In an uncertain world, one thing is most definitely certain - next weekend the government of Great Britain will be of a different complexion. Quite what that complexion will be is a matter intriguing analysts and will be of supreme importance to Europe, the world and last but not least, the United Kingdom itself.
The ranges of economic issues confronting the punters are so complex that the dark Lords of the Exchequer are themselves doubtless lost in the gloom. Foreign policy – simple – we’re fighting terrorism and Europe aren’t we – and, by the way, we’d better beat the Australian’s at cricket this year.
Domestic policy is the fairy at the bottom of the garden.
The scourge of nationalism that has gripped Scotland and Wales is as dangerous as it is sad, inexplicable and bathetic.
Scottish nationalism is based on rhetoric, romantic legends, and retellings of history and an induced prejudice of all things English. The Scots have had their referendum but now they want another one! The Scottish Nationalist Party is dominant – why – purely because it is Scottish.
Welsh nationalism is harder to understand.
Wales is a desperately poor country west of Offa’s Dyke. [Well, Scotland has its Hadrian’s Wall]. It has a population of some 3 million mainly concentrated in the south. It has a devolved National Assembly – an odd open building which reminds me somewhat of the Assembly building in Noumea [New Caledonia]. Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales - was formed in 1925 and advocates complete independence from the UK within the European Union [EU]. They are a vocal lot. Welsh language signs are mandatory and Welsh is taught at school. Seeing Welsh aisle signs in supermarkets with English signs underneath is one of the more ridiculous, resource and time wasting manifestations of enforced Welsh nationalism. How on earth do you say nappies, washing powder, electrical wire and curry powder in Welsh? You don’t. You make it up. Despite the attempts of Welsh nationalists English is by far the dominant language spoken throughout the country, indeed, given the prominence Welsh is given at schools, only some 15% of the total population claim to be able to read write and speak Welsh. Much good that will do them in the international world of commerce and diplomacy. In the age of China, fluency in Welsh is going to be as handy as a hockey stick at a baseball game.
The hard core language fanatics are confined to areas of secluded privilege such as the University of Aberystwyth; areas of the north west and small cosy corners of fey intellectuals and nationalist enthusiasts. The language has nothing to do with the real population centers of Wales such as the English speaking and depressed cities and regions of south Wales. Outside the major population centers of Swansea and Cardiff, the general social milieu of the valleys is as depressing as it was when king coal was master. Only today’s washing doesn’t get black hanging on the line.
A recent visit to Aberfan one cold wet November Sunday morning pretty well induced, or rather reminded me, of the sense of industrial alienation and depression of valley life. Although the valleys are where my mother’s family came from – my return to the mountains, countryside and comparative openness of north Wales where I went to school was enough to make me eternally grateful for the legends of Llewellyn and the northern heroes of Welsh lore.
So why does the Party of Wales want independence? Certainly a perceived or real neglect from Westminster – to take as example, after the Aberfan disaster the community actually had to engage the services of a QC to fight the National Coal Board for compensation. People have long memories. But, driving around the valleys today are the very visible signs of reconstruction, new industrial estates, and substantial infrastructure development. Things are happening but obviously not at the pace to satisfy the poor of South Wales and the cultural separatists who have succumbed to the same rhetoric of pride of nation as have the Scots.
As for joining the European Union as an independent country, Wales is already mendicant upon the rest of the UK. I am sure the EU would welcome yet another tin cup rattler at its gates.
But it is this question of national identity that bemuses me. My father was of true Anglo Saxon stock. My mother came from the dark valleys of south Wales. I suppose that makes me Anglo-Welsh.
I migrated to Australia in 1966. I am now an Australian – a full and paid up member of the Federation with a ticket to prove it. But I still take pride in things Scottish, and Welsh and English. Moreover, I am proud of my ‘British’ heritage. I say again, British heritage. I love north Wales, its essence and spirit speaks to me whenever I go there. But Welshman I am not. Englishman I am not. I am an expat Briton. The United Kingdom is my heritage.
Why, in today’s day and age, when the world is getting smaller, Britons want to think like Balkanised tribes is totally beyond me. Nationalism, certainly in the civilised world, is an evil that has well and truly had its day. History has moved on from nationalist etatism.
Scottish and Welsh nationalism has now gone beyond being merely quaint. It is a serious and potent force in domestic politics. And a negative force to boot as swathes of constituents take their eye off the broader national interest and focus on perceived long past inflicted wrongs; entering into special plea bargaining with Westminster in their ‘country’s’ interest – freely using the ultimate Damocletion sword, being the break-up of the Union. Not a good way to conduct business.
Having said thus, I can understand the appeal of UKIP in terms of dealing with Brussels. But quite obviously the question of the European Union and the nature of the ‘United Kingdom’ are two different matters. One is a glorified modern zollverein construct operated by dictat from Brussels, whilst the other is the genuine interaction and union of peoples with shared histories and cultures extending back to pre-Roman times.
From schooldays in Wales I have always been a deep critic of the then Common Market. It was a subject of deep debate at school – I used to argue that Britain already had its own plural and international community of nations to confederate with – it was called the Commonwealth of Nations. Sadly Britain chose the cobbled path to Brussels – a path which it has a sovereign right to renegotiate. I might proudly add at this point that I have an old school friend from Wales standing for UKIP this election – I take the opportunity to publicly wish him every success.
From afar it would appear that the aforementioned domestic politics will largely shape the outcome of Thursday’s result. Fortunately Britons don’t have to suffer the ridiculous electoral system evidenced in Australia. That would result in an unimaginable mess. The first past the post system – equivalent to the traditional show of hands used in every corporate boardroom, parents and citizens meetings, and even in the parliament itself – is the most effective manner of delivering a relatively decisive result.
Whatever the result, it is my sincere hope that the winner is the United Kingdom.
Zollvererein. A C19 customs union creating a Free Trade area in Germany under the aegis of Prussia. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.