Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Why Wales

More years ago than I care to remember, I studied a module on Logic. (And you thought that blogging was the act of a saddo.) Anyway, the point about syllogisms in particular is that the conclusion is always, and inevitably, true so long as it is wholly contained within the premisses.

Enough theory; the point is that it’s usually not the logic, but the premisses which need to be challenged and tested, but that doesn't always seem to happen. Part of the logic expressed by some nationalists, for instance, runs along the following lines:

Premiss 1: All nations have the right to self-government
Premiss 2: Wales is a nation
Conclusion: Wales has a right to self government.

The logic is absolutely impeccable, but I wonder about the premisses. The first is fairly straightforward, although it really does require a lot more definition of the words ‘right’, ‘nation’, and ‘self-government’. And even without that extra definition, it is surely clear that any ‘right’ to self government also includes the ‘right’ to not seek self-government as well, so that any meaningful debate should be about the pros and cons rather than simply about the 'rights' of the matter, a point on which Glyn Davies, Keir Hardly and Welsh Ramblings seem to be in agreement.

But it is the idea of ‘nationality’ which has always troubled me more.

This little piece from Independence Cymru manages to crystalise an issue which has been bothering me for some time, although not in the way that I suspect its author would have wished.

Wales, the author suggests, is hopelessly split, geographically and linguistically, as well as by class and by culture, to the extent that it needs to be reunited to become a proper nation. If that is the case, then by what definition exactly is it a single nation in the first place? (And surely, it is ‘the Welsh’ rather than ‘Wales’ which is the nation – Wales is just a geographical entity. Two small peninsulars on the western edge of an offshore European island.)

It can't be ethnicity. There is no real ethnic difference between most Europeans, never mind between ‘the Welsh’ and ‘the English’, so that cannot be the basis of defining a nation.

It cannot be language, obviously. When 75% of the population speak only English, the same language as our next-door neighbours, we cannot use language as the basis for a definition of nationality. It could be argued that Welsh is the ‘historic’ language of Wales, and therefore has a special place as our ‘national’ language. True, but that involves choosing a particular point in history when Welsh was current across the whole of Wales, but almost extinct elsewhere, since in earlier times, the same language (more or less) was spoken widely through England and the south of Scotland,making it as much a ‘historic’ language for them as it is for us.

It cannot be hard geographic or economic reasons. Much of North Wales looks naturally towards Liverpool, and much of the south has a great deal in common with the rest of Severnside, and, in strictly economic/ geographical terms, one could make a strong argument for a regionalisation of the UK which completely ignores the ‘national’ question.

Despite that, most of use here in Wales do actually think of Wales in terms of a nation - so why?

13 comments:

alanindyfed said...

Do you know the answer?
Trying to explain, define or analyse will only make you more confused.
If you really want to know it
listen to your heart...

On "Independence Cymru" the aim is to awaken, in all Welsh people and in all people who truly regard Wales (Cymru) as their home, the love of fatherland - yr hen wlad fy nhadau, and the feeling of being one people, united and free.

Ceredig said...

Alan,

Anything which is incapable of being explained, defined or analysed is also incapable of being the subject of rational debate.

"Listen to your heart" implies that the Welsh nation only exists at a purely emotional level. Having disagreed with you on other points recently, I suspect that there's a good measure of truth in your response on this occasion. The problem is that if the case for Wales as a nation is entirely emotional, then on what basis do you ever expect to persuade others to your viewpoint?

Merely repeating the same old phrases and appeals to the heart will have precisely the opposite effect. And phrases such as “love of fatherland” have some very unfortunate echoes – not something with which I suspect even most nationalists would wish to associate themselves.

alanindyfed said...

Of course I did not mean to imply that the argument is purely emotional. But as you concede it has relevance. I will be arguing on my block on the constitutional aspects as well as the pragmatic. I read your "What is Wales?" with interest, as always, and would like this to be followed up with "What is Britain?", which I feel is the main issue and would widen the debate.

Republicanos said...

I'm glad that you take alan to task with some rationality and reason. People in the 21st century will never be convinced by pie-in-the-sky jingoism of any persuasion. And, as he often does, he plays into his enemies' hands by going too far - talk of the 'fatherland' certainly harms his cause.

An interesting post that asks some genuine questions about nationhood and 'belonging'. As someone who has never really felt a strong emotional pull towards any specific nation, it seems to me that the British identity has the advantage, especially amongst the older generation, of a great deal of history - wars fought together and suchlike.

But these things fade with time and increasingly, I think more cold rational considerations will be more important that gut loyalties. Personally, I think Wales would not benefit from independence, but am willing to engage with rational debate from the other point of view. No-one has anything to fear from debate.

alanindyfed said...

"-wars fought together and suchlike".

Are we becoming jingoistic again and talking about the joys of comradeship in fighting wars and gaining victories? Wales was on the receiving end as well as taking part in the mass slaughter at the Somme and Verdun, following the whims of incompetent superior officers.
We have lost, as you say, the feeling of belonging and are rootless. Communities are not what they were, and there is no spirit or joy in being a member of a national community. We are callous and self-centred, concerned with material things, and if we express any 'hiraeth' or love of land, we are considered airy fairy or 'pie-in-the-sky'.
I wrote in my blog today, especially for you and others with 'cold, rational considerations'.
Wales needs far better.

Ceredig said...

Alan,

Insofar as it seems to be a major part of the basis for 'nationalism' in its widest sense, then of course the emotional aspects have relevance. But it needs to be understood that they are just that - emotional. The question - to which I shall return shortly - is why structures of government should be built on an idea of nationhood which is to such a large extent an emotional concept.

But of course, you are right on your final point - any questions I ask in terms of 'why is Wales is a nation' can equally be applied to 'why is Britain a nation'.

Republicanos,

"wars fought together and suchlike" - I wouldn't put the stress on wars as such, although I take the point that "shared history or experience" particularly at times of crisis (of which war is an obvious example) are part of what defines nationality, along with "shared values".

Alan, again,

Yes, Welsh people were victims of the mass slaughter as you suggest; and yes, some of the commanders were incompetent. But there was nothing specifically 'Welsh' about those experiences. Young men, from all over the UK, were slaughtered in massive numbers in what were often pointless battles, but the death of a young man from the North of England, or the English Midlands, is every bit as tragic as the death of a young Welshman.

Again, you return to 'love of land'. If you had said 'love of community' or 'love of fellow man', or even 'love of nation', I would find it easier to understand.

I really do fear that although your arguments are often logical based on the premisses you use, you do not seem to be terribly willing to examine and test those premisses, which you just assume to be 'truths'.

Alwyn ap Huw said...

I find your disagreement with Alan about emotion to be strange. Most beliefs, political, religious or social are held for emotional reasons first and then rationalised latter. If you think of any great political moment you will remember it by how it affected your heart rather than how it affected your head.

I can give a number of logical reasons for considering myself to be Welsh: genealogical, linguistic, geographic, historic etc, but these are all afterthoughts. I am Welsh because I am.

If political opinion could be based on a an indisputable premise supported by clear logic, then there would be no political debate and no political difference, we would all come to the same incontrovertible truth.

The reason why we disagree so strongly on these issues is because politics is, always has been and always will be an emotional subject.

Anonymous said...

God you are a bore Ceredig! I bet you've never even loved another person.....dismissing such a feeling as being irrational emotion. Put your first year philosphy course-book away man and live....no enjoy life.

alanindyfed said...

Here I tend to agree with Keir for once.
The Irish struggle for home rule was intensely emotional, and it is the emotions which constitute the seat of desire to fight injustices and join the cause for freedom. Mazzini's nationalism in Italy was also emotional and there are numerous instances, and the result was success after sacrifice and effort.

Nell's son said...

When Nelson Mandela was released from gaol, I was working a pub with the telly on.

When the release came up on the TV, some of those who were watching were peeved that the scheduled programme that they wanted to watch had been postponed, others were angry because they felt that the South African regime had given in to terrorists.

I cried tears of joy.

We all reacted emotionally!

Ceredig, your post says that we were all wrong!

What we should have done was to consider the premise of Mandela's release and then look at the logical implications of that premise.

Good academics maybe - sh*t politics!

alanindyfed said...

Nationalism is the urge to establish a political home for those who in the past have been abused, disregarded, neglected, exploited and intmidated.
The natural reaction to indignities such as these is an emotional one.

Ceredig said...

Alwyn,

I agree with most of what you say here – other than that you find my disagreement with Alan strange.

“I am Welsh because I am” goes right to the heart of the matter. It’s a perfectly valid view to take. However, on that basis, it's equally valid for someone else to say "I'm British because I am". That’s exactly my point – we are what we choose to be, and because of the basis on which we each, individually, reach that conclusion, some of us will reach different, but equally valid, conclusions.

Precisely because ‘national identity’ in that sense is such a personal conclusion, it becomes harder to explain why the existence of ‘Wales’ and ‘the Welsh’ should automatically lead to a particular structure of government. But, and this is key to my point, it is on that basis no more true that the existence of ‘Britain’ and ‘Britishness’ should lead to a particular structure of government either.

My purpose is to challenge both those who argue that “Wales is a nation, therefore Independence” and those who argue “Britain is a nation and its unity should be preserved”. There is little scope for debate between two such contrary viewpoints, particularly if people want to argue that being both ‘Welsh’ and ‘British’ is impossible.

My disagreement with Alan is based mostly on his tendency to state opinion as though it were fact.

Anon 19:44,

Sorry if I bore you. I am not trying to ‘dismiss’ anything as irrational emotion; emotion is an essential part of the human spirit. It is also essential in political debate, but it is not the same thing as fact. But if you’re really bored, there are other blogs you can read.

Nell’s son,

Actually, my reaction to Mandela’s freedom was much the same as yours, and nothing that I’ve written says that emotion in politics is in any way wrong. Au contraire – passion and emotion are essential in politics. What I’ve been trying to drive at, however, is that for a sensible debate between opposing viewpoints, we need to try and establish what are facts, what are opinions, and what are emotions. Arguments based on assumptions that opinions and emotions are actually facts will never convince anyone, and political progress surely depends on convincing others.

Alan,

“Nationalism is the urge to establish a political home for those who in the past have been abused, disregarded, neglected, exploited and intmidated.”

Really? I thought political nationalism was about giving expression to nationality in political structures. Abuse, disregard, neglect, exploitation, and intimidation are in no way necessary precursors.

alanindyfed said...

They are not necessary precursors but they are a fact. As you are a convert to factual realities you know we cannot ignore them.
Secondly, we need to have the political structures in place before we can give expression to them.
Like Glyn Davies, you are halfway there (see today's "Western Mail" - letters)

"As it happens, I think that there is a strong case for further devolution of powers to Wales (as well as within Wales), and possibly even for Independence."