fervently against Brexit than my generation is, perhaps have an even weaker sense of Britishness than my generation of Generation X has.

Arguably children’s television has become more international, less focused on British cultures. Whilst there may be a shared nostalgia, there is little specifically of British culture in it. I grew up with such programmes as the Trumptonshire series and Bagpuss, which took their cultural references from Britain and a culture that was in itself nostalgic, of a culture under attack from government policy, (after all Half Man Half Biscuit wrote a punk song about it, the ‘Trumpton Riots’ !). Yet such programmes gave a snapshot into the essence of the country, albeit a middle class one as if you help children learn about their culture. This seems much less in today’s children’s television, no sense of what Britishness is espoused.

Sweets have changed too, there seem to be fewer uniquely British varieties of sweets available. So, really what common British culture do the millennial generation have? Perhaps it is because everything has to have appeal to international markets, that exposition of the native culture is over-ridden. There just seems s little left of a common British culture.

I have always believed that it is important to understand and support your own culture. In Wales we have this preserving tradition bug with our language, our music. Yet I also feel an urge to experience other cultures, to listen to other musics. I prefer folk music to the more sanitised global music brands. Today, I was listening to the wonderful Canadian folk song ‘Blackfly’ this led to an exploration of other Canadian folk songs, which was wonderful, I get the songs despite not having been lucky enough to visit Canada. I believe that to appreciate other cultures you also need to understand and appreciate your own culture too [I discovered this guy, from my area of my country at the weekend, I just get his songs so much]. I suppose I grew up being taught both the value of preserving traditions whilst being open to other cultures and new ideas.

In appreciating literature something similar happens. You learn to read, usually with stories about your own culture and then open up with experience to the huge breadth of international literature. I really got this with Science Fiction being my favourite genre. In Science Fiction the very basis of the genre is to speculate and imagine living in different cultures and indeed different kinds of society.

So, recently it has been strange to revert to learning to read books again in another language, Welsh. There is a literary tradition in Wales and books continue to be published in Welsh. It’s fascinating to learn to read again, but also interesting because there are so many fewer professional writers in Welsh compared to English! There is no Welsh language Science Fiction for me to read. So I read books in genres I wouldn’t normally read in English, which is exposing me to new ideas on literature, which is fascinating and helps me appreciate literature in English more too.

I seem to be the anti-thesis of the Brexiteer, the person arguing for more of a British identity. I think cherishing native culture is important and being open to understanding and supporting other cultures, other traditions too. The Brexiteers seem to be a group that value a single narrow definition of Britishness, be against any other culture and want people to conform to their narrow view, including native British cultures. I don’t really get it, it just doesn’t seem British to me.

 

One Wales

I’m still curious to know exactly why there has been this uplift in support for the Tories. I think it’s because the Tories foster a fear of the other, diminishing the idea that we should help people who are not like ourselves, whom we don’t understand, that we are not all in it together.

In any society we often look to other social groupings. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as being curious helps maintain an open mind and exposes us to new ideas. Sometimes Wales is described as having four distinct groups of people: Y fro Cymraeg (Welsh speakers), The Welsh Welsh (South Wales urban communities), the Welsh British (the English speaking rural areas) and the non-British Welsh (everyone else). We may disagree with this classification, but there is I think an element of truth to it.

In political terms these divisions can be used negatively. For example you will often hear such things as ‘Cardiff getting everything again’, that one grouping gets preferential treatment from one political party or another. However we should celebrate diversity and not allow these forces of division to grow resentment as doing so stops us looking for solutions that work for all.

An narrative of this election is why Plaid Cymru are not capitalising on weak performances from both the Tories, Labour and even the Lib Dems. Part of the story may be Brexit, Plaid Cymru were never keen on Brexit, for them it’s an issue way down the agenda, so it is difficult to find a way of clearly describing a nuanced position. It’s much easier to trot out meaningless catchphrases such as ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

I still think the big issue is the social divisions of Wales. Plaid Cymru are still perceived as being the party for Welsh speakers and as such are not for people like us who are not first language speakers. It is easy to forget how powerful a force this is, it suits some politicians to maintain these divisions to maintain positions of power for themselves, rather than seek workable solutions to our economic problems. However when you are an outsider and transcend social divisions you begin to notice that society is not as divided as it is made out to be. Personally, I grew up in Powys and hence am in the ‘Welsh British’ grouping. However I am learning Welsh and have briefly lived in the south Wales. I have experienced living in all four of these artificial divisions of Welsh society. People and the cultures of all four communities are not all that different. When starting to learn Welsh, one of the first obstacles is whether to learn the Northern or Southern dialect, it’s seems a huge decision. However as you progress you end up learning both dialects and quickly realise that the differences are not at all important.

There is simply too much unnecessary division. My political outlook closely matches the outlook of Plaid Cymru, it’s so clear and makes so much sense: Decisions affecting Wales should be made in Wales by the people of Wales for the people of Wales. The reason being that you have to live in Wales to truly know the issues facing Wales and it’s people. From this point we then look outward to forming relationships and working together for mutual benefit with our friends across the border in England and the wider world.

Plaid Cymru, traditionally have support from a considerable part of the Welsh speaking community. Partly because it is clear that not everyone supports the Welsh language and it becomes clear that it is better to work together than seek division. Plaid Cymru are also slowly gathering support from the Valleys, left behind communities that can really appreciate the importance of working together to build things. There is also support from the non-British Welsh, as they often share the experience of discrimination.

This leaves the final grouping, the one I come from, the Welsh British, one from which very few people support Plaid Cymru. However I went on the journey, I was curious to see what things were like in other communities and I liked what I found. This path is open and welcoming for any person in Wales to explore. Wales can be a strong united country. When we go to watch the national team play rugby, football or indeed roller derby, we share that sense of Welshness and togetherness. Yet somehow it seems that when it comes to politics we forget.

I am an advocate of Welsh independence, not because of a slavish nationalism, but out of pragmatism, it would work a lot better than the current UK system. There are alternatives, such as forming a confederal UK and these should continue to be explored, however such considerations are out of our hands, they would require agreement with the people of England and there is virtually no effort towards such aims at the moment. So independence is the main way forward.

Seeking self-government for Wales is for all of us who live in Wales, whether you speak Welsh or not, whether you were born here or not, whether you have a Welsh family or not, whether you are a town or a country person, whether you lean right, left or sideways, whatever division you may wish to lock yourself within, you can transcend and just say I am Welsh, this is where I am, let’s make where I live a better place.

I’ll be supporting Plaid Cymru at this election, purely and simply because there is no other political party that solely puts the needs of all the people of Wales first. Plaid Cymru are the alternative to a failed political system. Other parties place attention to matters not directly impacting Wales. One size fits all policies which do not work for the majority and we in Wales know that we are not in the centre or the majority of anything, so such solutions are very unlikely to fit those of us in Wales. However I believe that if we take the aim of doing the best for all of one Wales, we one of us will benefit.

Wales

The Rivers of Wales

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Coal not Dole

Sometimes you just want to scream. In Britain the media is awash with various talk of competing Nationalisms, stoked by the issues of Brexit and Scottish independence. Public figures make announcements that we should be more or less European, more or less British or more or less Welsh. This is further complicated by each of these nationalisms can be either of two things, civic nationalism and imperialist nationalism. More often than not, the debate centres around distorting what each of these things is, to confuse and blur the issue, to distract from working out what will actually make things better. Perhaps the truth is that is is simply wrong to try and change your identity or who you are, there is no sense in it and there are never purely binary things and we are all different soups of various identities anyway.  Lets get on with something more useful.

Brexit, Scottish, or indeed Welsh independence represent choices. In recent times such choices have been subject to referenda. The problem I have with all the argument and political horse play is that the supposed public discourse has centred around national identity. Really such discourse is not about identity at all, such choices should be made on a rational weighing up of complex economics to choose which is the best option.

If Brexit is the better option than remaining in the EU, great,  I do hope that it is as this seems to be what is happening, the result will be that things get better rather than the worse. However I am not assured at all by what has happened since the vote, because hardly anyone is talking about how it will makes things better. It’s the same with Scottish independence, if it makes things better, then great, do it, if maintaining the UK is the better option then we should do that and make it better.

Then there is the two nationalisms thing. This has really complicated many of the farcical debates we see in our media. Actually I think this is just a manifestation of the old left right divide, the two political wings view patriotism is radically different ways.

On the left is Civic Nationalism, where a nation is defined as all the people who live in a society, with all their various diversity. Civic nationalism argues for equality to give everyone in that society an equal chance and to make things better for everyone.

On the right is Imperialist Nationalism. Here there is a predominant sub-culture with the society and everyone should have an equal opportunity to join that sub-culture, which then expands and thrives at the expense of those who refuse or are unable to join. The pre-dominant sub-culture declares that it’s view of the world is patriotic and if you don’t subscribe to those views you are a traitor.

Hence the left always argue for more support for those that do less well than the majority. If that group thus supported  does as well as any other then no increased support is required. Whereas the right argue that they these minority groups should just join the dominant group and should have no special favours for being different.

coalnotdole

So, why the title, ‘Coal not Dole’. I was up in Ebbw Vale this morning and decided that as I was nearby, to finally get around to visiting the Big-Pit museum. It is a really good museum. The museum is a preserved working deep-pit coal mine, such mines were very common in the South Wales Valleys when I was growing up, so I was keen to have a look inside. The highlight of the visit is a trip down the mine in the company of a former miner to the coalface. The guides both explain how the mines worked and give an insight into what working down the mines was like with great humour and wit. If you visit Wales, I highly recommend a visit and it is in a crazily beautiful part of Wales, well apart from the modern open cast coal mines near by!

Being down in the pit, in the dark, seeing the cramped conditions where people used to spend all day working in dusty conditions, makes you realise what a horrible job working down the pits was. However it also makes clear how mining communities, really were communities, fostering really strong companionships between the miners and their families. My family traditionally were farmers and the farming community, pales into comparison as farming is often a lonely job  and traditionally the only time for socialising was on market day. Farming requires dependence on yourself as you are often miles from the nearest person, whereas mining requires reliance on others for your safety. This is a large part of the reason why farmers tend to be conservatives and miners socialists.

My point is we have national identities as part of our individual identity make-up and identities are stronger where there is a sense of comradeship, solidarity and working together for a common cause.  The mining communities built fantastic civic structures, such as libraries, male voice choirs, brass bands and chapels. Hence the mining communities had a very strong sense of their identity as miners, being a miner was their primary identity.

In the 1980s, the UK government decided to close down the mines. To the miners, this was an attack on their primary identity, so of course they were incredibly angry about it. A massive series of strikes were held, under the banner of the National Union of Mineworkers, which produced the ‘Coal not Dole’ badges; or it is better to work, even deep down in a coal mine than be looked after by the welfare state, which was the effect of the government policy. Today, Blaenau Gwent has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, the effect of that decision is still felt over thirty years later. The miners knew about mining so they should have been listened to, rather than those in their Ivory towers in London.

I can understand how people do feel passionate when their identities are attacked. However with Brexit and Independence, identities are not actually under threat in the same way. I know some people do feel that their British identity is threatened by Scottish independence, or their European identity by Brexit, but I feel that they do not quite understand what exactly identity is. These identities are not being threatened and they are not going to disappear. People in Britain will not be less European after Brexit, nor will Scotland no longer be part of Britain after independence. Britain will still be a set of islands off the North West coast of the European continent and Scotland will still be a part of the British Isles and they will still form part of our identities if they are parts of our identity now.

This is why I don’t get this whole binary argument that you must be for one identity over another. It’s a huge distraction from the difficult task of predicting the future and trying to work out how to make things better. The way to make things better is to make the political institutions better, the Welsh assembly, the UK government or the European Union. All of these institutions could be vastly improved and we need to ensure they do make things better, by being accountable to the communities their decisions affect, rather than winning some pointless argument about identity.