The Welsh National Interest


By Syd Morgan and Alan Sandry, Welsh Nationalism Foundation

British nationalism is a characteristic of both the Labour and Conservative parties. Of course, Conservatives and Liberals created the British Empire but Labour finally embraced it during World War I. They preserved it at the zenith of its expansion during the inter-war years. We saw recent evidence of this political synchronisation in the House of Commons vote last month when Labour's "Brit Left" sided with right wing Tories and Ulster Unionists to isolate the UK outside the EU. Labour and Tory MPs here also claim that "what is in Britain's national interest . . . includes Wales' national interest".

In response to this canard, it is essential that the Welsh national movement deconstructs it, despite the fact that it is rarely if ever challenged by the 'Welsh' media. We further contend that a substantial missing element in our independence narrative - which goes way beyond mere British devolution - is a true realisation of the importance of the European Union dimension to achieving our Aims. We are not alone in wanting independence. This is not just about fashionably aping the present favourable political situation in Scotland, encouraging though that this (as we describe below). Developments only last month confirm other progress across Europe.

Flanders, too (almost as geographically close to us as Scotland), is on its way to freedom, and is, perhaps, even ahead of the Scots. In early October, although Plaid's EFA sister party, the N-VA, was frozen out of the new Belgian government (despite being the largest state party) by Belgian nationalists, more powers are being given to Flanders. 25% of federal tax income will now be passed to the Flemish parliament, which will also gain further competences over employment and highways. The N-VA says this is a missed opportunity, leaving "the most important socio-economic levers in [Belgian] hands". We know that feeling.

The hard worked-for October announcement by Basque militants, ETA, that it is giving up its 52 year military campaign across Euskadi, is expected to further galvanise civic nationalists there. Plaid's EFA sister party, Eusko Alkartasuna (EA), is a leading member of the Bildu alliance of radical nationalists which pressurised ETA to stop. Bildu won 25% of the vote in May's municipal elections, gaining control of Gipuzkoa province, including the mayoralty of the Basque capital, Donostia (San Sebastian). ETA's announcement clears the way for the debate on independence for Euskadi -  already the 'region' with most autonomy in Europe - to become wholly democratic. So we await this Sunday's all-Spain elections with interest.

We're part of a flotilla of sub-state nations (technical term) moving towards Member-State status, the current legal definition of independence. (Plaid's previous version was Dominion status). The latest EFA-sponsored conference "From Stateless Nations To Nation States" on 9th November shared experiences on economic revival, practical steps towards member-state status and maximising the opportunities for devolved governance within the old states - providing another major opportunity for comparison and solidarity across the EFA 'flotilla'. It, like previous initiatives on this theme, confirms that the arc of history is bending towards national freedom. Yet the media here did not even engage in the debate. It is also pertinent to ask if parts of, or individuals supposedly within, the national movement have been sucked into the Cardiff Bay power cluster, seeing little further than London W1 - or Edinburgh EH99 - to the exclusion of sister movements beyond this island.

Part of the reason for ignorance about Wales' relationship with the rest of Europe, we contend, is the almost total failure of 'Welsh' journalism. It's a disgrace, for example, that BBC 'Wales' has all those hacks in Cardiff Bay and the imperial capital yet none in Brüssel where we have a great objective interest. Trinity Mirror, controlling our two dailies and many weeklies, is just as bad. ITV Wales is our only media organisation which uses Brüssel-based journalists.

In response to the 'Scottish Spring', there's a suggestion by veteran journalist Gareth Hughes to hold an early national independence referendum here (although we could just as well follow the Catalan framework of municipal initiatives). As good republicans we welcome legally-binding referenda but think his stratagem is currently premature. Later, when the Anglo-centric UK media wakes up to Scotland and the debate gets going across 'these islands' as they say, we will see a sea-change in public opinion here. Compare, for example, the Yes vote in 1999 (+0.8%) with the huge majority earlier this year. It is an axiom of Welsh politics that our people will not want any less than the Scots. And when the SNP wins, will we really want to be re-incorporated into a "United Kingdom of Southern Britain & Northern Ireland" - perhaps renamed "Ukipia"?

Welsh nationalists should ponder on the cultural earthquake which will result from there being no political entity called "Great Britain". No more Team GB. Redundant 'GB' stickers on cars. The cent will finally drop that it's only the name of this shared island. Like early 19th Century Italy, it will revert to being a mere geographic expression, no more resonant with imperialist rhetoric. Wales will, through this new channel, sail towards independence. That political debate will also confirm, in our view, that Labour is the foremost British nationalist party. They will resist the deconstruction of the UK state - as they did its previous major change, Irish independence, in 1922 - partly out of self-interest but also for ideological reasons. Labour believes in "Great Britain".

Our forthcoming publication Wales: An EU Member State and the framework for Welsh international and defence policies based on our research project Options for Peace will further add substance to the concept of a Welsh national interest. These will build on the expanding body of academic work which has underpinned the aspirations of sub-state nationalist parties since the launch of European political foundations in 2007.

There's much more work to do. Our aim as a Foundation is, no less, to (re-)create the political dynamism of civic Welsh Nationalism in its European and global context. And for it to replace the British Labour narrative which currently holds political, cultural, economic, media and institutional hegemony across the nation.

© Sefydliad Cenedlaetholdeb Cymreig / Welsh Nationalism Foundation, 2011