This Is Not A
(tl;dr - we're a colony, so let's call it that)
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece in which - in passing - I referred to the régime ruling my homeland as 'colonial', and said that I might return to this point to explain what I meant.
This is it.
The term which is habitually used to describe my nation's status is as part of a 'union'. This is a total misnomer for a number of reasons. For one thing, we had no say in becoming part of this soi-disant 'union'. We were never given a vote to approve of joining, we have never been given a vote to approve our continuing membership of it (our position is one of a passive default, nothing more), and we have never been given a vote which would give us the possibility of leaving it.
No, what we are in is a colonial relationship. Unlike Scotland, where a 'union' could be deemed - at least in legal terms - to exist (even if that decision was taken only by the lairds, lords and landowners, and the popular uprising against it was suppressed by armed intervention), the 'union' we are in has no legal sanction except that of naked force.
Consider: what are the main characteristics of a colonial system - any colonial system?
- Country 'A' rules country 'B'
- Country 'A' imposes its own laws and practices on country 'B'
- Country 'A' extracts the human and economic resoures of country 'B' for country 'A''s benefit, leaving country 'B' with the crumbs (if that)
- The infrastructure - economic, political, practical and cultural - of country 'B' is developed and configured in ways which solely or primarily benefit country 'A'
- The surplus population of country 'A' - and those who are most likely to support the continuation of that land's rule of country 'B' - is encouraged to move and settle in country 'B', often in the nicest and most profitable areas
- Any semblance of democratic accountability of government to the people of country 'B' is conceded grudgingly after a long period of time, and the system finally devised to implement it ensures that the upholders of colonial rule will always hold a dominant position within it
- Any such mechanism which may be put in place must be of extremely limited scope, its effectiveness constrained by the most important areas of political decision making being retained by the imperial power, and further hamstrung by being dependent on sums of money being most graciously 'granted' from that direction, even if that wealth has been generated from country 'B' in the first place
- Even so minimal a setup may be altered, by-passed or even removed altogether by country 'A' without even the slightest illusion of consultation with - or consent from - the population of country 'B'.
To take these points in the order I've made them and apply them to Cymru, therefore:
- I don't think that even the most fanatical colonialist would seek to deny that we are ruled by England. That rule came about by a process of invasion, conquest, occupation and colonisation. Those last two processes continue to this day (see point 5 below)
- We had our own laws, dating back to the tenth century CE and before. Those laws were - for their time - more humane and more equitable than most to be found in Europe in that age; they were overthrown and replaced by imposed laws based on Anglo-Norman needs and obsessions. Our modes of civic administration, based largely on natural community boundaries, were replaced by demarcations reflecting the holdings of the new occupiers who held land under the king of England
- It has been credibly estimated that, during the lifetime of our coalfields, coal worth £3tn was extracted from beneath our land. All bar the tiniest portion of the profits therefrom went initially to the mine-owners (who - even though often 'living over the shop' (or at least upwind of it) - viewed themselves largely as part of London society rather than the communities which sprang up around the pits); then to the English state after the so-called 'nationalisation' of the late 1940s; and, latterly, to private corporations beyond our borders.
And what have we been left with? Generational poverty, chronic ill-health, a despoiled environment, communities disintegrating and economic regression. And Aberfan, of course.
Similarly our water - now our most abundant natural resource - is extracted in billions of litres every year by English corporations who profit mightily from it but pay nothing for it, as we are not 'permitted' to charge for it by order of the English state. So we have ended up with some of the highest water charges on this island despite being a very wet country which has had viable communities destroyed so that the occupier could pour lakes over them.
- The cheerleaders for England's colonialism still claim that the various fuzzy-wuzzies over whom they ruled would have been left forever backward without the benefits of such things as railways, proper roads and an education (of sorts) in English to make the natives good little servants of the Empire. The argument is usually made in relation to Indiah, but many of the same assertions might be made about Cymru; or at least they would be if revisionist historians such as Starkey, Ferguson and Roberts ever thought of us for a moment.
But in our own case, our land bears the clear marks of a colonialist mindset with regards to development.
Take our roads, for one thing. Why do you think that the only major highways here run west-east rather than north-south, so that travelling by road from the north-west to the south involves using a 'trunk road' which - except for those stretches which link up to the west-east routes (the A55 in the north, the A465 and M4 in the south) - would be regarded as little better than a class 'B' road in much of England?
And why do the two main railway lines run west-east as well, leading to the ludicrous situation whereby to travel from Bangor to Abertawe by train, it is necessary to travel sixty or so miles eastwards, then down the western side of the English midlands, before crossing back into this country to complete one's journey?
(It gets even more ludicrous than that; to travel the seventy-odd miles from Aberystwyth to Caerfyrddin by train takes over five hours).
There are two main historical reasons: the first is that the main road (initially the A5, later the A55) and rail routes in the north were designed to enable the Empire to transport its troops to - and loot from - its perpetually troublesome province of Ireland with the maximum despatch, and only later became important for extracting slate (another resource which has left behind a legacy which is toxic in every way, UNESCO notwithstanding) and for transporting that modern plague called 'tourists'; the second is that the A4 (later M4) and the southern main line were developed largely to expedite the transfer of coal to Cardiff docks or directly out of the country altogether.
In neither instance were the interests of our country considered except where they happened to coincide with the interests of the colonising power.
In much the same way, our political structure was so designed as to lock us into the English state with no hope of escape. We were not 'permitted' (that word crops up a lot in all of this) our own parliament (even the rebels of The Ould Sod were allowed one of those for a while), and so had to send people off under varying degrees of democratic legitimacy to the imperial capital, where they could safely be ignored; what would now be called 'the optics' was what mattered.
Similarly, there were to be as few actual national institutions as possible operating on a Cymru-wide basis, hence the creation of that mythical land called Englandandwales, the primary intent of which was (and is) to subsume us into the larger structures of the empire at homeopathic levels. As a result, we have - unlike Scotland - no national statistical agency, no legal system of our own, no control over our policing and not even our own National Trust. What institutions we did develop - our National Library, our first Universities, the Eisteddfod - came as a result of massive efforts by volunteers and private benefactors, and had no support or even involvement from the colonialist state.
(That this process continues - and operates at even the most trivial level - can be evidenced from the fact that the self-styled 'England and Wales Cricket Board' abbreviates itself to just 'ECB'; the 'E' preumably standing for 'Englandandwales'.)
This has also led in recent years to repeated attempts - some successful, others not - to bolt parts of our country on to England for the purposes of 'development'. Thus have we had the notion of 'Greater Severnside' to make our own capital city merely an outpost of Bristol, and the 'Mersey-Dee Partnership' which seeks to tie us here in the north-east even more tightly - and subserviently - to Liverpool and Manchester. The notion of our nation as a single economic unit in and of itself was not so much strangled at birth but aborted before it; we are deemed fit only to be a series of peripheral 'regions' to chunks of the occupying power.
I scarcely need to adumbrate the effects on our culture and identity which have been the inevitable consequence of these imposed processes. The operators of classic colonialism understand full well the two most important things in keeping a colony docile without the need for all that expensive military stuff; firstly, you seek to extirpate the natives' language and culture and assimilate them into the imperial milieu (this is massively easier if the colony in question is right next door on the same landmass; I mean, you don't even need a navy, m'dears); secondly, you need to deprive the colonised of any sense of their own nationhood by erasing their history from The Official Version of the world. So it is that the sole genuinely indigenous language of this land is now spoken by scarcely one-fifth of the population, and that the teaching of our nation's story to our schoolchildren is considered merely an optional extra rather than part of the core of their cultural education, with preference given instead to heroic tales of England's kings, generals, admirals, archbishops and other mountebanks and charlatans.
- That there had long been some degree of English immigration is understood; indeed, with a border so porous as to be effectively non-existent, it was inevitable. For a long time, however, this influx seemed to be made up mostly of priests of the State Church in their official capacity of once again forcing the colonial power's ethos upon the backward and hell-bound indigenes; or of curious curates who fancied themselves as 'antiquarians' (which is just another facet of the de haut en bas view taken by colonialists), going around recording - with varying degrees of empathy, accuracy or acuity - the quaint customs of the natives.
The coming of extractive industries - especially but by no means exclusively in the south and the north-east - led to an exponential need for labour, one which the native sons and daughters were unable to fill. This meant that an expanded workforce had to be recruited from outside and, while a fair number of Irish came over to flee England's depredations on their own land, the vast majority of the incomers were from England. For a while, it was still possible for these Gastarbeiter to be assimilated into the indigenous language and culture, but after a short while - and under the influence of a brand of socialism which sees the Whole World As One so long as that Whole World speaks English - the balance tilted heavily and irrevocably in favour of the language, culture and mores of the immigrants.
(It always makes me chuckle in a bleak sort of way when I hear English gammonistas complain about how 'British' identity is under existential threat from the presence in their land of a few thousand Somalis, and that this disturbs their thoroughly routine 'Britishness' of buying pumpkins for Halloween or getting Josh and Keira ready for their High School Prom.)
But it could at least be said of them that they came here to work and to contribute to the community in that and other ways. The same thing cannot be said for the types of English immigration we have seen in the last thirty years or so. Indeed, in terms of colonisation, the process has accelerated in recent times to such a degree that there is now scarcely a village or small town not only along our coastline but many miles into the hinterlands where the majority of the population is indigenous, with all that that entails for our communal and cultural future; a process which the Martiniquois writer and political activist Aimé Césaire called 'genocide by substitution'.
These 'substitutes' have manifested themselves in two general forms: the first (and most visible) is the arrival of people from places such as Leamington, Leatherhead or Lymm who are either 'downsizing' at retirement or, if younger, are coming to our country to try to live out their Good Life fantasies (in either case, the property price differential between here and where they come from is so enormous that they can live La Bonne Vie without worry); or, more insidiously, they are the cast-offs of England's cities, the desperate, the deluded or the depraved from points of origin such as Litherland, Longsight or Lozells who are moved (by one or another of those 'cross-border' agencies which have congregated like bacteria around the open wounds of early post-capitalist society) into our towns and villages, there to provide a much-needed increase in the levels of crime and anti-social behaviour and a boost to the workload of the police.
In whichever category these people fall - the white-flighters from Wednesbury, the downsizers from Dunstable, the mamba-addled meffs from Maghull - they are strongly characterised by an inability - often a wilful refusal - to assimilate, or even to accept that they have in fact moved to someone else's country.
These are the reasons why - amongst other things - the number of communities where the speakers of Cymraeg form eighty-percent-plus of the population was down to fewer than two dozen at the time of the 2011 census, why the native Cymry are regularly told to "stop speaking that foreign muck!" in shops, on buses or in the street, and why Rhyl is now twinned with inner-city Detroit.
And this is before we even touch on the issue of second/holiday homes, destroying as they do any semblence of a viable local economy, thus using the economic method to bring about what Césaire defined.
- That it took until 1997 for us to be given even the opportunity to vote on a meaningful devolution offer (1979's wasn't meaningful, unless you consider being offered a shit sandwich and then having the bread taken from it 'meaningful') indicates our persistent and inevitable marginalisation under colonial rule. Because it was only offered to us when it suited the power élite in the imperial capital to do so, partly to make them look 'modern' and 'reforming', but mostly because to offer the chance to Scotland but not to us would have been 'bad optics'. In other words, it was done against what passes for the better judgement of the colonial power.
To this end too, the electoral system for what was then termed our 'Assembly' was devised with the sole purpose of ensuring not only that Labour would always have the largest number of seats, but that it would also need only one or two wavering and havering members of the 'opposition' parties (this one, for instance) to keep them in power, with all the patronage, nepotism and corruption which accompany it.
Not that colonialism would have anything to fear from the offical opposition in what is now termed our 'Senedd'; nearly eighty per-cent of its members are from colonialist parties (a proportion which has hardly changed in over twenty years, with only the number of colonialist parties having varied to any degree).
- In the days when the only constitutional concession made to our membership of this 'union' was the existence of something called the Welsh Grand Committee of the imperial parliament, one wag said that, "...it exists because Wales is a nation, but has no powers just in case Wales decides to behave like a nation." Much the same thing could be said of our own pretendy parliament. Consider: the major levers of power are not 'permitted' to be held by the lickle kiddies in Kerdiff; macro-economic policy, defence policy, international policy, all are 'reserved' to the colonial power. So, if a London régime decides that the social security system needs to be slashed to bits, or if it determines that the Cymry who wear Lizzie Dripping's colours should be thrown into another war or similar aggressive stance towards another country, then it may do so unhindered by any requirement to consult the Senedd.
And even in those areas where - in theory, at least - the Senedd has the power to act for itself, such as the health service, what policies may be followed are affected by whatever policies are being followed in England, policies over which we have no influence and which may run directly counter to our wishes.
And underlying all this is the funding model for the Senedd which is entirely dependent upon whatever largesse London decides we may be 'permitted', even though it is only ever returning to us a small proportion of the taxes it extracts from us. So even if we wish to do something fairly radical to, say, ease child poverty, we are only able to implement a fraction of what needs to be done because we are denied control over our financial situation.
- In any case, should we ever overstep the mark (in the view of Westminster and Whitehall) on any policy, the constitutional and legal status of the Senedd is so precarious (the Sewel Convention having been deemed by the Supreme Court of Greater England to have no force in law) that it would be a matter of routine to alter the powers of the Senedd (and there can no doubt about in which direction such alterations would proceed, if only because it's already been done more than once), by-pass the Senedd (as the so-called Internal Market Act clearly and deliberately does), or even in an act of extreme arrogance abolish the Senedd altogether and return us to direct rule from London under the stewardship of what would in plain terms be a Governor-General with no mandate from us. That this last-named act hasn't been committed yet does not mean that it never will be; the increasingly desperate tone - usually involving flags - from England's rulers as they see what is left of their empire falling away from them increases the likelihood that at some time in the near future, a London régime will not only feel that it has effectively to demolish devolution to save itself, but will feel that the consequences for doing so are ones which they can manage.
I hope that I have demonstrated that, of the eight main characteristics of colonialism which I outlined at the start of this piece, some may be mapped totally - and the others very substantially - onto our situation here in Cymru.
So why don't we hear the word 'colony' and its derivatives in public discourse on the subject?
Well, partly it's habit. We have had the U-word and its derivatives used to describe our situation so often and for so long that it has become a conditioned reflex.
But a lot of it is a form of denial. If we don't use the most accurate term to describe our country's relationship to the English empire, then we can kid ourselves on that there is no such empire and that, perforce, we can't be a colony of it.
(It's the same impetus which drives all the yap about 'federalism' which we are hearing from the same quarters nowadays; a subject which I may be foolhardy enough to address at some length another time.)
Yet, looked at in toto and with a reasonable degree of objectivity, it can't reasonably be gainsaid that our situation is substantially and essentially that of a nation under colonial rule; just because the colonial power happens to be next door rather than two or three oceans away does not change that.
And, given that in order to address a problem one first has to call it by its proper name, it is high time that we stopped fannying about with self-deluding terms like 'the Union' in which we are 'equal and valued partners', and embrace our true status as a crucial prerequisite for doing something about ending that relationship altogther.
Our nation is a colony. We, the peoples of that nation, are the colonised. Like the Americans, Indians, Ghanaians and Irish before us, it is time that we stopped being those things.