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

Advertisements

Homes and Homelessness

sleeping-baby-dragon_med

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.

 

 

I’m not racist but…

It can often seem very difficult to understand what Brexit is. Yet essentially to understand it requires the busting of a number of myths about Brexit.

Brexit has never been about a rational weighing up of the clearly identifiable negatives of EU membership to the UK economy against the benefits of membership. Neither is it simply a rejection of centralisation and diminished democracy, for that should have happened at the UK level a long time ago.

Politically, Brexit was bought about by the ‘Brexiteers’, the leadership of UKIP and many in the Tory party. The Brexiteers aim was to further the cause of laissez-faire capitalism, to free capital to make more money for itself to the benefit of those already with lots of capital. This can be viewed as simply the self-interest of those with capital, the leadership of UKIP and much of the Tory party.

Capital, or wealth is only one part of an economy. Capital with too much power diminishes an economy, capital alone does not make good decisions, it needs help. A free market is not one where capital calls all the shots. A true free market is where producers and consumers interact to produce a fair price for goods and services and what those goods and services are.

The aim of the Brexiteers has been to use their influence and control of the UK media to further their cause, to pass the blame for the decline of the living standards at the EU’s door, rather than the fault of laissez-faire capitalism itself. After all these neo-liberals have gained positions of power in the UK and have learnt how to manipulate the UK electorate.

The vast majority of the people who voted for Brexit, 52% of the UK electorate are not the people with large amounts of capital, who are greedy for more power and influence. The vast majority voted for entirely different reasons I believe. What most people want in life is perhaps essentially stability and the opportunity to improve things. This stability, or basis for growth consists of three essential things: Cultural stability, Economic stability and Community support. People in the UK are concerned about the decline of these things and the Brexiteers offered them hope for change, whilst the ‘Liberal Establishment’ mistook the issue of immigration being raised again and again ad nauseum to be closet racism, which it did indeed feed upon. The concern about immigration was not about race at all, but rather the issue of immigration was a proxy for the three fears:

Cultural Stability

People within a culture, naturally want to preserve their culture for the good things it provides. A culture can absorb new arrivals and over time the new members will be assimilated into the culture, or their children will. This is eased where there is a willingness to learn about and take part in the culture. However when the levels of immigration are high, the incomers can swamp the existing culture to the extent that it is possible to live in a different culture if those immigrants all come form a different culture. There are then fewer places for the existing culture to exist and the incoming culture can come to dominate. If you are a member of the native culture, you can feel to be an alien in your own home, you lose the ability to predict how your local society will react to events, you lose the cultural stability of your own culture.

This issue is well known about in Wales; there has been the decline of the Welsh language and it’s culture. I also experienced this growing up. My area of Mid Wales had increasing number of retired people moving in from outside Wales. It only became a problem when services and employment for young people declined, forcing the young to leave. This meant that Mid Wales now has the lowest economic productivity of all of Britain, largely because the population now has a very heavy post working age population and few young people to look after them and the loss of the local culture.

The centralised UK economic model has caused the young to move to seek work. The flexibility of the young displaces older people from their work and even their local area.

Economic Stability

People want to secure enough income to be financially secure, to be able to support their family and wider community. To have enough disposable income to be able to participate in the economy, to support worthwhile enterprises in their area, rather than scrape an existence using short-term solutions to make it to the next pay cheque. People also want there to be training and employment available locally for their children to become economically active and hence support them in their old age.

Young adults and immigrants moving to an area, are more flexible and able to tolerate the inconveniences of living in the most inconvenient part of an area. The young and immigrants are more able to take on job opportunities that the established population cannot as readily. The establishment population have cultural commitments and investments that restrict there ability to move and work longer hours. If the local economy is not growing, which is now the case across Britain, then emigration from your home becomes an option, giving you the chance to be the more flexible to out-compete a resident population somewhere else. It presents a tough choice between economic stability and cultural stability.

A lot of the fear of immigration is that the only major growth area of the UK is around London. So the jobs go to the young and other immigrants who are prepared to put up with the huge inconveniences of living in London [having to travel to do anything] and loss of the support of the home culture, rather than come to where there is ample Labour awaiting work, such as the Valleys communities in South Wales.

Community Support

The great thing about communities is that they have enabled humanity to move beyond subsistence farming, to pool skills and resources to create modern societies. In a declining economy people are concerned that there will not be a hospital bed for them if they become ill, that there will not be a good school place for their child. That should some disaster hit their family then the community will not be able rally around to help them overcome it as they are overburdened by struggle themselves.

Then there are immigrants, that they will place additional demand on social services. The Liberal economist will say that this doesn’t matter because as the population grows, there is  proportionally more money for services and service levels can be maintained. However, this academic economist is talking about an ideal theoretical world. The current reality in Britain is that Social services, such as Schools and Hospital receive a lower and lower proportion of the nations money pot anyway. So, incomers will indeed put additional strain on services. Incomers also tend to require more from Social services as they haven’t built up the social capital of community support or cultural investment.

Racism

I don’t believe a lot of the racism that exists in the UK is not purely racist. Racism is prejudice towards people of a certain race. There is also prejudice towards people of different religion, hair colour, cultural background, religion, height and so on. People are people and to be prejudiced against someone for their race makes no sense, for what does it matter what colour a persons skin is.

A lot of racism is by proxy. People will see a decline in their cultural stability, economic stability or community support and when immigration levels are too high to their area this is noticed. Instead of laying the blame at the political for not investing to equalise opportunity everywhere, they will blame the immigrants. So when those immigrants happen to all be a particular race, that label sticks and over time does develop into genuine racism.

In the UK, immigrants tended to live in the poorest connected areas of cities, the most inconvenient places to live. Areas where the native population wished to leave if they could. So over time these areas became culturally dominated by certain groups, often becoming the dominant culture. It is absurd to expect a dominant culture to integrate to a minority culture without strong motivations for doing so. This was so much of twentieth century urban problems in Twentieth Century Britain. By that point racism from the native population already exists, which acts to pull the discrimated against communities together, reducing the strength of motivation to explore the native culture, which is now a journey away anyway.

But…

It doesn’t have to be like this. The Brexiteers can be stopped. We can start valuing our own cultures again, we can provide economic security to all and use that to encourage real economic growth. We can ensure our communities are supportive of all their members again, rather than a privileged few. The answer is the slogan the Brexiteers used under false pretences; Take Back Control. What we need is decisions made by the people for the people. Not to produce some socialist utopia, but to ensure that there is balance in all things, between Capital and Labour, so capital can be used to invest in things we all need, rather than used to make the majority poorer. Create balance between Public Services and Free Enterprise to maximise the economic efficiency of our communities. To ensure that every region can survive and thrive, because it has strong support networks, freeing peoples time and energy to pursue innovation and economic growth. To not allow things to become inefficient through centralisation of control . To spread wealth around, so everyone can use a small bit of the capital generated to support their own families and  communities. To do this we need democracy and decision makers to be truly accountable to their communities, rather than an elite few. We need power to reside in communities, within areas like Wales, so we can grow and make our lives more secure year on year, to not allow any individual politician to cut themselves off from those communities, that is why we need independence in Wales and indeed we should apply the same principles everywhere. We should shift from laying the blame on people who are in some way different to us to those who made the decisions that caused our loss of culture, economic stability or community support and thus regain our freedom.

 

More Democracy

In the UK we have been in a situation where a small minority actually support the government. A larger minority vote for the government of the day, but only do so because they dislike the alternatives more. This isn’t democracy. A lot of people are fed up of it.

The problems of modern capitalism are fairly established as I see it. Western democracies were lucky that over the last century that technology and innovation produced enough economic growth that even those on low incomes quality of life improved. However we are now at the point where economic growth is sluggish at best and there is a decline in living standards.

It often seems as though people are more prepared now for change, to sweep away the failing establishment that has no answers. We have seen a rise in those who aren’t from the traditional political establishment. For example the rise of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote and support for Jeremy Corbyn. These populist causes have drawn support as being agents for a change from the established order.

There seem to be parallels with the 1930s, where political extremist causes both of the right and light of politics rose in prominence, offering the hope of a return to normality. However such extreme visions do not lead back to normality, but further away from it, such as Communism and the Nazis. While these extremes can gain popular support they don’t actually offer real solutions to the ails of populations, but rather offer a short term solution to a perception of the current problems.

The solution is simple better democracy leading to solutions based around the actual political centre of a society, where everyone is part of the system and buys into the system, creating patriots. Patriotism is really nothing more than I’ll help you if you help me or the idiom, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine, it’s basically society that is necessary for organising ever more efficient use of dwindling resources. This patriotism need not be confined within a nation but extend outwards in looser arrangements.

The difficulty is that such radical centrists advocating more democracy, are often viewed as part of the establishment and not offering the chance of genuine change. I don’t think it has to be simply regime change, replacing one lot with another, but placing accountable politicians in power controlled through the democratic process.

Party politics is too much about winning power and retaining it, rather than exercise of that power for positive transformation of economies. If a politician argues for a policy but it is rejected then that politicians is of as much value as the one whose policy happened to be right or more popular. Democratic discourse should be about ideas and not a battle between movements.

True democracy comes from the bottom-up, so having smaller political bodies increases individuals voting power and forces leaders to live in the communities they govern. In large countries like the UK, the ruling class don’t have to live the life of ordinary people, so have no interest in ensuring the schools are the hospitals work well. It just seems that smaller countries, like Iceland or the Baltic states seem to do much better than the big ones. I don’t see what big states are for anymore. Supporting democracy is not about a desire to be separate, the reality is the reverse to create more accountable democracy that simply by being more accountable will aid economic growth.

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

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.

 

The Future – We’re all in it together

This is perhaps the craziest general election the UK has yet had. Never before have we seen such swings in opinion polls during the six week campaign period. Never before has support swung around Labour and the Conservatives, making it seem like a really binary choice again. It has also been another election to decide an internal matter about the EU within the Conservative regime.Yet it is again a negative campaign, stoking a fear of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour against a fear of Theresa May’s Conservatives. The mantra has always been towards me to vote Labour to get the Tories out for the sake of the country, no matter how poor the Labour party is So often British democracy has failed it;’s people and returned woeful UK government.

The difference this time is Corbyn. On one side there is not another slick soundbite machine or voice of a professional PR unit. Corbyn is a genuine principled politician, who only accidentally ended up as leader of his party and that is very rare these days. Yet he is a leader of a party so blinded by the mantra of electioneering that they have not supported their own leader.

In England there is no alternative, so if you live in England, vote Labour.

However we have an alternative in Wales in Plaid Cymru. A party with principles and a good leader. The Labour party in Wales has not delivered for Wales and have not supported Corbyn against the the far greater threat of continued Tory misrule. In Wales we can vote for a united principled party that has the best interests of all of this nation at heart, not just the bits that happen to historically have backed the Labour party. A vote for Plaid Cymru, isn’t a compromise of settling for keeping the harmful Tories out, but a vote for a positive outward looking future.

I know not everyone is convinced yet and in Britain we are so used to this voting for the least bad evil. This needs to change too. We desperately need a proportional voting system, to enable government to get decisions right, to find a working consensus, to not leave minority groups decide on future direction.

This is what the party stands for. Not seeking separation or division for the sake of it [?], but to tackle the systemic problem of why our government always gets things wrong. To seek change that will change the system for good so we get the right decisions for our communities and our economy. That does mean greater autonomy for the Welsh government, but also greater accountability. It means electoral reform. It means a return to looking at how wealth is created by our society, rather than as a product of diminishing society.

In the UK in the last decade there has been growth in GDP of the UK economy. However, the people of the UK (apart from a small capitalised elite) have seen our spending power fall. The proceeds of growth are not being fairly shared. We need to change this. The political system is not delivering for the people of Britain, yet this is precisely the role of the political system.

In a democracy, if you want change, you should vote for it, rather than accept an unhappy compromise of things perhaps not being as bad as they could have been. We need to look for positive change.

TO give a practical example. The health service. The NHS in Wales is not efficient, because it has no spare money to invest for the future. It’s inefficient because it employs agency staff as doctors and nurses at a higher hourly rate than those directly employed within the Health Service. These health care workers travel long distances to get to where they are needed each day.

The solution to this is not to stump up more cash to maintain this system, but to change it. If we can train more Doctors and Nurses in Wales, then the number of potential Doctors and Nurses in Wales will increase. If those workers then find they can live a comfortable existence and raise families, they will stay in the areas where there skills are required. The problem has been that there has been no investment in staff or future staff provision. Importing workers from outside of Wales, at great cost, instead of investing for long term sustainability. Of course trained staff are free to go and work wherever they want to, however we shouldn’t perpetuate a system where such workers feel they have to move elsewhere to work even if they don’t really want to.

 

Regular readers of this blog, they will know how much i write about the perils of seeing things in binary terms. It is just two overly simplified ends of an issue. If the other end exists, then this one end can never be wholly right. The question is always about finding that fluctuating balance point somewhere along the line. Binary political systems where you have to vote a specific way to keep the other lot of extremists out is just wrong. You should always be able to vote for your first preference without doing so risking your worst option getting in.

The level of debate, spin and misinformation at this election has been appalling. As indeed it was for Brexit. Surely, now is the time for some form of proportional voting system, to save the UK from itself. How much longer must we choose between two parties we don’t like.

The recent swing towards Labour in the polls and the big squeeze on support for the other parties has put me for the first time in my voting life in a marginal seat. This time it may make a difference which of the two binary options I vote for or if I choose to vote another way. The other way being a kind of rejection of the choice of a lesser of two evils.

It is a dilemma. Elections should be about building a national consensus, not dividing the country between two extreme visions and leaving one lot of extremists in total control for 5 years, a tyranny of a minority group. What else is this election but a battle between polar opposites for the moderate voter and the non-political voter. Of course neither of these two parties want to discuss proportional voting systems because they’d rather have the opportunity of power, which a big part of the problem and why modern electoral systems strive to prevent one party tyranny.  There is massive support for proportional voting in political circles, it is what the UK needs more than anything, more than Brexit, more than reducing net immigration, because it allows a country to use democracy to make the right decisions, build consensus and start making the right decisions and allowing for real long term investment in the future, to not leave one specific type of people in charge, we need government to work for everybody

The whole UK election process is very disheartening. I do favour Corbyn much more than May, even if only because he does honestly answer questions, rather than avoid them and change their view from one day to the next.  We do need the Tories out of ultimate power based on minority support. It would be nice for someone with principles to lead the country, rather than yet another political careerist. Corbyn  is coming from the right place, broadly he wants to fix the worst aspects of the UK economy, and he does seem to be prepared to compromise on areas where his views are not well supported. So if you do live in England, vote Labour!

Of course we in Wales, as in Scotland, have another choice, other parties to vote for, who believe in the importance of consensus for society in general. So if you are in Wales, vote Plaid Cymru on Thursday.

 

 

Unity, not division

To many of the politically engaged the fact that the Tories are getting over 40% in the opinion polls seems very strange indeed. How on earth can a government this bad be storming to victory in the UK general election? The answer is that democratic elections are never decided by the politically engaged, but by the  larger part of the electorate that isn’t interested in politics. The politicians themselves have learnt this.

So we suffer the mantra of ‘strong and stable government in the national interest’, repeated endlessly in lieu of an answer to any question. It’s seems just mad that the government can simply declare themselves to be strong and stable without any evidence to back these claims. It is repeated and repeated, it’s becomes part of the background hum of everyday life and perhaps to many not engaged with politics then take it on board like a truth.

It is so easy for those of us politically engaged to be surprised at this. It is so easy to forget that for many elections are the time to try and get a feel for which lot, which political party seem less incompetent at running a country. Largely I feel they do this by listening to the media and their own social conversations, largely to assess which political leader seems to have the edge.

In an ideal world, the politicians would present their vision and their policies and argue for them. The media then scrutinise what the politicians say and their policies and present more in depth coverage of the issues. However this happens less and less these days, as a repeated lie until becomes a truth has been found to be far more effective at ‘winning’ elections. A particular problem British democracy has is that the mass media, television and newspapers blatantly support the Tories and skew the scrutiny in their favour. For example, Mr Miliband’s [Labour] energy cap policy derided by the media in 2010 is now championed by the very same media when that policy now comes from the Tories.

I spoke to a lifelong Labour voter last week who felt she couldn’t vote for Mr Corbyn as she didn’t feel she could trust him. Yet she didn’t say the same thing about Mrs May who has no stronger grounds to claim trust. in a personality battle I would suggest Mr Corbyn shades it:

Strong

No-one has actually defined what exactly a strong leader is. I think it’s something like a determined leader, someone who will get things done whatever the opposition. Defined thus, Mrs May has this quality. However not listening is also a weakness and can mean a stubbornness to pursue bad policy. Yet Mr Corbyn also has this quality, the strength and the stubbornness,  having held firm to his beliefs over the decades and been on the right side of history, whilst Mrs May faltered. What perhaps is important is the reasons behind being stubborn, for the sake of your career or to defend a principle.  Mr Corbyn has had to deal with a media and half of his own party determined to undermine him at every opportunity, yet he has continued, that is a strength.

Stable Government

Again a very spurious word to define politicians. Stability can be defined as resistance to change, that the government will endure whatever may happen. With the likelihood of  a supportive party who falter to uphold their own principles to remain in power [I believe the Tories are ditching conservative values], as a government they may be described as stable, but not for any innate properties of themselves, merely their own circumstances. Corbyn on the other hand has been incredibly stable, in his views over the years, it is his party that has been unstable, still recovering from the machinations of Blairism. Unlike May Corbyn appears more willing to listen and find a compromise between not betraying his beliefs and getting things done, such flexibility aids stability in politicians.

In the National Interest

What? This is the Tories who’ve run this country down at every opportunity, selling off the family silver to their pals, only to loan it back at extortionate rates of interest to the people, further crippling us. The streets are full of the homeless, food banks, the NHS are barely coping, housing costs have rocketed, education in decline, a weakened economy and all thanks to thirty years of unchecked right wing government. Whereas Corbyn seems a little more concerned about the country as a whole, his gets things wrong, but the checks and balances will hold Corbyn to a stabel path, more than May and their narrow focus on people such as themselves of the Tories.

I just think that on a clinical assessment of character, Corbyn should be walking this election. Yet he isn’t. The Tories and the media make out Corbyn to be some radical communist who would plunge the UK into some kind of Soviet style planned economy. Whereas to those on the outside he is a mainstream moderate left wing politician and one who would have to dilute his moderate aims in government, to gently start the work of rebuilding this divided broken Britain, rather than continue the work of division and destruction, of us against them, of a minority hegemony always getting it’s own way and blind to the need for balance.

We have had fairly hard right wing governments for 38 years in the UK. The people of Britain have forgotten what a left wing or even centrist government is like. We have had government that have ruled for the minority of right-wing people, now any left wing government would be for the good of our society and everyone within it, a correcting government. The miners dispute which started me thinking about politics is now almost two generations ago and the sense of patriotism and community that connected us all with those communities has largely evaporated. It is the grandchildren of those who said ‘Never trust the Tories’ who are now voting who know no different Britain. The right wing minority has manipulated the people and the economy to maintain a grip on power to the great detriment of the this country and even managed to lay the blame on the EU for its own failings.  So much so have they been successful at this that people are now prepared to vote for the very people who made the mess in the first place, just to resolve the Brexit question which isn’t as important as it has been made out to be. So now we face yet another election, merely to resolve another internal issue in the Tory party. We have no balanced choices anymore, just more extremism or less and we do want less extremism don’t we?

It’s to wake up and say ‘Stop’. The British Isles now needs a radical change in how we do things. Those of you who read my pages here will know that my solution is taking back control, for genuine democracy and self-government. Somehow, we have to get this message through despite the London and Tory centric mass media, despite the Tories illegally throwing vasts amount of money (that they swindled off us in the first place) back at us to secure their continuing hegemony. Wake up Britain!

Being British

I survived and indeed thrived in a week doing everything in the Welsh language. Dw i’n wedi blino iawn ac mae fy ymynedd wedi toddi [I am really tired and my brain melted]. The most amazing thing was I now know that it is possible to live in another language, which is incredible for someone who was monolingual for so long. More on this nes ymlaen [later on]. Sorry I’m still thinking of saying things in Welsh before the English! It was also lovely to spend a week away from the UK general election and finally get around to visiting some of Edward I’s castles in North Wales.

Disturbingly, the first thing I noted was an opinion poll putting the Tories on 40%. Huh? . This just makes me feel so sad after a week in a really positive community. Have people really forgot what being Welsh and/or British is?

You don’t really know your connection to your country until you live away from it for some time. Long enough to pine for the things you love about your home. Most of the time it is just the native sweets and chocolate that aren’t available worldwide, but it’s also other things like: church bells, proper chips, cask ale and cider, the incredible naffness of the screech of the wheels of a Pacer train going around a corner, Indian restaurants, the National Health Service, the 2p games at the seaside, afternoon tea, BBC Radio,  the bizarre but lovable traditions that have been maintained and the general sense of what somehow holds British communities together.

Yet, all these cool things about Britain are under threat, not by immigration, not by the EU, but by this continued obsession with right wing corporatist government, placing the interests of a wealthy minority above everyone and everything else. I do think that the vote for Brexit was simply an expression of the frustration of losing the things we love and a sense of helplessness about it which found expression with Brexit. But why oh why oh why are people turning to the Tories, the very people who caused the losses and the people who continue to perpetuate them?

Wales is different to the rest of Great Britain, which is made up of so many diverse communities, but we have so much in common. I am Welsh and Wales has it’s own history and peculiarities, yet so does England and Scotland. We should not get bogged down by what is different, but simply celebrate our diversity and enjoy living amongst so many communities in such a rich and varied island. We should never accept a single definition of beimg British.that there is only one way of being, one economy to prioritise or only one language we should use.

It is time for the people of Wales and the rest of Britian to just wake up and look around at what is happening to our society, to be Indy Curious and seriously think about autonomy for Wales, to be open to new possibilities. Why stick with the Tories? You don’t keep taking things out of communities to give to those already wealthy and put nothing back into the communities that generated the wealth: closing schools, closing hospitals and community groups struggling for resources are signs of failure, not signs of success. To use a farming analogy, you don’t keep growing crops out of a field and put nothing back into the soil and then wonder why your yields get worse every year, you nurture the soil, you put fertilisers back into the soil, you put back into the soil what it needs to enable it to produce food. It’s exactly the same thing with communities, you plough back in investment, you improve services for the future, to enable those communities and their economies to thrive. This is what Wales badly needs as do communities all across Wales, Britain and indeed the whole world.

Yet, Theresa May rabbits on how much she says she cares about unity and the United Kingdom, when in reality her policies will continue to cause harm to the things she claims to care about and then has the gall to attack those groups who are fighting for their communities.

To advocate an independent Wales is not about seeking separation or  being somehow anti-English. I seek autonomy for Wales because what Wales needs is simply not being provided by UK government and there is nothing to suggest that this will change anytime soon. I love Wales and I love Britain. I want Wales to be able to look after itself to survive and thrive, just as I want other communities in Britain to thrive. With autonomy Wales would be empowered to work together with communities across Britain, to share ideas and re-build British communities. Seeking Welsh independence is the most pro-British thing that there is. I want every community to succeed and to achieve that means helping your own community first. Supporting the Conservative party is about division, taking away power from communities and giving it to the rich multinationals. There is nothing wrong with large corporations, but they just have an unfair advantage at the moment. A large supermarket chain can force out local butchers and other local businesses, whom are often more efficient than the big corporations.

So, lets wake up Wales and the rest of Britain, let’s take on the spirit of Owain Glyndwr, who rose up against the oppression British communities by the English establishment. It’s time to really take back control and stop voting for this lot of corrupt Tories. It’s time to work together to preserve the traditions of Britain and embrace the future with open hearts.

1280px-Glyndwr's_Banner.svg

The Flag of Glyndwr

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.