Tuesday, July 18, 2006

To answer your question Normal Mouth...

Normal Mouth asks a decent fundamental question on this site about Britishness and why can’t people feel affinity (and be proud to feel affinity) to the concept of British nationality. I thank him for his genuine question:

"My point was that if we are going to descend into national identity politics then a British identification is just as valid as a Welsh/English/Scottish/Cornish one.

It's not written anywhere that Wales/Scotland/England/Cornwall have a stronger right to be considered a nation than Britain. Do you agree with that?"
There are many reasons why I believe the concept of Britishness has been inherently bad for Wales. There are also many reasons why it has been catastrophic for the Welsh language (which isn’t a concept) and which is a more important element to me, than debates about imagined communities – Welsh and British included. Everyone will have their own reasons and priorities for their distrust of British identity and British nationalism. This is mine. They are not arguments against English people, the English language or the concept of England.

Britishness, for me, is an immoral concept. It’s immoral because it’s the political concept that has led to colonisation and the legitimisation and normalisation of that colonisation of my country (Wales) and its language (Welsh).

The British concept is quite wide, but there are two fundamentals to it, which transcend class and political affiliation. It is the understanding that Britishness is at its root a Christian, if secular Christian, state. This issue hasn’t really raised for over a 150 years, but with the increase in Islam then it is once again raising its head as a fundamental pillar of Britishness and nothing will be allowed to undermine the nature of this secular Christian state.

That’s one pillar. There’s another fundamental concept, which is so all prevailing that it goes without notice. It’s not the Monarchy (there are plenty of British nationalists in the Labour Party who are not monarchists). It’s language. The language of the British state is English. You cannot be British and not speak English – the British nationalists, be they Labour in Wales, Conservatives or Lib Dems all agree on this.

Britishness has contrived as well to make sure that to be Welsh you also have to speak English (but not Welsh). The British state and Britishness is therefore not a multinational concept. It’s not Switzerland in the rain. Britain, Britishness, never states, OK, the language of Wales is Welsh, we respect that and the English language will not infringe on its territory.

The British state and Britishness - certainly in the Welsh context - is by definition an extension of England. The situation in Scotland is different, where language isn’t so much the defining object, but a common remembrance of sovereignty – had the Bible been translated into Scots in 1588 it would have been different.

The British state, or the British nationalists, believe in different types of identity - every empire does - it gives the empire colour and allows it to bask in it’s imperial mission of buying different tribes to its identity. Wait for the Beijing Olympics when Tibetans will dress in their ‘national costume’ to show off the ‘diversity’ of the Chinese empire.

Like China, British nationalists believe in different types of identity... as long as it is in the image of Englishness; English speech in particular but adherence to the English/British state. As long as it is a ‘tribal’ identity, within a larger civic British/English one it's fine. When another language challenges this, Welsh for instance, then it’s slapped down.

The whole Simon Glyn affair had nothing to do with Glyn supposed ‘anti-Englishness’ it was a straight fight between Welsh nationalism and English/British nationalism. The Labour Party in Wales as the main British nationalist party never has and never will allow the Welsh language to undermine the hegemony of English in any part of Wales – English-language nationalism is territorial.

Welsh is given favours by the British nationalists, but any thing fundamental, be it a Welsh medium university or making Welsh the main medium of a territorial community, is denied. Wars have been fought to stop0 us 'speaking German/French now' - the British nationalists are willing to kill and be killed for the sake of their language - that’s how strong their attachment is to English.

Britishness is essentially Englishness with a funny accent. It’s Wales as a region not nation. It’s a vote for the invisibility of Wales or Wales as an appendage. It’s a mark of subservience that Wales thinks itself too stupid to run its own affairs. By accepting Britishness we will always have to put our language and nation second. It normalises the colonisation of Wales.

With Devolution, and the increasing power of Islam, there is a new threat to the British-state-as-extension-of-England. I support English nationalism because it shows the Emperor’s new clothes; it shows the contradictions within this Britishness. I welcome an independent England as it respects Welsh nationality in a way Britishness never will.

A Britain of independent nations will give Welsh some slim chance of becoming a normal language in Wales once again (and everyone will still be able to speak English naturally). An independent Wales in a global age will give us the dignity and aspiration of being able to look at other cultures and languages in the eye as we share and draw strength of those other languages and cultures.

Independence is the only chance for Wales if you believe in any meaningful Welsh identity and Welsh language. It’s a chance to build a modern, multi-ethnic Wales on Welsh terms.

Britishness, with British nationalism in whichever one of the 57 varieties it comes, is an effective, beguiling glass ceiling on those moral aspirations. As I believe in plurality of world cultures and languages, and Britishness has a bad track-record (would the English swallow a British identity where only 20% of their population speak English?) I’ll go for Welsh, not British.

1 comment:

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