Insults Require Counter-offensives
Gan Alan Sandry.
Michael Buerk’s Christmas missive regarding the contribution made by Welsh people through their singing voices is the droll iceberg of Metropolitan resentment about Wales’ existence.
Michael Buerk in The Mail on Sunday “Wales is not another country; it’s England with an accent and a good singing voice. But it is being pulled along by Scotland in devolution’s slipstream, whether it likes it or – more probably – not.”
In his Mail on Sunday outburst – it could only be that rag, naturally, which specialises in cultivating and encouraging the xenophobic angst of, seemingly, rational and cultured public figures – Buerk despaired at the “state of Britain”. Ironically, someone really ought to have taken him to one side and told him that this is hardly innovative thinking, as the big ‘S’ “State of Britain” has perplexed many of us for decades . It would possibly have been more pertinent if Buerk, and similar mollycoddled and indulged members of the London commentariat, actually looked at the condition of themselves and their prejudices. Indeed, for several years now, Buerk has come across as the apotheosis of smug colonialism, personified by the coterie of BBC broadcasters who observe Wales as an oddity; the dog with no hair, who engenders concurrent feelings of pity and loathing. Does this matter? Well it all ultimately depends on how people in our country wish to deal with the stream of ignorant invective from Buerk and his fellow travellers, and whether they decide to act through countering these perceptions with positive action. That, however, would involve affirmative responses, and not just the shoulder shrugging that we appear to have mastered in recent times.
All of this came at the end of 2012, a year that could be described as either an annus horribilis or an annus mirabilis, depending on your ideology and outlook. Leaving aside Olympic and Royal hyperbole, the back end of 2012 saw the issuing of the 2011 Census results. However they are read, these produce some sober statistics, with, arguably, stark implications.
The results provide us with data that enable us to visualise, understand and interpret the clear sociological and cultural de-boning of Wales, in terms of how many of us have attempted to understand our nation through historical representation. For sure, facts, data, and political spin will come and go and, inevitably, a ‘New Wales’ will, in some shape or form, arise: all societies evolve after all.
Nevertheless, with the conspicuous increase in in-migration from England and the political manoeuvring to Anglicise Cardiff and its environs, and amalgamate all points east of Bridgend with a Greater Bristol ‘super-region’, it would appear that rather than a distinctive, identifiably ‘Welsh’, Wales shining through, it may be little more than a watered down Wiltshire that we are eventually left with. Mr Buerk may, indeed, have a point! However, even these changes, dramatic though they undoubtedly are, may well prove to be transient and rapidly reconfigured. By the time of the next Census – 2021 – there is a strong possibility that the UK will not exist.
Should the people of Scotland accept collective responsibility, and vote ‘Yes’ to independence, then RumpUK will be hiccupping its way into the world. In addition, by 2021, the north of Ireland may be on the verge of departing this Rump, as demographic shifts in favour of the Catholic population, and the advancement of Realpolitik, will almost certainly see the staging of a Re-Unification Referendum. Whatever the outcome, Ulster will inevitably be one or two steps nearer Dublin and a couple of
strides further away from London.
The current row regarding the flying of the Union Flag is just the start of the debate on what some observers are labelling “an Irish future?” Taken as a whole, the implications for us are enormous. Wales, and this is the part that terrifies both political and civil society alike, will be forced to consider distinct choices.
Devolution, by that stage in the constitutional process, will be a busted flush. Moreover, Federalism – the halfway house preference, favoured by some urbane politicos – will not be an option. Despite its recent converts from the ranks of ‘soft’ Plaid and ‘inclusive’ Conservatives, with a smattering of Labour progressives’ to add an air of radical, evolutionary consensus, Federalism ceased to be a viable alternative framework on 3rd May 2007, when the SNP emerged as the largest party within the Scottish Parliament. Since then, and despite their no doubt honest intent, the advocates of Federalism have promulgated an implausible solution.
So, the choice – the division – may be between independence or absorption? Nevertheless, a question rarely asked is this: is it now too late for Wales to consider independence? Whilst the cautious, sentinel voices of British statism warn us that it is far too early to consider anything remotely akin to autonomy, the converse analysis would note that Wales is ‘too far gone’ down the path of England Wales-ism (the Elizabethan State) to ever release itself and claim national political freedom and nation-state classification. One standard obstacle placed in the way of political autonomy, by British nationalists from both the left and the right, is the economy, and its perennially parlous state. Whilst it would be foolhardy to dismiss economic concerns, the notion of self-government, and freedom from extraneous influences, is a completely separate argument of positioning and empowerment. The fact that the Welsh economy – today, just as much as it was in the past – provides a testing ground for those seeking mineral exploitation, labour-force exploitation, and land exploitation is not an argument against independence. Quite the reverse! It provides an unambiguous argument in favour of self-government.
But we also require other forms of renaissance across our communities, both urban and rural. Once established, these linkages between town and country then require bold creations and radical exploration to re-invigorate our society. Some examples already exist. Unitary Urbanism, for example, which was supported by some of the Situationists amongst others, argued for perennial exploration and experimentation in urban life. Compare this with the scenario in today’s Wales – in today’s
Cardiff Bay, to use its synecdoche – which is static and constricting. Since 1999 an initial sense of progression has been gradually reduced to a state of virtual stagnation. Politicians, political parties, lobbyists, the media, and great swathes of civic society have all played their various parts in stifling any emergence of a buoyant culture: cliché or not, the crushing jackboot of ‘Old Boyism’ truly is alive and well. Disgracefully, we have settled for bland, with a distinct lack of space for elasticity. In amongst all of this, our pinnacle of hope, the National Assembly, has become a ludibrium. It has the power to shape and influence lives but it has become the plaything of a tightly knit oligarchy – the Bay-istas – who oversee and control political, social, cultural and economic interactions (most prominently in Cardiff and the Labour fortresses of the south). The madcap scheme for City-Regions, so beloved by the Bay-istas, will only mushroom this hegemony. In terms of authentic economic and social progress these City-Regions will have scant effect.
In terms of dominance by the social democratic bourgeoisie, and their progeny, the careerist crachach, they will prove invaluable. Furthermore, national integration, disguised as regional overlapping, appears to be the latest project to promote assimilation.
Exemplified by Hain’s Folly – the Severn Barrage – there is a persistent neo-liberal push for locking in the economies and societies of our south eastern corner with the western counties of England. Whilst these developments are perfect for “here today, gone tomorrow” entrepreneurs and speculators, they are disastrous for those who genuinely believe in a verifiable ‘national interest’. Wales is stagnating, but so many people in positions of power and influence seem content for this to occur as they maintain their dominion through disseminating the false promises of “tens of thousands” of (chimerical) jobs on the horizon. Sadly, we have allowed a situation to develop where the cruellest of all cons – the hope of a job with security – is shamelessly played on the unemployed with alarming regularity. Political and economic leadership – of both political parties and broader society – is culpable in this. At the precise moment that we desperately require bold leadership and vision for our nation, far too much time is being wasted on fanciful projects, which provide little real hope.
Unless people are not revealing their true selves, then the statement has to be made that Wales lacks leaders who are truly desirous of significant change. Flipping in the Assembly may be politically meaningful but in terms of societal earthquakes – paradigm shifts – it is marginal. With this in mind, it was interesting to note the commemorations of 30 years of S4C, and Gwynfor Evans contribution in forcing the hand of Thatcher’s Government to ensure that company’s establishment. Gwynfor mastered ‘gamble politics’ with his threat of hunger striking. Fascinatingly, but regrettably, this was the last of the great gestures – the grand positioning – of political figures in Wales. Whilst grassroot members of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith have consistently championed non-violent-direct action, and its consequences, few ‘household names’ have followed suit by attempting praxis outside of the political institutions. If our country is to move on, to progress, to foster a climate of rejuvenation, then more prominent people have to stand up and be counted. The reality remains, alas, that the National Assembly has manufactured Koala Bear politicians: generally assuring but hardly intrepid.
But is this what our nation needs?
The ‘koala effect’ has also filtered into business and commercial circles, with even our protest groups protesting less than they were a decade ago. Last September 1.5 million people were on the streets of Barcelona voicing their demands for independence from the Spanish State. Can Cardiff offer up a tenth of that number (150,000) to demonstrate for political freedom? It can, but to kick-start the process the leaders of Wales have to lead. We have to change the mise-en-scene of Welsh politics and society. It is time for the Koalas to awake from their slumber.
Published in February 2013 issue of Cambria Magazine
Dr Alan Sandry writes and broadcasts
on Welsh and European Politics.