Absolutely fascinating debate that has been hosted by Gwe, following on from a posting by Normal Mouth. This debate raises all sorts of issues about nationality and identity, and their role in politics.
I ran into some criticism from some nationalist bloggers with these two posts a month or so ago. Some of those who commented felt that I was arguing against the existence of a Welsh nation – but that was never my intention. What I struggle with is finding an objective basis for defining the existence of a Welsh nation which cannot also be used to define the existence of a British nation.
Some, such as AlaninDyfed, get around the issue by simply defining ‘nationality’ in a way which excludes any possibility of multiple or overlapping nationalities, and attempts to force people to choose a single defining nationality. Whilst this has the attraction of simplicity, it seems to me to ignore the simple reality that the majority of people in Wales define themselves as both Welsh and British. There is something deeply unsatisfactory for me in simply dismissing the view of the majority as a delusion.
Normal Mouth has suggested that nationality is to some extent a contrived concept; that's an idea that has some validity to me. If nationality cannot be defined in some objective fashion, but depends ultimately on what each of us feel, than it is, ultimately, a product of human invention. Does a baby have any inherent nationality before (s)he is conditioned into one by nurture? I would argue not, a point of view which supports the ‘contrived’ proposition.
But, for something which has been invented by humanity, nationality has a very powerful hold on almost all of us. I think that hold is as much to do with identity, though, as with nationality; and the two are not quite the same thing. Ultimately, our nationality is something that we choose. I am Welsh because I choose to be so; I choose to identify with 'Welshness' - whatever that is. Ordovicius (as well as Gwe and Aran) raised an extremely pertinent point in saying that there isn’t even a single ‘Welsh’ identity. ‘Being Welsh’ means all sorts of different things to different people, yet still somehow, we feel there to be enough commonality there that the idea of Independence for Ynys Môn sounds a very odd one.
Even though I choose to be Welsh, I have no real problem considering myself to be British and European as well – and why ever not? There is a very valid argument that, for most English people, ‘English’ and ‘British’ mean more or less the same thing. Sometimes though, I feel that we might be too quick to rail against the apparent arrogance of that view, and start to deliberately define ourselves in ways that distance ourselves from it as a reaction. Here in Wales, we know that they think like that, and we know that the two nationalities are not the same – but still most of our compatriots manage to be quite relaxed about being both Welsh and British.
However, fascinating though the debate about nationality and identity is, the real question we need to address is surely this – what does it mean in political terms?
For some Welsh nationalists, there is a straight line between Wales being a nation and Wales being independent; the one should lead automatically to the other. And much as I dislike the term ‘Brit-nat’, there are those who jump straight from the belief that we are a single British nation to the conclusion that devolution should be scrapped and all decisions should be taken in London. In both cases, it seems to me, this is the politics of Goldilocks; the idea that there is a structure of government which is 'just right', and that it is based on a simple process of equating ‘nation’ with government structure.
Defining things in this way works well for the nationalists on both sides; but it does little for rational and constructive debate, since neither side will ever convince the other. It looks to me as though what the opinion polls tell us is that the majority of people in Wales are ready and willing to support further devolution, but need to be convinced that it is a good idea on pragmatic rather than theoretical grounds. I suspect that the debate will be won or lost by those who are prepared to argue on bread and butter grounds rather than those who talk in terms of over simplistic nationalism.
We should remember that what was ‘just right’ for both Goldilocks and Baby Bear was far from ‘just right’ for either Mummy Bear or Daddy Bear. They need to be convinced that different really is better.