It is easier to believe in an independent Wales if you weren’t born here (or perhaps schooled is the important part). It just is. When I express my belief in an independent Wales to people who grew up here and are not of an indy leaning disposition, they usually look fairly despondent and say something like ‘I just don’t believe that Wales could ever manage on its own…’
Fellow incomers are more likely to raise an inquisitive eybrow, and ask me more.
Why is this? It’s not rocket science, and I’m not the first person to point it out. The similarity of the National Welsh pysche to a form of Stockholm Syndrome is a comparison that has been made well by others.
Having been neither born nor educated in Wales gives me the benefit of being able to look at things afresh. I have made an objective assessment of whether or not Wales would be better off as an independent Nation (within Europe, is my preferred scenario) rather than being governed by Westminster. My view is that it would. I have been able to make this assessment without being affected by years of growing up believing my country to be merely an annex of another.
At school I never heard my country of birth described as a Principality. The history I was taught was English history, but we called it British (as Dr Elin Jones observes in her article on the history syllabus in Wales and England, an article published by the BBC in the Welsh language but not in English, which tells its own tale). I cannot be sure, but I probably used to absent-mindedly say ‘England’ when what I really meant was ‘the UK’. I’m basing this on the fact that even well-informed friends and relatives still do the same. In England the National psyche is one in which we export our language and culture, borne upon a history of colonising and annexing. Not one iota of me is proud of that fact, but I can see how an upbringing on the far side of Offa’s Dyke makes me more likely to say ‘stuff that, of course we can’, when the UK media, politicians and people in the pub try to tell me that Wales cannot make it as an independent Nation.
Becoming a Welsh citizen has changed my view of the UK and the role of each if its constituent parts. It has made me realise that there is something deeply dysfunctional about the relationship between the British state and the individual Nations of which it is comprised. Its so much easier to see this when you have lived in England and then moved to Wales. The UK is a relationship based on such a huge power imbalance that it simply cannot last. Its premise is exploitation not mutual benefit. I am certain that Wales will wake up to the fact that it is in an abusive relationship, and when it does it is important that we have built the support structures we need to make a strong, confident fresh start.
I believe that we are on a steady, inevitable and positive path towards further devolution. There’s no halting this now (sorry Andrew R.T Davies but I think people see through you) and I am glad about that. I see the argument that progress is made incrementally and not by revolution. But change happens because people change. They change their behaviour, their opinions, their political allegiance. Sometimes this happens relatively quickly (look at Scotland and the shift from Labour to the SNP for instance) and almost always it is speeded up by movements for change, by activism and influencing.
The reason I think that we need pyschologists and not economists is that all the evidence is already out there (albeit we could benefit from it all being packaged and presented nicely in the form of Wales equivalent of the Little Blue Book – I think this is coming). The problem is that there are some traits of human nature that mean that people are prone to ignoring or refuting the evidence.
Any good book on the psychology of social change will tell you that people are more open to arguments and evidence that already supports their existing belief system. Its as true of me as it is of you. It makes me much more likely to click on a link to a pro-independence blog than a sceptical one. If you’ve read this far you are almost certainly already in favour of an independent Wales, so I’m preaching to the converted. This is one of the main challenges we need to overcome, to reach out and engage people who don’t already share our views. In the age of social media, powerful and game-changing as it can be, this is even more important.
Our opinions are strongly related to our sense of identity. This works both for and against the movement for Welsh independence. The downside is that for those who have always seen themselves as ‘Unionist’, growing to believe in an independent Wales means that a part of their self-identity changes, which can be unsettling.
The upside is that to feel Welsh is to be part of something immensely inclusive. It’s contagious (a little known fact). You can become Welsh by spending time with people who are also Welsh and are very proud of this and want to share, which in time means that you kind of pick it up. Like a cold, but better. This phenomena, in marketing terms, means that feeling Welsh is ‘sticky’ which is a good thing and means that it is likely to spread.
The relevance for the Welsh independence movement is that there is a huge opportunity to be realised in aligning the concepts of feeling Welsh and believing in an independent Wales. To me they come hand in hand, but not yet to all. It is important early on to begin normalising the idea of being pro-independence. At the moment it is still viewed as quite a radical stance, although less so now that just a few months ago. This is one of the reasons that I am writing this blog. The more that people talk about independence, and the more people who are willing to say ‘I think that it’s a good idea because…’ the more normalised it becomes. Evidence shows that people are more likely to hold or voice an opinion that conforms with the majority. We need therefore for more people to come out as pro-indy. ‘Normal’ people like me (my friends may beg to differ at my use of the term, but I mean in the sense that I’m not a professor of economics or a social policy expert or a politician, although I have decided to stand for Plaid Cymru in next May’s local elections).
One of the many things that makes me optimistic for the future of Wales is that our children are already growing up in an entirely different social and political reality than their parents did. Those born since 1997 have known no reality other than a devolved Wales. My children are growing up in a Wales with law making powers, a context which is substantially and formatively different to the Wales their father grew up in and which I visited on holiday. Given access to the facts, and allowed to come to come to their own conclusions, surely young people will naturally lean towards independence for Wales, provided that they are given the freedom to dream.
My sons are aged six and four. They ask a lot of questions as do most children of their age. I do my best to answer honestly, sticking to facts as best I can, not my opinion on things and encouraging them to form their own conclusions. They of course know the best topics to ask questions about at bedtime, in order to prolong the process. When my eldest was five, he asked ‘Why can everyone in Wales speak English but not everyone in England can speak Welsh?’ This successfully delayed bedtime by about half an hour, and after a rough potted history of Wales and England over the last 600 years and some discussion, he concluded that Wales should be independent. This was accompanied by a strong assertion that this would be a fairer state of affairs for all concerned. Anyone who spends time with young children will know how keenly they are tuned to any hint of injustice.
It was only a matter of time.
Other questions he has asked which have reinforced his feelings on the topic have included: ‘Why does the Prince of Wales live in England?’ plus a raft of questions recently about the history of Nations previously colonised by other countries (prompted by the Olympics and wanting to know which languages are spoken by which countries and why). On a recent visit to Brittany (Llydaw in Welsh) he and his brother consistently asserted that Llydaw and France are separate countries, something they seemed to regard as obvious (different flags, the presence of a minority Celtic language with echoes of Welsh, they drew the parallels for themselves).
So I don’t think that our children will grow up with the same lack of confidence in Wales’ ability as our generation did. I think they will see a Wales Olympic team whilst they are still young and fit enough to compete in it (they were totally baffled by the lack of a Wales team in Rio, especially coming off the back of the Welsh footballing success in France).
We are raising the first generation of Welsh children in 600 years that will not fear to dream of a braver, fairer, independent Wales. Perhaps someone reading this is bringing up the first Prime Minister of an independent Wales. Perhaps we’ll see that reality even sooner, but at the very least many of the young minds we are helping to shape right now may well be voting in a referendum on this topic in 10 years time. So when you are answering those difficult questions, remember to give them all the facts, because you can’t be sure they will get them at school (Dr Elin Jones’ efforts notwithstanding) and they certainly won’t on the BBC.
And in the meantime act normal. Don’t be a radical supporter of Welsh independence, just try to fit in. But make the case for the myriad of ways in which independence for Wales does fit with the hopes, views and aspirations that people already hold, they just haven’t realised it yet. It doesn’t have to mean a change of identity. Its just about achieving a different frame of mind, aided by a dollop of optimism and a hint of rebellion.
You won’t get much of either of those things from an economist, but with some basic pyschology we can surely empower Wales. We can never banish self limiting beliefs entirely but we can learn to overcome them…