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30th January 2008

The now-time of Welsh history

The beauty of being-in-government is that ideas can become reality, and that reality in turn reshapes our ideas.  A few weeks ago I wrote in Golwg about the need for Wales to nation to honour its ‘living greats’ in the same way as Japan has done since the 1950s with its national ‘living treasures’ programme.   So it was a joy to read in today’s released minutes for the One Wales Government Cabinet meetings that this is one idea about to make it from wish-list to check-list.  Of course, its impact is purely symbolic. But symbols inspire. And inspiration does change lives, and, collectively, can change a nation.   

I look forward in the near future to shredding unused application forms for MBE (Minion of the British Empire?).  And not just out of some petty sense of nationalist pique.  The most pressing task we face as a movement is building up the self-confidence of a nation that has been bred on the mythology of its own inadequacy.  The eagerly anticipated Welsh Encyclopedia will show this to have been counter-factual in the case of our past; but role models have to live and breathe among us if we are to undo the poverty of aspiration which holds us back as a nation and crushes the hope among the young and disadvantaged.  

As a nation we have always had a penchant for sentimentalising the past, while neglecting the present; in part, this has been because the problems of the present were too big and too insoluble for us to solve for ourselves. Literally beyond our grasp, they had to be addressed at one step removed.  Our ersatz leaders, the ‘flame bearers of Welsh history’, were often, in the last analysis, tragic and marginal figures and, most of the time, literally dead.  Wordly success - writ large, in the present tense, in the major not the minor key - has always been achieved in exile (meaning mostly London, though sometimes America). 

The decision by the Welsh Government to extol the virtues of our ‘national living treasures’ - the likes of Bryn Terfel, Gwyneth Lewis, Gareth Edwards - (the FT has an interesting list  of their Welsh pantheon, both living and dead, though personally, like the Japanese and the WRU, I would apply the ‘home rule’) -  is then an act of collective self-affirmation.  Far from nationalism ‘vanishing’ in the shadow of the Coalition, as some Labour intellectuals have rather unconvincingly argued , nationalism has become the dominant theme of One Wales iconography as well as the animating principle of its policies. We’re the flame-bearers now.    

4 Responses to “The now-time of Welsh history”

  1. normalmouth says:
    January 30th, 2008 at 8:17 am

    I didn’t say nationalism, I said Plaid.

    And anyway, it’s a dubious contention that even nationalism is the animating principle. The OWG has so far defined itself by the (wholly admirable) application of competent social democratic governance. This is not an administration embarked on a major programme of nation building.

  2. Sion says:
    January 30th, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    NM: “The OWG has so far defined itself by the (wholly admirable) application of competent social democratic governance. This is not an administration embarked on a major programme of nation building.”

    … Not knowingly maybe, but Labour in Wales are realising that they can implement more radical and usually left-wing policies through the vehicle of a Welsh nationality and polity than through Britishness.

    Labour’s social aspiration is being implemented and freed by being in coalition with a Welsh (as opposed to British) nationalist party. The cohesion and legitimacy which is the backdrop of many of these policies is decidedly nation building.

    British nationality as a vehicle for social change is being successfully challenged by Welsh nationality. Like the former Spanish colonial provinces of Latin America, local polities are emerging and working out for themselves that creating ‘new nation-states’ i.e. nation building answers their economic, cultural and political aspirations better than the old colonial status quo.

    So, yes, Adam’s right.

    Of course, maybe NM preferes honours to be bestowed by Royalty than through Welsh democracy? ;-)

  3. normalmouth says:
    January 30th, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    It’s nice rhetoric, I just don’t see the evidence for it.

    Instead, I see a party that is become less nationalist and more social democratic by the day. Who would have thought that their Parliamentary leader would eschew a referendum on primary powers during this term?

    And as a lifelong republican, the only thing I want the Monarch to do is renounce her crown. :-)

  4. Sion says:
    February 2nd, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    NM: ” Instead, I see a party that is become less nationalist and more social democratic by the day.”

    … maybe Adam should post you a Plaid membership form then Normal - what’s your (and other Labour supporters) excuse for not joining? ;-)

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