On the Need for Progressive Alliances


Simon Brooks’s blog ‘On the Progressive Alliance’ is a powerful response to two phenomena witnessed in Wales during the course of the General Election. The first is the challenge that Corbynism now poses to a Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, that has for many years defined itself as a more radical alternative to managerial, Blairite, Labourism. The second is the warm embrace, and even the promotion, of Corbynism as part of an alleged  ‘progressive alliance’ on the facebook sites and twitter feeds of Plaid Cymru supporters and activists. Simon argues that in

persuading voters that “progressive politics” – most easily attained through a state-wide party like Corbyn’s Labour – is more important than nationalism, Plaid Cymru undermined the logic of its own electoral existence. […] This is why continuing to promote Corbynism and the Progressive Alliance represents a threat to the very existence of the Welsh national movement itself.

The debate regarding the ‘progressive alliance’  is not limited to Wales. I will come to our current predicament, and my points of disagreement with Simon’s analysis later, but will take something of a historical detour and will begin with a comparative example.

The following words belong to the African American critic and philosopher Cornel West. He is describing, in positive terms, a cultural phenomena that can also be perceived in nineteenth century Wales.

Black Nationalism was never fully embraced in an organizational sense. Black people usually still maintain some possibility for a multiracial coalition, for trying to extend the scope of democracy in America. I think the role of the Black Church has been crucial in this, because what it has done historically is steal the thunder from the Black nationalists. It highlights Black cultural distinctiveness and, despite calling for group cohesiveness, its message is universalistic. It has always been open to others willing to work with us. By saying that self-love and self-affirmation are key, it took center ground over Black Nationalism.

Cornel West sees the African American embrace of the universal as a positive. In a context where territorial nationhood was not an option, the dominant desire was to expand the parameters of American democracy and to claim full citizenship. As a minority within Britain the historical experience of the Welsh is similar to that of ethnic groups in the United States.  The Welsh, however, also had the option of territorial sovereignty, but unlike the Finns, the Slovenes and the nations of the Baltic states, it was an option that was never taken.

In his newly published Why Wales Never Was (an English language version of his seminal Pam Na Fu Cymru), Simon Brooks aims to explain why this was the case. He recounts a story that is essentially similar to that offered by Cornel West. The ‘universalism’ of Christianity in the realm of the spirit, and of Liberalism in the realm of politics, resulted in a resistance to the full embrace of a nationalist project. Unlike West in the African American context however, Brooks sees the rejection of nationalism in the name of universalism as a historical disaster for Wales. Welsh radicals took the view that group rights for members of national and ethnic minorities defined their members in terms of an enclosed identity, hindering their entry into wider society. Informed by Nonconformist Christianity, the 19th century Welsh rejected nationalism and wrapped themselves in the ideology of Liberal universalism. In order for the individual to access all areas, participate in the common good and benefit from it, one had to be inclusive and embrace the English-speaking civic spaces of the British state. Opposition to minority nationalism was made in the name of helping the minority out of its peripherality, rather than oppressing it. Simon Brooks sees the same mistake being made today in the name of the ‘progressive alliance’ and concludes by noting that in order to survive

Plaid Cymru will have to retreat from the Progressive Alliance and return to the national question.



The argument has considerable merit, but it might be sobering to note that the critique of ‘progressive alliances’ within the nationalist movement is an exact mirror image of the resistance towards collaborations with environmentalists, feminists and minorities expressed by elements within the ‘internationalist’ Left. Eric Hobsbawm’s well documented contempt for minority nationalism, for example, was part of a wider rejection of ‘identity movements’. As he put it:

The political project of the Left is for all human beings. However we interpret the words, it isn’t liberty for shareholders or blacks, but for everybody. It isn’t equality for all members of the Garrick Club or the handicapped, but for everybody. It is not fraternity for the old Etonians or gays, but for everybody. And identity politics is essentially not for everybody but for the members of a specific group only.

In equating ‘shareholders’ with ‘blacks’ and members of ‘the Garrick Club’ with ‘the handicapped’ Hobsbawm is demonstrating the crude terms of a world view that he shares with American figures such as Arthur Schlesinger, Richard Rorty, Todd Gitlin and Michael Tomasky – a group that the historian Jesse Lemisch described as the ‘Angry Straight White Men on the Left’. There is no doubt that Hobsbawm et al were right in deploring the waning of class-based politics on the Left, and in foregrounding the danger to democracy from the growing disparity of income between the richest and the poorest. But they were wrong in thinking about identity politics as a ‘distraction’, as a turning away from ‘enlightenment universalism’. As the queer activist and scholar Martin Duberman has noted, the

highflown, hectoring rhetoric about the need to transcend specific allegiances and unite behind Enlightenment ‘rationalism’ to become ‘universal human beings with universal rights’ rings hollow and hypocritical. It is difficult to march into the sunset as a ‘civic community’ with a ‘common culture’ when the legitimacy of our differentness as minorities has not yet been more than superficially acknowledged – let alone safeguarded. You cannot link arms under a universalist banner when you can’t find your own name on it. A minority identity may be contingent or incomplete, but that does not make it fabricated or needless. And cultural unity cannot be purchased at the cost of cultural erasure.

It would do well for Jeremy Corbyn and his followers to keep Duberman’s corrective words in mind, for their unwillingness to countenance any broader alliances and to claim to speak ‘for the many, not the few’ is in keeping with the intolerant Left’s resistance to identity and ‘special interest’ politics. The mistake made overtly by Hobsbawm in the 1980s, and less consciously by the Corbynistas today, is one that I explored in a previous blog; the failure to differentiate between class position and cultural identity. When ‘the few’ are shareholders and the ultra-rich then one can see the power of the slogan, but when ‘speaking for the many’ involves the imposition of majoritarian norms on ethnic, religious, gender or sexual minorities it may have less emancipatory (even if unintentional) implications.

Indeed the Jewish ‘few’ within the current Labour party have expressed some disquiet at the tenor of recent debates. First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, seems to have already abandoned his own re-iterated belief in Single Market access in the face of British Labour’s support for a destructive hard Brexit. The interests of the Welsh ‘few’ are being jettisoned in the face of the British ‘many’ within the Labour party in this instance. The historical antipathy towards the Welsh-speaking ‘few’ within influential sectors of Labour in Wales has not wholly disappearedKehinde Andrews notes that John McDonnell’s unwillingness to commit to the single market is ‘a silent anti-immigration nod’, and Labour’s pandering to xenophobic fears – from Gordon Brown’s pledge of ‘British jobs for British workers’ to Ed Miliband carving ‘controls on immigration’ onto his embarrassing ‘stone’  – should be understood as part of a wider pattern, as indeed should Corbyn’s resistance to alliances with other progressive movements, his luke-warm campaign during the European Referendum and attacks on the SNP. It is a characteristic of the centralist British Labour party that it should view itself as the only true voice of the Left, resisting a pluralist progressivism and trumpeting the triumphalist Unionist universalism of the Brit-Left (while being seemingly blind to the fact that Brit-Left universalism is a contradiction in terms).



So we have elements within Welsh nationalism suspicious of a wider progressive alliance, and influential voices within the Labour Left unwilling to accept the legitimacy of identity and issue-based politics. Simon Brooks is right to note that an alliance with Corbynist Unionism should be avoided, and to argue that a clearer demarcation needs to be made between the campaigns of Plaid Cymru and those of British progressives. But progressive alliances need not be framed in British terms, and the desire to make common cause with other parties and movements on the Left did not begin with Leanne Wood, or with Dafydd Elis-Thomas for that matter, as some have suggested. While Saunders Lewis lamented the incursion of a ‘nest of Aldermaston Anglo-Welsh socialists’ into the ranks of Plaid Cymru following the breakthrough election of 1959, a decade later Gwynfor Evans would welcome Raymond Williams’s locating of Plaid Cymru alongside the green, pacifist and civil rights movements that constituted the ‘New Left’:

Derbyniais hyn fel disgrifiad teg o’n lle yn y spectrwm gwleidyddol  [I accepted this as a fair description of our place on the political spectrum.]

Drawing on the African American experience, Cornel West argues that any minority struggle has had to appeal to a ‘higher moral or spiritual ground’ in order to gain traction and support in the wider community. The struggle for Wales is no exception. Welshness was largely cultural in the nineteenth century, and was manifested, as Michael Hechter has noted, in the distinctiveness of the international campaigns that the Welsh supported in contradistinction to England: support for the Union against the slave-holding Confederacy in the American Civil War of the 1860s; support for the Bulgarians against the Turks in the 1870s; support for the Boers in the 1880s and 1890s. Simon Brooks argues that this repeated gesture towards wider alliances was, and is, the problem. ‘Taffy’, in the words of poet Alun Rees, supported ‘every bloody cause / Except his bloody own’.

Yet, might we not make the counter-argument that the broader internationalist struggles embraced by the Welsh were not peripheral to national identity, but were actually constitutive of it? When Leanne Wood stands with Caroline Lucas and Nicola Sturgeon as part of a minority nationalist, green and feminist alliance is she not adopting and adapting a strategy that has characterised Welsh nationalism since its inception? Hechter’s work suggests that it was within the crucible of the internationalist, ‘universalist’, struggles of the nineteenth century that a distinctive Welsh political sphere was forged. The language of rights, justice, exploitation and political legitimacy characteristic of ‘universal’ Liberalism, created the context for the emergence of Welsh nationalism. Minority nationalism – read as being the child of liberal Enlightenment rather than being a reaction against it – emerges as a result of the application to collectivities, as well as individuals, of the moral principle that human beings should be self-determining. This is what happened in Wales.

So, when Simon calls for a ‘return to the national question’, it is not wholly clear what he means. As prior blogs to this site suggest, that question has never gone away. But if he is arguing for a more overt campaign for independence, or the stronger advocacy of linguistic nationalism, then he is in danger of basing the movement on issues that currently have a limited, or regionally specific, traction on the ground. Furthermore, there simply aren’t enough Welsh speakers to form the foundation for the kind of mass nationalist movement that we have witnessed in recent years in Scotland. It was Raymond Williams who advocated the making of a ‘variable socialism’ based on the ‘cultural struggle for actual social identities and the political redefinition of actual self-governing societies’ as a corrective to the assimilationist, state-centred socialism of the Labour Party. There’s the potential for ‘clear green water’ in that statement. If the national movement is to advance it will do so in tandem with other emergent social movements – the struggle for social justice and equality, the environment, feminism. Progressive alliances have been the very lifeblood of our movement and to retract into a defensive position at this historical juncture would be a grave mistake. Against the assimilationist, centralist socialism of the Corbynist British Left we in Plaid Cymru must emphasise a variable socialism that, in cultural terms, respects the many and the few.


Image from the SNP website: https://www.snp.org/cross_party_statement_on_resisting_the_tories_toxic_politics

On the Progressive Alliance


That photo of Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon and Natalie Bennett hugging on the podium during a leaders debate in the 2015 election campaign remains one of the defining images of modern British politics.

The image says much about what a progressive alliance might offer. Firstly, three women on a stage, which is symbolic too of other possible forms of diversity within politics, and Welsh and Scottish nationalism are presented as open and welcoming of difference. Secondly, two non-English leaders offering to the smaller nations of the Union a place within UK political discourse, and perhaps even the mirage of political power. Thirdly, the Celts hugging a political leader from England, recognising the place of England, an important message that Welsh nationalism is not about separation, but that those who live in England are our closest neighbours and friends.

Although the leader of a Wangland entity, the ‘England and Wales’ Green Party, Caroline Lucas, Bennett’s successor as Green Party Leader, is in many ways the voice of a bucolic, Blakeian English nationalism. This Progressive Alliance is thus ‘of the nations’, and can be presented as a panacea for the evils of right-wing nationalisms. It negates ethnocentricism; both the ‘ethnicist’ centricisms of minority nationalities and the ‘colonising’ centricism of big nations.

Clearly, there is much here that is appealing. The alliance between Plaid Cymru and the Greens in 1992 which led to Cynog Dafis’s famous victory in Ceredigion that year also appealed. But the Progressive Alliance of today cannot be understood without Corbyn (in the famous picture from 2015, the Labour leader, Ed Milliband, is excluded and looks wistfully in). And a Progressive Alliance honed on Corbyn is primarily a Trojan Horse for the Labour Party and the ‘Yookay’, based as it is on simplistic and rather universalist assumptions about the British common good.

In cold Parliamentary terms, the non-Labour Progressive Alliance is ineffective too: the reach of the Green Party does not extend beyond the boundaries of Caroline Lucas’s seat of Brighton Pavilion, which with its artisan cheese cafes, Regency architecture and pebble beach is the most Bohemian constituency in the entire United Kingdom. To enter into an alliance with Brighton is to imagine that Aberystwyth represents the whole of Wales. A progressive alliance with the Green Party is an alliance with utopianism, for like much of Utopia it cannot easily be found.

Thus contemporary Welsh nationalism blends into the politics of British socialism, enabled by the self-deception that Corbyn stands apart from Welsh Labour.

Following the election of Leanne Wood as its leader in 2012, Plaid Cymru positioned itself as the Leftist resistance to the managerialism of Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones. This was an implicit criticism too of Plaid’s previous leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, who had seen managerialism and gradualism as the most effective way in a purportedly post-political age of achieving power. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015 threatened to undermine this strategy. Corbyn was the mirror image of Wood, and this made it difficult for Plaid to maintain ‘clear green water’ between itself and Labour. Green water would have overflown had Plaid Cymru in the tradition of post-conflict Sinn Féin, or the post-conflict Abertzale parties of the Basque Country, rejected the state socialist party as the inevitable carrier of state hegemony. This could have meant rejecting Corbynism by emphasising independence, a course of action desired by much of Plaid’s rank-and-file, as became apparent following the Brexit vote.

Rather ironically, however, the logic of ‘progressive politics’ coerced Plaid Cymru into a conservative rather than radical response to Corbyn. With a Lloyd Georgian emphasis on sanding down the bumpy surfaces of national differences to attain social justice, progressive politics assumes the radicalism of identity politics (independence, language, culture) to be a form of essentialism. In this sense, Plaid Cymru’s warmness towards the Progressive Alliance is strikingly similar to that of Cymru Fydd towards the Gladstonian Liberal Party and will have the same effect.

The deceptive genius of ‘progressive politics’ is this – despite solidifying injustice between various national groups, it wears the pretence of radicalism. By utilising the sort of rhetoric now identified with Corbynism, Plaid Cymru can appear radical within the wider context of British politics. But the link between progressive politics and universalism arrests any move towards cultural particularism as reactionary. Any genuine national struggle is cast as backwards, or at the very least, unimportant. The Progressive Alliance requires Welsh nationalism to be conservative in terms of its own teleology.

Observant of the war between Welsh Labour and English Corbynism, ‘progressive politics’ persuaded Plaid Cymru to cut a furrow for Corbyn in the west, in keeping with the idea that progressive ideas always transcend national and party-political borders. As a result, Plaid Cymru politicians and activists sang openly and with great regularity the praises of the Leader of the British Labour Party as if he were the embodiment of goodness itself.

But the argument that the best way to support the Leader of the British Labour Party is to vote Plaid Cymru is not an easy one for the Welsh electorate to understand. There is some evidence that it helped the Plaid vote in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, the only Plaid seat in which the Tories came second in 2015. Here indeed, a tactical vote for Plaid might help keep the Tories out. But in the rest of the country – in particular in Llanelli, Rhondda, Blaenau Gwent and Neath; all Labour seats which a resurgent national movement might be able to take – Plaid’s Corbynism proved disastrous. In Plaid-Labour marginals like Arfon and Ynys Môn, it was to prove suicidal. Electors drew the conclusion that the best way to get Labour was to vote Labour, a logic which appears on the face of it to be rather logical.

Furthermore, the politics of the Progressive Alliance saw social politics as emancipating individuals rather than championing disadvantaged groups. It was the Welfare State and not national community which became central. The national question was downplayed as a minor, denominational difference between Plaid Cymru and Corbyn. A flood of Plaid voters turned to Labour in those Labour seats which were under possible Tory challenge, which in the feverish atmosphere of voter volatility meant nearly all of them. In much of the Valleys, in Cardiff and in the north-east, Plaid’s core vote deserted it: it went on manoeuvres to help ‘keep the Tories out’. Persuaded by months of pro-Corbyn propaganda on the Facebook accounts of nationalist activists, large sections of the Plaid vote were convinced that this is what the Plaid Cymru leadership wanted.

When political parties have a bad election, they often presume that things cannot get any worse, but as the recent history of the Welsh Liberal Democrats shows, this does not have to be the case. Political parties disappear when they cease to have a purpose. In persuading voters that ‘progressive politics’ – most easily attained through a state-wide party like Corbyn’s Labour – is more important than nationalism, Plaid Cymru undermined the logic of its own electoral existence. This is why continuing to promote Corbynism and the Progressive Alliance represents a threat to the very existence of the Welsh national movement itself.

Unreciprocated political overtures, like unreciprocated love, can be the cause of great misery and unhappiness. With its Siren calls of universal brotherly and sisterly love, the Progressive Alliance is in reality a mechanism by which Welsh nationalism can be disarmed and dissolved within the politics of a pan-British Left. As the legitimate voice of British universalism, the Labour Party advances, for it is well placed as a large party to take on the Tories. In Wales, the Welsh Labour Party has managed to express resistance to metropolitan Corbynism and also take advantage of it, a rather nice, but for Plaid Cymru somewhat ironic, post-colonial twist.

Complexity can be beguiling for those seeking insights. But some things are quite simple. In order to survive, Plaid Cymru will have to retreat from the Progressive Alliance and return to the national question.


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.