To Fed? Or not to Fed?

As the UK moves from a unitary state to a devolved structure, Dr Owain ap Gareth explores what Federalism can do for a future UK.

Devolution has dramatically changed the rules of the game for the UK constitution. With the crisis of a Scottish independence referendum, and a somewhat untidy structure of 3 different devolution settlements in the UK, federalism has been suggested as a way to solve our ills. But is this realistic and what can Federal systems teach us for the future of Wales and the UK?

What is the future of the UK – A federal arrangement?

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First things first. What is ‘Federalism’? A simple definition would be:

“A system of government where power is constitutionally divided between different levels of Government.”

However, this simple definition masks several – with apologies for the cultural reference – shades of grey. It is useful then to see what this means in practice.

The first key point is that in order to have a clear settlement across the different parts, Federalism requires a written constitution. This would outline where powers reside – with clarity about what powers are in the hands of the region, what powers lie at the federal centre, and what powers are shared.

As constitutional law is based around a legal written constitution. Federal states tend to require a strong role for courts and the judiciary – hence the classic separation of the powers of the Judiciary.

Within this core framework, federal countries work quite differently to each other.

Some countries are Federations in writing, but the centre has in practice become dominant in just about every policy area. Austria is a good example.

There are federations where regions are in competition with each other and the federal level has an intentionally curtailed level of power. In these federation there is little transfer of money from the centre tax pot to the regions. The United States is a good example of this ‘competitive federation’.

There are also federations where there is an attempt to create cooperation between the different levels, with powers set out between federal and regional level, but also shared powers. There will be varying transfer of funds from the centre tax pot to the regions, with some Federations having the principle of equal living conditions written into the constitution, such as Canada and Germany (and Rhodri Morgan has advocated this in the UK for example).

Given the discussions on devolution in the UK have been around principles of redistribution on the one hand, against ‘paying your own way’ on the other hand, the latter ‘cooperative Federalism’ appears to be a useful model to look at.

In terms of powers, we can take Germany as a typical example here:

Federal powers: Defence, foreign affairs, immigration, transport, communications, currency

Shared powers: Welfare, land management, consumer protection, public health and statistics.

Region’s (Lander) powers: Everything else. Culture is 100% the Lander for instance.

Some have argued that the UK is moving toward being federal – or ‘quasi-federal’ – already. To what extent is this true?

Our new institutions such as the Supreme Court and its increasing say on constitutional matters – as in several recent cases on the powers of the National Assembly – indicate that the UK constitution is increasingly framed around judicial decisions on where powers lie, as in Federal systems. In this context the Government of Wales Act serves a similar role as a ‘devolved settlement’ not dissimilar to a written constitution (although not a very populist one!).

However this remains based on powers in devolved areas – it only asks the question: ‘what is the National Assembly for Wales for?’ It is silent on the wider question of “what is Westminster for?” In order to move to a Federal structure, one would require a structural change in the centre from its Parliamentary sovereignty. It is notable that ‘Shared powers’ have been little discussed in the UK for example, but in order for it to work one would need a structure that could accommodate different levels having a clearer and more equal status.

So what are the likely barriers to a Federal UK? This can be summed up in one word: England. No other federation has such a dominant unit in a federation, with 84% of the population. This makes the possibility of a tidy ‘symmetrical’ federal structure difficult. ‘Tidiness’ and parity across the nations would also dictate that Scotland will be held back by the partner least enthusiastic about more powers, which is unlikely.

A suggested way to deal with the English problem is to make the House of Lords a Senate as in the USA, with the devolved Nations having representation weighted in their favour, in order to balance the power of England in the House of Commons. Another way suggested to mitigate the dominance of England is to devolve power to the English regions.

Given these problems, we should keep in mind that there are models of strongly decentralised states, and analysts of ‘fiscal federalism’ (who look at how funds are distributed across a nation-state’s system) are often quite happy to include countries that are not ‘classical Federations’, such as Spain in their analysis. We may not see a federal UK, but a quasi-Federal UK could include constitutionally guaranteed devolved powers, as in Spain.

The devil, as always will be in the details, but we should also be careful in our expectations of what a federal system would be expected to solve. In Federal systems – including those ‘Cooperative Federations’ such as Canada and Germany – discussions around how funds should be distributed across the federation dominate the political landscape and policy agenda much as they do in the UK. However, Federalism can point to structures on how powers can be clarified, how conflict may be dealt with, and how constitutional protections can be put in place. Movements in this direction would make matters clearer for Welsh and UK citizens.

Dr Owain ap Gareth is Campaigns and Research Officer at Electoral Reform Society Cymru.

28 thoughts on “To Fed? Or not to Fed?

  1. You are right to put England as the main problem for a federal Britain. To me the essence of federal government is the equality or equivalence of the ‘states’. To make federalism work in Britain all the parts of the federation should have roughly equal power. This would mean either taking London out of the federation, or subdividing it. London as an international city state seems to me an attractive proposition. It would mean siting the capital city of Britain somewhere else – think of Canberra or Ottawa. Such a federation might also appeal to Ireland.

  2. As I have said before, financial transfers via Barnett to less well off regions made sense when everyone on this island felt British and wanted to be part of a truly United Kingdom. Now things have changed such re-distribution of funds from England no longer makes sense. And would make even less sense in a federated kingdom.

    To encourage our more prosperous neighbours to continue to shower us with their largesse we need to reaffirm what it is we have in common rather than what it is that we have decided makes us ‘different’.

    If ‘difference’ can be shown to have a price I suspect we might find we have a great more in common than we had previously dared to imagine!

    Why, we might even dare to dream that we can all get back to living happily ever after!

  3. Karen 10.43

    Fiscal transfers in a political union have got nothing to do with the ‘feelings’ or the ‘generosity’ of the rich. They are the price that richer regions willingly pay for the unfettered access that their capital gets in poorer regions via the free market (though security of borders, resources, trade routes, etc., are also often considered important enough to protect with what you call ‘largesse’). That is why the UK and others are net contributors to the EU and will continue to be so whilst London capital believes it is a fair price to pay. No doubt you disagree with that decision, but take it up with the City of London if you wish to complain.

    Fiscal transfers will continue to happen in a UK context (in whatever constitutional garb) as long as capital in the rich parts has freedom of movement and operation in the others. If that were not the case, there would literally be no interest on either side to remain in a union.


    There are many things we might learn from Spain in the UK, but their constitutional set-up (vis-à-vis decentralisation) is not one of them. The virtues of their ‘asymmetric’, quasi-federal system is one of the great myths peddled by British devolution pragmatists desperate for a proxy to the British situation in the 1990s. It neither fully provides for the sort of confederal arrangement that the Catalans and Basques might (and I stress ‘might’) be tempted to remain within, nor addresses the essential cultural and political unity of the greater part of old Castile, having splintered the centre into a myriad of (sometimes) wholly unhistoric (but now significantly autonomous and bureaucratically heavy) regions. A great divide has opened up in the last 20 years; an increasingly radical Catalan, Basque and Galician nationalism dissatisfied with the insufficient quasi-federalism of the current system and a growing (sometimes visceral) populist Castilian centralism tired of the cultural division and ‘cost’ of the Castilian autonomous regions. This ‘café para todos’ (coffee for everyone) approach, dreamed up during the transition to democracy as a way of ‘controlling’ Catalan and Basque nationalism, is in real danger of collapsing under the weight of its own internal contradictions and unsustainable ‘unnaturalness’. Spain did, perhaps, have the opportunity to establish something long-lasting in the 1980s, but its paranoia to shackle the Catalans and the Basques and maintain central sovereignty in Madrid (una España, grande y libre) led to them selling ‘Spanish’ Spain down the river with counter-balancing regions. The chickens are now coming home to roost.

    Of course, the Labour Party love the idea, and have every intention of replicating it here, which is why British nationalists shouldn’t let them get anywhere near the UK constitution. Welsh and Scottish nationalists, however, will just sit back and watch history unfold in amusement…

  4. Phil Davies, 2:23pm, I think you make my point regarding fiscal transfers. They only make sense if we choose to remain as a United Kingdom. And to remain united we need to pull together rather than deliberately drift apart.

    We can’t keep on accepting English largesse whilst at the same time banging on about all the newly dreamt up reasons as to why we are so ‘different’. If we want to be ‘different’ then let us be so. And let us thank the English for their financial generosity to date but accept it no more.

    Unlike Scotland we are not a nation divided. And unlike Scotland we can rid ourselves of our own cancer easily, quickly and without bloodshed. The ballot box awaits.

  5. Karen writes “And unlike Scotland we can rid ourselves of our own cancer easily, quickly and without bloodshed”. She is so right, as always. Let us drop this Welsh-obsession once and for all. Thankfully, the Greens are rejecting the Welsh language, whilst the Tories have always been extremely sceptical about Wales, and UKIP are overtly pro-England. It just needs the Labour Party to focus more on London, instead of thinking about Cardiff, and all will be well. Wales can improve, but only if we accept that we are a poor region within the English State.

  6. A federal UK appears to offer the worst of all worlds – no surprise then that a growing number of the failed political class are now pushing for it. It does nothing to address the fundamental imbalances between the so-called ‘home nations’ – it simply re-brands the increasing unhappiness the people in England have for the status quo. The Celtic fringe has become a luxury the English taxpayers cannot really afford just for the sake of a faux-Union.

    It should take very little in the way of leadership in English politics to cut the failed ‘home nations’ adrift without the life-raft currently funded by the English taxpayers. Bring it on – the Celtic fringe has been swimming against the tide as far as England’s best interests are concerned for far too long.

    On the face of it, a federal UK is just a way of locking England into funding the Celtic fringe in perpetuity by making it a little harder for England to break free. The English should not fall for this ruse.

    I wonder what kind of immigration policy an emergent England, freed from the EU, would impose on its former beneficiaries? Don’t expect much sympathy and be careful what you wish for!

  7. Karen, 3.05pm

    Perhaps my rhetorical skills are not what they were… I am not supporting your central claim I am refuting it. Let me put it a bit more simply:

    Fiscal transfers are not acts of generosity. They are acts of calculated self-interest. In order to open markets for exploitation, protect borders, secure resources or provide more ‘living space’, richer countries enter into various forms of union with poorer ones. Since oppression and exploitation are unsustainable (and extremely expensive) in the long term, they pay a price for access to these assets in various forms of fiscal transfer (normally below market value). You will see this principle at work in empires of old, modern US protectorates, the EU, and yes, the UK.

    But…if richer countries have a self-interest to ‘buy’ assets from poorer ones, it follows that poorer ones have assets to ‘sell’ in the first place. The great trick of imperialism is to persuade the poorer country that they are not in fact ‘selling’ anything but are ‘receiving’ generosity. It is as old as the hills, and your discourse attempts to perpetuate it.

    England (the City of London more correctly) is not in union with Wales out of generosity, it is in union out of sheer self-interest. Wales has vital assets that it considers important enough to ‘buy’ through fiscal transfer. Not least of these is a 150 mile land border to England’s west, water supply to a quarter of its population and (at various times) mineral and natural resources aplenty to extract at below market prices.

    The interesting question is not whether Wales is an attractive purchase for England (that much is borne out by the history of the two countries since Edward I bankrupted the English state in 1282 to conquer Wales), but whether the Welsh even know they are actually players in a two-sided transaction and what the price elasticity is… It is not infinite, I’ll grant you that, but as events in Scotland over the last 2 or 3 years have proven, London is prepared to pay a going rate way beyond what its poker face (and imperial propaganda) suggested for so long.

  8. Phil Davies is too harsh about poor old Spain. Symmetric federations are generally a property of new, large settler countries where a tidy constitution was invented from scratch. Germany is an exception but its federal structure was imposed from outside after WWII. All old countries that have been forced to decentralise by national sub-divisions have an asymmetrical structure. It is inevitable. The Welsh don’t seem to want the same autonomy as the Scots and most English regions don’t want much autonomy at all. You can’t force things into a uniform mould. Faced with a new set of problems you just have to make the answers up as you go.

  9. Phil Davies appears to believe that the balance of interests of states does not alter over time even when measured in hundreds of years. When protestant London feared the largely catholic continent there were pressing arguments to hold Scotland and Ireland close.Of course there were other reasons but my point is that things change. Phil seems to think that an “attractive purchase” in 1282 will remain so indefinitely.The “going rate” for Scotland has more than a little to do with North Sea oil and when that is exhausted the rate will change. So what the Wales going rate? A good deal less than in the days of King Coal.
    I am not convinced that Welsh resources are of such value to the rest of the UK that we can demand a premium for them with fiscal transfers far beyond those given to similar English regions.

  10. John Walker. Interesting perspective. How has the “Celtic fringe” been swimming against the tide of English interests? Can you explain what you have in mind?

  11. Jon 9.20

    “Phil Davies appears to believe that the balance of interests of states does not alter over time even when measured in hundreds of years.”

    Incorrect. Of course they change, sometimes very quickly.

    “Phil seems to think that an “attractive purchase” in 1282 will remain so indefinitely.”

    No, not at all. Perhaps you didn’t understand my point about price elasticity? There is always a price, and it always varies according to market conditions, and the buyer’s appetite to purchase at a given price depends on his/her circumstances at any given time. That is price elasticity, and it is no different for states and their partners/neighbours/competitors.

    “I am not convinced that Welsh resources are of such value to the rest of the UK that we can demand a premium for them with fiscal transfers far beyond those given to similar English regions.”

    Neither am I “convinced”. Only a fool or a charlatan would claim to be “convinced” until ‘value’ and ‘price’ (different concepts) were tested in market conditions. The referendum in Scotland gave us a glimpse of national assets being exposed to market conditions. It doesn’t happen very often though. If it happened in Wales, I think you’d find Welsh national assets being valued far higher than its brow-beaten people (and leaders) currently estimate.

    It’s not for me to try and help you understand what those key assets are Jon. But I would say one thing, if you thing the important ‘resources’ are the ones that can be dug out of the ground or piped off to Birmingham, you should perhaps think more about why the USA has spent 50 years trying to ‘buy back’ an impoverished island in the Caribbean with nothing more than sugar cane and tobacco growing on it.

  12. R Tredwyn 2.34

    “You can’t force things into a uniform mould. Faced with a new set of problems you just have to make the answers up as you go.”

    I completely agree, which is why Spain is such an utterly inappropriate model for UK unionists to aspire to. Its essentially centrist constitution (in terms of real sovereignty) is thwarting any real possibility of a pragmatic settlement which will be attractive to the Catalans, whilst its limited ‘devolution for everybody’ approach is diluting Castilian-Spanish national identity and creating a genuine (existential) divide in poplar opinion. I do not exaggerate… conflict is genuinely possible in Spain in the next few years. Hawks in the army have already talked of sending the military to Catalonia to enforce the constitution. Rhetoric? Of course, but Spain is not in a happy place constitutionally at the moment and the UK would be foolish to follow its ‘café para todos’ approach.

    A recognition of plural sovereignties, unilateral agreements with England vis-à-vis shared competencies and a sliding scale of ‘independence’ is the only way to go for those who have any interest in an enduring union. Splintering England and shackling Scotland (and Wales) within a unified sovereign jurisdiction will break the union in 20 years, as it is doing in Spain.

  13. It is worrying to see that federalism seems to be becoming the default option in this whole debate. Whatever one’s views, this assumption should be challenged more aggressively for the sake of thorough consideration:

    ‘Why do we actually need a federal system? Are there any specific benefits that cannot be achieved any other way? If so, is the need administrative or purely political?’

    There is no clear administrative need in the UK. The history of the Welsh Assembly since 1999 is itself proof of that.

    So any need must be political. This is true of most – possibly all – federal governments, except perhaps the very largest and even that is arguable. They are almost invariably the product of historical factors.

    If we end up with a federation, it will be the result of an unhappy compromise because we were unable to decide whether we wanted the UK or Wales – and England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland – as the basis of a unitary nation-state. So we end up with two levels of government – three including the EU – each burdening the same people with its own set of politicians, bureaucrats, and regulations, where we need only one.

    Better to make up our minds one way or the other.

  14. John,

    “If we end up with a federation, it will be the result of an unhappy compromise because we were unable to decide whether we wanted the UK or Wales – and England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland – as the basis of a unitary nation-state.”

    The Good Friday Agreement happened. Ulster is never returning to unitary UK rule. In all probability shared sovereignty or even a transfer to the Republic (as a devolved unit) are more likely in the medium to long term. [The UK cannot argue that it can adequately defend the minority interests of Catholics/Republicans within its current constitutional system and then argue that the Republic cannot adequately defend Protestant/Unionist minority interests when that socio-demographic shift (inevitably) happens. Well, it can’t do it and maintain any international credibility]

    The independence referendum in Scotland happened. 45% of people voted to leave the Union completely and a form of Home Rule for Scotland was promised to keep the marginal 10% on board. That is going to happen – even under current proposals and before the SNP take control of Westminster representation as did the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1880s. It’s conceivable that full independence will be averted, but it is inconceivable that anything short of full Home Rule will be accepted in Scotland after May 8th.

    The creation of the Welsh Office, The ’97 referendum, 2006 GWA, 2011 referendum, 2014 Wales Act, Richard, Holtham, Silk Commissions and St David’s Day Agreement all happened. Wales is already self-governing by any meaningful description, and that’s before St David (or Labour’s separate manifesto pledges) are instituted. And in any case, how long Owen Smith and his merry band of recusant MPs can hold back the collective weight of Labourite ‘civil society’, the commissionariat and the crachach from achieving ‘full-fat’ Silk II is quite another thing.

    It all happened John. You were not dreaming. The UK’s unitary constitution (which was never fully unitary in the first place) has gone forever. Your request for us all to go back to ‘first principles’ may be heartfelt, but it would require the sort of ‘undoing’ of history normally reserved for 1980s Superman films.

    That is why most people have moved on to talk the vocabulary of federalism (most of them genuine unionists I might add). I think they just accept that when you remove the psychological ‘displacement’ effects, and assess the landscape objectively, that’s where we’re at. They also, I think, take for granted that they are visioning ‘UK’ futures and possibilities, which, yes, are fraught with historical complexities and require bold thinking.

    If one removes Scotland and northern Ireland from the equation, then yes, it is theoretically easier, though still highly implausible, to undo the past 60 years of decentralisation and go back to first principles of a unitary state. But are you visioning for the UK John, or a newly independent ‘EnglandandWales’? If it’s the former, good luck convincing Sinn Fein and ‘the 45’ of the merits of moving back to direct Westminster rule without a bit of a kerfuffle. If it’s the latter, good luck convincing the people of Wales that they should unilaterally choose to ‘disappear’ in an international context where their erstwhile co-travellers were newly ‘appearing’. Tough rhetorical call that one.

  15. Phil, yes, of course it all happened. No one on this side of the fence is denying that. If only we could! If anyone is in denial, it is those who saw devolution as an antidote to the dissolution of the United Kingdom, rather than the accelerator is so obviously is, and who still have not woken up to what is actually happening.

    If present trends are not reversed, the Scottish nationalists will probably get the extra 5% sooner or later, and the ‘battle of the cradle’ will probably edge Northern Ireland ever closer to the South. Nothing is inevitable in politics, and it would be nice to be wrong, but if present trends continue, the Union will not. While some of us will regret that, we agree it is a matter for the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland to decide.

    However, as Welshmen, we have a right, even a duty, to decide what happens to Wales in this process. We can continue to drift with those present trends – and have the decision made for us by England, which is driving the latest round of constitutional changes – or we can make a firm decision for ourselves, one way or the other.

    If we choose to follow Scotland, then we need to start planning and preparing for independence, or quasi-independence, now. If, on the other hand, we choose to remain in a Union with England, we need to make our intentions and commitments clear. A federal solution is a distraction and a procrastination in either case – a security blanket to those who really are still in denial about the destruction of the Union.

  16. Worth remembering that the politics of the 1997 devolution proposals for Wales were driven as much if not far more by Scotland. Wales as the inevitable add on. As is Wales now also driven by Scottish events and demands. Its not comatose Wales that is alive and ‘kicking off’. Barely awake.

    Should Scotland move out of the equation (and I think it certainly will), where does that leave “the process not the event” (c. Ron)?

    So Wales’ future to be argued objectively on its OWN specific merits? No more shouts of “Us Too, Je suis Glasgow!” from the Plaidocracy? Interesting times indeed.

  17. @JWR
    Surely metaphorically federalism is the straw being grasped rather than the security blanket. The security blanket being clung to being Unionism, that is British nationalism, whether the UK version or an Englandandwales one.
    Though in an Englandandwales nation state it’s difficult to image that overall the nationalism attached to it would be anything other than English.

  18. CapM, it is a mistake to see this as a ‘clash of nationalisms.’ Most of us in Wales have both a Welsh identity and a British identity, and are comfortable with both. Nationalism, of either sort, is a major factor in the political beliefs only of a minority.

    For most people who take part in the constitutional debate the real issues are purely practical.

  19. @ richard harris

    It’s true to say that Scotland had a stronger political momentum but Wales had its own dynamic which was the democratic deficit in Welsh Government at the time. The momentum for that came from a rejection of the Thatcherite policies that had dominated Wales for the previous 18 years and the bitterness remaining from the miners’ strike. It was a close run thing here but it wasn’t on the basis of riding Scotland’s coat tails.

  20. @JWR
    ” it is a mistake to see this as a ‘clash of nationalisms.’ Most of us in Wales have both a Welsh identity and a British identity, and are comfortable with both. Nationalism, of either sort, is a major factor in the political beliefs only of a minority.For most people who take part in the constitutional debate the real issues are purely practical. ”

    Come now we are having a constitutional debate because there are different ‘nationalisms’ within the UK nation state. A person might feel that they have one or a number of national identities but if that person’s preference is for a British nation state then they are a British nationalist, A person’s identity doesn’t define their nationalism there are plenty of examples of people who feel that their identity is English who are Scottish, Welsh or Irish nationalists.

    “Identity” seems to be a term favoured by many British nationalists because for many years in many places across the world “nationalist” was and is a term used by the British to denote problem types who didn’t wish to conform to the ideal of British state or empire. A toxicity has been heaped on the term and so it’s not surprising that those doing the heaping are loathe to accept the term when it’s accurately applied to them.

  21. CapM, if you view the word ‘nationalist’ as toxic, that is your perception, and you are entitled to it: most do not share it. However, there is something very old-fashioned about nationalism as a political ideology. Nation-states were the great obsession of the 19th Century. People in the 21st Century West, while usually still feeling a vague pride in their country and its traditions, are less likely to put it at the heart of their political identity. They remember how extreme nationalism contributed to some of the greatest crimes of the 20th Century. The young in particular are more cosmopolitan, more globally-minded, and are more likely to see politics primarily in terms of service-delivery.

    There are exceptions. It is difficult to argue that nationalism plays no part in Welsh nationalism – but even there, it s possible that many are projecting every conceivable fantasy on to an independent Wales rather than seeking to defend a real or imagined concept of Welsh identity. It may be because they are sensitive about this that Welsh nationalists have taken to presenting themselves as being in opposition to ‘British nationalism.’

    Yet there is very little evidence of ‘British nationalism’ as a major political force. Only the British National Party and their fellow travellers put an open appeal to British nationalism at the core of their message, and it has not struck a chord with the public. UKIP also have a strong nationalistic streak, but their success last year was more a protest against the political Establishment than an embrace of their real or perceived values: they will not win many seats this year in a serious election. The Conservatives and Labour might use the language of British patriotism on occasion, but they always come across as cynical when they do, and so they usually know better than to try.

    Unionism is not – alas – an organised force, so it is difficult to analyse it as an ideology. Yet it still seems safe to say – with the Scottish Referendum last year adding to the evidence – that Unionism is based on pragmatism not nationalism.

    It is all comes down to a very simple calculation. The British state is very far from perfect – and anyone looking for someone to defend it should not look here – but as the basis of a nation-state, the United Kingdom has certain advantages: (1) it has by most definitions been extremely successful for several hundred years; (2) it has a functioning democracy; (3) it scores low on international corruption indexes; (4) it has a well developed business and political leadership class; (5) it has a strong managerial tradition which has survived even trough incompetent governments; (6) it has, or at least, had widely shared values; and (7) the dominant political tradition is liberal.

    By contrast, Wales has certain disadvantages as the potential basis of an alternative nation-state: (1) a poor track record since devolution; (2) a de facto one-party state; (3) deep corruption; (4) an underdeveloped business and political leadership class; (5) a weak managerial tradition; (6) no shared values; and (7) the political dominance of reactionary socialism.

    Under these circumstances, the United Kingdom, rather than Wales, is currently the logical choice as the basis off a nation-state – and federalism serves no purpose at all. If the circumstances were somehow reversed, then most Unionists would not have much difficulty in becoming Welsh nationalists.

  22. @JWR
    “CapM, if you view the word ‘nationalist’ as toxic, that is your perception, and you are entitled to it: most do not share it.”
    I suggest you re-read my post as there is nothing in it to suggest that I think the term “nationalist” is toxic.

    You go on at some length to reason that
    1. Nationalism is a bad thing
    2. Welsh nationalism is fantasy
    3. British nationalism is, in the scheme of things inconsequential and unimportant.
    These are arguments I see made time and again usually by those who tend to be averse to identifying themselves British nationalists.
    However in your determination to deny the British a nationalism of their own and replace it with identity/identities you overlook the recent referendum in Scotland. That was clearly not a choice between identities but of nationalisms, British or Scottish.

    A nation state can accommodate any number of identities and permutations there of, BUT it is difficult for a nation state to accommodate more than one nationalism. In a British context this has already been played out. For nearly a century we have had a British nation state and Irish nation state where there once was just one nation state.

  23. CapM, there certainly seems to be some miscommunication between us.

    Your previous comment stated ‘A toxicity has been heaped on the term’ i.e. nationalism. You were therefore the one who equated toxicity and nationalism. My only comment on that was that most people rejected that.

    There is therefore nothing in the comment to suggest ‘Nationalism is a bad thing.’ What was said was ‘there is something very old-fashioned about nationalism as a political ideology,’ etc.

    Nor did the comment say or imply that ‘Welsh nationalism is a fantasy.’ For better or worse, it is obviously very much a political reality. The actual words in the comment are ‘It is difficult to argue that nationalism plays no part in Welsh nationalism – but even there, it s possible that many are projecting every conceivable fantasy on to an independent Wales rather than seeking to defend a real or imagined concept of Welsh identity’ – a very different thing.

    Of your three numbered points, only the third is a correct summary of what was said. That Unionism is based on pragmatism rather than nationalism is confirmed by the very evidence you cite, the Scottish referendum. The debate there turned primarily on practical issues, and polls have confirmed that most people voted on that basis on both sides, especially the Unionist. It is also significant that areas where Scottish national identity is strongest voted ‘No,’ further indicating that practicality rather than identity was the decisive factor.

    You have every right to your own beliefs, but where others have contrary beliefs, you would do better to study their own reasons for those beliefs rather than project your own. You might find that they have considered something you have not.

  24. @JWR
    It’s clear that you do not agree with me describing you and your fellow British pragmatists as British nationalists.
    Therefore to avoid any impression of hypocrisy it would perhaps be prudent if you, from now on referred to Welsh and Scottish nationalists as Welsh and Scottish pragmatists.

  25. CapM, is your pseudonym hiding the fact that you are a professional diplomat? Let us end on that note of harmony.

    In fairness, Scottish nationalism has in fact developed a commendable pragmatic streak in recent years, but Welsh nationalism has not, hence its relative lack of success. If it ever did become seriously pragmatic, you might be surprised at how much some of us genuine pragmatists are prepared to accommodate it.

  26. The Celyic brotherhood may indeed be a fantasy:

    And the unity of Wales called into question:

    “”People in South Wales are also quite different genetically to people in north Wales, who are both different in turn to the Scots. We did not find a single genetic group corresponding to the Celtic traditions in the western fringes of Britain.”

    We in the North did not need a geneticist to tell us that we had little to do with people in the South of Wales. Perhaps we can forge a more logical link with the North West of England?

  27. @J.Jones
    I don’t think introducing genetics as a determinant in the constitutional arrangements of any future British nation state or states is at all helpful to the discussion.
    In any case the BBC political forums offer opportunities for those who wish to advance such types of solution more than adequately as it is.

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