Friday, November 02, 2007

Whats in a name

I hope that a constitutional 'expert' reads this post because I need some advice. Is Wales a country? Officially, I understand that Wales is a Principality - but I've not used that title for decades. It seems somehow demeaning. Don't really know why. There seems little argument but that Wales is a nation - but I'm not sure about it being a country. Regular readers will know of my admiration for Charles Moore, and he writes in his Spectator 'Notes' that Scotland is not a country. And for me to disagree with Charles Moore is a bit like a catholic disagreeing with the Pope. If Scotland isn't a country then I extrapolate that he wouldn't think Wales is either. So I need some help. My default position is that Wales is a country, in the same way that England is.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Legally I wouldn't label Wales as a country, since the Act of Union (need to check the name of the enabling Act which brought Wales under England).

Wales follows English law, and even specific legislation e.g. Welsh Language Act, comes from parliament and regional based.

Wales doesn't have specific law making powers, other than delegated legislation. This delegated legislation is no different from delegating powers to councils (albeit the degree of power, and effect is different).

Parliament sitting in London could take away specific powers of the Welsh Assembly etc, by a single Act of Parliament. In the same way technically our membership of the EU could be repealed by the European Communities Act 1972 (although this would cause practical difficulties).

How supremacy is weighted, lends to how our unwritten constitution is made up.

Mountjoy said...

I'll answer this one as I may not be a constitutional expert, but I do have a BSc and a PhD in Geography.

I'm afraid that Charles Moore is wrong, or he is distorting the facts to suit his argument.

The British nation state, the UK, is a fusion of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We British are a nation, but within our nation we have four distinct countries which have their own national identities and three of them have their own legislatures. But they are not 'regions' of the UK, as the West Midlands or the North West are regions of England.

Plus we have significant pockets of the Indian, Pakistani, Polish, Jamaican etc diasporas who identify with Britain or the country they live in.

Interestingly, many Asians consider themselves British if they live in England, but Scottish if they live in Scotland. That tells you a lot about how 'outsiders' are treated in the different countries of the UK.

I am proud of my country, Northern Ireland, as I am proud of being British. The imperialist attitude of Charles Moore (in claiming that Scotland is not a country) highlights why none of us, whether from Wales, Scotland or Ulster, want to be ruled by the English.

Glyn Davies said...

I accept that legally Wales is not a country. So is England? Is 'supremacy' like 'sovereignty' divisible? And what is the specific definition of a country anyway, and has that defitation changed over the decades/ceturies in the way meanings of tother words have changed. So many questions. I can't wait to meet Dr John Davies of Aberystwyth to hear his take on it - or David Melding's for that matter.

Ordovicius said...

Wales is a country. Legality has no role in the question. There is no legal status for the term "country".

penlan said...

There is no logic to the answer to the question which you raise.We are subjects of HM the Queen.She is in direct line of Kings of England since 1066.The King of England was proclaimed King of Ireland in (I think) c1180 and later proclaimed King of France during the one hundred years war but never held the throne for long although used the title for centuries following.The thrones of Scotland and England were seperately held by the same monarch between 1603 and 1707 when the countries were said to be united.Those parts of Wales outside the Marcher lordships were annexed by the Crown in 1282 and all of Wales was incorporated into England in 1536.As a state we are the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.Internally we are divided into four distinct countries by virtue of history and ethnicity.It is all as clear as mud.

Ken Stevens said...

The question of whether Wales is or is not a country/nation depends on context. In the world of rugby, etc, quite clearly it is treated as such. However, when it comes to questions of sovereignty, you might be hard put to argue for a seat at the UN in present circumstances.

Airing some inexpert thoughts just within the domestic context of devolution/independence, I would hold that Wales is not a nation/country. It certainly has a distinctive cultural tradition but then so has Bavaria, yet the latter is not thought of as a distinct entity from (as opposed to within) Germany. I vaguely recall something along the lines of the German federal territories being called Länder rather than Staaten to reflect that their previous existence was as principalities, duchies, etc rather than kingdoms (- though wasn’t there once a King of Prussia?). Thus to describe Wales in formal terms as a principality doesn’t seem inconsistent.

May I ask whether Wales has ever in its history been a “nation”, as a unified, self-governing entity? A quick google suggests not, though I stand to be corrected by more erudite minds. A Welsh king defeated an English king and took over the throne of England. Under the Act of Union of 1536, in ‘Enery the 8th’s time, Wales was consequently then "..incorporated, united and annexed to and with his Realm of England". It was a reverse takeover, so we should be asking Cardiff for permission to set up our own English Parliament!

Scotland was incontrovertibly once an independent sovereign state and retained various trappings of nationhood, such as separate legal system and institutions. Independence would therefore amount to a reversion to previous incarnation. For the Welsh part of the integrated realm of “EngWales”, independence would be in the form of secession.

Ken Stevens said...

Glyn
Technical point: I actually posted twice and "unsuccessful" reaction from e-blogger appeared on both occasions. However, I now see that second, rewritten effort has now appeared.

Had nothing appeared, I would have assumed you had used your discretion not to show it. It's your blog, after all!

Thought I'd mention solely in case there was a technical hitch and even greater pearls of wisdom than mine were failing to reach you.

Glyn Davies said...

There seems to be no real clarity on this, but I'm learning a lot about my nation/country's history! But so far, I see no convincing reason to change my opinion from that which, roughly speaking, I share with Ordovicius.

Glyn Davies said...

Ken and all - I publish all comments unless they are racist or use seriously offensive language. Since I began moderating comments I have only not published once.

alanindyfed said...

A lot is in a name.
Britain is a state, not a nation.
Wales and Scotland are nations
Ireland (all of it) is a nation.
Eire is a state.
England is a nation.
They are all countries which is a
geographical term.
The constitution is a mess - no wonder it is not a written one.
It is time it was examined and put to rights. The first step is to dissolve the iniquitous Act od Union and Acts of Incorporation.

Anonymous said...

Gwyn Alf Williams famously posed the question 'When was Wales?' in his outstanding book on Welsh history and the question still has to be answered.Before the First World War an American professor at Aberystwyth argued that in fact Wales was divided into thre parts Welsh Wales, English Wales and American Wales and by this he meant the booming coalfield. The simple fact is that even today there is more than one Wales. There are parts of South Wales which have far more in common with parts of industrial England than parts of rural North Wales. For Welsh speakers it is obvious that Wales is a country but the issue is a little more complicted for those who speak English as their main language. In your own part of the world Glyn how do you classify someone who speaks with a similar burr to his cousins across the border in Herfordshire or Shropshire?

Valleys Mam said...

Wales is my country -full stop

Glyn Davies said...

anon - I find no similarity between the accents of Montgomeryshire (and there is the world of difference between Llanfair Caereinion and Newtown) and what you call the burr used the English side of Offa's Dyke.

alan - posted with your usual conviction. No question about where you stand.

Glyn Davies said...

vm - Sounds good. I can live with that.

Anonymous said...

Glyn - technically England could dissolve its Union with Wales, Scotland, Ireland through an Act of Parliament, or just by dissolution of the exisiting Acts of Union. Since they were once countries in their own right, and England took over?

However, it could be argued the respective Acts of Union form part of our constitutional law, and it would take Welsh, Scottish etc MPs to be in agreement of dissolution and for a Bill to complete passage through the both houses / committee / RA. English MPs by themselves cannot make this happen, and to this end we have a parliament of the 'United Kingdom'. Through this rewriting of the rules, we re-defined the unwritten constitution?

Ordovicius said...

May I ask whether Wales has ever in its history been a “nation”, as a unified, self-governing entity?

Yes it has, on at least four different occasions. However, being a self-governing entity is not actually the correct definition of the word "nation", which comes from the Latin for "birth" and refers to a people, not a place or a state.

Glyn Davies said...

After all this, I reckon I can go on thinking of Wales as my country - and I don't feel that it stops me being a unionist.

Anonymous said...

The idea of a nation is really a 19th century concept. Until then most people in most parts of Europe owed their loyalty to a locality or whoever owned the land on which the lived. In 1919 those given the task of drawing up the borders of the new states in Eastern Europe had major problems because ordinary people just did not understand the concept of nationality. Wales was no different with the cement that created a Welsh nationn before 1914 being not language but nonconformity.It was religion that persuaded the UK Parliament to treat Wales differently. With the decline of nonconformity the key question to ask is what now unites individuals who live in the area known as Wales on the map. Or is Wales still as one Anglican famously said in the 19th century still 'a geographical expression'? Support for Weslh rugby isn't really a sufficient reason for defining individauls whose ancestors came from many parts of the Uk as a nation. What did that great scouser Saunders Lewis once say about the 'mongrel nation'?

Penddu said...

Wales is a country - which is a geographical term not a legal one. So is England.

Wales is a Nation - a discrete group of people with a shared affinity (may also include shared history, language, race etc but not neccesarily). So is England.

Wales is a State - a legally defined and recognised body.
So is the UK, but arguably not England!

BUT

Wales is not a Sovereign State as it is ruled as part of UK,

and Wales is not a Nation-State in the recognised sense, mainly because we are not Sovereign. But neither is the UK, which is a Multi-National State (similar to the former Yugoslavia & Soviet Union, and hopefully soon to join them in the history books!)

Anonymous said...

It might be a good idea for some of the contributors on this site to read Linda Colley's excellent book 'Britons'. It wasn't an accident that proportionately more Welsh men volunteered for service in the First World War than any other part of the UK. Keir Hardie died a broken man because of the reaction in Merthyr to his anti war stance.