Interview with Rhys Llewellyn Thomas (age 16), Wales
(by Robert C. Thomsen)
1: As a young Welsh person, would you say that the Welsh language is still an important aspect of modern Welsh life?
The Welsh language has a key role in holding an individual identity for the Welsh people. Although the language isn't well known throughout the world, its importance to the Welsh people has grown in recent years – parents want to see their children grow to be Welsh speaking citizens and many believe it is important that they do so. A lot more people have been attending Welsh speaking school in recent years but I don't think there has been a great change in the amount of people who would count Welsh as their first language, or that would use Welsh frequently in everyday life – in fact, many young Welsh speaking people won't communicate to each other in Welsh, although they would boast the fact they can speak Welsh and would say they are proud to be able to do so. The everyday importance of the Welsh language is not what it once was and the chances of it becoming the first language of Wales once again are very slim indeed, but I think the importance the Welsh language has is in keeping our identity as being Welsh and not English, as many people around the world would regard us as. The Welsh language is one of the only things that would separate us from our neighbours and I think this is where its importance is held.
2: It has been argued that rather than unite the Welsh, the Welsh language divides the population into two separate groups: those who speak Welsh, and should therefore be considered ‘proper’ Welshmen (and women), and those who don’t, and therefore ‘lack’ something in their ‘Welshness’. Isn’t this a real problem? Doesn’t this make the Welsh language a precarious soil on which to attempt to build a shared Welsh national identity?
I would say that the true Welsh people are the ones that are proud of their country and make the effort to speak, not necessarily the ones that can speak, Welsh, although many people do believe this and I think some of the Welsh speakers do believe they're 'more' Welsh than their English-speaking counterparts. Although this does happen, I wouldn't say that it is that much of a problem, but I think the Welsh language is an important factor in national identity and everyone should make an effort and the true Welsh people would be the ones to make that effort, even by saying simple things like 'hello' or 'thank you' would make the difference and would be a positive contribution to the country.
3: Historically, Welsh political nationalism has been late to surface, and then only in fairly weak manifestations (cf. the meagre turn-out, and the thin majority in the 1997 referendum). Is this an indication that Wales perhaps is more properly regarded as a region within the UK, rather than a nation? What would you say qualifies Wales/the Welsh for ‘nation’ status? Why (if indeed) do you care whether Wales is generally recognised to have ‘nation’ rather than ‘region’ status?
I think that to many Welsh people Wales is a nation, although politically Wales is a region within the UK. To many Welsh people it is important that Wales is recognised as a nation because we want to show that we do have our own identity and that we're not just a part of England, we can show our uniqueness and what makes us stand out, although most Welsh people would rather Wales be politically a part of the UK but with more powers than we have had in the past. I think this shows strongly in the referendum that took place in 2011 to give law-making powers to the Welsh assembly, and this is a positive result in showing Wales's national identity.
4: Plaid Cymru has reinvented itself in the manifestos of recent years to appear more modern, left of centre and environmentalist, while downplaying nationalist arguments based on Welsh cultural heritage and language. What do you think of that development? Should Welsh nationalists distance themselves from Eisteddfodau and ‘Yma o Hyd’ to become serious contenders for political power? Would they earn your vote on this platform?
I think it is a positive development for the party and it is a step forward to a more popular political party. By making this development, the party will broaden their audience and should become more popular in the process, although looking at the results from the Welsh parliamentary elections they have not yet done enough to publicise this change. Plaid Cymru have in the past only been a popular choice to the Welsh nationalists and haven't done enough for those people that are not Welsh nationalists, and I think changing the platform would be a positive change. I wouldn't say that Welsh nationalists should distance themselves from being Welsh nationalists to become strong political parties – I think they would lose support if they did so – but I think they should do more for those who are not led by nationalist views and bring in policies that would gain support for those people. If a strong platform for change in the party was brought to the limelight they would earn my vote because I would agree with them on a political level and a nationalist level, and I think this is what they should try and do – not distance themselves from their nationalist views but to bring in policies that would gain other people’s votes, such as centre-left ideas, and I think they would become a popular party.
5: Do you see an independent Welsh nation-state materialising in the future? And what are the obstacles on the path towards sovereignty?
I personally don't think we will see a Welsh independent nation in the future. I don't think the majority of Welsh people will want an independent Welsh nation. My personal reason for not wanting a independent Welsh nation is that I don't think we have a strong enough political system to support ourselves; before we do see independence, I think we need a system where there is more than a group of people deciding to pass laws, possibly a system like the House of Lords, so that it is not the views of one chamber that would decide what important laws will be passed. Also, I don't think that Wales has the economic power to support it's citizens in a way that a combined British nation does – the economic loss that Welsh citizens will encounter are not ones that many Welsh people will want to encounter. We do rely strongly on the economic strength of England and I think that loss is not one that many Welsh people would want to see. I think many Welsh people would rather see the economic stability that England brings, than an independent Welsh nation.