Wales’ European vocation

Kenneth O. Morgan examines how our relationship with Europe has been articulated by four political leaders across two centuries


Twenty years ago, when I was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales, I was very aware how much Europe mattered. Wales appeared to be overwhelmingly pro-European. The Euroscepticism widespread in much of England was almost unknown. There were opportunities for pursuing the EU relationship that I had not encountered in England, for academic and cultural resources and especially through the Motor Scheme linking Wales with the thriving regions of Baden-Wurttemberg, Catalonia, Rhônes-Alpes and Lombardy.

Conversely, the response of the Welsh Office  in Gwydr House was very erratic, from warmly pro-European Secretaries of State like Peter Walker and David Hunt to the Euroscepticism, if not plain Europhobia, of John Redwood. I was told in Brussels by the late Bruce Millan, then an European Commissioner, that he had in effect to act as Secretary of State to ensure that Wales took up its rightful share of Objective One Funding.

Welsh nationalism and the slur of fascism

This is the first of three articles leading up to Plaid Cymru’s annual conference in Aberystwyth this week:

Tomorrow: Dafydd Glyn Jones questions whether it is justified to speculate that Saunders Lewis moved steadily towards the right in the 1930s.

On Friday: Jasmine Donahaye investigates the antisemitic slur against Plaid Cymru.

But the reality is more complex than a simple picture of a strongly pro-European Wales and an inconsistent Welsh Office in London. In 2013, even though support for UKIP in Wales is put at only 6 per cent (23 per cent in England), it has one MEP. More importantly, for Wales the idea of ‘Europe’ has conveyed a variety of meanings over the decades and centuries. I want to explore this briefly by looking at four historical case studies: the Europe of David Williams, Tom Ellis, Saunders Lewis and Rhodri Morgan. What legacies have they left?

David Williams (1738 – 1816) was a remarkable man. He was a Presbyterian who developed a Deist religious creed and wrote extensively on philosophical themes. He responded passionately to the revolutions in America and, even more, in France in 1789. His was a revolutionary, radical Europe, at least at first, a Europe of reason, of nature and enlightened thought. He became friendly with the French political philosopher Condorcet  and corresponded with Voltaire who admired his writings. Like his compatriot and colleague Richard Price, he strongly attacked the anti-revolutionary views of Edmund Burke in his Reflections.

His closest friendships with the revolutionaries in France were with the Girondins and especially the republican journalist, Pierre Brissot. He attended the revolutionary convention in Paris in 1791, worked on the scheme for the new French constitution and actually received honorary French citizenship. Later he became alienated by the violence of events in France, especially the execution of Girondins like Madame Roland and his friend Brissot, and also the trial and execution of Louis XVI. In later life, his political outlook became far more conventional. For all that, he was the pioneer of a new generation of free-thinking, dissenting radicals (wrongly called ‘Jacobins’) who so influenced Welsh political life down to the 1830s. It has left us one important legacy, the National Eisteddfod, its traditions and rituals invented by that maverick free-thinker, ‘Iolo Morgannwg’, of which I myself have the honour of being a Druid!

Tom Ellis (1859 – 1899) was far more political. He became Liberal MP for Merioneth and in 1894 the party’s Chief Whip. Yet he was above all a new kind of Welsh politician, a cultural nationalist and a visionary prophet of national destiny. His was above all a Europe of nations. Like William Rees, ‘Gwilym Hiraethog’, the preacher/politician before him, Ellis’s outlook was strongly influenced by continental nationalism, Louis Kossuth in Hungary and especially Guiseppe Mazzini, the inspirational ideologue of the Risorgimento in Italy.

From Mazzini he derived the idea of a romantic secular religion of communally-focussed citizenship, a nationhood based on association and faith. He claimed that this was especially appropriate for Wales where its key concepts – indeed the very name ‘Cymru’ – implied a social, collective vision. He cherished the cult of youth – hence Cymru Fydd, the Wales that is to be, on the model of Young Italy. “Consecrate [the young] with the new religion”, he wrote. Ellis admired small communities, especially mountainous ones. An important visit for him was with an English friend A.H.D. Acland to the Austrian Tyrol in 1888: “We blessed again and again the work of Guiseppe Mazzini.”

He stressed the idea of national unity, even more than Freedom, an almost metaphysical faith of nationhood, and a lofty sense of mission. There were other ingredients in the ideas of this complicated man – Fabianism, Idealism, even the imperialism of Cecil Rhodes. His was a gentler, more culturally focussed nationalism than that of his younger colleague David Lloyd George. But Ellis was also a practical politician who saw the obstacles standing in the way of a self-governing Wales. He has left behind the beguiling legend of Wales’s ‘lost leader’, even ‘the Parnell of Wales’.

Saunders Lewis (1893 – 1985) was a nationalist of a very different era (embarking on his role in the years after 1918) and of a very different stripe from Tom Ellis. Ellis was above all a democrat. Lewis had total contempt for the nonconformist Liberal democracy in Wales prior to the First World War. He celebrated Wales before the Reformation, certainly before the Industrial Revolution. His ideas were based on his intense Roman Catholicism and his reverence for the Middle Ages, and he became first president of Plaid Cymru in 1925 to propagate these views.

He was strongly European in outlook but, unlike nearly all his countrymen, he passionately admired the right-wing ideology of the French author Maurice Barrès and the writings of Charles Maurras of Action Française, both of them hostile to the Republic, anti-Dreyfus and strongly anti-semitic. Lewis moved steadily right during the thirties, wrote sympathetically on Mussolini’s corporatism in Italy as did his Plaid colleague Ambrose Bebb, maintained an attitude of ideological neutrality during the Second World War, and sympathised with Vichy and Pétain’s regime in opposition to the Resistance which he saw as dominated by Marxist Communists whom he abominated.

Whether Lewis was himself a fascist has occasioned much debate. On balance, I do not believe that he was, but he gave many hostages to fortune by his warm embrace of Europeans in France and Italy who were effectively fascists, anti-semites and totalitarian sympathizers. For long, Plaid Cymru had to struggle with charges, resulting from Lewis’ writings, that it was a pro-fascist party. But Lewis certainly bequeathed a passionate European linguistic nationalism which, under the passionately pacifist Gwynfor Evans in the 1960s evolved into more democratic forms.

Rhodri Morgan (born 1939), First Minister of devolved Wales from 2000 to 2009, was strongly pro-European in outlook from the 1970s on. His was a Social Democratic Europe, the Europe of Jacques Delors, the TUC’s ‘frère Jacques’. He headed the European Commission office in Cardiff from 1980 to 1987, and was part of a powerful wing of the Welsh Labour Party, along with three musketeers, the Welsh-speaking Aberystwyth graduates, Hywel Ceri Jones, Aneurin Rhys Hughes and Gwyn Morgan, which tilted Labour in Wales in a strongly pro-European direction.

Hywel Ceri Jones, author of the Social Chapter in Delors’ office and inventor of the Erasmus and Socrates student exchange schemes, was a particularly important colleague. They operated at a time when the reborn Plaid Cymru was strongly pro-European and when ideas of a devolved Europe of regions/nations were being debated by some of us in seminars in Freudenstadt in Baden-Wurttemburg.

A Wales European centre was being set up in Brussels. Debate was spurred on by a volume by John Osmond and Sir John Gray, Wales in Europe (1997). Des Clifford was made Wales’s first representative in Europe, as BBC Wales reported it, for 600 years. Rhodri Morgan’s becoming first minister in 2000 was highly important for Wales’s European dimension. Wales now saw itself, not just as a recipient of European largesse for its deprived valleys, but more pro-actively. It participated in pan-European environmental policies for sustainable development, while both Maastricht and the Lisbon treaty were commended for their policies for Europe’s regions and minority languages. In the era of Rhodri Morgan’s leadership, therefore, greater devolution and European involvement marched side by side. Europe will undoubtedly be a factor in the push towards further devolution, as in the growing field of Welsh law and human rights policy.

All four strains of Europeanism have left their mark on modern Wales – the republican rationalism of David Williams, the romantic gospel of nationhood of Tom Ellis, the militant organic nationalism of Saunders Lewis, and the social democracy of Rhodri Morgan. With this varied background behind us, we now face a critical new phase for the relationship of the United Kingdom and Europe, one that goes far beyond the narrow implications of rising support for UKIP.

For Wales, there may be new openings and opportunities in a pluralist Europe where smaller nations, some of them ‘unhistoric’ in Marx’s sense, like the Catalans, the Flemings and, of course, the Scots, may be more assertive. The impact of the Scottish referendum on Wales in September 2014 will be important, whatever the result. The reconfiguration of the United Kingdom, whether federal, confederal or whatever, will profoundly shape the relations of its component nations with Europe. The union of the United Kingdom and the union with Europe are closely bound up with one another, including for Wales. The stresses that result are most evident in Scotland, whose political nationalism has always been sharper than that in Wales. Pro-union Scots would not want an England-dominated Britain which might cut adrift from Europe. But there could be a crisis in Wales, too, if England resolves to leave the EU in the future referendum, whatever form it takes, against the declared will of the Welsh. The relations of Wales, England and Europe, which have witnessed so many complexities since 1789, are entering a critical, but fascinating new phase.

Professor Lord Kenneth O. Morgan is a Welsh historian and author and was Vice Chancellor in the University of Wales from 1989 to 1995. This article, which appears in the current issue of the IWA’s journal the welsh agenda, is an edited version of an address he gave to a British Academy and Learned Society of Wales conference on devolution in London earlier this year.