Monday, 27 October 2014

Nationalism Reconsidered

I meant to write this post just after the Scottish Referendum vote. I didn't, and am glad I didn't, because nationalism, Scottish, Welsh or otherwise, is a big issue, and needs to be discussed seriously. It is not simply an issue that applies to Wales or Scotland, but a force that has had a major impact on modern history across the world, and especially in Europe.
To begin with, then, what exactly is nationalism? The answer appears to be simple, but, as so often in political thought, it is not. The dictionary makes it sound straightforward:
"Nationalism is a belief, creed or political ideology that involves an individual identifying with, or becoming attached to, one's nation".
All quite tidy, seemingly, but this is wrong. Far Right extremists consider themselves nationalists. Hitler spoke of his desire to aggrandise the power of Germany, expressing his nationalist sentiments in numerous vituperative speeches and acts of murderous evil. Compare this type of nationalism to the anti-racist, anti-war, ecologically minded individuals to be found in the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru (PC), and you are entitled to be confused. For a fuller understanding of the differing explanations of nationalism, you can do no better than read the relevant Wikipedia article.
For ourselves, however, I think we should focus upon what nationalism in its Scottish and Welsh varieties means for us in Britain today.
I shall start by saying that I was glad when Scotland voted "No" in the referendum, even though I said nothing at the time. I have several reasons for this, and think they apply as legitimate causes for criticism to be levelled at both the SNP and PC, should they ever achieve their goal of independence.
My first area of concern is that an independent Scotland and/or Wales would divide the labour movement, and make it difficult for English, Welsh and Scottish workers to support each other. If, say, teachers in England strike for higher pay, there might be all kinds of legal barriers stopping Scottish and Welsh teachers supporting them. If anything, SNP and PC might take an ultra-nationalist line, telling their teachers not to get involved in another country's affairs. And there would be the vexed issue of pay. How would a nurse in, say, Rhyl, feel, if a nurse doing the same job in Chester, less than 50 miles away, was getting a higher salary? And what effect would it have upon people who have to cross borders to work every day? Producing your passport twice a day at a customs post to make a journey that is now uninterrupted would be time-consuming and irritating.
The other major issue lies in the nationalist parties themselves - SNP and PC. The problem with single issue parties is that they have only one unifying factor - one raison d'etre. Essentially, they are alliances. Once they achieve their objective -in this case, independence for Wales or Scotland- internal tensions are sure to appear. Nationalist parties in western Europe have left-leaning and right wing-leaning factions; I can't imagine that SNP/PC are any different. Without their unifying factor, the drive for independence, division and discord would follow.
One issue that I have some sympathy with is the language issue. PC are right when they talk about how the Welsh Language has been treated unsympathetically in the past. Welsh-speaking children in the late 19th/early 20th century were harshly punished for speaking their mother tongue in school. One of these punishments was the wearing of "the Welsh Not", or simply being made to stand on one leg for half an hour, or caning. All due credit is due to PC - or would it be more accurate to say the Welsh Language Society? - for campaigning on this vital issue. (It has to be said, however, that there have been complaints by parents of their English-speaking children being victimised in Welsh-speaking schools). I would now argue that the Welsh language issue has been resolved, without the need for a Welsh parliament. Visitors to Wales find bilingual roadsigns, notices and instruction manuals, as well as a Welsh TV Channel - Scottish Gaelic speakers are well served by television as well. To be frank, I do not believe that any more can be done for the Welsh language, or Scottish Gaelic. Perhaps other national grievances can be resolved in the same way?
In sum, I was glad at the result of the Scottish referendum; let's hope there are no more.