The Confessions of a Reluctant Welsh Unionist

Alasdair Dow considers the Welsh relationship with the Union.

I am not, I think, unique or particularly an outlying example of opinions in my neck of the woods. I think even though I doubt the universality of it, I am certain a large minority feel as I do. Firstly, like many in the Swansea area I tick the Labour box on a ballout not out of a passionate belief in the party policy or how great Keir Stammer would be as prime minister. In fairness, I do believe Keir would make a great prime minister. 

However, that is not the prime driving force behind why I tick the box. It is simply because it is the natural thing to do. It is the traditional choice for a person born in post industrial Wales to make. I would even assert it is the Welsh thing to do at an election. It is strange that this comes to mind but it is true my vote and many others are not a sentiment of  how Labour will improve our lives or a pious devotion to socialist principles. Instead it comes down to a subconscious belief that labour is the guardian of Welsh culture. Of course despite this feeling shared by many encouraged by the policy by successive Labour governments to promote the Welsh language and the great gift of devolution and our very own parliament, this is not true.   

Neither should Labour be solely devoted to the protection of Welsh culture - after all that is the business of nationalists like Plaid Cymru. Labour's goal of course should be to protect all the distinct cultures of the United Kingdom and bring them together in harmonious coexistence and a mutually beneficial union.  Even though this is the right answer it sticks in my throat a little. Not because the answer Labour provides is one that I do not believe in but because deep within me there is like most of Wales a siren call of nationalism. 

This is what I may call Wales’ reluctant unionism which can be articulated by an answer a colleague at work gave me on the question of Welsh independence: That Wales is too small to sustain itself. This answer is not a glowing review of a steadfast belief in the United Kingdom. It is pragmatic and reluctant; it is not a statement of belonging to a wider family of nations; it comes from a place of almost resentment. It is not because I want to be part of Britain but I will put up with being part of it because we can’t go it alone.

This opens a door which we do not want to walk through of why do the people of England , Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland  live together as one nation. We accept it because it is economically convenient. If this is the only reason we can give for our continued union, then it is a marriage of convenience and I fear like all such marriages it will be an unhappy one. After all, what happens if after looking at the ledger by some unforeseen good luck Wales finds itself able to go alone.

This of course after the discovery of oil in the north sea fuelled Scottish nationalists and over time enlarged the support of the SNP, eventually allowing it many decades later to dominate Scottish parliamentary elections and win the majority of Westminster seats in elections. So the point is like Rhiannon in old Welsh mythology who refused to marry for wealth alone. As an old socialist song goes, give ‘me bread but roses too’. 

This yearning has an easy but long answer but one we do not want to give. We are consumed by the notion that people are mere calculators trying to work out at the end of the day how being part of the UK benefits them and their family.  The idea that life is merely about you and your family as once stated by Margaret Thatcher seems an odd one for us to adopt. Across the Atlantic ocean in the United States someone in New England or Nevada do not weigh up if they want to be part of the United States based on whether it is an economically beneficial arrangement, but on the basis of the belief that they all as Americans share a dream. In recent decades even how the American Dream has been defined has divided Americans. 

I am not calling, like Theresa May during the 2017 election, for a “British Dream” and I respect that an appeal to a common histor , language and shared land like those found in France, Germany and Spain  may prove difficult.  Even though we mainly all speak English for many particularly in the case of Wales it is not the language of our land. As for the rest they have drawbacks and even attempts to unify a nation behind common values  as seen by America recent history has its drawbacks.Then it is on shared traditions and customs we must pin our hopes -  be it the need to apologise for someone bumping in to us, sharing in celebrations such as fireworks nights or coming together to watch the King’s Speech. It is in these things we find common experience and union. In saying this we must allow some room for a separate sense of nationality among our home nations and this is the challenge to balance these needs. 

Alasdair Dow is a recent graduate of Bangor University with an interest primarily in Welsh politics, hoping to share some insight on the issues of the day and contribute to understanding and maybe solving the problems we as a society face.  
Welsh flag from Dean Moriarty on Pixabay


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