“How can someone who wants independence for Wales be ready to ‘give up’ power to the EU? Surely a Welsh Nationalist would want out?”
They’re fair questions on the face of it, and ones that I’ve heard asked during this referendum campaign. Ukip members in the National Assembly for Wales have asked them. However I would suggest that’s because they don’t quite understand what Welsh nationalism is. Perhaps they think it’s similar to the kind of British nationalism that’s been a driving force behind the Brexit campaign. It is not. Far from it.
We’ve all enjoyed Wales’ success at Euro 2016. I’ll never forget that weekend in Bordeaux! Wales is more to me than sport, of course. We’re not just a team. We’re a nation.
But are we? The Slovakians teasing us outside Café Brun in Bordeaux we’re quite right when they said that we’re just part of another country really. Most people have a pretty clear idea of what a ‘country’ is. We can argue until we’re red in the face that Wales is “a nation in its own right”, but the Slovakians know what our ‘real’ ‘status is. Of course, that in itself doesn’t amount to much – football banter is football banter, but of course our lack of ‘real’ national status has wider impact.
The reality now is that a government in London has the last say on a whole host of matters, not because we in Wales have decided that’s for the best, but because the United Kingdom has. It refuses to let us control our own Police or have our own legal jurisdiction (the only ‘nation’ in the world to have our own parliament and no legal jurisdiction). Limits on our Assembly’s powers affect our ability to grow the economy and make our nation more prosperous. Even devolution isn’t devolved! If we get more powers, or get to decide some pretty basic things about running our own affairs (like when we hold elections and who gets to vote) it’s only if London decide generously to give us those new powers.
But we have a Wales football team. That’s the important manifestation of our nationhood surely! And rugby! Accidents of history, I’m afraid. Want a Welsh Olympic team? Sorry – but the IOC knows what a real nation is, and we’re not one of them. The UK is the state. The ‘country’ the Slovakians recognise.
Brexiters want us to “take our country back”. They want Britain to be Britain, and for the EU to stop meddling and diluting Britishness. Brexit wants Britain to pull up the drawbridge, put up barriers. Great Britain jealously guarding its freedom to do its own thing. Isn’t that what I want for Wales? Far, far from it.
My Wales is one whose independence is built on its relationship with other nations. I don’t see the pursuit of independence for Wales as merely a plot to extract us from the United Kingdom. That’s the negative view. “Let’s get out!!” – that’s the Brexit way.
I see it as a redefinition of the relationship between the nations within these islands. Welsh nationalism has always been internationalist in outlook – it’s about how Wales can become a nation that stands alongside others and seeks positive cooperation with others. For very practical reasons, the most important relationship Wales needs is with England.
So my independent Wales is part of a close British Union of independent states, working closely together for the common good, but each with its own distinct voice. For those for whom ‘sovereignty’ is important, then yes, I see Wales as my sovereign nation, but my internationalism includes a willingness – an eagerness, even – to compromise that sovereignty in or international relations and links.
So whilst this Wales is part of a Union of Britain, it MUST be a member of the European Union too. The EU has proved its worth in terms of the sheer scale of its free trade market, but has been a driver of progressive change also, in areas such as workers’ rights and environment policy – areas which bind us all across international boundaries.
I don’t want to be a part of an isolationist Great Britain. My Welsh nationalism isn’t about shutting others out. It’s about reaching out. And reaching out to our British and European partners in formal cooperation is vital.
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM is a Plaid Cymru – Party of Wales member in the National Assembly for Wales