Daniel G. Williams investigates the contrasting narratives used to describe British compared with Welsh or Scottish nationalism
In the 1970s debates about devolution in Wales and Scotland, Raymond Williams detected “an implication of radical disloyalty, even treason” as people referred to “the break-up of Britain” with “their voices almost cracking with real or rehearsed emotion”. The combination of Jubilee celebrations and Olympic success has led to a similar climate today, bolstered by the open embrace of the Union Jack and an ideology of ‘one nationhood’ at the conferences of the British parties.
Ed Miliband, in particular, seems to have based the revival of his faltering leadership of the Labour Party by placing himself in the lineage of Benjamin Disraeli, evoking the common bonds of ‘One Nation’ against the divisive cuts of the ConDem coalition.
Miliband’s lauded speech should be placed within the context of the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence. Drawing on the worldwide promotion of a tolerant, multicultural Britain through the figures of successful Olympians such as Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis, and evoking his family’s own Jewish history of escaping to Britain from the forces of fascism, Miliband envisions a Britain that most decent people would be happy to embrace. This would seem to put Celtic nationalists in an awkward situation. Were Welsh and Scottish nationalists to reject this image of Britain they would be reinforcing the stereotype that theirs is a ‘narrow minded’, ‘divisive’, ‘intolerant’, ‘tribal’, ‘inward looking’ form of ethnic nationalism. On the other hand, to embrace Miliband’s Britain is to undermine the call for greater Welsh or Scottish autonomy. But Welsh and Scottish nationalists have been here before. Nothing exposed the rehearsed and regurgitated substance of Miliband’s speech more than the evocation of Disraeli – the Conservative Prime Minister of Jewish ancestry who (allegedly) first used the imagery of ‘one nation’ in transcending the social and ethnic divisions of the Victorian era by appealing to a common Britishness. (It is perhaps worth drawing attention to Jane Ridley’s observation that Disraeli was a baptised Christian, and that if he had been a practising Jew he would have been excluded from parliament by the laws of the time. For minorities, ‘Britain’ is rarely as benevolently tolerant as its cheer-leaders would like us to think).
The notion of Britain as a dynamic melting pot to which a diversity of peoples may contribute has a remarkable resilience. It was an idea powerfully presented by Matthew Arnold in his lectures of 1866 on Celtic Literature, where the Victorian sage hoped that an acknowledgment of the Celtic ‘element’ within the composite English self would put an end to Irish claims for home rule. (Arnold shifted his allegiance from Gladstone to Disraeli in the last years of his life, due to the former’s willingness to address the claims of the Parnellites). The success of Danny Boyle’s celebrated opening ceremony at this year’s Olympics was partly due to his evocation of this Victorian idea of a Britain in which a diversity of peoples become amalgamated. The narrative was of course reinforced by the dramatic victories of the multi-ethnic team GB, with Scottish, Welsh, Somali and other ‘ethnic’ and ‘regional’ identities co-existing under the British umbrella.
This Jubilympic vision of Britishness has been reinforced by Ed Miliband in interviews and speeches throughout the year, climaxing in his conference speech. In an interview with Krishnan Guru Murthy on Channel 4, Miliband evoked his own Jewish and English identities, and argued that Britishness allowed for both. Miliband’s Britain is based on a seemingly liberal, tolerant, open-minded conception of identity. But it relies on Britain being the vehicle for multicultural progress while its constituent ethnicities are static, background, identities. The problem lies in the fact that while Britain is narrativised, evolving and dynamic, its contributory peoples are essentialised as static races. In the Olympic opening ceremony the Welsh were represented by a choir of school children singing a famous Welsh hymn (in English!), while in the closing ceremony Wales was represented by a group of women in ‘traditional’ Welsh costume. There was no room for modern Welsh culture, in either language, in the Jubilympic vision. No Welsh rock bands, no indication of a modern, thriving, Welsh culture in the Welsh or English languages. No indication that Wales is itself a multicultural nation, that ‘the Welsh’ include people of Jewish, Afro-Carribean, Somali, Indian etc. descent, and that ‘Welshness’ signifies a whole range of cultural practices.
It’s very difficult to explain to an open-minded liberal Englishman what is wrong with Miliband’s vision of Britishness. It might be useful to transpose the debate to a different context. The problem that Slavoj Žižek identifies in the relation between Serbs and Slovenes is mirrored, if in a less charged manner, in the relationship between England and Wales. Žižek notes that he is ‘often accused of being a Slovene ant-Serb nationalist’, and notes that:
“ …when I converse with members of the so-called Serb democratic opposition, they say they are in favour of a cosmopolitan democratic Serbia whose defining quality is citizenship and not national belonging. OK, I accept this. But this is where the problems begin, because if you speak with them a little bit longer, you discover a certain political vision that tries to disguise cultural particularity as democratic universalism. For example, if you ask them about Slovene autonomy, they will argue that Slovenia is a small self-enclosed nation and that they, by contrast, are in favour of an anti-nationalist democratic society which is not self-enclosed.”
Žižek claims that the Serbs practice a ‘kind of two-level nationalism’ in which Serbia is the only nation in Yugoslavia that can sustain an open principle of multicultural and democratic citizenship. This results in a ‘double logic’, for while Serbs are seen to be fundamentally democratic, modern and evolving, the Slovenes are viewed as an inherently closed, traditional, ‘primitive Alpine tribe’. This, he argues, is often the basis for contemporary racism. ‘We should be careful when people emphasize their democratic credentials’, warns Žižek, for the key question is whether ‘these same people allow the Other to have the same credentials?’.
For Yugoslavia read Britain. For Serbia read England. For Slovenia read Wales. British nationalists employ the same ‘double logic’, espousing the progressive potential of their own national identity, while denying it to the minority nations who may wish to decide the forms of governance suitable to their own still-forming interests and identities. On the Left, ‘Britain’ has been separated from its connections with empire and racial superiority, and is espoused as the multicultural face of Englishness. David Marquand welcomed Ed Miliband’s speech and was right to see it as a call for a revived ‘Victorian conversation’ on ‘the condition of England question’. For the dominant cultural forms of Britishness are of course English.
Miliband unconsciously reflected this, in his interview with Murthy, when he described Keir Hardie as ‘born in Scotland, representing a Welsh constituency, sitting in an English parliament’, or when he referred repeatedly to the ‘English NHS’. Team GB received their gold medals to God Save the Queen. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown went so far as to suggest some years ago that the call for Welsh and Scottish devolution was propelled by a an anti-multiculturalist agenda, thereby demonstrating her total ignorance of the nature of nationalist politics in Wales and Scotland. What the Miliband / Boyle vision of Britishness denies is Welsh and Scottish multiculturalism. While many on the English Left embrace Britishness, and embraced Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ speech with enthusiasm, the true British democrat is one who is prepared to argue that Scotland and Wales have the same democratic and multicultural potential as England within the geographical space that we call Great Britain.
If a case needs to be made for Welsh multiculturalism, this process of allowing the same rights to the Other pertain within the devolved nations themselves. For example, persuading the dominant Anglophone society that minorities can be multi-cultural has been an abiding concern of Welsh language activists. The danger for those of us who live in minority language communities and value linguistic plurality and difference, is that our languages are perceived to belong to a specific racial group, and are therefore closed to outsiders. Even those supportive of linguistic difference will tend to conceive of the speakers of the Celtic languages as belonging to an ethnic minority within their respective countries, with English functioning as the civic language of the nation, as the universal language in which a multicultural society communicates. The Celtic languages are seen as inextricably linked to specific cultural practices, and are thus seen to be incapable of becoming modes of communication for multi-cultural societies. Anglophone multiculturalism tends to view English as the only legitimate mode of communicating within a plural society. But Anglophone multiculturalism is different to Welsh aml-ddiwyllianaeth, a point made forcefully by Ned Thomas when he argues that we must ask “what is the meaning of multiculturalism within a particular discourse, and within a given language and culture’”:
“What is often meant within English-language discourse in Britain is tolerance and even encouragement of a number of background cultures and languages within a society which has English as the foreground language – or to be plain, the dominant language. Many speakers of immigrant languages are happy to accept such a place for themselves, always providing that sufficient resources are made available to support their background culture and that it is respected. Welsh speakers on the other hand, like other European territorial minorities, claim a historic space in which their culture too can be a foreground culture, allowing people of different backgrounds to participate. This yields a more European view of Britain, like continental Europe, as a mosaic rather than a melting pot, and requires a rather different account of multiculturalism.”
Just as Britain, in the hierarchy of nations, is deemed to be the sole bearer of multicultural citizenship, the monolingual form of multiculturalism informing much cultural debate in Britain today is rooted in the belief that the English language is the only legitimate bearer of all civic-democratic nationality, and that those lying beyond its generously catholic embrace are little better than atavistic, tribal, racists. The construction of a genuine multiculturalism in the British Isles must be predicated on the rejection of this pernicious ideology. For while one cannot change one’s ancestors, a language can be learned.
So to develop the political autonomy of Wales and Scotland is not to reject British multiculturalism, but is to deepen multicultural citizenship. The ‘double logic’ by which ‘my one nation is progressive and cosmopolitan’ while ‘your nation is separatist and divisive’ has surely lost any traction that it may once have had. The debate over Scotland will be a truly depressing affair if conducted in these terms. It’s surely time for the Labour party to develop a more sophisticated analysis of the national question. While commentators sympathetic to Labour seem to be celebrating the fact that Ed Miliband, in evoking Disraeli, has moved his tanks onto David Cameron’s lawn, the backyard has been left wide open for Leanne Wood and Alex Salmond.
34 thoughts on “Your multicultural nation is not necessarily mine”
Excellent article. I remember encountering this from the English/British left at Aber. The “Other” is exactly it. I recall an incident at Chapter Arts in Cardiff where an “International Poets Day” had been organized. When the lack of poets from England was mentioned to the English organizers they were good enough to explain the it was an international event. Another very telling incident was the total lack of comprehension from the Guardian’s art correspondent a few years back when he realized with horror that the Welsh Govt.’s Culture Minister was going to speak in Welsh.
It is a joy to see the rapidly increasing numbers of children from all Cardiff’s communities being enrolled in WM schools.
Daniel Williams sums up so many relevant points in this fascinating piece. British nationalists – be they political, cultural or linguistic Brit nats – are trapped in their own worldview, or lack thereof. Having worked in both London and Leeds in the last few years I’m fully aware of the British / English / British cloud that acts as a descriptive fog. Whilst xenophobic English nationalists are generally happy to pour scorn on the usual targets – immigrants, the EU, etc – it is left to inclusive, liberal English nationalists to attempt to promote a version of civic multiculturalism. Sadly, and this echoes Zizek’s Serb-Slovene analysis, many of these well-intended liberal nationalists have no real sense of other civic nationalisms on the island of Britain. For them, democracy can only be progressed through radical multi-ethnic inclusivity, that is colour and religious based. They eschew any promotion of, for example, Scottish civic nationalist expression, as being somehow ‘un-British’. Thus, they are self-delusional. I once discussed this with a well-known Labour MP, who ridiculously labelled herself “internationalist”, whilst refuting left-wing nationalism – Welsh in this instance – as “anachronistic and racist”. As Daniel says, we can expect a lot more of this tabloid drivel in the run-up to the Scottish Independence Referendum.
To read this article was nice and comforting, if only in realising that perhaps not so much the style – I wish I could keep the temper as Daniel G. William does – but I do share some of the spirit and certainly the letter (or frame of reference: Zizek etc) that is mobilised here to produce a severe, and deserved, critique of taht very misleading kind of liberal multiculturalism which is articulated around grand-national discourses . What is lacking, perhaps, is the way people like Zizek (or Badiou, Lacalu etc) then go on to theorise the ralations between universalism and particularism in such a way that not even minority cultures should avoid engaging with.
All those words but the most important word isn’t even there – the key word is integration. Ignore it at your peril.
This is a fascinating and well argued piece.
It is extraordinary how xenophobic some writers in the Guardian can be when they are confronted with a culture in the UK that does not adhere to their English-British outlook.
I have long suspected that many aspects of ‘internationalism’ are in fact tools to allow members of larger, more powerful nations to pursue a nationalist agenda against smaller, weaker nations while being able to accuse them of being nationalistic. So an ‘internationalist’ is somebody who in fact supports a mono-lingual and mono-cultural society with a series of silos designed to hide other communities away, irrespective of their being there before the dominant culture arrived or having arrived at a later date.
This silo approach also overlooks the simple fact that people from other backgrounds find adapting to Welsh culture and leaning Welsh to rather more straightforward than those brought up in a monoculture.
Here in West Wales, there are a plethora of examples of people of Asian or Afro-Caribbean origin who (along with their children) are fluent in Welsh and very actively involved in their communities. Does this make them racist or insular-nationalist? Most definitely not – opening up the silos opens the mind.
I hope Mark Linden is being a bit pessimistic about forthcoming tabloid drivel. I well remember the dangerous nonsense poured out during the 2003 elections and would not like to see any of that again.
Wales, given its circumstances is a pretty outward looking and outgoing place. Look at the interactions between Wales, Welsh culture and the wider world in music and literature and you find you will be subsumed into a lattice of interrelationships.
John R Walker sums it up perfectly. When English-British nationalists learn to look outwards and to integrate with the rest of Britain; the Britain of the older cultures, of the newer cultures and all those people in England, Wales as the rest of these isles who are culturally accepting, we will live in an enriched land.
The only problem with this article….and the comment from Robert Tyler above, is that they are just factually wrong. English is the language of Multiculturalism in Wales. Welsh is the language of exclusion and division.
It is nonsense to portray Welsh Medium schools in Cardiff or anywhere else as being home to ethnic or linguistic diversity. The absence of minorities in Welsh Medium schools is well documented so just look at the statistics.
Go to section 7 and open Tab.7.20. This gives you the percentage of pupils in Welsh Medium schools who have a first language other than English or Welsh.
Primary schools 2012 Wales:
WM schools 0.9%
EM schools 6.7%
WM schools 0.9%
EM schools 24.8%
Secondary schools 2012 Wales.
WM schools 1.6% (true figure 0.7%)
EM schools 4.7%
WM schools 0.3%
EM schools 17.5%
If you are wondering how Ynys Mon is the most multi-lingual and Welsh Medium County you will be even more amazed to find that there are 375 pupils in Ysgol Bodedern who don’t have English or Welsh as a first Language…..the actual figure is nearer 3.
“Further to you recent FOI I have contacted the relevant Officer with the Education Department and they have provided me with the following information:
“I would like to note that none of the 5 Secondary schools on Anglesey are classed as ‘Welsh Medium’ in PLASC; Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi is ‘English Medium’ and the other 4 schools are ‘Bilingual’. The numbers are as follows :
Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones = 1
Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi = 4
Ysgol Gyfun Llangefni = 5
Ysgol David Hughes = 10
Ysgol Uwchradd Bodedern = 375
As you can see the numbers at Ysgol Uwchradd Bodedern are significantly higher that the other schools. I have queried this with the schools during this years PLASC period and they have informed me that this was the information that was obtained from the SIMS system. I don’t know what the reason for this is other than some parents might have refused to answer the question about the language of the home and therefore it came up as neither Welsh nor English.”
One thing you can be certain of in Wales…….Cymraeg is the major factor in separating white from black, natives from immigrants. All the rhetoric in the world cannot hide the introverted, cold-heart of Cultural Welsh Nationalism.
“English is the language of Multiculturalism in Wales. Welsh is the language of exclusion and division.”
Great to see Jon Jones back on form as the Welsh blogosphere’s resident anti-Welsh obsessive. Seeing drivel like “All the rhetoric in the world cannot hide the introverted, cold-heart of Cultural Welsh Nationalism” coming at the end of a well-argued and intelligent piece of writing like Daniel Williams’s is an object lesson in bathos.
Daniel Williams gives an interesting and stimulating account of how ideas of multiculturalism might differ among different kinds of cultures, complete with contexts taken from across Europe, and gets Jon Jones’s rants about Welsh education on Ynys Mon. Jon also provides an object lesson in pygmy parochialism and anti-Welsh monomania.
Depressing as ever.
The pattern Daniel Williams finds in British Nationalist inclusiveness, some of which is genuinely inclusive, some of which isn’t, is the basic fallacy that the larger culture and/or language is more inclusive because it lays claim to more people; this is because, in turn, it is larger. The argument that Welsh must be less inclusive because fewer people speak it is , of course, a consequence of that world-view, which you find in other places such as Spain and France and ex-Yugoslavia (as Daniel via Zizek points out) in relation to, say, Catalan and Spanish, Basque and Spanish, French and Breton, etc etc.
The point that the anti-Welsh and Welsh-haters like Jon Jones essentially make is that the very minority status of Welsh (even in places where it remains a majority) its crime, and the logical extension of this thinking is that any culture or language that is smaller than its neighbour or is a political/regional subset of a larger one is ‘exclusive’ and ‘introverted’ etc etc.
Put like this is looks absurd, but then again, it is absurd. It is also motivated by fear and a large portion of hate. The anti-Welsh lobby, as JJ shows in his contribution above, fundamentally believe that small cultures are more backward, xenophobic and exclusive large ones. Following that route and that logic takes you to some pretty unpleasant places, and I will leave this blog’s discerning readers to see which ones.
In the meantime, I’d suggest Jon stick to his usual fare of posting on Gogwatch and Glasnost, where the full ‘inclusiveness’ of the anti-Welsh lobby can be seen in all its splendour.
Jon you’re off the topic butt. The issue is not about the welsh language, though britnats like yourself are often rabidly obsessed with it. Why??
The issue is the conflating of British identity and culture with what is clearly actually English identity and culture and the arrogant presumption that everyone in the uk should embrace it for the sake of uk unity. Including immigrants and long standing nationalities within the British inward looking state. British nationalists, often of the loony left are often inherently racist and jingoistic towards anything that is not British/English, whilst hiding behind internationalism to disguise their predjudices and bigoted tendencies
Jon Jones, you go too far. What are you trying to say in your statistics above? You are not comparing how many children from ethnic minorities go to Welsh and English medium schools at all. So what are your last two sentences about? And before you have a pop at me my wife is a Singaporean half Chinese, half Indian Welsh learner and both our children are bilingual Welsh and English and go to the local Welsh medium school and are of course mixed race. All children in Wales will learn a certain amount of Welsh at school anyway and more to the good. A generation that respect the language as much as they respect English, French, Malayalam, Urdu or Hokkien etc.
I think there are a few problems with Daniel’s argument. One is conceptual. First, that old chestnut: what is a nation? The dictionary definition is “a large group of people united by a common history or culture”. My feeling is that multiculturalism is thus, if not incompatible, then surely an uncomfortable bedfellow of nationalism.
After all, if no state should embody a unique ‘national personality’ then why should anyone prefer a Scottish or Welsh nation-state to a multinational British state? Debates about self-determination or independence – for Scotland, Wales, or any territory on Earth – would simply end up being about drawing arbitrary lines on a map.
The second problem is empirical. Scotland and Wales are simply ‘whiter’ than England, and fewer of their residents were born outside the UK. This means that multiculturalism is less apparent ‘on the ground’ in the Celtic nations than it is in most parts of England.
The third problem is demonstrated by research published in the summer, which showed that ethnic minorities in the UK are more likely to feel British than whites. Many members of non-white communities clearly feel that the British identifier provides them with a more inclusive label than English, Scottish or Welsh. Daniel may think that this is ‘wrong’, that they’ve been sold the Danny Boyle version of inclusive Britishness and should be embracing Englishness / Scottishness / Welshness. But who are we to tell anyone how to feel? And ultimately questions of national identity always do come down to “what you feel”. All national identities are contested, changeable and mean different things to different people at different times.
I would suggest that the English “chattering classes” like to promote very liberal cultural and social values which are alien to ordinary people who are denied a voice. They do this through their domination of the media, the arts etc. Just try getting a letter published in the Guardian which is contrary to the prevailing views of this elite.
While they can achieve this goal in England, the degree of freedom given by devolution makes it difficult to dominate in Scotland, Wales and Ireland in the same way. This is why they hate devolution and they would always oppose regional devolution in England
One of the interesting points to arise here is the assumption that a monoculture which is adverse to engaging with any other cultures is meant to be outward looking, while a culture what is based on bilingualism and therefore by definition straddles cultural boundaries and one which people from other countries and cultural backgrounds from outside Britain are happy to engage with, is seen as being exclusive and inward looking. Reality and perception requires reconciliation.
“All the rhetoric in the world cannot hide the introverted, cold-heart of Cultural Welsh Nationalism.”
Spoken like a true racist.
Excellent post Jon Jones! I often wonder if the people that post here live in the same Wales as I do. It seems there are none so blind as those that dont want to see…. but they will struggle to ignore the facts and figures that you have posted.
Factual accuracy seems to be irrelevant for most of the contributors to IWA’s leading articles and it’s good when authors are taken to task and challenged.
John Jones gave a prime example of ‘ethnic purity, which seems to be celebrated in Welsh medium education to a significant extent and the data and statistics he provided speak volumes
JJ could have added the Independent schooling sector which is truly multi ethnic as most ‘foreign professionals’ working and living in Wales who have financial capacity to fund private education for their children are opting out of Welsh state education and for no other reason than to escape forced Welsh language imposition.
If anyone needs convincing then look no further than Gwynedd and private schools in Bangor and further down the coast, all flourishing and multi ethnic!
Then we have the former ‘Yugoslavia facts’ and likening of Serbia and England in the context used is truly outrageous and inaccurate.
Slavoj Zizek is certainly an intellectual heavy weight and has made a huge contribution to the original political thought, but he is not free of prejudice and his definition of Serbian ‘double standards’ is flawed.
Not here to defend Serbia, bash Slovenes or Croats and will only say that Zizek should have been more open about his own background and his refusal to accept former Yugoslavia’s federalism in his formative years.
Zizek also forgets to mention that the two principal people who controlled Yugoslavia with an iron fist till its demise were a Croat (Tito) and his deputy Kardelj (A Slovene) and both based in Belgrade the capital of Serbia and former Yugoslavia (In as much the same ways as we had non English prime ministers in the UK and London based).
If anyone needs a lesson on the destructive forces of nationalism Yugoslavia should be the prime reference site and example. That country should have never been allowed to disintegrate but vested overseas interests (Germany and the USA) had a different vision.
The irony is that today’s conglomerate of Ex Yugo mini states are the mirror image of what Hitler created in 1939 or there about and the XX Century version as created by Germany with US and NATO help is identical – At least some food for thought here!
Finally back to the Welsh reality IWA and anyone else who puts Welsh nationalism to the fore should think again as nationalism is a cancer and must be eliminated from any democratic society and IWA and the public media I believe have a duty to question the imposition of a minority language and culture upon majority of Welsh people.
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Jacques Protic writes that “nationalism is a cancer and must be eliminated from any democratic society”. I fully agree but that means the end of the nations and nation-states – be they Wales, England, Serbia, Mexico or amalgamations like the UK. As a liberal cosmopolitan, I’m all for this, which would then mean that would couyld remove borders to all human interactionism to take precedent. Somehow, alas, I don’t think that the 95%, or more, of people out there who are nationalists, of one variety of the other, would ever countenance this.
The proposition that nationalism “must be eliminated from any democratic society” is rather interesting. Approached logically, this explicitly refers to the need to subsume Britain into a larger non-nationalistic entity as Britain as it was created and currently exists is a wholly nationalistic construct. There is already an entity into which Britain could be subsumed; the European Union. A United States of Europe would of course be a wholly federated entity. Looking at the way European human rights legislation is going, this would have two clear effects:  Bi-lingual primary and secondary education would universal in Wales and  Discrimination against Welsh culture (the posting of hate messages and the such-like) would fall within the remit of racially aggravated offences. Perhaps then, the elimination of nationalism is the way forward.
BREAKING NEWS – Perhaps off topic but at long last Plaid Cymru acknowledgment that compulsory Welsh language teaching is not working – SEE: http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/2012/11/02/55578-32152145/ Shame plaid AM didn’t touch upon the public employment issues and Welsh language compulsion. Just waiting for a call from Mary Huws to sanction Simon Thomas as his statement is likely to undermine her position!?
For there to be integration there has to be personal familiarity and common ground. In Wales there are relatively few immigrants from outside the UK. Those that are here are largely clustered in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. There is no evidence that I am aware of that these ethnic minorities are treated as unwelcome in these areas but, when one in four children born in Cardiff is born to parents born outside the UK, it is clear that the young population in Cardiff is increasingly multicultural.
Now it’s fine to say that Wales has a different world view to England but it’s not even remotely true that this is due to the minority Welsh Language or integration welcomed and facillitated by the Welsh speaking community.
I freely accept that Welsh Medium schools do not discriminate against ethnic minorities but this is not the point that I am making. Wales is already divided along language lines, that division starts in the school system where WM schools have a very different character to EM schools. WM schools have far fewer pupils from a deprived background they also have hardly any pupils from ethnic minorities. They have fewer SEN pupils, no traveller pupils…..in other words they form a very select environment for the pupils in them.
Parents who stand at the school gates of WM schools do not rub shoulders with the parents of children from the Indian subcontinent or Somalia……they chat with white people very like themselves. Within the school pupils see only children like themselves, they grow up in a bubble . Where is the cultural integration going to come from in these small communities? What is the common language that provides the basis for a meeting of minds between the native population and the immigrant population? It’s not Welsh….the international language of the melting pot is English.
At the heart of Welsh Nationalism, indeed at the heart of most Nationalist movements is an overwhelming desire to be viewed as “Other” “Separate” “Unique”. In Wales Nationalists define themselves in two ways; as “Not English” and as having a distinct (and not English) language. Unfortunately any movement or self view that feeds on vilification of another country (as Welsh Cultural Nationalism does) slips inevitably towards xenophobia. How do you portray a country as open to world cultures…….except one, which is to be resisted at all costs and by all means?
We in Wales have sacrificed social homogeneity on an altar built to the Welsh Language. Any who read the IWA blogs and comments cannot fail to see the sort of irrational hatred of people like those posters above who refuse to look dispassionately at any issue surrounding the “Language”. They aren’t alone of course……in Wales we have backed ourselves into a corner; we cannot rationally discuss our own society, not on line, not in the Senedd, not in the Media.
“… the belief that the English language is the only legitimate bearer of all civic-democratic nationality, and that those lying beyond its generously catholic embrace are little better than atavistic, tribal, racists.”
Quite. I’ve noticed an increase in the pejorative use of the word ‘Celts’ to describe the Welsh and Scots (and occasionally the Northern Irish) in the London media. The classic example was Andrew Rawnsley’s piece in the Observer some months back (to which Geraint Talfan Davies responded if I remember correctly).
In the context of elective devolution Rawnsley declared that the people of the North-east of England had just a distinct cultural identity as ‘Celts’ and queried why they been denied something that those other ‘regions’ of the UK had been given. The fact that Scotland has always had its own constitutional settlement within the union and that Welsh devolution is underpined by over a century of political activism seems to have rather passed Mr Rawnsley by.
“Scotland and Wales are simply ‘whiter’ than England, and fewer of their residents were born outside the UK. This means that multiculturalism is less apparent ‘on the ground’ in the Celtic nations than it is in most parts of England.”
Multiracialism isn’t the same as multiculturalism and Wales has a higher percentage of foreign-born residents than England.
I thought that one of the premises of anti-racism was the belief that all are equal regardless of colour or ethnicity etc. In truly Orwellian style, Jaques Protic suggests that schools with higher levels of multiculturalism are better for this reason than others with less so. Truly amazing.
“John Jones gave a prime example of ‘ethnic purity, which seems to be celebrated in Welsh medium education to a significant extent and the data and statistics he provided speak volumes”
Maybe he could provide examples of ‘ethnic purity’ being celebrated in Welsh medium education?
“nationalism is a cancer and must be eliminated from any democratic society” quite agree. So how do we eliminate. British Nationalism? The BBC promote it, the retail sector have been ramming it down our throats all Summer, UK politicians are constantly pushing it. After all, we’re all Europeans now by nationality. We don’t need racist flags like the Union Jack trying to promote divisive balkanisation of Europe. Down with nationalism.
I am a firm believer in positive action to promote and preserve the Welsh language as an essential component of a broader Welsh identity. But John Jones is right in one respect and his data cannot be shrugged off. In urban, English-speaking Wales, the language has become associated with social class. WM schools have parents who are more middle class and that tends to mean more white than the population at large. It is a self reinforcing tendency for aspirant middle-class people to send their kids to WM schools, increasing the cachet of such schools and intensifying the tendency. There is no question at all that this is socially divisive. A laudable attempt to give our kids the opportunity to be fully bilingual is having a very bad side effect. We should not deny this fact but face it squarely and consider what to do about it. It is contemptible for my fellow-Welshman to abuse JJ because he points to an inconvenient fact.
Where I cannot agree with JJ is that he objects to schooling in Gwynedd, the last area on earth where Welsh is the majority community language, being exclusively in Welsh. I cannot see the objection. If you go to France the schools are in French, in Gwynedd they are in Welsh. Get over it or move elsewhere.
Daniel Williams’s argument appears to be that Wales should not have to simply be a part of British multiculturalism because it can assert its own multiculturalism on its own. Yet the qualitatively different Welsh version that he seems to think is stifled by Anglophone liberals isn’t described, and we are once again treated to the circular argument that Wales is different and hence should be treated differently.
That paucity of reasoning is more depressing because the article (unlike much nationalist-leaning comment on the topic) actually bothers to confront the conundrum that Celtic nationalists face as a result of the “new Britishness” so well articulated by Danny Boyle in his Olympic opening ceremony. For decades these Welsh and Scottish separatists have defined their project for an inclusive, tolerant, civic nation against a certain depiction of the British state; rapacious, elitist and repressive. Yet Boyle showed us something else this summer. He showed us a post post-Imperial Britain, a place no longer enthralled by its decline, unconcerned by its complex national and ethnic make-up and shorn of the sense of superiority that comes from a penchant for conquest. He showed us a Britain that casts a smaller shadow across the globe but whose people are happier for it. It was a tableau that that accords perfectly with the vision for a modern, open and confident country that advocates for separate Welsh and Scottish states have tried to sell us all these years.
The response here is to suggest that an absence of Welsh rock bands reveals something about the English intent to mould this new British inclusive project in their own image only. But the mixed race digital household of the opening ceremony (the one that famously earned the ire of a Tory MP) could have just easily been in Cardiff or Swansea as London, Manchester or Glasgow. The celebration of the NHS was as much about the Welsh as anyone else. And who seriously thinks that the tumult of the industrial revolution is not a Welsh story as well as an English one? Complaining that the Welsh were not singled out for special attention misses the point. Welsh identity was not ignored or repressed – it was woven into the fabric of Boyle’s extraordinary display, alongside all others.
And because the non-appearance of The Manic Street Preachers is a parlously thin basis for objection Daniel Williams invents something else. He suggests that the proponents of this newer, more liberal Britishness are intent somehow on denying Welsh or Scottish multiculturalism. But there isn’t a scrap of evidence for this, not even from the disingenuous spin he puts on the 12 year-old comments of a newspaper columnist (nor, farcically, from the observation that the British team received their medals to the British national anthem). Williams objects to the depictions of the Welsh and Scottish as “static races”, an assertion that appears to stem only from the appearance during the Olympic ceremonies of a Welsh children’s choir (Whose dubious sin of singing in one of their mother tongues appears to have shocked him) and someone in Welsh national costume.
Yet, even if this revealed something about the attitudes of the English liberal intelligentsia, they could perhaps been forgiven. The claims of Wales and Scotland as distinct and authentic, even natural, polities are rooted in their venerableness (something that is often aggressively contrasted with supposedly confected and shallow Britishness). If “open-minded liberal Englishmen” think that they are being respectful to Wales by celebrating its aged customs and little else it is probably because so many Welsh nationalists have told them that this is the source of Welsh national legitimacy. If proponents of Britain are doubtful about the pluralism of Welsh and Scottish nationalism it may be because they have been under attack for decades for rejecting an exclusive vision of nationhood. If you go around demanding that multiple national identities are illegitimate, you can hardly be shocked if others infer from that a reluctance to embrace multiculturalism.
And yet for all that, the article can only deal in omission; that Miliband’s vision fails to actively assert the multicultural status of Wales and Scotland, and that Boyle didn’t put it up in neon lights alongside his giant “NHS”. His claim that to be a true British democrat one has to argue that “Scotland and Wales have the same democratic and multicultural potential as England” implies that there is a faction out there denying such a thing. And there just isn’t.
The whole thing looks rather like someone eager to find offence in a celebration of Britishness that in fact embodies many, if not all, he finds highly agreeable in a Welsh context. And that, rather than what wasn’t said and by whom, is Daniel Williams’s problem. Any assertion of British togetherness, no matter how modern, benign or inclusive, is by definition a challenge to a Celtic nationalist project that aspires to separation from such a polity. Anything that stresses the common bonds of history, culture and outlook, no matter how compelling and resonant, by definition undermines the case for a back-story of such distinctiveness and difference as to compel secession.
This morning I drove into town, said goodbye to my (English) wife, and parked the car. As I was walking into town I met a group of my friends who I play football with (one Norwegian, one Pakistani and two Americans), and had a chat with them before I continued into work. Just as I sat down in my office I recieved a telephone call from an old (Polish) friend, and we had a bit of a catch-up. Every single one of these conversations was in Welsh, as all of these friends of mine, apart from one of the Americans (who’s learning) are fluent in Welsh. Yet more proof of our atavisitic fear of multiculturalism and other people’s steadfast refusal to embrace Welsh culture eh? I feel that I should also point out that I myself am Portsmouth Irish; poor little racist Wales and her lack of ethnic diversity…
James McCann’s telling observation reminds me of Ned Thomas in ‘The Welsh Extremist’ (published by Y Lolfa in 1971) when he heard children of Asian origin shouting in Welsh as they were palying on a street. That was the moment when he realised that Welsh really had a future. It has a future, because those who wish to look at a culture such as this without the prism of misconception find out that cliches are one thing and reality is another.
I got through the first few paragraphs and just gave up. Honestly I am sick to death of all this “national identity” rubbish that seems to permeate political discussions these days and this article (at least what I read of it). I was born and raised in Wales, therefore I am Welsh. I was born and raised in Britain, therefore I am British. Neither designation is something I care to choose, they are simply just there. And I would not want to choose because they don’t mean anything. They are not identities, there is no such thing as national identity. My identity is what makes me unique as an individual, what defines me and my behaviour and actions. Neither the designations of Welsh or British are involved in that, what forms my identity is far more acute. Looking at the comments many of you seem to be confusing what you refer to as “Welsh multiculturalism” with the identity and multiculturalism of your own local communities, not of Wales in its entirety, which most certainly can stand out on their own while Wales stands out within Britain. Truth is I don’t see what could possibly be defined as either Welsh or British culture, or culture of any other nation for that matter (all I can think of are simply stereotypes). Is the Welsh language, for example, part of Welsh culture? No, “Welsh culture” implies something that is relevant to all of Wales, which the language isn’t as not all of Wales speaks it. It is certainly part of the culture of communities where it is spoken. It is certainly not part of the culture of the community I come from, where almost nobody uses it. Nor is it exclusive to Wales – anyone in the world can learn to speak it and adopt it as their own. If the Welsh language is part of Welsh culture then it is just as much a part of British culture, European culture and human culture.
I don’t understand why so many seem to think culture and identity are enforced by nations, which are simply made up designations themselves enforced by a bunch of lines on a map. Our own culture and identities are enforced by our own communities, local environments, the people we personally know and communicate with. I feel affinity for the immediate part of wales I come from, but what happens in the rest of Wales is no more a concern of mine than what happens in the rest of Britain. And this is what bothers me about Welsh nationalism – in order to build support for the Welsh nation one must first erase support for anything more local. Look at England – without a particularly strong nationalist sentiment, all of the distinct counties and regions of England retain their own designations and cultures (Yorkshire and Cornwall stand out as being two good examples of this). London is the capital of England yet it stands out on its own from the rest of England. What analogue is there in Wales? What makes Gwent and Gwynedd unique? Most people just see them as bits of Wales rather than anything special in their own right. Cardiff is a great city yet it struggles to stand out on its own and is simply just “the capital of Wales” (despite it being somewhat irrelevant to the many parts of Wales that are far away from it – Wales is not a small place remember).
I’m no fan of nationalism, be it British, Welsh, whatever. I’m a more vocal opponent of Welsh nationalism because it seeks to make a radical change that is completely unnecessary and with no good reason, while British nationalism seeks to preserve a status quo that I am fine with (I’m talking of course about more tolerant ‘civic nationalism’ in both cases rather than ethnic nationalism). I simply cannot fathom why something that is ultimately so trivial and meaningless as made up nationalities is so important to some that they want to break up a country to satisfy their own bizarre fetishes.
Last thing: “Team GB received their gold medals to God Save the Queen.” – Yes, as it is the British national anthem. It was used as a national anthem for all of Britain long before any of the nations used their own or competed individually. It has nothing to do with England specifically.
“…… showed us a post post-Imperial Britain, a place no longer enthralled by its decline, unconcerned by its complex national and ethnic make-up and shorn of the sense of superiority that comes from a penchant for conquest. He showed us a Britain that casts a smaller shadow across the globe but whose people are happier for it.”
Says Adam Higgit on the day that PM Cameron travels to the middle east to supply repressive governments with multi-billion pound arms deals. And also on the day that the poorest of London families, no doubt most of them ethnic minorities, will be farmed out to other parts of the UK… including Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. Yes, Boyle’s vision was a nice one. Shame it’s so divorced from reality. Nice attempt though at creating and illusion of an caring, and inclusive Britain.
Adam Higgit misses the point. Welsh and Welsh traditions make just one strain in British multiculturalism, on a par with Urdu or Polish and the cultural practices of those communities. Most English people do not regard multiculturalism as implying an equality of importance of English language and traditions and those of minority more recently arrived communities. Rightly or wrongly, many Welsh people wish to assert the same primacy or at least primus inter pares status for Welsh and Welsh traditions within Wales as English enjoys throughout the UK. We are not just part of a rich quilt, we are the warp and woof of part of the quilt into which the other colours have to be woven. The other colours are welcome but just as multicultural England is not the same as multicultural Sweden or Canada, multicultural Wales is not the same either. That does not imply secession, far less compel it. As with Catalonia, secession becomes an issue only when the claim to cultural distinctiveness is denied.
Characteristics and external expressions of contemporary British nationalism in 2012:
The widespread public and flamboyant celebration of an ancient national monarchical institution with extravagant national symbolism promoted by the state – and enthusiastically lapped up by a supportive public.
The enthusiastic hosting of, and participation in, a sporting event structured around similarly legitimized national teams, for the purpose of competition, with full national paraphernalia – supported and praised by an adoring public.
The annual celebration and remembrance (with accompanying symbolism) of past wars fought in the national interest and losses pertaining to them – respectfully observed by a supportive public.
Active participation in a foreign war, on foreign territory, as a national unit, in concert with other national units, in the interests of the national (security/economic) interest – accepted in good faith by the public with praise/sympathy for participants of that war.
A set of discreet (and nationally commissioned, regulated and broadcast) media of communication primarily focused on the reporting of current affairs, cultural and social dialogue, every-day experiences, past glories and disappointments, etc., etc., of the nation – actively engaged with and sometimes ‘loved’ by the public.
An economic, diplomatic, security and defence policy centred entirely and exclusively on the national interest – and the public would expect nothing less.
A rigorously enforced immigration policy – that the public demand.
But a broadly accepted programme of acceptance, induction and acculturation of newcomers (permitted into the nation in the national interest) to the national culture – that the public accept as necessary.
The ever-increasing prominence of a ‘silent majority’ of the public, nervous of pan-European political and economic integration and unity, and the imminent prospect of a plebiscite to withdraw (or negotiate special exemptions) from that union – ravenously demanded by the public or quietly contented to see happen.
A carefully and painfully constructed national ethic (often in the face of criticism) of multi-cultural toleration and inclusiveness under the umbrella of the national high culture and language in the interests of harmony and prosperity – broadly accepted by the public (in times of plenty…)
This, of course, is but a mere selection. The list is practically endless.
Britain is as ‘nationalist’ now as it was at the end of the Second World War. And I do not necessarily believe that the expressions of nationalism as outlined above are all necessarily and incontrovertibly a ‘bad thing’ or an abomination of reason (though some are certainly open to debate).
When talking of nationalism in the UK context, we are simply talking about which nationalism we choose to identify with, as the one represented above is clearly not the only perspective available. A metaphysical debate about whether nationalism actually exists in one area and not in another, or the ethical virtue or malignancy of respective UK nationalisms, is either delusional or disingenuous, but almost certainly intellectually impoverished. Can we get past that?
As it happens, my choice is clear, and I’m happy to explain and defend my decision. Are you?
To our noble and GENUINE internationalist colleagues, I take my hat off to you for resisting all this nationalist guff and finding a way through the very complex economic, religious and psycho-social reality of the modern world and coming up with a feasible and popularly acceptable non-nationalist, non-imposed alternative. But I fear, even now, you are a very small minority and I therefore direct my comments at the majority of us who have not yet transcended that particular paradigm (and I count European federalists, amongst ‘us’ – the eventual substitution of one nation for another is not ‘non-nationalist’ it is simply a redefinition of the boundaries and the social contract pertaining to it).
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