Magazine article Contemporary Review

The Dragon in the Garage: Nationalism, Politics and Identity in Wales

Magazine article Contemporary Review

The Dragon in the Garage: Nationalism, Politics and Identity in Wales

Article excerpt

THE British General Election campaign of 2010 will he remembered for its cautiously buoyant sense that anything - or at least, a great deal more than usual - was possible. However, it would be more correct to say that this mood was strong in England and Scotland, while in Wales it became apparent that it was not likely that there would be very much that was new or different on the horizon. Wales did have its own televised political leaders' debate, although it was only a very pale version of the Brown-Cameron-Clegg event. [1] During the second debate, Peter Hain, the then Labour Secretary of State for Wales, justified the war in Afghanistan in words that might have been taken directly from the speeches of ex-President George W. Bush, although this issue had already been called 'a big, blood-spattered hole we are all supposed to ignore' by the Independent journalist Johann Hari. [2] The other participants in the debate listened in bland silence and expressed no dissent, fitting themselves to a posture that has become entirely predictable, and which rather confirmed how right Hari had been. Clearly, English silence also extended into Wales. Hain's words were entirely consistent with the foreign policy of the Blair and Brown governments, but there was also complete silence on an issue that was more specific to Wales, namely, the possibility that the country might seek a separate destiny as a fully independent member state of the European Union. The issue was mentioned by no one, not even to dismiss or condemn it, and this must have made an odd impression on many of us who recall the 1970s and 1980s, when full independence was frequently declared to be the goal of the Welsh Nationalists. Two of Hain's fellow participants, Cheryl Gillan, the Conservative Shadow Welsh Secretary, and the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, could hardly be expected to refer to the issue, but the third participant was the Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalist) leader Ieuan Wyn Jones. The existence of a devolved Welsh Assembly has obviously not promoted ideas of independence - quite the opposite.

The question of Welsh independence has been removed from mainstream political discourse and debate, although the Nationalists presumably find this an unpalatable fact to face. This fact is amply demonstrated, however, by examining the Plaid Cymru 2010 Westminster Manifesto entitled Think Different. Think Plaid alongside Elect a local champion, the 2010 Manifesto of the Scottish National Party - the differences are glaring! (These documents were available in printed form and could be downloaded from the internet throughout the election campaign.) The Plaid Cymru Manifesto states: 'Plaid calls on any incoming Westminster government to agree a request for a referendum on law making powers by the National Assembly [...]. Plaid Cymru also believes that, in time, further powers may be transferred to the National Assembly beginning with the police and criminal justice, and followed by energy and broadcasting' (Page 4). There is a return to this theme on Page 17: 'We want our National Assembly to have the tools it needs to do the job - to make a real difference to people's lives. To do this Wales needs proper powers'. There is only one reference to independence, being the only use of the word 'independence/independent' in the entire document, occurring on Page 32: 'Plaid Cymru is committed to an independent Wales as a full member of the European Union'. However, this document of thirty-five pages makes no mention of any strategy for attaining independence, calling only for increased powers for a devolved assembly within the United Kingdom.

The 2010 Manifesto of the Scottish National Party makes for very different reading. The word 'independence/independent' occurs three times on Page 5 in the introduction by the SNP leader, Alex Salmond. Pages 17 to 23 of the SNP Manifesto are devoted to independence, including the words: 'Together we see ourselves as a nation and independence is the natural state for nations like ours [. …

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