by Tara Gulwell
“Flags don’t build houses”, said Jeremy Corbyn last year, criticizing Scottish nationalism and the SNP. Well, no, they don’t, but neither does an unelectable party, so swings and roundabouts really. But he does have a point: nationalism as a political framework doesn’t inherently support leftist values, or the working class, or is particularly anti-capitalist.
In fact, the strongest argument I hear against Celtic nationalism from the English left is that it doesn’t solve the foundational economic equality at the heart of class oppression in the UK. I’m a Welsh nationalist and I agree. But the left shouldn’t care about Celtic independence because it’s intrinsically anti-capitalist, because it’s not that – the left should care because leftist ideals should encapsulate anti-imperialism.
It is not only archaic history in which Wales has suffered. It is suffering now.
In 1965, after all but one Welsh MP opposed it, the village of Capel Celyn was flooded to create Llyn Celyn Reservoir from the Tryweryn valley for Liverpool City Council. The council had the ability to do this because the Act of Parliament giving them permission meant they didn’t need the support of local Welsh authorities. Throughout the early 20th century, children who spoke Welsh in classrooms received the cane, taught that their language was inferior, had their mother tongue ripped from them.
It is not only archaic history in which Wales has suffered. It is suffering now. Wales could be a world leader in clean energy like tidal power and wind, but we don’t have fully devolved powers over our own natural resources! I’m from Barry, in South Wales, a town home to a port that was once the largest coal exporting port in the world. The muscles of Welsh coal miners powered Britain through the industrial revolution. And now as a nation we are strangled by Westminster to retrieve ourselves out of the post-industrial bust we are left in.
The British union is not only morally objectionable, it just doesn’t work. No situation seems to illustrate this more effectively than the recent EU referendum. Despite overwhelming voting for Remain, Scotland now faces the possibility of being dragged out of the EU thanks to England and Wales (sorry about that one, we messed up). How can you not look at that result and conclude that Scotland ought to be a self-governing, autonomous nation? In the words of Gwynfor Evan:
Britishness […] is a political synonym for Englishness which extends English culture over the Scots, the Welsh, and the Irish.
England remains the power house of Britain, while Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland trail behind in its wake. Where is Welsh culture in ‘British values’? Where is Scottish? Where is Irish?
At this point, it’s probably time I clear up a few misunderstandings about Celtic nationalism, and thanks for staying through the anger. Nationalism among the Celtic nations has absolutely no basis in the ethnic nationalism that is supported through racist ideology and xenophobic othering. A degree of Welsh nationalist discourse is, however, concerned with the erasure of the Welsh language and culture through English imperialist policies. But the culture, language and history of Wales is open to all of her citizens.
The leading nationalist party in Wales at the moment, Plaid Cymru, has been one of the most vocal pro-immigrant and pro-refugee voice in the Welsh assembly. There’s a strange perception in lefty circles that ethnic nationalism and civic nationalism are somehow equivalent. Civic nationalism is based upon the citizens of a particular place, not their race. My nationalism is based upon self-governance, democratic will, anti-imperialism and autonomy. It’s about righting the wrong at the centre of this union. Any struggle for equality and justice within the British Isles cannot exist without it.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, anti-unionist does not necessarily equal anti-capitalist and pro-equality, so I do understand some lefties’ reservations about independence. A nation is an imagined political community, but a nation is also a cartref (home), it exists outside abstractions and forms material consequences. And the recognition of my cartref as capable of autonomy is something I think all of the British left wing should be supporting. Plaid Cymru and Leanne Wood in Wales have shown that it is possible to be international nationalists, and to hold socialist values alongside nationalist aims for independence. Independence is an issue of fairness, of equality, of the right of a nation to rule itself. And that’s why the left should care.
Featured image via UniLang