Based on the accusatory London atmosphere in which I, a Welshman, have discussed the issues contained herein this week, I find it necessary to announce that I did not vote to Leave in this referendum. With that in mind, I kindly request your consideration of the following…
In recent days, an abundance of commentary has cultivated the impression that a majority Welsh decision to leave the EU was mistakingly and exclusively voted for by ill-educated, knuckle-dragging xenophobes, ignorantly circling and salivating over a forbidden economic-self-destruct button, on which they egregiously pressed.
By way of visual reinforcement, small handfuls of bigots and ‘Bregretters’ have been provided with unprecedented broadcast space in which to air their despicable, hateful, and misguided opinions. Rarely has this approach been more cynically demonstrated than during the regional footage featured in CNN’s interview with Leave spokesman, Dan Hannan.
In a country which, on a good day, expresses no more than a five-to-ten-percent desire for independence, the divisive nationalist and Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, has proposed a post-Brexit bid for Wales to go it alone, rallying the nation’s ‘enlightened’ minority in their fight for a better, independent future, for themselves.
Perhaps Ms. Wood has yet to realise her platform of unity does not bear close examination: perhaps the inherent disunity promulgated by any form of determined nationalism is not the silver bullet for the bigoted Leaver-Wolves she would have us believe.
Carwyn Jones, a Remainer damaged by his party’s ideological disconnect with its members, and the acutely-felt disinterest of Jeremy Corbyn, has nonetheless defiantly proclaimed himself the First Minister for the whole of Wales, however it voted.
Mr. Jones once informed me that anybody who wants to feel Welsh… can be Welsh. Admirable enough. Though I wonder if perhaps he is applying a similarly non-logical construction to his current position. Perhaps anyone who wants to feel like a representative leader… can be a representative leader.
The Welsh Leavers I have communicated with thus far have been less than celebratory. The reason for their dispirited countenance is not, as media coverage suggests, a sudden epiphany regarding the hitherto unacknowledged depths of their own stupidity.
They appreciate the process by which Wales benefitted from the economic support of the EU. They accurately comprehend the extent to which longstanding, large-scale consumption of Eurosceptic English newspapers has skewed the discourse on immigration. They are young, middle-aged, and old, and stand as firmly against racism now as they have always done. Indeed, as they have always had to do, for in Wales, as across the world, such evil was born and raised long before the sun rose over David Dimbleby on the twenty-fourth of June.
They are principled individuals, hardworking mothers and fathers, and conscientious grandparents. They comprise a largely unheard voice amidst the angry noise of this zero-sum game of democratic pursuit.
They voted to Leave because they failed to see how Britain’s present level of engagement with the geopolitical posturing of the EU could bring the future they desired. They wanted to create an accountable, realistic Britain, capable of sustaining, through the provision of solid infrastructure, a freedom in its global outlook, on its own terms. It is now their prerogative to deliver such a future.
They are not evil. They are not stupid. They are not UKIP supporters.
Others I have engaged with are families whose co-existing generations are more loyal to each other than to those who demanded their vote. Their younger working-age members, perceiving a betrayal of their industrial forbears by the forces of globalisation, are far from impressed by roads, park-benches or dragon-statues that bear the EU logo. Chances of meaningful change are low. Spirits are lower. Their diminished faith in government assurance found its chance to be registered, at last, in a voting choice that resonated with the majority of the United Kingdom.
These people, too, are not evil. They are not stupid. They are not UKIP supporters.
They exist outside the narrowly categorised identities of Remain and Leave supporters presently on media display. Their standpoints are as passionately and intelligently formulated as the most illuminated Remain campaigner. Their points should not be dismissed offhand.
The last time the Welsh people railed against the Establishment was during the landslide ‘No’ to devolution vote of 1979, an outcome that fuelled historian Gwyn Alf Williams’s cautionary tome, “When Was Wales?”
Between 1979 and 1996, Williams and his successors recognised that a potentially new and fragile national identity was emerging. Politically, the majority still associated ‘Welshness’ with the values of traditional Labour. However, many who feared a brain-drain from the nation’s less inspiring regions tended to encourage focus upon those Thatcher-government ministers who ranked the priorities of Wales high on their agendas, in the hope of fertilising cultural and economic regeneration.
Some academics suggested a Europeanisation of Wales might be underway. Others suggested the machinations of the Welsh Development Agency were more reflective of a significant change in the way Wales sought to assert itself internationally. It was not until Tony Blair’s promise of devolution, however, that substantive post-industrial transformation of national identity was offered.
Seventeen years after the first, calamitous Welsh Assembly elections attempted to ignite that tinderbox of change, seventeen local authorities voted to leave the political and economic union so central to the original, transformative plan. Why?
In addition to the standpoints of those I’ve talked with, as elaborated above, and by way of broad response to the astonished Robert Peston, and all who express bemusement:
The nationwide transformation that was promised for Wales never materialised in the manner intended, and the subsequent day-to-day existence of the vast majority of the population bore few signs of EU-correlated improvement, regardless of scale of investment. The status-quo with which the Welsh were so vehemently commanded to comply in this referendum was wholly unsatisfactory, and the pocketed master-plan of assured, EU-funded progress did not reveal itself widely, rapidly or convincingly enough to warrant the purchase of their loyalty.
This week, the media asked, “How Could Wales?”
The pertinent question, and one that too few pondered with conviction,
“Why Wouldn’t Wales?”