Unionism vs Devolution

 

EU,-UK-and-Wales-flags

Or Centralism vs Separatism

In terms of the political creed these words represent they are ultimately inconsequential. Though in political debate in Wales these concepts loom large. I will argue that fundamentally there is little difference between the two. so what on Earth is the debate about? Yet this week a political shower has been thrown up in the debate about how powers that the EU will longer have responsibility for post-Brexit are devolved to the UK. Notably agriculture and the environment. The issue is that these areas are currently the responsibility of the Welsh government in UK terms, but most of the rules and regulations are currently set at EU level.

Unionism in a Welsh context means supporting or furthering the union of the United Kingdom. Unionism, party politically, is generally the preserve of conservatives and right wing people and tends to favour the British state (the UK). Whereas Devolution is generally the preserve of the left wing people and favours decision making made at a more local level, Wales or it’s regions.

On principle, I am neither a Unionist or a Devolutionist, it’s one of those spectra things I keep talking about. It’s an area I am a good Social Democrat and take a centrist pragmatic position: In a democracy power should reside at the lowest sensible level and then consensual passed up to wider bodies where the benefits of mutual cooperation and economies of scale are manifest. In today’s Wales I am regarded as a Devolutionist as I believe that centralised big government has too much political power.

The thing is, locally accountable decision making is a good thing and so is cooperating more widely. A functional democracy should in theory achieve the optimum balance over where responsibility should lie for decisions on any issue. I can’t get my head around why there seem to be so many people adopting the extreme fundamentalist positions on this, that either Devolution is bad or Unionism is bad, when the answer is neither, they are both good, provided one doesn’t go too far and balance is achieved. If you adopt the extreme position and enforce it then no-one can stop you when you go too far in ideological fundamentalism over practicality.

The case of Welsh agriculture is one of the areas that is  currently being debated. Largely because the UK government have faffed around indecisively so much with Brexit that suddenly decisions have to be made without sufficient time to debate and scrutinise them. If you are European you will be aware of how the EU subsides agricultural production in the EU. There is an awful lot wrong with how it is done, but the systems have been adapted to. Brexit presents an opportunity to improve agriculture in Wales and the rest of the UK, but handled badly could lead to a disaster, especially as the UK haven’t committed to continuing the subsidy system as is until a better system can be put worked out and put in place.

Welsh farming is broadly very different to that of a typical farm in the UK as a whole. Wales mostly consists of clayey uplands, which are generally poor for growing crops, but fantastic for grazing. So Welsh agriculture in the industrial age has adapted to be dominated by Lamb, Beef and Dairy production. In contrast with much of England with flat well drained soils, more suited to growing crops and producing Pork at industrial scales. Hence it seems sensible to have differentiated policies for how these different farming systems are regulated.

On the other hand there are benefits of having common rules and standards for mutual benefit. There is no reason why the UK government can’t produce a system that works for farmers across the UK. However there is no-one with the power to decide whether the benefits of common frameworks outweigh the losses of bespoke systems for Welsh agriculture who also has sufficient understanding of Welsh agriculture. That power should not reside with the centralised authority.

Really, this whole discussion is Brexit in a nutshell. It about this friction between unionism [top down power] and devolution [bottom up power]. The EU makes the decisions about agriculture and they don’t work terribly well for Wales. If it wasn’t for the EU’s ability to cut off Welsh produce from European markets by imposing tariffs, then the case for devolving responsibility to Wales would be fairly clear cut, Brexit or no Brexit.

The EU has spent 40 years centralising and increasing the size of it’s government and failed to identify areas where decision making would be better returned to regions. The people of the UK had zero chance to have a real say on the structure of the EU until Brexit. If you deny people a voice and then then give them a once and only lifetime chance to take power back, it is hardly surprising that people in Wales voted for Brexit. That was the clinching argument for a few of my friends. They wanted to remain in the EU, but felt they had to make use of their only opportunity to say no to what the EU has and is doing. Conversely people like myself are reluctant Remainers because we knew that the Tories were incapable of delivering a sensible Brexit that would improve things. It wasn’t really a question about membership of the EU at all! So whenever anyone asks that I should ‘accept this Tory Brexit’ I say ‘no’. It is impossible to discern what a majority decision of the people of the UK would be, what we collectively want, from a simple yes/no vote to two possibilities of which the majority wanted neither. What it did perhaps suggest was that the British wanted more devolution of decision making, or more democracy, so that the relations between Wales, the UK and the EU can come to  work better, yet that clearly isn’t what it going to happen from the Brexit process.

It’s almost the same sort of relationship between identities, or geo-political identities. My prime identity is Welsh, secondly it is British and thirdly it is European. Any other way of expressing my identity makes no sense to me. What this means is that my primary interest is seeking the economy of Wales to improve, I would also like the whole of Britain to improve too ( a little bit less and as long as it isn’t at Wales’ expense) and thus I’d like Europe to improve too for everyone benefits( again a little bit less and as long as it isn’t at Wales’ and Britain’s expense). So, decisions about Welsh agriculture should be made by the Welsh government. Where common frameworks can improve things across the UK, great, I would expect the Senedd to sign up to any such common frameworks and at a European level too, provided that there is a net benefit.

What I don’t get is what I perceive as the  Brixiteer or British Unionist position of UK first, then Wales then Europe. This only works if you are a member of the British establishment and you want the British establishment to exceed at the cost of the British nation, which seems to be what the Tories want. People outside of the establishment, why pick the middle one as the primary one? Any other combination makes little sense, such as European first, then Welsh then British. It’s not just a Welsh thing, I have friends who have Yorkshire or Norfolk as their prime identity.

The question of who should make decisions about agriculture, the Welsh government or the UK government, should be established democratically, to get the balance between centralisation and establishing  beneficial common frameworks and devolution and delivering bespoke local solutions right. Yet this isn’t how this debate is working, though this is how it should. What seems to be occurring is this facile debate between British unionism and Welsh devolutionists, when we don’t actually disagree about any actual issues, just where the decisions about them should be made, locally or at the top level. We have a centralised big state favouring Tory party and a centralising big state Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party, when Britain is imbalanced too much in favour of big state centralisers and has been for a long time. And we’ve just had a Brexit debate where devolution won over centralising decision on decisions making at UK or EU level. To follow Unionist arguments to there logical conclusions the UK would be signing up the the Eurozone, Schengen and every centralising initiative as The EU also has a U in it. It’s bonkers, yet people, such as myself arguing for Welsh independence get labelled as separatists, when that isn’t true at all.

I’m British, I have nothing against the union of the UK and I love Britain, it’s my home too which is why I care about it. I know of the benefits of having common sets of rules to facilitate trade and other things, I’m an internationalist who would love there to be no borders anywhere in the world. Simply, there are lots of challenges to face in things like Welsh agriculture in a world of climate change and a global shortage of agricultural land and we need to make the best decisions we can about that, which means listening to what Welsh farmers need, establish where, if at all, divergence in regulations is important, and I don’t trust Westminster as an institution capable of getting these things right.

That is ultimately what the whole Unionism / Devolution debate is about, It’s perhaps not about where best to make decisions, but who do you trust? I don’t trust Westminster or the EU. I don’t trust most of the the politicians in Cardiff Bay either. However the politicians in Cardiff are mostly people who live in Wales with a vested interest in making Wales better, because they actually live here in our communities, they visit the places we visit, some of them know what it’s like to live (or at least spoken with those that do) on an upland farm, so I trust them more. The argument against taking control back, seems to be that Westminster doesn’t trust the Senedd, that perhaps because they label the Welsh as separatists, they think that Wales might make decisions to diverge from sensible practise, purely for the hell of it to ‘spite the English’ or some reason, when it would make Wales suffer economically, which is just daft, perhaps they think this because they don’t live here and are thus basing decisions on a prejudice. It shouldn’t be about who you trust less, it should be about democracy and enabling a sensible assessment of where pooling rules works and where it doesn’t, when to join the union or the club and when to go it alone.

 

 

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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

Homes and Homelessness

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I am continually torn in doing this blog. One the one hand I feel I write too much about politics, when I could be writing about much more interesting things and on the other I just feel continual rage about how inept UK politics is and perhaps need somewhere to vent my spleen quite regularly.

I have written quite a lot about Brexit, largely as I feel it is symptomatic of the core problem at the heart of Britain, our failed political establishment. For it is not only Brexit. The thing that gets me more upset and angry is the issue of homelessness. Yesterday some Tory twerp talked about how 19th century ‘vagrancy’ laws should be revived to move away the homeless from the streets of Windsor so the UK doesn’t reveal to the world how, well, rubbish we are to the world, in not having a decent society, when people  tune in to watch the Royal Wedding from Windsor this summer.

What particularly incensed me was the suggestion that Windsor has ‘attracted’ lots of homeless people due to the higher number of tourists. Obviously, this twerp doesn’t get out much. Every town and city in Britain has a lot more homeless people on the streets than there were. Every day walking through any British town you are repeatedly asked for help. I’ll wager Windsor is a long way from being a special case. Anyway, if there is money to put on anything more than a simple church ceremony for Meghan and Prince Harry, then that money should be spent on housing people. It’s a much bigger issue than Brexit, if only the government would eradicate homelessness we would all be much better off than any possible gains from Brexit. It is simply embarrassing, that homelessness isn’t the number one issue when there is such a crisis and ever increasing numbers of people have to rely on food banks when there are many with plenty of wealth in the UK. And then, even then, the idea is trotted out that people ‘choose’ to be homeless, like sitting in the cold and damp with no money and nothing to do all day is seen as a viable option.  We could all so easily be homeless in Britain: you are unlucky to lose your job, you miss the next months rent payment as the costs of living is so high, few can actually save money for a rainy day, let alone invest and then unless you are lucky enough to have family and friends with a floor for you then you are out on the street. It’s all so unnecessary.

I have tasked myself with trying to understand right wing people and more importantly what possesses people to ever vote for the Tories. Sometimes I appreciate that arguing doesn’t often work. People get set in their thinking and can’t listen to argument. So it is important that we use stories, to make things personal, to establish an emotional revelation. I am a deep thinker, I will have argued to the point of accepting an idea many many times before I believe in it. Yet, one emotional event that makes me feel as though an idea is right, will make a belief stick. It is those moments that have changed my thinking. What worries me is that people perhaps have the emotional resonance without the solidity of the rational arguments first. Or at least not feeling that it is important to check that the emotion has some basis in coherent argument.

Socialism is easy to understand, as it’s a movement to create a better more efficient society. For your home to be more secure, allowing you more time to be creative and give you time and energy to improve things. We all need homes and the better our homes are the better and more productive we are.v Yet now, most of us work away from teh communities we live, we waste time travelling, rather than doing. Okay, think about extreme possibilities, eventually, a socialist society would get to the point where society could regress as too many people take the easy comfortable options and the economy would falter. Surely we should create that society first, no-where in the world or in history has got to that point yet. In any case there are always people who don’t like comfortable options. Too much of anything  is simply a theoretical possibility and one that will generally get dealt with, before it is approached; especially if you have a functional democracy. Pragmatism, and opening eyes to what is going on in the world around you trumps looking for a far off theoretical possibility.

Toryism to me seems to be simply giving up on society, saying that nothing can be done and all we can do is do whatever we can to look after ourselves and immediate family. It’s saying that we would love to help, but all the other people wouldn’t help so it would be somehow morally wrong to help. Somehow these Tories claim to love their country and the people within it, yet they don’t feel they should do their bit too and they pretend to look down upon others. Perhaps the idea is that those who are lucky enough to end up with capital will spend enough of it to help their communities, but this has been shown not to happen, the rich give less proportionally of their disposable income than the poor to help others. To me Toryism is such a self-defeating doctrine. Forcing yourself to subscribe to their odd sets of rules to succeed in their games, to not be yourself to keep a hold of a comfortable income and find a weak excuse for why other people somehow actually choose to be poor. The Tory home is a castle for keeping everyone else out and all the energy is spent on fortifications, rather than building new things. In the 1980s the Tories sold off the council housing, to fund bigger walls for themselves, rather than the good of the economy as a whole. I don’t understand how Tories can justify this.

I am a Welsh nationalist, because I believe in society and the family of communities that makes up Wales, Britain and the world. To make a start improving society again I believe we have to get back to basics; making sure everyone has a home and enough to eat is surely possible in a world that has the technology we now have. To get to the point of things getting better we have to change the way politics is done, because the current system isn’t working; there are homeless people on our streets. So we need genuine democracy. Nation States, like the UK are too big to be governed as a single entity from a centralised establishment. It allows an establishment class to be cut off from ordinary people. The very last thing you want is the decision makers not understanding everyday life and the real economy; we could do with less career politicians who know how to do PR, rather than win arguments. So government needs to be smaller and more accountable. Hence Welsh independence, because Wales isn’t too big, it would be difficult to live in Wales and not have some idea of the issues effecting all the different regions of Wales, whereas in the UK we see decisions made that make things harder for Wales and then Wales get blamed for something it has no control over. Lets awaken the baby Dragon from her slumber, awaiting a home fit for her.

Which brings me to this whole Brexit con. Yes the UK leaving the EU, potentially, theoretically, gives the UK the chance for greater democratic accountability and more opportunities to improve. Yet, that isn’t happening anytime soon, until we get rid of the Tories and embark on genuine reform of democracy. i see Brexit as a wolf in the clothes of democracy. So, why are so many Tories so keen on Brexit, whilst denying any possibility of giving back control to the people of Britain? [where is the clamour for political reform?] It’s a power grab, from the very people who already have too much power. They can divide and rule and run the UK economy into the sewer to further amass capital for themselves. But eventually, all emperors fall. We need to start preparing for when they do fall, rather than wait whilst society crumbles, to start building the homes for a future democracy to live in now. We need to take back control, to re-build politics and our society. We need to re-build Wales, Britain and the world. Eventually we all get sick, our company goes bankrupt or some natural disaster happens. That is why we need society, we need those who were fortunate to have escaped the bad times to be able to help the unlucky, because next time it’s likely be the other way around and you or your kids will need someone able to help.

 

 

Free Democracy

Having written recently in defence of free markets I have realised that it is as, if not more important to defend the concept of free democracy. Free markets and free democracy work to support and maintain each other. Democracy exists to check and balance the power of ruling elites in the interests of the population as a whole. However establishments have effectively repressed free democracy as much as they have free markets.

Early democracy, from ancient Greece up to the twentieth century was merely a way for various factions of established elites to form systems of laws over larger geographical areas, largely in their own mutual interests. In the UK it wasn’t until 1928 when all women finally got the vote and the UK was emancipated by every adult having a vote. Thus the ideal of a free democracy has existed in Britain for less than a hundred years, which isn’t very long at all and free democracy is still struggling to become established.

Everyone having the right to vote, has only been the start of this process. The UK is still mired by its parliament still being elected through the arcane FPTP (First Past The Post) electoral system, which hasn’t been reformed at all since 1928. The problem has been that the electoral system maintains two large established parties, that each in order to gain political power has to become centralised and advocate one size fits all solutions. Gaining power became the aim of the political parties, rather than advocate best policy.As such it is  not free democracy as each voter either has to vote for one of the big blocks they prefer to the other one or vote for third parties that rarely gain any influence.

Essentially, in 2017 there is still no free democracy in the UK. The problem is that one size fits all doesn’t work very well, especially in Britain where economic power is centralised in the South East of England and influence diminishes the further from London you are.

There should always be a trade off between a one size fits all solutions and local solutions. Having one set of rules for the collective does produce efficiency of scale and ease of trade and economic development. However where there is divergence sometimes the advantages of collectivism are less than those of local or even individual solutions.

For example, in Wales there have been efforts recently to have a standard way of organising high school education. The idea was that generally high schools needed to have over 600 pupils to run effectively and efficiently, to be able to offer a good range of courses and facilities. However in rural areas this doesn’t work, the cost to the individual pupil who has to commute over 40 miles to their ‘local’ school every day outweighs the advantage of having the option to do a specialised subject. Furthermore the monetary cost of the transport soon outweighs the efficiency saving of the school, not to mention the days of schooling lost when transport arrangements occasionally fail through mechanical breakdown or inclement weather. Often the decisions made on how best to organise  urban schools do not apply to rural schools, but urban elites often don’t recognise this until it is too late in the process.

My point is that the rural population, should have their voice heard on what is the most effective way of arranging schooling of it’s children. However in a centralised democracy the urban votes are often enough to get any policy through.

There should be effective ways for local populations to have their needs addressed. The onus is on the centralised bureaucracy to listen and also meet the needs of different areas. To achieve this there needs to be a free democracy where legitimate concerns are accounted for. The centralised state should ensure all its population reap the benefits of collectivism. The best way to achieve this is local democracy or bottom up power. If ever a country or a region starts to have greater costs than benefits of being part of a collective it has the right to self determination and take back the control of education or full autonomy.

Historically the Uk has been poor at caring for their whole realm and Western democracies do not have the democratic arrangements for power to be returned to areas when required. There is currently no arrangements in law for Wales to be able to reclaim autonomy, just as there isn’t in the Kurdish region, in Catalonia or anywhere else.

The reason Western democracies haven’t developed as free democracies is historical. The modern large nation states were formed to create large militaries, to defend themselves against other aggressor states and to extend power and influence in the wider world.

In the last century the UK and the USA have used military force to promote and defend ‘democracy’, whether in Korea, Vietnam or the Middle East. Arguably such wars were falsely under the flag of democracy, but really to gain or retain influence on parts of the world, especially the oil producing areas of the Middle East. The last Iraq war wasn’t even under the false flag of democracy but to remove long range WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) from Iraq, which were subsequently found to not actually exist. In consequence Iraq is in more of mess now than it was under a dictatorship.

Yesterday, Catalonia declared its independence,the Spanish establishment used force to disrupt their referendum on taking back control. The established traditional Western Powers who have been harking on about the greatness of democracy for most of the last century have declined to support democracy in Catalonia.

Seeking autonomy for Catalonia instead of remaining in the Spanish family of nations should always be an option for the people of Catalonia. The onus is on the Spanish state to ensure the regions cultural distinctiveness is respected and feels the benefits from being part of Spain. That the Spanish establishment failed to make it clear that Catalonia was valued and instead sent in police to beat up Catalans carrying out democracy was deeply concerning. Surely democracy should be supported at all levels.

Political power should always be consensual and free, nations should always be looking to cooperate and come together for mutual advantage and help each other to support free markets and yet always be aware of the risk of exploitation and accidental repression. If Catalonia wish to be independent, which the evidence suggests that they do, they have the right to do that. If at some point they wish to rejoin Spain, or cooperate in some areas that should always be an option too. Free democracy works when it is fluid and capable of reacting to change, the world is always changing. Free democracy is about free choice and not slavish worship of political establishments under the banner of nationalism, whether British nationalism, Spanish nationalism or wherever.

In the UK, getting movement to free democracy has always been difficult. Establishing the Welsh government in 1998, the Scottish independence referendum, the Brexit vote. chances of actually voting or expressing a choice on issues is still a very rare occurrence. It is precisely because we rarely get to express a choice is evidence that we do not have free democracy in the UK.

Quite often electorates make odd decisions, like re-electing the Tories again  and again. Democracy is tyranny of the majority, and when you are not in the majority you just have to put up with it. However sometimes, you realise that sometimes the majority comes because of people a long way away and that isn’t right. The question then becomes is it worth the hassle of leaving the union to to get better decisions and sometimes it is.

Really if the UK population had had votes on the EU before, such as on the woeful Lisbon treaty,  then the UK would likely have a very different relationship with the EU and not ended up in this bizarre process of Brexit today. The EU itself only seems to be able to centralise power and never return it to regions, thus it is not a free democracy, which is partly why so many in Wales voted to leave the EU.

Free democracy is the best system we have of ensuring economic development and free markets and preventing powerful minorities corruptly establishing cartels, we should welcome any move to increase the freedom of democracy and thus support the new Catalan state on its move to greater democracy and we may dream of the time that we can all have freer democracies where we live.

cymrucatalonia

Why I am not a Tory

I am a Social Democrat, a centrist, so I both get the idea of conservatism and socialism, yet view the two as both being fundamentally flawed when applied in the extreme. A good economy an da good society is I believe best achieved by taking elements of both creeds and applying a pragmatic analysis of what works where.

So, part of me is conservative and I know many conservatives, yet I kind of feel pity for them because of the Tory party in the UK. The Tories post-Brexit immigration plan leaked this week, it is just so typical of the kind of ill-thought through damaging policy I expect from the Tories, it’s so extreme, which should be an anathema to conservatives.

The issues with the Tory party is that is a party with three competing dogmas struggling for dominance: Firstly, old school conservatism which hasn’t had the chance to develop, and has become the backdrop, or a shared idea between the other two factions:

The market fundamentalists, neo-liberals or whatever label you wish to apply. The belief that markets can solve every problem, that all the world needs is less regulation and less services to be prosperous and healthy. It’s simple and a pure idea, but it just doesn’t work.

Then there are the nationalists, the people who hold that there is an exclusive club of people, of people just like them, or people who are prepared to act like them who deserve all the fruits of labour of society. This British nationalism harks back to the glory of Empire, of Imperialism. People with the idea that they’re lot arer simpler fundamentally better than everyone else for some unstated reason.

The problem for the Tory party is that these two beliefs are incompatible with each other. You can’t have an anarchy of free trade and provide protection for your privileged group, the idea of ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’ that we hear mentioned so often these days. What perhaps holds the Tories together is that it was once possible to square this circle, Empire!

The British Empire was essentially a large free trade area, controlled by the British state, which was run by the privileged classes. So there was free trade and protection at the same time. The days of Empire have gone but the Tories get stuck thinking that somethign similar can still be achieved.

This war between the Tory factions has often bubbled over on the issue of the Common Market, The European Community and now the European Union. The Nationalists hate the idea of the UK being subservient to a supranational organisation, yet some of them believe that it is a modern equivalent of the Empire; a large free trade area and protections for the privileged few, provided you are on the top table of the club. The nationalists however really dislike the social side of Europe, the community aspects of the club, the regulations. That the free trade aspect means that EU citizens come to the UK and have successful careers appals them, simply because they are not like them. This group have never liked the EU, because they have never been in enough control of the Eu to satisfy them.

On the other hand the market fundamentalists have mixed views of the EU for different reasons. They like the free trade aspects and want the EU to less regulated and more fundamentalist (these groups loved TTIP and CETA) and also this group hate the social and community side of the EU, not because they hate other people but because a working community rubs against their fundamentalism.

Generally both groups of Tories have, have mixed views of the EU, but have a mistrust of it because they don’t have full control over it, like they do with Westminster government in the UK.

On Brexit, Britain exiting the EU, the two groups are really coming to blows as neither group can get what it really wants, the British Empire back. The market fundamentalists eye up a deregulated Britain that can be the most market fundamentalist state in the world. However they are constrained that Brexit also means losing access to the huge free trade area of the EU. This group want access the the single market and also not have to obey the markets rules. This group could probably get a deal with the remaining EU that would suit their dogma, but the nationalists want somethign else:

The nationalists want very strict immigration controls, hard borders, restrictions to free trade and protectionism and this is the opposite of what the fundamentalists want. Hence we have this internal war within the Tory party, constrained only by the innate conservatism of their membership.

The divisions within the Tories over Brexit and lack of a coherent Brexit plan encapsulate the whole question of the EU. Outside of the Tory party the people of the Uk are also divided. There is the social EU and the market fundamentalist EU. The left object to the market fundamentalism and the right to the social Europe. Traditionally the political centre supports the EU as a mixed bag as it balances these two competing forces, which is what centrists want. However the EU isn’t perfect and even those of the centre have misgivings with it. My support fro remain is the the EU is better placed to provide some balance than the UK is. After all both the EU and the UK are supranational organisations. There can be no good Brexit until the UK has electoral reform and the Tories and Labour are kept out of absolute authority.

The recent EU, post Lisbon treaty has been ‘free’ movement of people within the EU, which is a new concept in economic terms. People have rightly objected to this free movement as it doesn’t deliver economic growth, it perpetuates problems. For example the UK doesn’t train and retain enough doctors and nurses, so the UK imports them rather than make sure it produces enough of them domestically, however the immigrant medical professionals only partially go where they are most needed.

It’s this ideological dogma that causes many problems, there are very few genuine free markets. Trying to impose free market reforms on imperfect markets doesn’t work. Look no further than the UK railways for examples of overpriced poor quality service in comparison to similar states. People may desire Brexit for ideological reasons as the EU is far from perfect, but there is no mechanism at the moment to make markets function better outside of the EU.

I’ve lived under this dreadful Tory party my whole life and I’ve never understood why ordinary conservatives and centrists have kept propping them up in election after election. Partly the FPTP electoral system is fairly rigged to keep the Tories or someone very like them (‘New Labour’) in power. Really the Tory party are the very worst people to be attempting to negotiate a workable Brexit solution.

Hopefully the Tories will collapse, but don’t bet on it, their resilience  is astonishing. Maybe, just maybe, we can but hope and we can forget this whole Brexit business, reform our electoral system, have autonomy for Wales and have decisions about our communities made for the benefit of those communities, to cooperate as widely as possible, to make decisions  that make economic sense; essentially to give democracy a crack!

 

Welsh Country Rap

Moving back to Wales and finally getting around to learning the Welsh language has made me look again at my native culture in a new light. As a younger man I did wonder why so many people don’t have as ‘eclectic’ or wide ranging musical tastes as I do.

I grew up in rural Wales and like many rural cultures is deeply conservative and that is part of me. The culture promotes self-reliance, because services are usually far away and difficult to access. So there is a tendency to take personal responsibility for your daily needs. For example, I have ingrained the idea of keeping enough food in my kitchen to survive a week, in case of bad weather and inability to access food shops for a period (such as heavy snow or flooding). Rural folk tend to seek support from their family and neighbours should they hit trouble and wider statewide structures are seen as unreliable as they don’t cater for the specific needs of the community.

In contrast, the urban dweller tends to rely on easily accessible services, such as using public transport and tend not to have the space to have all their needs on hand, the need to pool and share resources more widely. Large towns and cities don’t get their electricity cut off for days or the internet going down for extended periods which rural people are more used to. The town person has to be more reliant on public services and hence strangers, than the country person. There is also the issue of space, the country person has more space and in consequence can store tools and supplies to an extent that the urban dweller cannot

Music is about cultures, in particular folk music, describing the trials and tribulations of life within cultures. There is a tendency of different genres of music  to be associated with different cultures. The example that comes to mind is that of Rap music being of the city and Country of the countryside.

I like all genres of music, but sometimes they don’t quite fit in with our surroundings. When listening to some Rap in the countryside it doesn’t fit, the beats do not chime with the wide open spaces, whereas Country does seem to blend in more with the landscape. However even if the music doesn’t fit it can still be enjoyed and appreciated. It is possible to enjoy a song about the hot summers day in the cold and damp of winter.

It’s not merely the music, it’s the lyrics, the words. Songs from rural areas are about life in the country and songs from the urban areas are about life in the town or from the perspective of the town. So, if you listen to a song from an artist from your own culture and locality, then there is a greater likelihood that the song will resonate with your own experience, to touch your soul in a profound way. However music from other cultures and traditions can still be enjoyed, indeed some feelings, such as emotional joy or loss are universal. However, some ways of viewing the world are culturally based, so resonate more deeply.

There is a tendency for people to predominantly listen to music from their own culture, certainly in the case of my parents and grandparents generation. I could never understand why people seemed not to be open to hearing about other cultures and different ways of  being. Perhaps a certain exercise of the imagination is required, to suspend reality to temporarily immerse yourself in another culture to appreciate what they are saying. Or it may simply be that the resonance with our own perspectives of the world, our own culture is such a warm, life-affirming feeling compared to that of the relatively weaker emotions of listening to songs from other places, that many people never make the leap to being able to really appreciate the music for what it is.

Furthermore in a conservative rural culture, that is more physically separated from interactions with other cultures in daily life and one that ascribes value to its own culture, the opportunities for such immersion are rarer. This, to such an extent that a concert by a visiting artist, may simply be an enjoyable experience but not be enough for the music to resonate in daily life.

Rural Wales is still much more limited in it’s exposure to other cultures than for more urban populations. Yet in my experience the rural conservatism of Wales is much more open minded, and less judgemental of other cultures, for example in comparison with the Southern United States, the home of Country music. There is an appreciation that things are different a few miles down the road and more so further afield, that we shouldn’t expect to be able to judge other cultures without understanding them better.

Perhaps the principle reasons for this difference between Welsh rural cultures and those found in England and America, may be due to their relation with the state they are a part of. British and American culture has sprung from the imperialist expansive culture of a world power. Such cultures where preservation of native cultures are not seen as of value or important. For example the scant regard of the British for the Welsh language and culture and historically a lack of respect for Native American culture by the American state.

Whereas Wales has lived beside the giant power of England for all of modern history, yet many in Wales have passionately defended Welsh culture and our language from the ignorance of lack of regard from the centralised British elite. As such there is a tendency for the people of Wales to understand the feelings of oppressed minorities everywhere, for example the people of the deprived projects of America that gave birth to Rap music. Or it may be just that Wales is small and minority groups within our culture are less easily ignored.

As both the power of influence of Britain and America decline, there is perhaps an understandable realisation of the perils of a culture under threat, particularly if it’s built on foundations of dominance. As such we see crises in these cultures and a desire to preserve them. Associated with this is a reduction in valuing cultural diversity as this suggests itself as a way to preserve a culture. We can see evidence for this in Brexit and the language of Donald Trump. These cultures are new to feeling their culture threatened, whereas in Wales we have a very long history of feeling our way of life threatened. You don’t get anywhere by being fearful of diversity or trying to escape your own culture, the best way is to embrace both, embracing who you are as a person and embracing everyone around you.

As I keep harking on, binary choices are a false choice. You can like Country music and Rap music, You can be a conservative and a socialist. Understanding other cultures only deepens your love and connection with your own culture, in music and perhaps everything else. My perception of people ignoring diversity, wasn’t a conscious choice, but merely a example of a the false tendency to fear the unknown, rather than find more out about it. To conserve a culture by defending it through fighting against other cultures doesn’t work. Conserving a culture comes from an appreciation of other cultures and using that energy to enrich and grow our own cultures.

 

For some examples, listen to some: Welsh Rap,  Welsh Country or just revel in some strange Welshness. Mwynhewch/ Enjoy.

 

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.

 

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.

#Llangennech School

I did say I was going to write about why supporting Welsh independence wasn’t  nationalism. However I’ve constantly seen this issue flare up on my media feeds over the last few weeks. Really it’s merely a storm in a tea cup. Yet the whole furore is kind of a case study of how discussion of events becomes ugly very quickly these days, with many wild accusations flying around, even arguments about motives for appealing for calm! Both sides of the argument accuse the other side of being nationalists, whether ‘Welsh nationalist’ or ‘British nationalist’

IActually there is an interesting discussion to be had about this topic. The difficulty is that a reasoned argument is buried quite deeply beneath the froth of opinionated voices.

Briefly the situation as I see it is that there is a Welsh government policy to increase provision of education in the Welsh language and have bilingual schools as this has educational benefits. There is also the option to be educated solely in the English language in Wales too. The school on Llangennech is currently dual stream, there are two cohorts of pupils, one being educated bilingually and one in English. The local council have decided to phase out the English stream and make the school a full Welsh medium school, when the current English cohort have progressed to high school.

The complaint seems to be that those families wishing to educate their child in English will have to apply to schools a few miles outside the village and these schools may have to expand. Of course it is usual in any community to resist change that makes life more inconvenient for people in those situations. This is just local news. However it has kind of erupted into mainstream mass media.

If only we lived in a perfect world. Having education in two languages does present challenges, particularly in rural areas. The problem is that small schools are being closed due to budget cuts, with children having to travel further and further to get to school anyway. In reality the educational problems in rural areas are far greater than those faced in the more populous Llanelli area. So, when primary schools are split by medium of education depending on parental choice these distances can further increase, which is detrimental to education.

From my perspective having gone to school in Mid Wales, these Llangennech families are lucky in that they have a school on their doorstep and have the choice of alternative schools within a few miles if they want an alternative. Such things get forgotten in the heat of these arguments.

Because of the rural nature of much of Wales, sometimes dual stream high schools is the only sensible option as the next school may be 30 miles or more away. However there is an argument that dual stream schools are detrimental at a primary level (5 to 11 years old). Detrimental, because one cohort are being taught in Welsh and for children from English speaking homes language immersion is important for the children to develop skills and confidence in the Welsh language, especially where there is little or no Welsh spoken in their homes. It is also detrimental to the English cohort who will be surrounded by a language they are not being taught the skills to be  able to use that language. So, from an educational perspective ending dual stream primary schools makes sense.

The educational matter doesn’t get discussed, the process of finding solutions to challenges. Instead we have a media frenzy where one side gets accused of being anti-English and the other side accused of being anti-Welsh. Whereby people are allegedly forced to speak Welsh or forced to speak English. No-one is forcing anyone to do anything, can we not all just get along with each other and find solutions that work for everybody? It would seem not.

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What incensed me was an article in this weeks Western Mail (the supposed ‘national’ newspaper of Wales). The article reported that someone had slashed  a cars tyres in Llangennech, perhaps as a consequence of the heated discussions. However the article featured a picture of two ladies holding a Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh  Language Society) banner in support of the councils decision. The point is simply having Cymdeithas yr Iaith associated with tyre slashing, suggests that they are responsible for the tyre slashing without a shred of evidence. This false connections just inflame the debate, rather than report what is going on. The newspaper have since apologised, but the damage is already done. The ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ that the modern mass media thrive on. We live in the world where if you repeat the same lie often enough, large numbers of people who don’t dig any deeper begin to accept it as fact.  We see this sort of thing going on the mass media and in social media, all the time, its just sickening. We are living in a post-truth world.

It just seems a part of all these division the mass media seem to relish stirring up. We have the Brexit divisions, everything seems us and them, so when you are somewhere in the middle and just want a practical workable solution, your voice is discounted,  it is unsettling and just seems quite quite mad. I am neither  for or against EU membership, I am not a fluent Welsh speaker (yet), nor am I completely disconnected from the Welsh language. If you’re not binary, you somehow don’t count. Well, we all count!

It’s this debates never truly end thing. There is a tendency to make things binary by going back to first principles, whether it’s the re-awake the language debate or the EU debate. Hence so much energy is spent re-hashing old arguments that there seems very little space left for: Ok, there is a broad consensus, how do we make it work and where do we go from here? This applies both to education and Brexit.

There is evidence to suggest that children in Welsh medium education, from non-Welsh speaking homes do have a tendency to struggle. Such children should be identified and given extra support and by and large they are but some do fall through the cracks, which is where the wider community can and should help. This is what pressure should be put on, not on attacking the existence of the supposed ‘other side’. These children can be supported by the Welsh speaking community and as part of that the English speaking community can help the Welsh speaking community.

Sometimes in some circumstances, like when a child from an English speaking home doesn’t receive the support for schooling in Welsh, the best option for that child is an English medium education and that option should be available just as readily as a bilingual education. Generally in most of Wales, the nearest school is an English medium school. What is desired is the option of bilingual or English medium schooling to be accessible wherever the child lives in Wales.

It is entirely possible for everyone to work together for mutual benefit. It’s called society, where we all have the time and space to develop new ideas, increase efficiency and grow our economy. We do not have to go through deciding which side we are on and then struggle to fit in because hardly anyone   actually fits in with a rigid interpretation of that sides philosophy. What is important is the children’s education, giving them the skills to succeed in the world, not to be pawns in someone else’s pointless battle.

This is Wales, some of us speak Welsh, if you don’t like it, get over it, no-ones forcing you to stay, yet of course you are welcome to stay if you wish to!

The problem with Liberals

On these pages I have often described myself as a Social Democrat and not a Liberal. These two political doctrines to the outsider appear quite close, yet I feel there is fundamental difference between the two. This difference is why I have a problem with liberalism.

Social democracy and Liberalism share some common world views. Perhaps most importantly that society should work for everyone, it is worth repeating, everyone; black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. However the two doctrines differ in how this society is to be realised. Social Democracy advocates working out what the centrist position is from first principles, whereas Liberalism finds the centrist position more relatively, based on prevailing public opinion. This relativistic stance is to me the weakness of Liberalism.

However, as human beings we are relativistic creatures, how we think, how we behave and what we value is determined socially. This social determination is guided by our families, our social peers and the communities we grow up in. The views of the world we hear around us, shape us. There is natural desire to compromise with prevailing views in a society, to ‘fit in’ and find our own space. To be able to compromise, you have to be able to understand and be prepared to be persuaded by arguments if you test them and find them convincing.

In many ways Social Democracy is the tougher discipline as it prescribes picking apart all this social fabric to get to the fundamental issue. Social Democracy is thus a cold discipline, relying on logic and reason,  can seem devoid of feeling. Yet it isn’t cold as the aim is to provide something for everyone. This criticism also applies to Liberalism, whilst the Liberal will listen, they may lack empathy as they are trying to work out where the centre is, rather than understand each individual.

Both the Liberal and the Social Democrat are a little jealous of those away from the centre on the left and right wings, the Socialists and Conservatives. Jealous, because the wings don’t have to think so much. To the wings political positions come easily, certain arguments just fit naturally with how they think and the opposite arguments seem alien and incomprehensible. Centrists often run into this problem that they don’t always get a reasoned argument for something. So often an argument will rest on an appeal to a common sense that runs true with how they think. The problem with such rhetoric is that is doesn’t extend beyond like minded people, to the centre or the ‘other’ wing. There seems to be this rise in division and the recent development of Nationalism in Europe and North America that raises serious concerns. I blame the Liberals.

Partly it is because the Liberals have moved from the centre, where us Social Democrats still are, towards the right as it has appeared that society has moved to the right. Electoral success has been the reward of this drift. Tony Blair, was essentially a Liberal, as were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Here in the UK, the Liberal Democrats found themselves in a coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015, for the good reason of providing stable government. However, the Liberal Democrats failed to do their job as a coalition partner and went native with the Conservatives, to the horror of Social Democrats and Socialists, the ‘Liberals’ had let us down, again. It was not unexpected, Liberals, with their mode of drifting to the centre ground, working everyday with predominantly right wing Conservatives would lead you to shift your perception of the centre quite far rightwards, which is what happened.

Liberalism may he partly the cause of the recent rise of Nationalism, of Brexit and Donald Trump. Once you start drifting in a certain direction currents often speed you on in that direction, because nationalism is very good at subverting human nature.

<Slight tangent in case anyone is getting confused, I am supporter of Welsh independence, or “Welsh Nationalism” as some like to call it. We are not “Nationalists”, it’s just not the same thing, ok? (maybe I’ll expand on this next time!)>

The problem with Nationalism is that the worldviews and opinions of the people who surround in our lives, in our communities, our desire to fit in and to work to make things better are essentially positive. For social animals everyone doing their thing and working with the people around us to improve society is simply a good thing.

However, the sly fox of Nationalism achieves it’s end of replacing the ‘good of the community’ with the ‘good of the nation’. So instead of being inspired to improve our communities, we are inspired to work to improve our nation. This is not the same thing. Nations are somewhat artificial constructs and do not seek to help people, they have a life of their own and play around with our notions of self and community. Nationalism when it arises, often has a scapegoat, a group to blame for the nation not being as mighty as it could be, be it the Jew in 1930s Germany, the Socialist, the immigrant or the Muslim in recent times. This right wing nationalism, relishes competition, which is actually bullying as it slowly works it way through society, the narrative subtly changes until you find yourself in a totalitarian state, like in George Orwell’s ‘1984’. The Liberal just adapts in this environment, the Liberal remains in the social centre, even though this social centre is now way off balance. For the Conservatives, they don’t notice the true horror as to them at last society  is  chiming with their own worldview, they feel as though they have won something and even the Socialist may be happy as it appears that society is at last demonstrably ‘improving’. But, to those able to be Social Democrats and to those on the outside, it is a nightmare.

Whether we are truly caught in the  Nationalism trap in the UK and USA, is perhaps too early to say, but all the very worrying signs are there: There is stoking of fear of ‘foreigners’, the scapegoating of  minorities in particular Muslims, There have been elections won by populist extremists and possibly more to come in France and the Netherlands. and when we are told that these people win, so we now must conform to whatever they want to do, to be good “patriots”…

It just seems like that many people have forgotten the warning from history about Nationalism, that Orwell wrote about in ‘1984’. Even in Germany, the country that most painfully learnt the lessons of the perils of Nationalism, some 80 years ago, is seeing the rise of Nationalism. Remember ‘Ignorance is Strength’ & ‘We are at war with Eastasia, we have always been at war with Eastasia’.