Sunday, 23 August 2015

The ‘Racist Nationalist’ in Wales as Bogeyman, Simon Brooks (2006)

[Originally published on 'Ffawtliniau Disgyrsiol']

This morning I have been re-reading Simon Brooks 2006 article, ‘The Idioms of Race: The ‘Racist Nationalist’ in Wales as Bogeyman’ in The Idiom of Dissent: protest and propaganda in Wales (R. Chapman, ed.). In this extremely interesting article Brooks describes how the idiom ‘racist nationalist/language activist’ was created and sustained within Welsh political discourse in the period 1999-2003. There isn’t an awful lot of evidence that such a person ever existed in the language and national movements, according to Brooks, and the idiom was, ultimately, a political strategem of the Labour Party and a rhetorical ruse by the tabloid press. Furthermore, the roots of this phenomenon can be traced to the 1940s and Labour accusations that Plaid Cymru had Nazi sympathies and the anti-devolution campaigns by some Unionist Labour Party members in the 1970s. What we see here is a discursive invention, according to Brooks, an invention which can survive and flourish because of an anti-Welsh (language) and anti-nationalist press, together with an academy (particularly within the political sciences and sociology) which does not sufficiently consult original Welsh-language sources. The whole article is worth a read, but here’s the finale to be going with:

“It is more sensible to view the ‘racist-nationalist’ bogeyman as a preconceived idiom, constructed in response to a perceived political crisis in Unionist ranks – that of the nationalist breakthrough in the South Wales valleys in the 1999 first Assembly elections. In January 2001, Seimon Glyn strayed into the Labour Party’s field of vision, and became the dubious example on whom that party would build its case. Electorally, the Labour Party’s strategy was successful. The second Assembly elections of 2003 saw a significant fall off in support for Plaid Cymru. There was rancour within the national movement between those who wished to respond to the Seimon Glyn affair by passing by, and those, like Cymuned, who wished to challenge the ‘racist-nationalist’ narrative and expose it as myth.

To be branded as racist is to have one’s discourse delegitimized. It is to be silenced, indeed to be denied the right to speak. For any community such a situation is intolerable; for a minority community, it is particularly so. To leave the ‘racist-nationalist’ idiom intact and unchallenged is to handicap, perhaps fatally, language activism as a serious lobby in Welsh politics. If the advocates of a minority-language community are judged to be racist, their opinions will be removed from public discourse and their cause dismissed from the political agenda.

A preliminary task for those who wish to reverse the situation is to understand better how the ‘racist-nationalist’ bogeyman myth was constructed. This idiom has been with us since the 1930s, poisoning Welsh political and cultural life. It is hard to see how the future of the Welsh language can be constructively and openly debated until its bluff is called.”

Brooks, Simon, ‘The Idioms of Race: the ‘Racist Nationalist’ in Wales as Bogeyman’, yn Chapman, R. (gol.), The Idiom of Dissent: protest and propaganda in Wales (Llandysul: Gomer, 2006), 139-165