Welsh Nationalism and Leftist shame

As a Welsh person, the issues connected with Welsh identity did not become completely obvious  to me until I left Wales to go to university in Birmingham. While Welsh pride was something I grew  up with, along with whisperings of tales of mistreatment of Welsh people in the past, Welsh history  and culture was widely overlooked and was definitely intertwined with a thread of shame and  disparagement.

In British leftist circles, nationalism is often overwhelmingly discussed as a negative. British or  more specifically English nationalism often comes from a place of colonialist pride and has a  history of exclusion, even of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish identities that form a part of it.  These connotations of nationalism can (and definitely do in my case) produce a kind of shame in  leftists from these countries. I’ve struggled with recognising that I shouldn’t feel bad for wanting  better for the place I grew up, and I’ve experienced a blatant reluctance among many young leftists  to recognise the concerns of Scottish, Northern Irish and especially Welsh people in their  experience of British politics and identity due to a fear of nationalism in any shape or form.

Nationalism has for many nations provided a means of opposing oppression. Nationalism when  used as a call for self-determination and liberation can be a positive force which is frequently  overlooked by people in Western countries. There are numerous examples of African, Latin  American and Asian nations which have used left-wing nationalism to oppose colonialist  oppression and create a more equal and prosperous society through self-determination. The  Welsh nationalism that I’ve observed gaining popularity has a large base of support among young  leftists, and is based on confronting the repression of Welsh language and culture and the  continuing social issues that Wales faces due to the history of British government over the country.  As in any nationalist movement, it is important to be wary of exclusionary ideology becoming  prevalent. But at present, this doesn’t seem to be a real problem. This growth has partly been  fuelled by the Brexit movement, and Plaid Cymru has positioned itself in recent elections as a party  for Remain supporters. I believe this has positive implications for the Welsh nationalist and  independence movement as it shows the movement’s more internationalist view. In addition, 40%  of Welsh Labour members now support Welsh independence and the Welsh Green Party supports  more devolution in Wales with the end goal of an independent nation. Nationalist and  independence movements in British nations other than England are generally left-leaning, but this  doesn’t seem to register into the general view of nationalism on the left.

The concerns of Welsh people about the social and cultural state of the country are frequently  belittled by those both in and outside of Wales. For some reason it is still seen as acceptable to  mock Welsh language and culture, while knowing little about it - there probably isn’t a Welsh  student at our university who hasn’t been on the receiving end of a ‘sheep shagger’ joke. Certainly  this isn’t helped by the state of language and history teaching in Welsh schools. After twelve years  of compulsory Welsh lessons, most children in in English medium schools still couldn't hold a  conversation in Welsh, and this continues on a history spanning centuries of the English  government attempting to stamp out the language. Welsh history is criminally overlooked, or only  studied in relation to events happening simultaneously in England. This lack of focus instills a  sense of inferiority of Welsh culture in Welsh children, and often leads to a disdain for the language  as a ‘waste of time’. It’s often referred to as a dying language despite being spoken by around  800,000 people, a number which has grown by over 100,000 since 2008. While the Welsh  language still plays a vitally important role in Welsh nationalism, it has become less of a barrier for  non-Welsh speakers interested in the movement in recent years.

Wales has consistently been one of the poorest areas of the UK, with the lowest amount of  disposable income in the UK and almost a third of children living in poverty. At the moment, the  Welsh government’s decisions on the COVID-19 crisis, especially those which limit the entry of  English people into Wales, have been met with backlash and comments that Wales should not

have any form of self determination through devolved powers. This level of invalidation of the  limited autonomous power Welsh people have should be alarming to anyone.

While we must remain wary of exclusionary elements in the Welsh nationalist movement, at the  moment it seems to me to be a generally positive movement which is taking a stand against the  long-lasting repression of Welsh culture and continuing social and economic disparity between  Wales and the rest of the UK. British people, and leftists in particular, cannot continue to disparage  nationalism in Wales while simultaneously ignoring and belittling the issues facing Welsh people.

Nia Brace

20 Oct 2020

Comment Section /

Welsh Nationalism and Leftist shame

Picture by Ifan Morgan Jones/Llinos Dafydd.