Please read below for the thoughts and feelings of published Welsh historian and author, Deborah Fisher. The Campaign for an English Parliament has many varied and diverse supporters, critics, opponents and people who are interested in our fortunes for numerous reasons. We are happy to welcome all views and opinions , in the spirit of open and fair debate, and as acknowledgement that no one view is all encompassing of the issues we strive to highlight and discuss:-
I write, not as an existing supporter of the Campaign for an English Parliament, but as a potential supporter. More significantly for the purposes of this article, I write as a Welsh person. I have looked at some of the comments on your website and find that, whilst many of them reflect the outdated views traditionally associated with parochialism, others recognise the importance of working together with the other nations of the United Kingdom – for at least as long as it lasts.
Without wanting to offend anyone (I can assure you I have nothing against English people individually – I’m married to one), I think it can sometimes be difficult to understand the views of minority interests if you are not part of that minority. I don’t want to exaggerate, but it’s in some ways a little like white people trying to understand the feelings of black South Africans (or indeed black British people). If you examine many British people’s aversion to the “bigger and better” USA, however, you may recognise some parallels.
There is a well of resentment that has built up over literally centuries against the English. When English people take me to task over the very existence of a Welsh Assembly – as they often do – they are looking at things from a completely different standpoint from mine. Not only do they take devolution as a personal affront, but many seem to feel that they in some way need to beat their breasts and apologise for the wrongs they know have been done in the past, in order to persuade us to “stay in the UK”, which, perhaps without even realising it, they see as the remnant of England’s empire. The widespread supposition that the main reason for the loss of that empire is that “other countries hate us” misses the point.
The Welsh, as a result of voting for devolution, have been forced to take responsibility for many things that used to be blamed on “the English” in general, and this can only be a good thing. I do not think many Welsh people would want to go back to the way things were, because they simply don’t trust a Westminster government to redress the wrongs of the past. So I was rather disappointed by the response I received when I e-mailed my Labour AM about the issue of an English Parliament, and specifically by her apparent need for an assurance that “any devolution of power to England did not adversely affect Wales”. I don’t think this view is typical, and yet I see that her preference for regionalisation rather than independence reflects a majority wish on the part of the Welsh to remain part of the UK rather than to be completely separated from the English.
In my books on Welsh history I have tried to dispel some of our misapprehensions about the past. Yes, King Edward I was a nasty piece of work, but his motives in annexing Wales were not entirely reprehensible. But what the average Welsh person sees is 800 years of “oppression” (I’m not joking). Giving them back a measure of self-government has made them realise they can’t go on blaming the English for every misfortune. By contrast, what unfortunately lingers in some parts of English society is a tendency to assume that what applies in England applies everywhere else in the UK. Hence I have several English friends who are incapable of pronouncing the words “Britain” and “British”. I was on holiday in Europe recently, and it was an embarrassment to me that the local guides knew the difference between England and the UK, but our own tour leader didn’t, and constantly used the word “England” when she meant the UK. The more I commented on this, the more she did it, because she simply couldn’t see the problem – she felt I was being petty, and perhaps you will think the same. I’m not defending those Scottish or Welsh people who retaliate by doing the same thing in reverse, but I have the advantage of understanding why they do so. It may well be true that there are individuals in government who recognise an opportunity to “get their own back” on the English; but such a response is simply childish.
However, the Scots do differ from the Welsh in that the history of their country is far more distinct from the history of England. In the early 2000s, the BBC showed “Scotland: a History”, presented by Fiona Watson. It was assumed that viewers in the rest of the UK would not be interested in this, so it was not broadcast south of the border. Yet at the same time programmes on English history, presented by such as Simon Schama and David Starkey, were assumed to be of interest in Scotland and Wales. A few years later, along comes Neil Oliver with a dumbed-down version of Scotland’s history, and this time it is shown everywhere, because the call for Scottish independence has started to make the English wonder where they have been going wrong – and about time too.
Dr Gerald Morgan’s frequently-stated argument about the need for an English national anthem is all the more relevant when you consider that “Flower of Scotland” is a specifically anti-English song which grew hugely in popularity because it reflected public opinion at a period when anti-English feeling in Scotland was at its height, thanks largely to Margaret Thatcher. I would be rather ashamed if “Hen Wlad fy Nhadau” echoed these sentiments, but luckily it is pro-Welsh rather than anti anyone else. England ought to be looking for something similar in the way of an anthem, I believe, not one that talks about “ruling the waves”, becoming “mightier yet” or “sending her victorious”.
Active campaigners for an English Parliament may or may not believe these comments to be relevant, but I believe it is necessary to see the UK, and its constituent parts, in a historical and cultural context when you are planning your campaign. Rubbishing the other countries of the UK will not help, and the mistaken belief that the Scots and Welsh want to stop you having your own Parliament could be a serious obstacle to progress. You cannot expect empathy from the Scots or Welsh, but you should be able to obtain their support as long as you approach the problem with sensitivity and, equally importantly, as long as it is what the people of your country really want.