The view from Cymru

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It’s 2pm and I’m sitting in a pub in Glasgow with a tartan carpet and celtic fiddle music alternating with american country music in the background.  I order the Haggis Nips & Tatties (haggis, parsnips, and potatoes with gravy) because Scotland, and am sipping a pint of Caledonia’s finest.  This is the single most tourist thing I’ve done this trip and the most tourist I’m likely to do.  By it’s sheer overdone in your face Scottishness it feels like it would be more at home in Manhattan or San Francisco – this is clearly a place that caters to tourists.

I’ve just come from the Glasgow Kelvin neighborhood HQ and done a fantastic set of interviews with volunteers there.  One of those,  Lindsey Little, is a Plaid Cymru MP from Wales who came up to help. As I mentioned before, I’ve done interviews now with a couple different people from Wales who’ve come up to help with the campaign.  Their perspective is markedly different from the Scots I’ve talked to in a few key ways and worth breaking out on its own.

Unlike the Scots, ethnicity plays a huge role in their case for independence.  This is due to a number of factors, not least of which is the fact that – despite the barbaric effort of the English government to wipe out Welsh as a language – Welsh is still a living spoken language.  The activist from Plaid who I talked to yesterday in Edinburgh talked quite a bit about how important preserving and defending that language is to the Welsh people and to him personally on a deep visceral level.  By contrast, Scots Gaelic still exists but isn’t a living language in daily use outside of a few remote communities in the northern parts of the country.  As a result, Plaid Cymru’s nationalism is about preserving the Welsh language and culture while the Yes Scotland campaign is not worrying about these issues at all – theirs is a self-consciously multicultural civic nationalism.

This is tied into the second big issue – the economy.  Scotland has struggled with higher than average poverty rates and a deeply unequal distribution of wealth as a result of Westminster’s neo-liberal consensus, but is an incredibly wealthy country even so.  Wales, by contrast, had its industry intentionally devastated by Thatcher who shut down the coal mines in order to break the back of the radical Welsh miners union.  Slate, Copper, Steel – all their other industries – have been since devastated by globalization.  As Lindsey points out, opening a few shopping malls and employing people in low-wage dead end retail jobs does not substitute for the devastation of all the industries that actually created wealth for Wales.  He’s not looking for a handout though – instead he’s looking forward to the opportunity Wales would have as an independant nation to re-open some of those coal mines and use the income from them to reindustrialize around modern green industries like tidal power.  “We will create our own economic recovery for ourselves” he proclaims, fierce pride in his eyes.

One point of commonality between the two movements is that the Welsh and Scots are both very much pro-europe and eager to participate in Europe and the world community.  says “My father and Grandfather both went to Europe to fight the germans in world wars – my children and I get to live in a world where we can go to Europe for a vacation or to work.  It’s not hard to tell which is preferable!” There is some frustration with the EU, but it mostly comes down to the fact that as a region of Britain Welsh needs (like Scottish needs) are put on the back burner to the needs of London and the London financial sector in particular; and they have far less representation in the EU Parliment than they would as independant countries.

Our interview is cut short by the announcement that the group is about to head out to go canvass.  I thank Lindsey for his time and wish him luck. He doesn’t want to speculate on how long until Wales is holding a referandum like Scotland’s, but is “more excited than I’ve ever been in my life” this week, helping his neighbors to the north win theirs.  And who knows, if Scotland goes Yes in 48 hours, Wales may not be far behind.

This week, anything is possible.