Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Britishness

I'm becoming increasingly concerned about all this talk of Britishness. Gordon Brown was at it again today in the Telegraph, even if the issues were secondary. I rather agree with Lord Kenneth Baker's idea of a National Museum of British History - even if I'm not so sure about the Institute of Britishness that the Prime Minister is talking about. What I'm more bothered about is where all this discussion leads and what impact it will have on the devolution debate/process.

During the run up to the 1997 referendum, I was opposed to the devolution on offer at the time. I arranged several public meetings around Montgomeryshire to generate discussion and interest. The main reason for my opposition was that we had no idea where it would end - Alan William's 'magical mystery tour' arguement. I thought of it as a process rather than an event before Ron Davies coined the phrase. I said at the time that if we were to have an Assembly, it should be established on the same basis as Scotland. What was proposed would be constitutionally unstable. Regular readers of this blog will know that I still believe that to be the case. I also believe it to be inevitable - unless there is some cataclysmic event of course.

So what is all this 'Britishness' stuff about. The trouble is once you start asking a question, you lose control of the answer. And that's where we are now. I don't think many people ever questioned their Britishness. In Wales only about 15 % of people have wanted 'Independence' from the 'Union' for decades. If asked my nationality, I would always have said Welsh, but I'm as British as the next man. For me, being one has never ruled out being the other. But this debate is leading people to believing they have to make a choice. This is dangerous.

Already, I am hearing voices saying that the only way to save the Union is to abolish the Assembly. Well, I'm a 'unionist' and a 'devolutionist' in the sense that I accept devolution as a fact of life. I watch as the 'separatists' in Scotland use the Barnett Formula (which is skewed in their favour) to promote 'separatism' in England. Labour are playing politics with this issue in a cavalier way. Labour are demonising as a threat to the 'Union', David Cameron's entirely sensible consideration of what needs to change in England - simply because it threatens the built in advantage that the unanswered West Lothian Question bestows upon it. The English democratic deficit has to be addressed. And it needs to be done in a calm, reasoned and logical way. I'm not at all sure that this artificial, hyped up, supposed crisis of Britishness in the right climate for such a debate.

13 comments:

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

There's 50 states 'in the union' just across the 'wee pond' (Atlantic) ... out of 'the 13 colonies" came 50 states ... and there are a couple more prospective states that one day might 'join the union'. The "Union Address" delivered by the President to Congress is all 'about the union' ... "Friends, Countrymen and Romans hear me gently ...", we should all stay in the union.

How does that song go? "You can't touch me, I'm part of the union ... 'till the day I die".

Patriot said...

Glyn,

I have come to the conclusion that there is one British or UK state consisting of four nations with varying degrees of self determination. I am not convinced you can be a member of a nation within a nation. I think we are by definition British Citizens but of Welsh nationality. We compete in the world's most popular sports separately, we have a different culture, our own language and dare I say it a different set of political values (which is why you win so few seats in Wales). The sense of Welsh identity is strengthening whilst in Wales British identity weakens. This is a statistical fact evidenced in all recent surveys and research.

The political parties who can best adjust to this changing cultural landscape will be those that prosper. The Tory's put on a good pretence of this during the Assembly campaign but have shown all their traditional spots since. You have a UK leader who cannot even bring himself to back his own counterpart's position on a Parliament in Wales. You must sometimes wonder whether you should have stuck with Plaid. I suspect you are in for quite a lonely referendum campaign as most of your colleagues hold an opposing position. On the otherhand we in other parties of a pro devolution disposition look forward to your congenial if temporary company on the stump.........

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

One of the "50 states" in the USA has very different legal structure (based on the French legal system), that state is STILL part of the union. We talk a lot about the pig ignorant Yanks - but they manage to keep 50 states together, one of them having a French state law system (State of Louisiana) - several of them have different speaking languages - Spanish has overtaken many languages in some areas, yet there are still 50 states in the Union.

The UK can keep 4 different regions in the union - there are still a lot of royalists in Wales and there are still a lot of people who don't trust the WAG to organize a mess-up in a brewery. WAG can't manage the Welsh economy and education system - both have gone backwards after 10 years of WAG in charge. Frankly, if Wales splits from the union - more people will be forced to leave Wales for work.

Matt said...

If its real devolution to people on the ground thats great and what most people yearn for. Bring more of it on, please! However what happened is Labour botched devolution as they tried to play games with it supposedly for their own party political advantage. Local democracy, decision making, funds and accountability continues to be weakened and central bureaucracy enlarged. Hardly devolution.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

"Already, I am hearing voices saying that the only way to save the Union is to abolish the Assembly …” I concur with you Glyn. It figures if the USA can have 50 states with each state having its own State Legislature and Senators then it follows that the Assembly isn't something that has to be abolished is not true.

The Union is stronger for having State Legislatures, not weaker. A Union can't be a Union if all the power is concentrated in one national legislature. Space should be made for legislatures in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England.

I always thought, while living in Glasgow, that "London" knew very little about Glasgow - it was too far away, off the radar, much like Cardiff knows more about Cardiff than London.

We can split up legislative responsibilities between regions and UK legislature. Foreign affairs and defense are UK matters, where regional laws conflict with UK laws, UK laws trump regional laws. But there will be some laws that national UK laws should not trump regional ones - a UK Supreme Court can be given the power to decide on such issues. But we need a UK President elected by the people. The UK President should have certain devolved powers, and the UK legislature (Upper and Lower Houses) its enumerated powers to provide "checks and balances". Hang on - we are talking about the US Federal/State/Legislature/President/U.S. Supreme Court "checks and balances" ... silly me.

Nick, BBC Wales Web Team said...

Or to look at it a different way, read Rhys Ifans' comments

Valleys Mam said...

I have no problem, I am Welsh, live in Wales and work here. I’m also aware Wales is situated geographically islands with four other nations. Collectively that has to have a name. I am not really happy with Great Britain , which sounds very big headed. United Kingdom, well that’s hard for me because I am not a royalist.
If we could find a phrase like "Scandinavia" that identifies the spatiality of the nations within it ,may be it would be easier for people to accept and deal with.
I wanted a totally devolved Wales , but I also want to maintain the link with the other nations that have a part in our economic well being and our future.

Glyn Davies said...

christopher - you should write a book. It wouldn't take long!!

others - have no time to respond now - you deserve considered responses.

The Secret Person said...

It is interesting to read a Welsh perspective too much of the devolution debate focusses only on Scotland and England. As an English nationalist it seems to me that the Britishness campaigns are aimed largely at the English to encourage them to keep quiet despite any inequities in the present devolution settlement. It won't work.

Of course it is possible to be, and to feel, both Welsh and British (or English and British). The question is how to provide government that best helps all our nations. Labour's regions and the Tories English Grand Committee are both messy half solutions.

An English parliament and the Welsh assembly becoming a full parliament seem to me the best solutions. A reform of Barnett to be needs based would also benefit Wales I think.

Glyn Davies said...

patriot - In general, I agree with you - a British 'state' and a Welsh 'nation'. I have never liked the term 'Principality'.
I do not think there was any pretence about the Tory position at the Assembly election - and I genuinely believe that more Tories will support law making powers than oppose them, if we get to a referendum. The LCO system may well deliver it without a referendum!!

christopher - Wales is not going to leave the 'union'. I do not believe that Scotland will leave it either.

Nick - learning to speak Welsh changes one's whole approach to identity - at least it did for me.

matt - you are so right.

VM - but I am a royalist, so have no problem with the United Kingdom, or Great Britain for that matter. In general I agree with your assessment of where the 'devolution' train should end.

secret person - I agree that it won't work. But Labour will not deal with it because it threatens the entirely unjustified inbuilt electoral advantage that the current arrangement gives them.
The main advantage of the 'messy' solution is that it is acheivable. And I'm not convinced that a review of Barnett to a needs-based formula will deliver benefit to Wales.

alanindyfed said...

It is not a question of leaving; it is a question of becoming. i.e. becoming what you already are.
Wales has a natural right to independence based on its nationhood, which very few today can dispute.
Wales never ceased to be a nation;
it was legislated out of history but remained spiritually intact.

Glyn Davies said...

Alan - we agree about Wales being a 'nation'. And I also think that the concept of what constitutes an 'independent' country/state will continue to change as the world becomes ever more interdependent. In 20 years, there might not be that much difference between us at all !!

Anonymous said...

I've been an American Welshman my entire life- an American first and a Welshman always. What's going on over there. We fought the south and got over it. Define and divide the rights so that you know what is the right of Welsh law and what is the right of British law and you will have it solved.