On The Far Right on the Home Front

neil-hamilton-single-use-onlyNeil Hamilton addresses the Springbok Club, in front of apartheid-era South African flag


In light of events in the US and the recent protests in the UK, we should be thankful that the rise of the far-right is not so advanced in Wales. Nevertheless, the fact that the Welsh Assembly has a significant UKIP presence makes it an exception in the UK – and suggests there’s every reason to be marching against UKIP as much as against Trump.  After last Tuesday’s events at the Senedd (17 January 2017), when Welsh-language pressure group Cymdeithas yr Iaith were informed that an invitation to give evidence to an Assembly committee was being withdrawn, it is becoming increasingly clear that this unchartered territory is proving to be difficult terrain across the political landscape.

Dictating terms?

Cymdeithas yr Iaith, on the basis of prolonged internal discussion, decided as a matter of principle that in the event of providing evidence at Assembly committees they could not endorse UKIP with direct answers.  Their reasoning is clear and rational: “UKIP has promoted and tolerated prejudiced attitudes against a number of groups in our society – gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people, ethnic minorities, migrants, people with HIV – and the Welsh language. We cannot treat them like any other party.”

With the intention of taking this stand at the Culture Committee (where they were to be questioned by UKIP leader Neil Hamilton) they contacted the chair, Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins, to inform her as a matter of courtesy, but emphasised ‘we don’t want you to change anything regarding the arrangements of the meeting’.

Had Cymdeithas asked that Hamilton not be allowed to put questions to them they would have been in difficulty, as this would not only be providing directives to the Committee as to how to conduct their business. There would also be the more problematic implication of querying his right to ask questions, and therefore his legitimacy as an elected representative.

They asked no such thing, but instead indicated that they would choose to respond to any question in accordance with their collective conscience. Rather than answering the question directly they would outline briefly their stance with regard to UKIP.

The responses from both an Assembly spokesperson and the Chair clearly indicate that they took the view that Cymdeithas had in fact made a direct request to silence Hamilton. “It is not for witnesses to dictate to an assembly committee who is allowed to ask questions,” stated the spokesperson.

Bethan Jenkins stated that she consulted with Committee Members and “the unanimous view of those who responded was that it was for the committee to decide who should ask questions and not witnesses.”  These responses reveal how the nature of Cymdeithas’ request has been interpreted, intimating that they had demanded that Hamilton not be allowed to put forward any questions.

This assumption is obviously mistaken.  Hamilton’s status, as an AM and member of the Committee, was not questioned; Cymdeithas merely indicated their intention to exercise their presumed right to answer as they saw fit (and without, it should be added, resorting to unreasonable or hateful rhetoric).

Islands of Intolerance

The response throws into doubt the democratic credentials of the Assembly, seemingly debarring a witness on a false assumption. Moreover, it would seem to delineate Assembly committees as fora where our accepted practices and moral norms regarding free speech are put to one side (at the one end of the scale, the accused in court may remain silent, whilst at the other end of the scale, no one would dispute an individual’s right not to answer a question in any given social situation, if they are uncomfortable with the question, or the questioner).

The situation, inevitably, is more complex – in a way that the reply to Cymdeithas fails to recognise, or any subsequent responses have revealed.  Clearly the incident necessitates work and reflection, in particular on behalf of Elin Jones as Presiding Officer and her legal advisors, in order to review the Assembly Standing Orders that dictate the rules for Committees.

A great deal turns on the interpretation of the nature of Assembly Committees and how their status has (or hasn’t) been characterised in their regulations. On the face of it, the claim to free speech seems appropriate to symposia that are created in order to discuss and debate issues with a view to collating information to inform policy.

Nevertheless, an understanding of Committees as evidence-collecting bodies aiming at disclosing the truth of a given matter provides a more legalistic interpretation, where legal convention might be seen to dictate that the witness is duty bound to respond directly to the questions put to them.  In such a forum, in accepting the invitation they would legitimately be expected to provide evidence for the question in some form – although they would still maintain their right to outline their position on UKIP.

This latter interpretation might seem to inform the assumptions in the response of the Assembly and the Committee, but the relevant sections of the standing orders (17.21; 17.42, 32) do not refer to a situation where a witness refuses to answer.  In fact it seems implicit that the Chairperson has a great deal of autonomy in interpreting the regulations and creating rules for their Committee, which would suggest Bethan Jenkins has effectively decided to set a coercive and potentially worrying precedent.

These issues both reveal the work to be done and indicate that the decision made to exclude Cymdeithas yr Iaith was not grounded clearly in Standing Orders. Even if this had been the case there are questions surrounding the treatment of Cymdeithas, and whether they should have been prevented from appearing at the Committee.

In particular, why were they not provided with an opportunity to review their position in face of the assumptions of the Committee, and why was it not explained to them that they (presumably) had the option of voicing their objections to UKIP if they also provided evidence in face of the question?  The move to ban them without any further discussion or legal advice (apparently) may be regarded as a rather authoritarian response, and should the Presiding Officers and Assembly lawyers decide they are duty bound to answer UKIP questions directly, at the very least Cymdeithas should have their invite reinstated and given a proper chance to review their options.

However, it is not clear to me that the case would rest there, and here we may be in unchartered territory in the UK (and possibly beyond). More powerful than a claim to freedom of expression and opinion in this context, and perhaps the interpretation which reflects the position of Cymdeithas most accurately, is that this is a question of freedom of conscience. In their view, given their sincerely-held beliefs, responding directly to UKIP is an unconscionable act.

It would be interesting to know whether there is any precedence for this, because in political committees as a rule this question would never arise, given the assumption that those elected politicians asking the questions represent views within the normal, acceptable parameters of British democratic politics.  Will the Assembly find in favour of the option, therefore, of such acts of conscientious objection to UKIP?

If they do not, they will in some sense be creating ‘islands of intolerance’ in our Senedd, forcing witnesses to act against their conscience and therefore their own free will, or to forgo the opportunity to provide oral evidence if they give prior notice. The ramifications of this would be significant in terms of Welsh civil society, and groups and individuals who might be invited to give evidence at Assembly Committees.

The Committee Chair claimed in a statement defending the decision that Cymdeithas complaining about having an invitation rescinded undermined the validity of written evidence; but of course, were it not the case that face-to-face debate and discussion provide added value, the committees would not invite parties to give evidence at all, and would only request written submissions.  It would clearly create a two-tier system where those who choose to disavow UKIP’s politics would not be given the same opportunity.

There are no doubt groups and individuals who have deep reservations about UKIP in the same way as Cymdeithas, who might like to take a similar line. They would all presumably be debarred from debating and discussing in any Assembly committee.  Should they choose to tow the line, in effect Assembly rules would be reducing the capability of Civil Society in Wales to respond to the challenge of the far-right.

The Politics of Intolerance

The response of the Chair has been instructive, and raises questions about the handling of the issue and the wider ramifications.  She took to social media to state she ‘could not accept a situation where one group refuses to answer a question from an elected member of the committee’, and retorted to one query with: ‘so Cymdeithas should be allowed to determine which questions to answer and how’.

Both responses seem to offer a rebuttal of the norms of free speech and conscience, and it might be felt by some that they left something to be desired in terms of due respect to members of the electorate. She also questioned why Cymdeithas wished ‘to make an enemy of her’ and referred repeatedly to her record in fighting UKIP, which brings us to the nub of the political issue.

There is a huge question mark regarding not only her behaviour (it is important not to single her out on this because this relates to all AMs who are not in UKIP) but the general tendency in the Assembly towards complicity with UKIP – represented most starkly by the raft of publicity shots of members of all parties happily smiling away with UKIP AMs, sending out the message that despite their politics they should be treated ‘like any other party’.

Most specifically, Jenkins and her colleagues surely realize that such behaviour legitimizes UKIP in a way that means that they will only have to work harder and knock on more doors in future, as their political enemies find their place as an acceptable part of our political landscape.

How can you argue the case effectively that UKIP’s politicians are, for example, charlatans, lazy, and beyond the pale, whilst treating them as ordinary politicians from day to day?  In the end, both Plaid and Labour will count the electoral cost, as they have done already (if you want a plausible version of a nightmare Trump scenario, imagine the UK in 2020, debilitated by ongoing Brexit wranglings and economic decline, where an emboldened UKIP storms former Labour strongholds, including the South Wales valleys, leading to a scenario where they could more than double their Assembly vote in 2021 and form a coalition with the Tories).

This is not to say the answers are easy, and indeed these political parties need to work out subtle and efficient ways of undermining UKIP. A step in the right direction would be a sustained attack on their record in the Assembly, far more publicity for their ridiculous and poisonous attitudes, and a more co-ordinated attempt to discredit them. It is our politicians who see them in (or frequently) out of action, and so they have a duty more than most to inform the public of UKIP’s actions.

There needs to be an openness to some of the radical ideas currently being discussed in Wales and elsewhere with regard to how we address the underlying societal and economic issues that have fed the rise of the far right. A more positive message of hope is also needed with respect to our communities, where we look to celebrate our diversity as a society.

Smiling alongside UKIP in photos is certainly no help; working to silence the dissenting voices in civil society is not only morally problematic, it will aid no one’s cause except the far-right. Whatever the outcome with respect to the actions of Cymdeithas, they have shown us that we need not accept without question the politics of the far-right, and there are numerous ways we can oppose them here on the home front.

This is part of a global struggle.  Politicians and civil society in Wales have an opportunity to be at the forefront and to set an example. Are we up to it?

Huw Williams

Originally from Dole, near Aberystwyth, Dr. Huw L Williams is a philosopher at Cardiff University.  His most recent books include a volume on Welsh intellectual history, Credoau’r Cymry (University of Wales Press, 2016), and a co-authored work with Carl Death, Global Justice: The Basics (Routledge, 2017). A shorter version of this essay has been published in Welsh on Y Twll, https://ytwll.com/
‘On the Far Right on the Home Front’ appears here as a guest blog.


On the @ShaziaAwan Question

In a New Statesman article of 9 December Shazia Awan asks: ‘I’m a Welsh Asian – so why doesn’t the Welsh Assembly have a box for me to tick’ on their equalities form? The sub-heading states that a ‘bureaucrat’s form clumsily equates being Welsh with being White’. But as Shazia Awan indicates in her article, this is more than ‘clumsiness’. The equation of ‘Welshness’ with ‘whiteness’ foregrounds the tendency to view ‘the Welsh’ as a racial group and underlines the fragility of a nascent multicultural Welsh citizenship within Brexit Britain.

Awan notes that:

There are options on the form for ‘Asian or Asian British Indian’ and ‘Black or Black British Carribean’, to give but two examples. And also for ‘White British’, ‘White Irish’ and ‘White Welsh’. But not for ‘Asian Welsh’, or ‘Black Welsh’. Did it not occur to anyone there was something wrong?

She traces the oversight to the ‘Brexit advisory group’ that First Minister Carwyn Jones ‘clumsily’ assembled over the summer: ‘This group was made up of predominantly white, middle aged men, and not a single person from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background’. Jones’s criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s immigration policy this week suggests that Awan is right to detect an intolerant underside to the Welsh Labour Government’s response to Brexit. But her initial question takes us to the heart of cultural debates about Welshness in this age of UKIP and Trump.

Two common metaphors are deployed in the contemporary debates on multiculturalism. The first is the ‘melting pot’. The term, traced to the writings of the Zionist from England, Israel Zangwill (1864-1926), quickly gained traction in the United States. The melting pot is a symbol of the assimilationist ideal in which peoples come together, throwing away their particularities and blending into one culture. Against this assimilationist metaphor, some have suggested the ‘salad bowl’. This is preferred by contemporary multiculturalists for it is not based on assimilation, but rather on the co-existence of different cultures. The ingredients within the salad can cohabit within the same space, but can also retain their distinctiveness. This is the multi-cultural ideal.


Both symbols speak to significant strains within liberal and progressive cultural thought. Both are under threat from the exclusionary racism on the rise today. But there is a more fundamental question: what constitutes the ‘pot’ or the ‘bowl’ itself?

In British forms of multiculturalism, Britain is the answer. Liberal forms of Britishness emphasize the hybridity and multi-cultural nature of the cosmopolitan centre. But this multi-cultural centre relies on defining the peripheries in static, mono-cultural and even racial terms. As Stephen Kinnock has been good enough to remind us recently, Britishness is quite comfortable with assimilating ethnic others, and tends to see any challenge to it in racial and backward terms. We might trace this structure of thought back to Matthew Arnold writing about the Celts in the 1860s, or to the amalgamation of the Celts into the English ‘band of brothers’ in Shakespeare’s Henry V. In each case a seemingly plural, liberal, hybrid Britishness relies on racialised subgroups to function as the ingredients in its melting pot.

If we adopt Werner Sollors’ influential distinction between notions of identity based on ‘consent and descent’, we see that Britain, in its liberal guises, is conceived in consensual terms, while the Celtic peoples and other minorities are envisaged in terms of descent. In a revisionist account of nineteenth-century British culture, the historian Peter Mandler suggests that a ‘civilisational’ rather than ‘racial’ perspective characterised the thought of the Victorian era. The problem is that he concentrates wholly on how the English conceived of England and Englishness. Matthew Arnold’s writings indicate that a ‘civilisationist’ view of England can happily co-exist with, indeed may actually be predicated upon, a racial view of the Celts. This is certainly preferable to the belief that the ‘British people’ should think of themselves in the racial terms advocated by the intolerant Right. But ‘the Welsh’ are ultimately conceived to be an ethnic sub-group whether we adopt Kinnockian assimilationist liberalism or Faragist cultural fascism.

While the intolerance of UKIPian Britain is clear enough, it is quite difficult to explain – whether to open-minded liberal Englishmen or some Welsh Labourist historians – what is wrong with the assimilationist vision of Britishness. It might be useful to transpose the debate to a different context. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the problem that Slavoj Žižek identifies in the relation between Serbs and Slovenes is mirrored, if in a less charged manner, in the relationship between England and Wales. Žižek states that he is ‘often accused of being a Slovene ant-Serb nationalist’, and notes that

when I converse with members of the so-called Serb democratic opposition, they say they are in favour of a cosmopolitan democratic Serbia whose defining quality is citizenship and not national belonging. OK, I accept this. But this is where the problems begin, because if you speak with them a little bit longer, you discover a certain political vision that tries to disguise cultural particularity as democratic universalism. For example, if you ask them about Slovene autonomy, they will argue that Slovenia is a small self-enclosed nation and that they, by contrast, are in favour of an anti-nationalist democratic society which is not self-enclosed.

Žižek claims that the Serbs practice a ‘kind of two-level nationalism’ in which Serbia is the only nation in the old Yugoslavia that can sustain an open principle of multicultural and democratic citizenship. This results in a ‘double logic’, for while Serbs are seen to be fundamentally democratic, modern and evolving, the Slovenes are viewed as an inherently closed, traditional, ‘primitive Alpine tribe’. This, he argues, is often the basis for contemporary racism. ‘We should be careful when people emphasize their democratic credentials’, warns Žižek, for the key question is whether ‘these same people allow the Other to have the same credentials?’

The problem that Slavoj Žižek identifies in the relation between Serbs and Slovenes is mirrored, if in a less charged manner, in the relationship between England and Wales. British nationalists employ the same ‘double logic’, espousing the progressive potential of their own national identity, while denying it to the minority nations who may wish to decide the forms of governance suitable to their own, always evolving, interests and identities.

On the Left, ‘Britain’ has been separated from its connections with empire and racial superiority, and is espoused as the multicultural face of Englishness. The debate regarding ‘cultural nationalism’ in Britain today is a debate about the frames, or crucibles, within which a multicultural society is allowed and able to develop. The true British democrat, following Žižek’s astute analysis, is one who is prepared to argue that Scotland and Wales have the same democratic and multicultural potential as England within the geographical space that we call Great Britain. To develop the political autonomy of Wales and Scotland is not to reject British multiculturalism, but is to deepen multicultural citizenship. It is surely time to move beyond the ‘double logic’ by which ‘my nation is progressive and cosmopolitan’ while ‘your nation is separatist and divisive’. For it is only when we fully embrace the idea of independent Welsh citizenship that we will see ‘Asian Welsh’ and ‘Black Welsh’ as established tick boxes on our census forms.


[Ceir fersiwn Cymraeg o hyn ar y blogiad blaenorol yma]

Dyma fi’n cyflwyno’r un ddadl mewn cyfweliad byr gyda Alun Rhys Chivers, Golwg, yn Rali Yes Cymru, Abertawe at Dachwedd 19, 2016.

On the ‘Nation of the Welsh’ rejecting Brexit

We can comfort ourselves that, given the narrowness of the result, it is certain that what Iolo Morganwg called ‘cenedl y Cymry’ (‘the nation of the Welsh’, not ‘the Welsh’; the difference is important for ‘the nation of the Welsh’ includes those who are not Welsh) voted to remain in Europe.

Herein lies the rub, and the difference with England, where English identifiers were the strongest supporters of separation. If the symbolic and civic nations of England were in tandem in their desire to Brexit, this is not the case in Wales where the symbolic nation voted to stay and a gerrymandered version of the civic nation voted to leave. Not only did the capital vote to remain, but the cultural heartland did so too. Welsh-speaking communities voted to remain, as did Welsh-speakers. EU citizens – 2% of the population – were denied a vote, and although civic nationalism demands that all ethnicities be treated equally, there is nothing in civic nationalism which says that one ethnic minority, marginally in favour of leaving (the English), may vote in a plebiscite, and another ethnic minority (EU citizens), who would surely have been for remain, be turned away.

13552747_1332938680056168_941662048_nWe must tread carefully, for Brexit supporters from England living in Wales are Welsh citizens too. But given that  Wales’ EU citizens were excluded, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to call the referendum in Wales a score draw. And there are other complications. There is the issue of internal difference within Wales, and the rights of Welsh-speakers as a linguistic minority. Welsh-speakers must be allowed to utter the truth, that their language group voted to remain European and this must be respected and taken on board in any negotiations.

What then of the future? The exit of Scotland, and later Northern Ireland, from the rump UK will return Wales to 1485, and the birth of the Tudor State where Wales and England existed within the realm of England. The multi-national United Kingdom will be no more, and those who have rather foolishly claimed that the UK and England are one and the same will notice the difference.

Incorporated within a Ukipian dystopia of In-ger-land, Wales will be in a similar position to other small groupings in monoethnic states, the non-Russian nations within Russia, perhaps, or the Maoris in New Zealand. The Welsh will not be thought of as a ‘nation’ within the new England so much as an ethnic minority. This is how the English thought about the Welsh for centuries, and with the UK gone, this way of thinking will return. Paradoxically this might lead to a new emphasis on Welsh culture and the Welsh language as the old Welsh civic state withers away, and Welsh ethnic identity returns in its place. For decades, scholars have theorized that in a post-devolved Wales the Welsh nation would live, but the Welsh language might die. The meaning of Brexit however is that the opposite will become true; the Welsh language will live, but the Welsh nation will die.

Two political options offer themselves to the national movement at this hour of crisis. The first is a grand coalition between Labour and Plaid Cymru, ‘a government of national unity’. In the 1930s, many attempts to frustrate the rise of fascism were crippled by the inability of democratic parties to see beyond their narrow sectional interests. There are signs that the jostling between Labour and Plaid for pole position on the centre Left is beginning to create similar difficulties in Wales today.

Labour voters could have cast their list vote at the Assembly elections for Plaid, locking Ukip out, but on the orders of Labour High Command they choose not to. And when the Assembly convened with seven Ukip AMs in attendance, Plaid Cymru challenged for the post of First Minister, knowing full well that the only way to defeat Labour was through Ukip support which, miraculously, was forthcoming. There can be little doubt that the fall-out was a factor in undermining the campaign to prevent Brexit. A Government of National Unity would be the best way to stop Ukip, closing them out of Welsh politics for good.

Or Plaid Cymru could relaunch itself as a radical nationalist party, attacking Labour at every turn, seeking a mandate for Welsh independence in order to return to Europe. This will boost the Plaid Cymru vote, especially if Labour fall into the ‘let’s make Brexit work for Britain’ trap. It will however require a rather different type of politics from Plaid Cymru. Rather than the building of progressive alliances with other ‘progressives’ in Wales and therefore muting the nationalist cause, nationalists will have to promote nationalism. This will be unpopular with some on the Left who will see it (incorrectly) as a form of Welsh Ukipism with which to fight Ukip.

Both alternatives are palatable. Both represent a form of resistance. It is legitimate and proper that Plaid Cymru discuss them both. But Plaid Cymru must choose one or the other. It must go for independence or it must go for coalition. What it cannot do is to continue with a gradualist approach on the opposition benches while the Welsh nation is incorporated, via Ukip’s influence, into England.


Map: Iwan Bala, ‘Dis-United Kingdom (the Eton Mess)’, 2016

On Europe, England and the Function of Corbynism 

The European Referendum taking place today is a symptom of a UK state in crisis. UKIP has been offered a chance to realize its constitutional goal of Brexit by a Tory government whose policies of austerity have created the ideal environment for the Far Right to thrive. The timing of the European Referendum, and the toxic debate it stimulated, has already had a disruptive effect on Welsh politics with seven UKIP Assembly Members elected in May. The BBC’s Question Time – a constant source of publicity for UKIP during the past several years – wasted no time in inviting Neil Hamilton as the only Assembly Member onto its June 2nd programme from Cardiff. For English nationalism, come to Wales.

UKIP, as several commentators have noted, has indeed become the unfortunate vehicle for the articulation of English national identity. English nationalism has tended to be reactive, a response to political awakenings in Wales and Scotland. A full analysis is beyond the scope of this brief blog post, but it might be sufficient to note that Gwynfor Evans won the first parliamentary seat for Plaid Cymru in 1966. Winnie Ewing followed for the SNP in 1967. Enoch Powell delivered his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968. The rise of UKIP today, and the right-wing English nationalism that fuels the party, is a response to devolution in Wales and Scotland, and to the dramatic rise of the SNP.

The intellectually lazy and symptomatic response of the British Left has been to equate Welsh, Scottish and English nationalisms, despite the latter occupying a wholly different position on the political spectrum. During the Scottish referendum campaign the alleged similarities between the ‘anti-politics’ of the SNP and UKIP were consistently mentioned, despite the obvious problem that the SNP was a party of government. Will Hutton imagined Scottish independence to mark ‘the death of the liberal enlightenment before the atavistic forces of nationalism and ethnicity’, Martin Kettle sought to expose the ‘dark side’ of the ‘disturbing and divisive’ Yes campaign, and Nick Cohen was adamant that ‘Salmond’s victory’ would strengthen ‘the people who want to check accents and bloodlines’. It was in fact the ‘liberal’ No voter Alex Massie who argued overtly that the referendum was about ‘blood and guts, the bone and marrow of our lives’.

Back in the 1970s, Eric Hobsbawm – Marxist historian and scourge of Celtic nationalisms – was aware of the exceptionalism of the English case. Responding to Tom Nairn’s seminal The Break-Up of Britain (1977), Hobsbawm warned that

by far the most likely effect of a secession of Scotland and Wales would be an enormous reinforcement of English nationalism, that is to say, under present circumstances, of a xenophobic, vicious and – one must use the term in spite of its deviation by the mindless ultra-left – a semi-fascist radical right […] Unless one is a Welshman or a Scot, the prospect that the break-up of the United Kingdom is more likely than not to precipitate forty-six out of its fifty-four million into reaction (the million and a half in Ulster may be left aside as sui generis) is not offset by the possible advance of socialism among the remaining eight.

Speaking as a Welshman it’s not clear to me what position Hobsbawm is suggesting that I should adopt, but he is clearly foregrounding the fact – clear to any objective commentator – that the politics of Plaid Cymru and the SNP belong to the Left. English nationalism in the 1970s was articulated on the Far Right, as it is today. Is this inevitable?



In order to answer that question ‘for England’ we might, in a reversal of the famously insulting Encyclopaedia Britannica entry, ‘see Wales’. In his recent Pam Na Fu Cymru (Why Wales Never Was), my fellow blogger Simon Brooks asks why there was no serious national movement in 19th century Wales. His answer is that the distinctive claims of Wales were assimilated into a particular form of Britishness. The British State was not oppressive, but democratic – for men of a certain financial means at least. Its constitution was broadly liberal, and liberal concepts of equal citizenship, avoiding obvious discrimination on the grounds of racial background, were at the heart of how some of the more progressive elements within British politics thought of national, ethnic and linguistic difference within the State. Thus 19th century Wales wrapped itself in the ideology of universalism, a radical liberal agenda of progress, freedom, and human rights. While the rise of Labour represented a departure from that hegemonic Liberalism, in relation to the national question and cultural identity it marked a continuation of universalist thought. Paradoxically however, these universal values – the cultural underpinning of liberal and labour ideologies alike – would inevitably take the form of a specific national culture. Through this sleight of hand powerful cultures could claim to be “general cultures”, so that although they were undoubtedly based on the attributes of one particular ethnic group within the State (the dominant one of course), they could also claim to be universal. As a result the English, German, French and Spanish had access to the individual rights enjoyed by all citizens, but because the State’s common culture was based on the particular cultural attributes of the majority ethnic group of which they were members, their cultural group rights were also protected.

This places minorities at a major disadvantage, rendering them as non-historical, primitive groups awaiting complete assimilation into the dominant culture. In light of this, might it have been better, asks Brooks, had Wales been the sort of conservative, more communitarian and linguistically obsessed country that one gets on the continent (Slovenia or Finland, say). The kind of country that did achieve national independence.

In light of this analysis it is perhaps significant that when Welsh nationalism developed in the 20th century, a number of its most influential formulators came from the Right. The Right was the only point on the political spectrum in early 20th century Wales which had not signed up to universalism as an ideological project. Once the break with anglo-centric universalism had been made, once nationalism was up and running and gaining support from a wider range of people, Welsh nationalism could move closer to the social democratic and socialist ground with which we associate Plaid Cymru today. But at the crucial moment of break-through, there was a need for conservative as well as radical understandings of Welsh history and politics that could break out of a dominant liberal and socialist universalism. This was enabled by Saunders Lewis and Ambrose Bebb, both intellectuals affiliated to the European Right. This is, I suspect, a trajectory followed by many minority nationalist movements. A similar narrative may be constructed for Black Nationalism in the United States, for example, even within the life a single individual such as W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois espoused an elitist notion of cultural leadership by an educated ‘talented tenth’ in the 1900s, but had become a Communist supporter and theoriser of anti-colonial struggle of by the 1950s.

Might ‘Englishness’ follow this trajectory from Right to Left?

When Billy Bragg becomes the Prime Minster of a newly independent England in 2025, will cultural commentators trace contemporary Englishness back to Nigel Farage, a man who despite his politics of intolerance created the ideological space in which English national identity could begin to be articulated? It might be argued that this shift is already occuring. What much of the Labour Party doesn’t seem to realise is that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader represents the rise of an English Left which has the ability to give political voice to an emergent Englishness.

While Eric Hobsbawm believed in the 1970s that

there is no reason to suppose a priori that Welsh revolutionary Marxists have a good chance of transforming Plaid Cymru into some kind of Viet Cong

he did accept that Plaid, ‘imbued with the basic political traditions of the country, which are those of the historic Left’, might force Labour to ‘recover some of its ancient spirit’. During the General Election debates of 2015, this is what happened. Labour supporters saw many of their views – anti-austerity, redistributive, anti-racist, green – being articualted on mainstream TV for the first time in a generation. Those views were not coming from Ed Miliband, but from Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon and Natalie Bennett. Wood in particular, unencumbered by the pressure imposed by the English Right-wing press, directly attacked Farage for stigmatising the ill, vulnerable and homeless. While drawing direct lines of cause and effect is difficult, it may be argued that the willingness of large numbers of the Labour membership to elect a Left wing leader in the Autumn of 2015 was a result of seeing the success of progressive politicians leading the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties and in giving voice to Leftist values on mainstream television. (Historically Corbyn had been closer to Plaid Cymru than the Blairite Labour Party. Elfyn Llwyd even fancifully suggested in the summer of 2015 that had he not retired from the Commons, Corbyn, were he to win the Labour leadership race, might have invited him into the shadow cabinet!)

Unfortunately the ‘one nation’ Britishness within which the Labour party continues to operate blinds Corbyn and his supporters to their function at this historical juncture. They have been presented with the opportunity to wrest English national identity away from the Right and to distance the Labour movement from the retro-imperialist narratives of Britishness. That Britishness reared its head in the form of Hilary Benn’s hackneyed but widely lauded speech in the debate on Syria. Benn made the case for imperial Britishness in the form of liberal interventionism. His was the voice of imperial nostalgia, cheered on by the Tories, the metropolitan media and the British political establishment. His speech was also welcomed as a thinly-veiled attack on Corbyn and on the English Left which Corbyn now leads. That attack failed. A series of recent articles espousing progressive forms of Englishness by Tristram Hunt suggests that figures on the party’s centre-right are cognisant of the danger that a populist national English Left might yet keep Corbyn in power.

The European referendum seems to have made this less likely. In the face of a virulent, intolerant Right that felt it had the wind in its sails prior to the tragic murder of Jo Cox, the Left required robust, inspirational, leadership. Beyond the boundaries of the Tories’ internicine war there was space to develop a federal vision in which English, Welsh and Scottish Europeanness would rejuvinate the Left – a realisation of the rainbow coalition of green, minority nationalist and socialist forces that Raymond Williams imagined in his final, ‘Welsh-European’, years. This failed to happen. For many, the incessant ‘Britishness’ of both campaigns has been alienating. The European referendum offered the Left an opportunity for a mutual re-imaging of the relationship between the constituent nations of the British Isles within a broader transnational context. Whatever the result today, it is a shame that the opportunity has been lost.


Ynghylch Amlieithrwydd

Cwestiwn diddorol yw pam fod amlieithrwydd yn cael ei hybu gan genedlaetholdeb Cymraeg pan fo’r iaith Gymraeg yn iaith leiafrifol. Wedi’r cwbl, gellid meddwl fod ieithoedd eraill yn medru bod yn fygythiad i’r Gymraeg ar ei thiriogaeth ei hun. Yn Lloegr, fel mewn llawer o wledydd mawrion, mae’r agwedd tuag at ieithoedd mewnfudol yn gyson negyddol, ac er nad oes bygythiad o fath yn y byd i’r Saesneg, mae pwysau mawr ar fewnfudwyr i ddysgu Saesneg, ac eir ati i gymhathu eu plant fel pe baent yn Saeson uniaith. Ers dechrau’r ganrif, bu’r duedd hon ar gynnydd wrth i amrywiaeth ieithyddol fod yn fwch dihangol ar gyfer problemau honedig o safbwynt cymathu mewnfudwyr o ran ‘gwerthoedd’ Prydeinig.

Yng Nghymru ar y llaw arall, nid yw hyn yn wir. Dethlir bodolaeth ieithoedd eraill, ac mae’r Gymraeg yn ffordd o brocio ymwybyddiaeth o amrywiaeth ieithyddol fel ffurf ddilys ar amrywiaeth ddiwylliannol. Ystyrier, er enghraifft, lyfrgell Caerdydd gyda’i gyfarchion wrth y fynedfa mewn nifer helaeth o ieithoedd ethnig, neu o ran hynny neges ewyllys da yr Urdd. Yn hanesyddol, bu ymwybyddiaeth o’r fath yn rhan greiddiol o genedligrwydd Cymreig. Nid oes dwywaith nad yw’r ymserchu ymysg Cymry mewn Romani Cymreig – iaith gynhenid ac unigryw ‘tylwyth Abram Wood’ – yn rhan o ymgais i ddangos fod cenedlaetholdeb Cymreig yn oddefgar o fodolaeth diwylliannau eraill. Mewn cenedlaetholdeb cyfoes, ni fu pall ar y duedd hon ychwaith, gyda Neil McEvoy pan oedd yn Ddirprwy Arweinydd Plaid Cymru ar Gyngor Caerdydd yn trafod y brifddinas fel ‘dinas ieithoedd’, y byddai ei dwyieithrwydd yn agor y drws i amlieithrwydd ehangach, ac ymgeisydd Plaid Cymru De Caerdydd a Phenarth, Dafydd Trystan, yn cyhoeddi llenyddiaeth yn etholiad y Cynulliad yn 2016 mewn Somalieg.

Bu hyn oll yn fwy nag ymgais i ymagweddu’n oddefgar. Yn y bedwaredd ganrif ar bymtheg, ystyrid Romani Cymreig a’r Gymraeg yn rhan o’r un ecosystem diwylliannol. Roedd tynged y ddwy iaith ynghlwm wrth ei gilydd, a thranc y Romani yn argoel o dranc posib y Gymraeg. Go brin i’r gymhariaeth wneud fawr o synnwyr mewn gwirionedd, gan fod yng Nghymru filiwn o siaradwyr Cymraeg ar adeg pan nad oedd ychydig ddwsinau o siaradwyr Romani. Ond mae’r motiff yn bwysig, ac mae’n greiddiol i drafodaethau diwylliannol y cyfnod.

Awgryma hyn i genedlaetholdeb Cymreig a chenedlaetholdeb Prydeinig synio am yr amgylchfyd ieithyddol mewn modd gwahanol, a bod gwrthdaro rhwng dau fodel theoretig. Model cymathol yw’r un Seisnig-Brydeinig sy’n ceisio dyrchafu’r iaith oruchafol ar draul ieithoedd eraill. Model cymathol hefyd yw’r un Cymraeg yn yr ystyr fod disgwyl i fewnfudwyr ddysgu Cymraeg. Ond mae hefyd yn rhyddfrydol gan ei bod yn caniatáu i fewnfudwyr gadw eu hieithoedd eu hunain, ac yn wir yn mynnu lle iddyn nhw ym mywyd y genedl. Mae hyn wrth reswm yn adlewyrchu grym gwahanol y Gymraeg a’r Saesneg, ac mae lle darostyngedig y Cymry yn peri iddynt ymagweddu’n wahanol, ac yn fwy ffafriol, tuag at ieithoedd pobloedd eraill.

Yma hefyd felly y mae a wnelo’r drafodaeth â natur cyfanfydedd, hegemoni a grym â Phrydeindod. Nid yw’r Cymry yn gwrthwynebu fel y cyfryw fod ‘iaith gyffredinol’ yn bod yn y byd. Y llestair penodol yw mai Saesneg sy’n cyflawni’r rôl hon, a bod yr iaith gyffredin yn fodd felly i israddoli’r Gymraeg. Cafwyd achlust o hyn yn adwaith ffyrnig Saunders Lewis a chenedlaetholwyr eraill i benderfyniad yr Eglwys Gatholig yn 1964 i ddisodli’r offeren Ladin gan offeren Saesneg.

Bu cenedlaetholwyr iaith yn ymwybodol erioed fod pwyslais ar Gymru uniaith nad yw’n cydnabod yr angen i gyfathrebu â’r anghyfiaith yn anghyfiawn, ac yn cyfyngu ar orwelion. Ond yr oedd i’r Gymraeg golli ei theyrnas ddiwylliannol hefyd yn anghyfiawn. Yr ateb i genedlaetholwyr Cymreig a Cheltaidd fel y llenor Cymraeg, T. Gwynn Jones, oedd hyrwyddo Esperanto. Ni ellid sefydlu cyfanfydedd go-iawn (yn hytrach na chyfanfydedd ffug) ar sail iaith un genedl, er bod ‘Saesneg, meddant, eisoes yn iaith dra eang ei therfynau’:

ni fynnai’r Ffrancod na’r Almaeniaid nac eraill o genhedloedd Ewrop moni yn iaith gyffredin. Ac nid rhagfarn noeth yw hynny chwaith. Ni ddylid goddef i un genedl fod yn safle meistriaid ar y lleill. Felly fel iaith gyffredin, ni byddai nemor siawns onid i gyfrwng na pherthynai i neb mwy na’i gilydd. … Dyna paham yr wyf fy hun o blaid Esperanto. … A chael iaith felly yw unig siawns y cenhedloedd bychain. Dychmyger bod Esperanto yn ennill y safle – ac nid yw hynny’n amhosib – yna, fe ddysgid yn ysgolion Cymru ddwy iaith, Cymraeg, iaith briod y Cymry, ac Esperanto, yr iaith gyffredin. Yn Gymraeg y byddai popeth yng Nghymru wedyn, ei llenyddiaeth a’i chrefydd, ei busnes a’i difyrrwch – ceid Cymru Gymreig naturiol, heb fod un rhan o’i phoblogaeth yn draws a’r rhan arall yn gaeth, a chanddi at hynny gyfrwng a fyddai’n effeithiol ym mhob gwlad arall.

Un o drysorau fy llyfrgell yw geiriadur elfennol Cymraeg-Esperanto, a gyhoeddwyd gyntaf yn 1910, a nodir yno enwau arloeswyr Esperanto yng Nghymru fel yr ysgolheigion Cymraeg, Syr Edward Anwyl a J. Bodvan Anwyl. Ceir cyfieithiad Esperanto o ‘Ar Hyd y Nos’ ar ei ddiwedd.Esperanto

Ceisiai cenedlaetholwyr a gwlatgarwyr Cymreig godi pont rhwng bodolaeth y Gymru Gymraeg a’r angen foesol i fod yn agored yng ngŵydd eraill. Nid cenedlaetholdeb Cymreig a ddinistriodd y ddelwedd o Gymru amlieithog, amryfath ei diwylliannau. Nid cenedlaetholdeb Cymreig ychwaith na welai angen am iaith gyffredinol na fyddai’n foddion i hyrwyddo buddiannau un grŵp cymdeithasol yn unig. Prydeindod yng Nghymru a wnaeth hynny.


On Class, Identity and Labour

Responding in the year 2000 to Raymond Williams’s argument that a successful socialist movement should rely on ‘feeling and imagination’ quite as much as on ‘fact and organisation’, Wales’s leading Labour historian Dai Smith noted that while

Labour in Wales has scored 8 out of 10 for the latter – fact and organisation – it has often done little better than 2 out of 10 for the former – feeling and imagination.

It seems that little has changed in the last sixteen years. Departing from his role as Chair of the Welsh Arts Council at the end of March this year, Smith despaired at the ‘knuckle-headed […] philistinism’ of the current government. After seventeen years of Labour governments in the Senedd, it seems that today’s election takes place against a backdrop of constitutional stagnation and cultural philistinism. Why should this be?

The answer may lie in the relationship between class and identity that underpins Welsh Labour Party politics. As I argued in a previous post, the purpose of a movement based on a minority identity is to maintain and respect difference. The purpose of a movement based on the interests of the working class is to eradicate difference. The historic antipathy to Welsh nationalism within elements of the Labour Party can be traced to this divergence between class politics and cultural politics.

Welsh nationalists are pretty used to the Unionist Left’s charge of warped priorities, of allegedly believing that ‘the national question overrides everything else’, of being obsessed with ‘culture’ and of being blind to economic inequality. Yet in the age of Blairism, Plaid Cymru and the SNP were able to locate themselves firmly to the Left of the Labour Party on social and economic policy. New Labour’s economic performance followed the neo-liberal score: deregulation of markets; refashioning of the public sector by new managerialism; privatization of public assets; low taxation; breaking ‘inhibitions’ to market flexibility; instituting the culture of private provision and personal risk; privileging the moral discourse of self-sufficiency, competitiveness and entrepreneurial dynamism.

This program was adopted by a metropolitan elite dedicated to buying their children out of public education and placing them into the selective private system. The two-tiered system established by the Tories was intensified under Blair, with richer sectors of society buying themselves into private provision and thus fixing in stone the political base for the rejection of any meaningful redistribution. The economist J. K. Galbraith (1908 – 2006) warned that destroying public common interests in the name of private solutions would drive whatever was left of the ‘public’ sector to the bottom, perpetually in crisis, starved of investment. This is what the Thatcherite neo-liberal agenda delivered, embraced and perpetuated by Blair’s Labour.

Wales registered its resistance to this neoliberal programme in the first elections to the new National Assembly in 1999. While Blair openly admitted that he regarded the devolved institutions to be little more than ‘parish councils’, Wales – following the ‘Yes’ vote of 1997 – at least now had a vehicle where its political voice could be heard. In the first elections to the new Assembly, Plaid Cymru outperformed her sister party in Scotland, gaining 30.5% of the vote. Labour learnt its lesson and, having deposed the Blairite Alun Michael, put Rhodri Morgan in his place as First Minister. While Blair was essentially a post-Thatcherite individualist, Morgan had political roots in the hopes and aspirations of the Labour movement. Evoking the legacy of Aneurin Bevan, Morgan set out to create ‘clear red water’ between ‘classic’ Welsh Labour and Blairism. Morgan understood that welfare systems have profound effects on the wider social framework. He knew that the principle of ‘social insurance’ was not only efficient but a way of underwriting an evolving sense of Welsh citizenship; that ‘universalist’ policies (free bus passes, free prescriptions, free school breakfasts) were essential to binding the richer sections of society into collective forms of welfare. Thus, while Blair was reconstructing the Labour Party along the lines of Bill Clinton’s neo-liberal Democrats, Rhodri Morgan was establishing a new Welsh polity based on traditional European social-democratic values. It was this social-democratic vision that informed the period of coalition with Plaid Cymru (2007 – 2011).

The question of ‘culture’ proved to be problematic for this form of ‘Welsh welfarism’. Welsh Labour had to keep its devo-sceptic wing happy, making sure that it never appeared ‘too nationalist’.Yet, the party’s electoral success depended on the impression that it was ‘standing up’ for Welsh interests against the Blairite and Conservative agendas of sequential Westminster governments. The way to alleviate these tensions was to trumpet relatively minor state interventions in support of redistribution and social provision as ‘standing up for Wales’. Welshness was made equivalent to welfarism, in a process that equated class with cultural identity.

Coal-fieldsWhile the widely circulated maps juxtaposing historic coalfields and Labour support suggest the importance of historical social and political solidarities, they also suggest that social inequalities have become fossilised. It is, after all, ultimately advantageous for Labour to think of ‘class’ in ‘cultural’ terms, and thus to preserve relative poverty. The progressive Left’s project of common social advancement is abandoned by Labour for the administration, alleviation and ultimately – if unintentionally – preservation of relative poverty. This leads directly to the kind of cultural and constitutional stagnation that we have witnessed for the past five years in Wales.

The current political climate is ripe for Right wing regression. But there are alternatives. Speaking at the Plaid Cymru Summer School of 1977, Raymond Williams (1921 – 1988) noted that

As people talked about it, it seemed incredible that there had not been socialism in Britain for fifty years. What on earth was stopping us? I found out; we have all found out. But in the course of finding out, what has been learned is in so many ways so negative that the renewal of effort […] is a matter of fibre, is a matter of emotional strength quite as much as it is a matter of intellectual ability or organizing capacity. That, then, is the importance of the renewal of national politics, especially here in Wales. It would be absurdly flattering to say that it has done more yet than feel at the edges of what this new kind of affirmative and liberating politics could be, but it almost alone is attempting it.

In the face of right wing populism and Labour stagnation, it is the role of Plaid Cymru to rejuvenate and give renewed momentum to the Welsh national and social democratic project.


Ynghylch Trefedigaethedd Mewnol

Nid oes dwywaith na fu’r Cymry o dan orthrwm, ond pa fath o orthrwm yn union? I Michael D. Jones, gorthrymwyd y Cymry gan ‘Hengist a Horsa’. Grŵp ethnoieithyddol oedd y Cymry yn cael eu gorthrymu gan grŵp ethnoieithyddol arall; roedd y Brythoniaid o dan bawen yr Eingl-Sacsoniaid. Ni ellir dweud fod barn Emrys ap Iwan yn rhyw wahanol iawn. Fel hyn yr edrychid ar genedligrwydd Cymru yn y bedwaredd ganrif ar bymtheg.

Gwelwyd tuedd yn yr ugeinfed ganrif i ystyried Cymru fel trefedigaeth. Mantais hyn oedd nad brwydr rhwng dwy Bobl – rhwng y ddraig goch a’r ddraig wen – oedd cenedlaetholdeb mwyach, ond dirnadaeth o berthynas rhwng craidd gwladwriaeth a’i chwr. Gwrthsafiad oedd cenedlaetholdeb yn erbyn camwahaniaethu yn erbyn y cyrion a’u ‘gwareiddiad’. O ddyddiau Gandhi (arwr gan genedlaetholwyr Cymru) ymlaen, bu brwydrau’r cyn-drefedigaethau Ewropeaidd yn ysbrydoliaeth. Roedd hyn yn arbennig o wir yn y 1960au a’r 1970au. Darllener, er enghraifft, yng nghlasur bychan Emyr Llywelyn, Y Chwyldro a’r Gymru Newydd (1971), ganmoliaeth ar Frantz Fanon, awdur Les damnés de la terre (1961), prif feddyliwr y mudiad yn erbyn coloneiddio.

Ond nid oedd Cymru ei hun yn drefedigaeth. Roedd J. R. Jones ei hun wedi addef hynny pan ddadleuodd fod Cymru’n rhan gorfforedig o Brydain, ac yn wir wedi’i thraflyncu ganddi – nid oedd modd i Gymru dorri’n rhydd o Brydain fel y gwnâi Nigeria neu Algeria. Heb Gymru a’r Alban, ni fuasai Prydain mewn bod – dim ond Lloegr. Ni ellid dianc rhag Prydain, dim ond ei chwalu.

Yn y cyswllt hwn, mae deall pwysigrwydd clasur arall, sef Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British national development, 1536-1966 (1975) Michael Hechter. Dadleua Hechter y gall cenedl-ranbarth fod yn rhan gorfforedig o wladwriaeth, ac eto’n drefedigaeth ei hun. Mae Cymru yn ‘drefedigaeth fewnol’. Meddai Hechter:

The spatially uneven wave of modernization over state territory creates relatively advanced and less advanced groups. … The superordinate group, or core, seeks to stabilize and monopolize its advantages through policies aiming at the institutionalization of the existing stratification system. … This stratification system, which may be termed a cultural division of labor, contributes to the development of distinctive ethnic identification in the two groups. … Whereas the core is characterized by a diversified industrial structure, the pattern of development in the periphery is dependent, and complementary to that in the core. … As a consequence of economic dependence, wealth in the periphery lags behind the core.

Nid hanesydd oedd Hechter, ac nid yw’r disgrifiad hwn yn cyfateb yn union i’r sefyllfa yng Nghymru. Roedd rhyddfrydiaeth gymathol wedi sicrhau na fyddai rhagfarnu yn erbyn unigolion o Gymry a âi ‘yn Saeson’. Fel arall, ni fuasai’n bosibl i Lloyd George ddod yn Brif Weinidog. Mae’n anodd hefyd ystyried Cymru fel gwlad ar y cyrion yn llwyr, a hithau wrth wraidd y chwyldro diwydiannol ac yn wlad fodern.


Ond mae astudiaethau empeiraidd Hechter yn dangos fod sail gofodol yn aml iawn i anghyfartaledd economaidd. Am fod Cymru ar y cyrion, mae’n dlawd. Effeithia hyn yn ei dro ar y diwylliant lleol, a diau mai sir fel Gwynedd sy’n dangos orau heddiw y ddadl fod Cymru yn drefedigaeth fewnol. Yn ôl Delyth Morris, ceir ‘gwahaniad diwylliannol o lafur’ (ble mae patrymau cyflogaeth y gweithlu lleol yn adlewyrchu gwahaniaethau diwylliannol) yno. Mae hyn yn dwyn anfanteision i’r boblogaeth frodorol, a hyn yn ei dro yn rhoi’r iaith gynhenid o dan bwysau.

Yn y cyfnod ers datganoli, mae ‘trefedigaethedd mewnol’ wedi magu ystyron newydd, yn enwedig yn y broydd Cymraeg. Caerdydd yw’r meistr gwleidyddol, ac nid yw Caerdydd yn llai pellenig na Llundain. Mae pobl ifanc yn gadael Ceredigion a Llŷn am Gaerdydd fel yr oeddynt mewn oes o’r blaen yn gadael am Lundain neu Lerpwl. Rhy hawdd yw dweud fod hyn yn anorfod am y bu pobl yn gadael y gogledd a’r gorllewin erioed. Holl ddiben ymreolaeth yw dileu anghyfiawnder, a rhaid peidio derbyn yn ddirwgnach nad oes modd i ddatganoli newid dim.

Un o swyddogaethau cenedlaetholdeb Cymreig yw sicrhau na fydd Cymru’n parhau’n drefedigaeth fewnol oddi mewn i’r wladwriaeth Brydeinig. Ond mae’n rhaid osgoi na ddaw gogledd a gorllewin Cymru yn drefedigaeth fewnol oddi mewn i’r wladwriaeth Gymreig ychwaith.