By Dr Sulien Morgan.
Never more than in the early hours of Friday morning have I felt more disconnected, rudderless and isolated when it came to a national identity. I have never known a Wales outside of the EU. I have never seen myself as anything apart from being a Welsh European. An isolationist Welsh identity has never appealed to me, let alone an isolationist one closely aligned with England.
And hence, since those awful hours on Friday morning, I have carried with me a perpetual sense of confusion. A confusion attempting to make sense of what has happened, and what will happen next, whilst all the while attempting to console myself that Wales will not eventually end up as an English county in that dreaded State, referred to as England and Wales.
And yet it looks increasingly that this may transpire to be the case. Scotland will leave the Union, there is no doubt about this. Northern Ireland is more complex, but the possibility of a self-governing Ulster within the Republic, with the incentive of being able to stay in the EU, would possibly be enough to carry a vote to leave the UK.
So one can see the logic, with Northern Ireland and Scotland gone, where does this leave Wales? Its history within the Union has not been one of economic success. It is amongst the poorest ‘region’ of the UK, if not the poorest. With its fellow Celtic Nations gone, Wales will be 3 million people in an Union with England’s 53 million. Does anyone really believe that a London government will suddenly take a benevolent attitude towards Wales, take it seriously or listen at all to its voice.
The prospect of an England and Wales State transpiring is all the more real due to Wales’ weak national movement. Plaid Cymru have tried time and time again and have failed to break through. Close results and large gains are not enough. A leader who wins popularity polls is not enough. The SNP have proved that it is only electoral success that ensures that your voice is heard.
The very essence of the Welsh nation is at stake and people must act. Plaid Cymru must change or stand aside and watch a new nationalist movement take hold in Wales. Part of Plaid Cymru’s weakness as a national movement has been its obsession with equating itself with concepts such as ‘progressive’, working class’, left wing’, words which may mean a great deal to party members and political activists but do they really resonate with the electorate? I seldom hear Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland use a similar narrative; the nation is always central to her discourse.
Listening to the Plaid Cymru narrative I often wonder if I am listening to a party of the British left rather than a Welsh Nationalist Party. Adhering to centre/left or left principles is not the problem, it is allowing those to dominate the message to the electorate, instead of the nation-orientated focus, which weakens Plaid Cymru’s nationalist forte. Your politics can be as principled and moral as you like but you must combine these with pragmatism, diplomacy and compromise. Dogma is not an end in itself; it serves a purpose. You accept that certain battles are lost but the war is won. Until Plaid Cymru learn this, there will be room for a new nationalist movement in Wales.
Over the next few weeks and months we will no doubt see Plaid Cymru, along with the Welsh Labour government, attempt to speak for Wales in response to Brexit. Conversations must take place, questions must be asked of Labour – what is their position should we eventually end up in a situation where it is only England and Wales left in the Union? Will they then support an Independent Wales? These conversations must be had, thoughts to the future must be cast. But if Plaid Cymru join Labour in some coalition, as has been mooted, this will simply reinforce again this image of a nationalist-lite Plaid Cymru putting British left values before those of the Welsh nation.
Wales now needs, more than ever, people outside the political classes to come forward to engage and to provide blueprints for a Welsh future as an independent nation inside the European Union. What Wales does not need now is thinkers who define themselves by tags such as ‘left’ and ‘progressive’. It needs thinkers who are ‘nationalist’ and ‘anti-colonialist’, and who are inherently progressive, but whose focus must be the Welsh nation, so as to forge a course for the country.
People must be brought together. Cliques and cronyism, which are present just as much in Welsh Nationalist circles as in anywhere else, must be put aside. If the journey towards Independence is to work it must bring on board not only Welsh speakers and the people of the Valleys and Cardiff, who have been the primary focus of Plaid Cymru for a while now, it must also find ways to appeal to the often forgotten people of counties such as Flintshire and Monmouthshire, to name just a few; the places which often do not seem to have fitted into the nationalist narrative in recent years in Wales. Ignoring places such as these, either for being too ‘Conservative’ or too ‘British’ in outlook, will not end well.
If we don’t act now, the idea of Wales as a distinct nation may cease to exist altogether, and then it will really be too late.