In 2004, I voted for Plaid Cymru for the first time. It was the local elections, I was living in Bangor, North Wales and I had just voted for a Liberal Democrat candidate in the EU elections. I’ve always been a bit of a liberal lefty, so I thought that I would give a vote to each of those parties. I did the same at the 2007 Welsh General Election, where you get to vote twice.
Upon moving back to England, between 2010 & 2013, I voted for the Liberal Democrats, even standing for them in a 2011 local by-election for the Backwell ward in North Somerset. I came a distinct last, with 69 votes and 5.2% share.
Moving back to Wales in 2013, in Newport, I made a half arsed attempt to join the local Liberal Democrat party. However, the whole thing with the coalition was leaving me disillusioned. I came to the conclusion that I could not support a party that had forsaken its roots and sided with the Tories and heaped that amount of pain on so many people. Especially, when one considers the fact that they also botched the reform of parliament and the voting system.
I had become more involved in Welsh politics and was looking for an outlet for my beliefs. But, I hadn’t really considered Plaid Cymru, as I didn’t want to be tarred with the brush of nationalism. I deplore English nationalism, it is jingoistic, xenophobic and built on demonising the ‘other.’ All of which was not me.
Now, having written an MA thesis on Plaid Cymru, I knew that Welsh nationalism, as embodied by Plaid, is wholly different to that of English nationalism. In simplistic terms, it’s built on the premise that Wales should be free of the English yoke and had a right to be seen as a separate nation in its own right. It is a cultural nationalism, where the distinct nature of Wales, equal status for the language and community was paramount, but not to the extent that it wants to bar other languages or cultures. It has, at its core, that if you’re in Wales, then you have a stake in the nation. You are welcome here and have a right to make a life for yourself. It believes in decentralised socialism and has a strong republican element. (As embodied by Leanne Wood’s famous ‘Mrs Windsor’ protest.) All of which attracted me.
However, I was nervous about taking that leap. People who knew me might think that I had sold out on my principles or that I was just following any old lefty movement. Or, worse, they might think I’d become a knuckle dragger in the vein of an English nationalist, (yes, you can infer from this that I REALLY detest English nationalism and its buddy, so-called British nationalism.)
But, I had to make the leap. Despite being born in England, I have never felt English. I have had itchy feet all of my life and I just never liked being claimed as ‘English.’ I don’t hate England, it’s that I was there by an accident of birth. I feel that, if you’re in a position to do so, you have the right to choose who and what you want to be. Wales, no matter whether it’s the south, the middle or the north, has always felt like home.
Wales and my life have become inextricably linked. I have lived here, on and off, for the best part of 15 years and both my partner & son were born in Wales. Not only that, I have a huge interest in Welsh history and I am a Welsh historian.
Studying Welsh history opened the door to the realisation that there are four distinct nations in these isles. Each one with its own culture, language and struggles to keep those alive in the face of a dominant power. You don’t really get taught anything about the history of Wales, Scotland or Ireland in school. Not even in the relevant countries. But, like Scotland and Ireland, the history of Wales is one of survival. I don’t like the imperial attitude of the English, its monarchy, the militaristic temperament, its state religion or how all of this is embodied by the state.
Further, it is the right of any country to manage its own destiny. England has been the dominant force in Wales, due, in part, to its economic wealth. But, I fully believe that Wales can become independent and I would like to be a part of that journey. I also believe that a state which refuses to codify its population with the status of citizen, but believes they are subjects, does not deserve my loyalty or respect. It took becoming part of the EU for every person in Britain to gain the status of citizen, although still not a citizen of Britain. Now, that citizenship is being taken away from us and all we are left with is the status of a subject.
However, in Wales, there is a chance to build a country that can confer the status of citizen on its people. It can be a republic and it can be a fair country. It can be all of the things that England is not. It can survive and thrive.
I have lived all over Wales and have always felt welcome. My accent is patently English and, as a non-Welsh speaker, I have never encountered the feeling that I did not belong here. But, then, I’ve never held or expressed the belief that Wales is subordinate to England or is merely a county in west England. Wales is open to anyone who wants to embrace the distinct differences, as well as the shared nature, of its culture. It’s open to anyone who has an open mind and wants to experience all that is on offer. It is open to people who want to contribute to that, even in a small way.
So, I became a Plaid Cymru member and councillor because I want a Wales that my son can become an active member of. A Wales where we stand on our own two feet and treat people with fairness. I want an outward looking Wales. I don’t want to be part of an inward looking Britain. My son deserves the chance to vote for the head of our nation and know that he has the possibility of attaining that office. He should never be ashamed to look another person in the eye and explain where he’s from and who he is. I hope that he’ll share my passion for what Wales can and should be. But, if, like me, he chooses a different path, then there should be no chains to the possibilities open to him.
So, I won’t be defined by the country of my birth, I won’t be claimed by a people and system that I don’t believe in, I will define these for myself. Wales is my home, my government resides in the Senedd, (despite the government currently being Labour), and I want Wales to free itself and go from strength to strength.
As someone once said, once you have tried doing things everyone else’s way, there’s always one more option, your way. Well, if that’s not a code for my life and that of Wales, I don’t know what is.
I’ll be expanding on these areas in future posts.
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