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Unwelshness in politics & the language of division

A political spat has emerged where I live in the last few weeks. Lord Ellis-Thomas, the chairman of an assembly committee and ex-leader of the Welsh Assembly, has been fired from his position by the current head of the party Leanne Wood. This may seem fairly small beer but it was the nature of the 'offense' which I feel has greater significance than at first seems, so bear with me while I just cover the ground.

Lord Ellis-Thomas was ostensibly fired for criticising Leanne Wood over her comments that UKIP are fundamentally 'unwelsh'. For those who don't follow British politics, UKIP is a party devoted to pulling out of Europe, closing the borders and, if possible, returning to the sepia glow of the 1950s.

Plaid Cymru, the party of which Lord Ellis-Thomas and Leanne Woods are Assembly Members, has traditionally been a left wing socialist party. An apt comparison would be that if the Labour party of the 1970s had avoided the storm of New Labour and had developed a Welsh accent, they would look a lot like Plaid Cymru. Their manifesto contains several statements of intent, including the following aim:

"To build a national community based on equal citizenship, respect for different traditions and cultures and the equal worth of all individuals, whatever their race, nationality, gender, colour, creed, sexuality, age, ability or social background"


UKIP has undoubtedly shown, again and again, that they don't have a respect for different traditions and cultures. Leanne Wood was right in her key note speech to state that their "ugly politics" should not be allowed to gain traction in Wales. However her comment brought criticism from within the highest echelon of the parties. Not because of any support for UKIP's policies, but because the speech was heard as saying that to vote UKIP would be 'Unwelsh' (note - at no point did she actually use this phrase, but the phrase did appear in a press release and party brochures).

The argument started with an interview with Lord Ellis-Thomas. He made the point eloquently that, while disagreeing with UKIP, he found the statement 'unwelsh' to be distasteful. To dismiss your "colleagues in Wales" for their voting habits was something that he believed had no place in the Welsh Assembly. Lord Ellis-Thomas was subsequently sacked from his position and the party has affirmed that his views are not in tune with the party line. Plaid Cymru's chairman Dafydd Trystan Davies said the party "needs to be disciplined in order to present" a "progressive, positive agenda".

It is undoubted that there is a certain element of political barracking going on in the backgrounds here. It is of note that Leanne Woods beat Lord-Ellis to take control of the party in 2012. But I believe that Lord Ellis-Thomas made a serious point. That while affirming respect for political beliefs in your manifesto, you cannot then engage in an attack on a rival party on Nationalistic grounds. That is what comments of 'Unwelshness' amount to. It should not be forgotten that such arguments have been prevalent in Nationalism since the dawn of time. There is also a certain irony in engaging in such comments against a party who utilise the trope themselves (Love Britain, Vote UKIP - a slogan seemingly appropriated from the British National Party). Divisive political commentary remains divisive even when made with the best of intentions. To segregate off people from the Welsh Community for voting UKIP not only goes against enlightened Democratic principles and the Plaid Cymru manifesto, but also against my own concept of Welshness.

Here then lies the greater significance. Europe as a whole faces a resurgent nationalist right. From Golden Dawn in Greece, to the Dutch Party for Freedom, to our very own UKIP, the far right is gaining momentum in Europe. It is the duty of progressive parties and left-wing voters to combat this. But we must not allow ourselves to sink to their level in the fight, or we will have lost before we have begun.


(So this is my first attempt at writing a serious opinion piece. If you like it and found it interesting, I'll try and come up with some more pieces about events in British politics that probably don't make it on to the international news scene)

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