So, what makes Wales a nation?
Part of the answer is history. I don't mean the history of (a glorious, independent insert here whatever adjectives you wish) Wales prior to the conquest by the (wicked, evil, insert here etc.) English. That isn’t the reality. Welsh unity was a rare commodity – the Welsh, just like the English, were somewhat prone to fighting amongst themselves much of the time, and for most of its pre-Union history, Wales was a collection of warring princedoms, with an occasional flash of something approaching unity. Nothing exceptional in that – much of England’s history (and for that matter, most of Europe) looks pretty much the same, although England seems to have achieved a greater degree of unity earlier in its history.
Paradoxically, it seems to me that the part of history which establishes what ‘Wales’ is is precisely the part which was intended to extinguish it – namely the Act of Union itself. It was that which defined our territory – not on the basis of language or descent, for many 'Welsh' people of the day would have found themselves in England – but on the basis of a de facto recognition of where authority lay at the time. To be Welsh in this sense is to come from the territory marked out as Wales at a particular point in time, no more, no less.
History is also about shared experiences, some of which are capable of detailed examination, and some of which become a sort of folklore. But a common understanding of where 'we' came from is certainly a major part of the definition of nationality.
The second part, and probably the more important, is self-identity. We are Welsh because we believe ourselves to be so. We may have three million different reasons for so believing – some use language, others geography, others their interpretation or understanding of history. We support the national teams when it comes to sport, we (mostly) support the idea that the Welsh language belongs to this piece of geography in some vague way even if we don’t speak it, we take a certain pride in our national flag and other symbols of nationhood.
That combination of geography and self-identity gives us some sort of common cause, and means that most of us would oppose any attempt to ‘regionalise’ the UK on any basis which did not recognise the historic border, even if we are not nationalists in the classic sense.
But just as we have to selective about our history to justify where Wales is, we also have to be selective about self-identification to justify the concept of Wales as a nation. What if the people of Ynys Môn, for instance – an insular breed at the best of times – decided to self-identify as a distinct nation? Would that be enough to make them a nation? Or what if the Welsh-speaking majority in a handful of counties in the West and North decided that they were a different nation, and wanted an Assembly to run their own affairs? If ‘self-identity’ is ultimately the most important factor in determining nationality, what is the logical basis for rejecting either of these scenarios?
Of course, the boundaries of the UK are the result of the same sort of historical processes as formed the boundaries of Wales, and self-identifying as ‘British’ therefore seems to me to be every bit as valid as self-identifying as ‘Welsh’. And apart from some of the more strident nationalists, who ever decided that people cannot self-identify with two ‘nations’ at the same time?
‘Identity’, or more specifically, ‘national identity’, seems to be something for which many humans yearn, but it is ultimately nothing more than a human construct, based on territorial boundaries (established as a result of wars and accidents), an element of shared history and culture following the establishment of those boundaries, and a large degree of self-identification.
The political debate should surely be less about nationality as such and more about how and where we take the key decisions which affect our lives.