English for Plaid

Tony Greenwood comes from north London. He's voting Plaid on May 5th

 

Peter Ryder, born in Middlesbrough. Moved to Wales from Hull.

 

Graham Wild was born in Oldham, lived in Birmingham, but now lives in Llanddulas. He's voting Plaid on 5th May.

 

John McCabe, former Merseyside County Councillor, moved to Wales from Liverpool.

 

An Englishman in Wales

Why do some peddle the myth that being pro-Welsh independence means you're anti-English?

Proud Englishman and living in Wales, Journalist and travel writer Mike Parker post from Plaid's WalesCan.com website.

Cast your mind back to 2007’s Assembly elections. What would you have learned about them had you been dependent on the output of the London press and broadcast media? Next to nothing, for the “forgotten contest” (as The Guardian described it, while simultaneously failing to do anything very much to un-forget it) took very much a back seat to the same day’s polls for the Scottish Parliament and the English town halls.

The Scottish election, in particular, was followed rigorously from London, but for one reason alone. The SNP were considerably ahead in the polls and managed (just) to maintain that lead into forming a minority government at Holyrood. To the British (i.e. English) media, the build-up was war. They hit the nuclear button, filled their pages and airtime with often-hysterical doom-mongering about how this would break up Britain, shatter consensus and pitch Scots against the English in a way not seen since Bannockburn. As something of an anorak about such matters, I read the coverage extensively, and cannot recall reading one positive affirmation about how the situation could be anything other than a disaster in the making.

This is always the starting point for the debate as to what kind of political settlement the countries of the UK should be seeking in the twenty-first century. To be pro-Welsh or pro-Scottish independence is automatically inferred to be stridently, even violently, anti-English. You love one so much, you have viscerally to hate the other. It is only ever presented in such stark, oppositional terms, black-versus-white with no tinges of grey, and it does us all a huge disservice. It is perfectly possible to feel passionately fond of all the countries and cultures of our islands, to want to see them all thrive, without having to believe that the anachronism of the UK is the only way to achieve that.

For it is an anachronism. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was explicitly created in 1801 as a product of, and engine for, the industrial, military and colonial age, functions it has unswervingly fulfilled ever since. Two centuries on, we should have the courage to recognise that that era has drawn to a close, and seek to work out the best blueprint for our collective future. On balance, I fervently believe that the best option would be in Wales, England and Scotland going their own ways. Just as people should not be imprisoned unnecessarily, neither should natural nations. And each of the three is a natural nation, one that has been consistently defined – geographically and culturally – for more than fifteen hundred years. It doesn’t get a lot more rooted than that.

Last year, I had a book published – Neighbours From Hell? – about the historical attitudes of the English towards Wales and the Welsh. Researching it over four years pointed me ever more firmly in the direction that Wales deserved to be in control of its own destiny. The book contains many of the more headline-grabbing put-downs and withering asides that have been made over the centuries, but you could, of course, find those in any culture’s assessment of its nearest neighbours. What was much more revealing to me were the patterns of cultural and political misunderstanding that had percolated down the ages like a particularly wearisome version of Chinese Whispers. These had barely changed for the best part of a millennium, and they all sprung from a common root, namely the absolute inability of the English establishment to understand the heritage, aspirations and differences of the Welsh. To be governed by a power, however well-meaning, that never has understood you, and never will, is the ultimate in cultural and political impotence. It also does no real good to the power that’s doing the governing, proving an eternal and annoying side-show distraction.

Of course, to be an Englishman in Wales saying such things brought the inevitable slew of heated invective my way, from excitable monoculturalists on some nasty websites decrying me as a traitor to my own country through to a letter in block capitals that wished me all manner of ill. Again, it all had to be supremely polarised: none of the ranters could begin to appreciate that my perspective came from a profound love of my native country (England) as well as my adopted land (Wales). It really does not have to be a fight to the bitter end, where one side has to beat the other into bloody submission. It has best been summed up, I believe, by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who said of the ambition for his country’s independence, that “England stands to lose a surly lodger, and gain a good neighbour”. A re-alignment of the relationship between our countries could have massive benefits for us all, the English included.