NWR Issue 38

Multiculturalism and national loyalties

"Multiculturalism is a divisive force. One cannot uphold two sets of ethics or be loyal to two nations, any more than a man can have two masters.

It perpetuates ethnic divisions because nationality is in the long term more about culture than ethnics. Youngsters of all races born here should be taught that British history is their history, or they will forever be foreigners holding British passports and this kingdom will become a Yugoslavia".

It is no coincidence that this month 's calculated outburst by the former Conservative Party chairman, Lord Tebbit, at the Conservatives' annual conference in Blackpool this month should have come only days after the multicultural, multinational character of the British state had re-asserted itself at the ballot box.

The referendum votes in favour of establishing a parliament in Scotland and an Assembly in Wales represented decisive defeats for the British imperialist ideology so crudely articulated by Lord Tebbit, which has dominated the thinking of the English ruling classes for at least two centuries, its central assumption being that everyone in the world secretly wishes they had been born English.

The new Wales which crept into existence in the early hours of Friday, September 19, not only marked the beginning of a new era in Welsh history, it also represented another turning away from the politics of chauvinism, fear and bigotry so decisively defeated in the General Election on May I yet pursued with renewed vigour by sections of the No campaign in the run-up to the referendum.

Multiculturalism is a fact of life in Wales. It has been for centuries. If anybody thought otherwise, they ought to have learned better from the extraordinarily diverse pattern of voting in the devolution referendum itself, and not least, from Cardiff's majority no vote against establishing of a Welsh assembly in the city.

But the overwhelming majority of men and women in Wales have been giving their loyalty to two nations for centuries and never more so than in the last 100 years. Welsh men and women who fought for Lord Tebbit's Britain in two world wars this century would, like volunteer West Indian bomber pilots and Ghurka soldiers, have always failed his infamous cricket test. In parts of Wales there is a long tradition of wishing England's sporting enemies every success (except very ironically in the case of cricket itself where members of Wales's de facto national side, Glamorgan, achieve international honours as members of the England team). But this has not stopped the same people risking - and sacrificing their lives for Britain in battle.

The case for a Welsh Assembly, argued quietly and persistently by Yes campaigners, was not about ethnics, or even culture. It was about democracy; that Wales's quango state was no longer acceptable and that the relationship between England and Wales needed to be put on a new, more democratic footing, as part of modernising Britain's constitution for the 21st century.

Referendums are not always a progressive political instrument. They are often used by dictators to confirm the status quo. In this instance, however, the progressive argument won the day, albeit by a narrow majority. For the first time in history, Wales will have a democratically elected forum to represent and reflect collectively the concerns and aspirations of its diverse peoples on the UK and European political stage.

As reactions to the referendum result in this issue of NWR show, aspirations are high. Proponents hope that this new political institution will lead, in time, to a more confident, more prosperous Wales in which difference is respected,

The danger is not so much that it will bear out the scaremongering predictions of its enemies but that it will fail to meet the aspirations of its friends: in other words, it will be given responsibility without power. This can be avoided if all sides, including those who have hitherto fiercely opposed devolution to Scotland and Wales, recognise that the world has now changed and help forge a new, more balanced and mutually beneficial relationships between the multi-cultural nations which make up the United Kingdom as it enters the 21st century.


previous editorial: A home for the Welsh Assembly
next editorial: The referendum on a Welsh Assembly


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