People of Wales who support the UK, whether you were born here or moved here - we need to talk.
I know what you’re thinking, why all the hype about Welsh independence? “Impossible!” I hear you cry, “Wales needs the UK”. “We could never be financially secure, there’s only 3 million of us”.
As a person who has supported the idea of an independent Welsh nation-state for quite some time, I’ve heard it all. I have a plethora of replies and statistics for these as you can imagine in similar-sized countries.
For example, Wales is currently the world’s 28th strongest economy in terms of GDP per capita according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics whilst only being 137th in terms of population (we outrank Spain!), but this piece is just going to focus on one scenario.
I know it’s a difficult subject for you, I know you have attachments to the idea of being British (and as unfounded as I may think they are, believe me when I say I respect that you feel that way), but we need to have this conversation. Trust me, it will benefit us all in the long run.
Okay, so I’m not your stereotypical nationalist, I can see things clearly from your perspective. When you think of someone who supports an independent Wales, you probably think of some old man from Gwynedd or the West who only speaks English when necessary and who would install a moat on Offa’s Dyke in a heartbeat (none of us are like that and the Welsh language is far more than a statement but I digress).
My first language is English, not Welsh, I grew up in the Valleys in a monoglot English famil. My grandmother was the last person in my family to have spoken Welsh fluently and she sadly passed years before I came around, and my grandfather forbade her from passing the language onto my mother and uncle. I went through English medium education at the insistence of my father and only had a measly C on my Welsh Second Language GCSE.
Because of this, throughout my education, I was instilled in a sense of Welshness alongside Britishness. I was taught that the two came hand in hand and that us Welsh should feel privileged to have two identities.
Welsh culture and heritage were to come second to the bigger British cause, only to come out fully on match days, banter with the English and St David’s Day. I remember getting excited for London 2012 and feeling pride during the opening ceremony. I’m not what you typically think of when you think of a Welsh nash, if anything considering my background I should be very much the property of the loosely unionist Welsh Labour Party.
However, like the scene from the Matrix, I saw how things didn’t add up and began to question the system. The simulation collapsed, and it’s been like a rabbit hole ever since.
A few years later and I’m as rabid as the rest of them and proud of it, even clunking my way through Welsh lessons and all. I hope and believe that in time the same will happen for you, but let us start with baby steps, to begin with.
Basically what I’m trying to say is I get it, I understand. Been there, done that, worn the t-shirt. The way you identify yourself, the way you see yourself and your country, you just can’t get behind the idea of an independent Wales (not yet at least), it goes against the grain for you.
You see yourself as proudly Welsh and British, to betray one is to betray the other. Do I agree with you? No, but I’ve definitely been there, I used to think the same. However, things are changing before our very eyes within the UK, and we need to start having these difficult conversations now. I’m going to pose a hypothetical that could seriously trigger a change of your mind on this, one that is not so far off reality and one that we could very well be dealing with very, very soon. Here it is:
The United Kingdom will not last forever, so we in Wales need to start discussing our options or face not existing at all.
The United Kingdom, on paper at least, is a union of four countries - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we all know this. What we tend to not know is what the union looked like in the past, even schools in ex-empire countries such the United States, Australia, Canada and Ireland teach that ours tend to leave that little detail out (apart from Welsh-medium ones).
Before Ireland was officially brought into the UK, the country was the “Kingdom of Great Britain”, and before Scotland was brought in it was simply the “Kingdom of England”. Wales’ involvement, however, came about because after centuries of wars and rebellions, we had been conquered by England, and famously annexed by Henry VIII in the Laws in Wales Act 1536.
We were classed as a region of the Kingdom of England. Despite that status and a barrage of anti-Welsh laws coming from London, through some sheer miracle and with the grit and determination of those who have since passed our language, culture and heritage survive to this day, meaning that we never lost our cultural identity as a country. “Yma o hyd” indeed.
Any nation leaving the UK (ironically for us, aside from Wales) results in the UK no longer existing because of the way in which the UK is formed. The British side of your identity that you value will most likely find itself in an existential crisis when that happens.
We are at the closest point the UK has ever been to collapsing right now, make no mistake, and to put it bluntly, there’s bugger all anyone in Wales can do about it.
We know what’s happening in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In the snap election last month, whilst the British unionist DUP earned the most seats in Northern Ireland, for the first time in history more votes were gained by parties that support Irish unification on the whole than those supporting British unionism.
The historical significance of that cannot be overstated and underlines the question mark over how long Northern Ireland will still be within the UK.
As for Scotland, we all know Boris has denied the SNP’s call for another referendum. It’ll be interesting to see how long he can hold them off for. The SNP undeniably have a mandate for it (you may not like that, but the past three major elections up there have been about it, they have it, make peace with that).
The Conservatives’ jibes about the Scottish IndyRef in 2014 of “once in a generation/lifetime” are undermined by both the Vow made to the Scottish people and Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement, which allows the Northern Irish to hold a border poll once every seven years to determine whether they are part of Ireland or part of the UK.
2014 was six years ago just to highlight the similarity in timing, and I can see the SNP using that example soon; frankly, they’d be stupid if they didn’t. I foresee that Scotland will be gone within the next decade at least.
Scotland leaving makes the union less attractive to Northern Ireland, and I can see them following suit and uniting with the Republic. Again, the unionists of Northern Ireland support the union, one country leaving will seriously pose the question of whether or not there is a union to support any more.
So what does that mean for us in Wales?
Remember the historical list of previous names I gave you earlier: a union of just Wales and England = Kingdom of England. Wales will by default under the old laws become a region of an English state, not a British one; unless England decides to boot us out which considering how heavily reliant they are on Welsh natural resources, I highly doubt it.
We face the prospect of being a region of the Kingdom of England once again, not even something like “the United Kingdom of England and Wales”, just England.
Westminster would probably justify this by saying that “Wales isn’t a kingdom”, think that’s too far fetched? That’s the reason they give Wales for not being represented in the British flag or the Royal family’s coat of arms. It’s an excuse they already use.
Even if we were allowed by this English state to keep the Senedd, it could be possible that the regions of England would seek similar measures for themselves (understandably so, think of places like Yorkshire and Cornwall). Ironically, this would result in a federalised England, the very thing that could have once upon a time saved the UK, but let’s face it we’re way way way past that point now.
This would severely undermine Wales’ status as a different entity to England within that context. Wales would be no different to Essex or Shropshire within the greater English nation-state. Our voice would be drowned out even more than it already is.
Would you be comfortable with that? Being an English citizen/subject? Is Wales becoming Walesshire? I’m not by any means suggesting that there’s something wrong with being English, we just aren’t. Similar to how Canadians aren’t Americans.
However, that is the alternative to being an independent country if Scotland and Northern Ireland leave. I know support for the United Kingdom runs strong in some of our communities, particularly those such as mine that over the past 100 years have adopted English as the main language, but does that translate to support for Wales losing its status as a country once again? Is that what you want?
I know my home, our home, our Wales, I know you couldn’t back that. Look at our history, the last time it was just Wales and England, it didn’t go well for the vast majority of us. At all. For our foremothers and forefathers, it was generally a very nasty affair actually, and that’s putting it mildly. Hell, even the Westminster made mess that was the Tryweryn scandal is still in living memory.
Let me categorically state this, I am not bashing England or the English people, I just know my history on how it went last time, and I think going into the future without acknowledging what went wrong in the past is dooming ourselves to repeating it.
Wales is far too small in comparison against England to have any say over the wishes of Westminster, the lack of Scotland and Northern Ireland would make that even more clear. I have nothing against England, it is a stunning country that we will forever have very deep links with.
The concept of a hard border between the two of us, I think we can all agree, is unfathomable and I would never call for such, I just want us to be equals as opposed to the dominant and the subordinate. We will forever be tied in bonds of friendship and family, my own family included in this.
Do those historic ties mean that they should have the power to control us? That we should just do as we’re told by them as we currently are? To be at the whim of Westminster forevermore even after the collapse of the UK? I think not. I saw a video once of a person saying “I love my neighbours to death, that doesn’t mean they have any right telling me what colour to paint my house”, quite right too.
The only alternative to this is independence, something that for Wales sounds so radical, yet is done by every other country on the planet.
I know people are scared by the finances, but not only is the current Welsh deficit a symptom of our lack of full control over our economy, but every country on the planet runs on a deficit.
Frankly, our current deficit doesn’t reflect some things that would change under Welsh independence, such as reduced military spending. Let’s face it, Wales won’t be on the top of anyone’s hit list.
If anything, we’re under more of a threat from attacks as a part of the UK. No longer being forced to contribute to schemes that have nothing to do with us such as HS2, and of course the possibility of payments from England for the Welsh water and electricity that they could not function without. Just a few points on that, there are many more.
This is just on the topic of our status and how we see ourselves, it’s not even scratching the potential we would have. How fairer of a country would we have if we had the power to shape Wales ourselves with the strength of independence?
Inequality, racism, discrimination, education levels, our economic strength, these are all things that we can fully tackle ourselves instead of us just hoping Westminster grudgingly does it for us or chucks some power to the Senedd to sort it out.
The buck would start and end with us, the successes (and failures) would be ours to own, no blame game going back and forth between London and Cardiff, just us and what we want our country to look like, just as every other country works.
To summarise, we need you to be open about our future as a nation now, otherwise, the decision will be made for us. I know it may be difficult for you to begin with, but you need to realise that the United Kingdom may not even make it out of this decade.
As Welsh people, there’s not much we can do if Scotland and/or Northern Ireland choose that route. The moment one of them is gone, the UK is gone. If they both go, through inaction we face the prospect of being reduced to a region of our next-door neighbour once again unless we do something about it.
We need to start discussing it now, because if we don’t, it may be too late for us.