Taken-for-Granted Britishness: Some Qualitative Evidence

The qualitative material presented here is drawn from two sources. The first is a set of 122 interviews carried out between 2010 and 2011with senior professionals working in local government and public bodies across Wales. The second source is a subset of interviews with fifty people living in Wales born in 1958 and interviewed in 2009 and 2010 who formed part of the National Child Development Study Social Participation and Identity study. Both studies included a question on national identity. Together, these provide access to a range of working- and middle-class people in Wales aged between forty and sixty years, including some English in-migrants. The discussion here is not meant to provide any systematic coverage of all the sentiments collected in these studies (Jones et al. 2015; Miles et al. 2011). What the interviews do indicate is how Britishness continues to provide a taken-for-granted and often unstated framework for people’s understanding of Wales as nation.

The first example comes from John (NCDS interviewee 28), who was born, lived and worked in South Wales throughout his life. After leaving school he worked in the building industry and is currently classed as a self-employed roofing contractor. His sense of his class belonging is mixed: ‘I’m middle class, working middle class....I really respect people who have been working really hard, whether they got what they wanted or not’. Although he feels and is proud to be Welsh, he nevertheless emphasises Britain as his frame of reference:

It’s a difficult one, really. I think we’re British, but within that word, Welsh.

I feel Welsh, you know what I mean? I feel part of the United Kingdom, but I feel that I’m Welsh. A proud Welshman, I suppose. But I would not like to see Britain or UK being split up. In fact, in some ways, it worries me a little bit now. I’m thinking, when I hear things on telly, and we’re all going separate ways. I’m not quite sure that’s right to be honest with you. I think we should stay as we are, you know, so it will stay as British, you know.

Q: Do you feel patriotic?

Hmmm, I suppose, being a sportsman, I think you do feel a bit like that.

Q: For Wales?

Yeah that’s because I’m involved with rugby more than anything, you know, and it’s just on a sporting basis. But outside of that you don’t tend to think it that way. It’s weird really, to be honest with you, because you can go in different areas, you might go on holiday in England, and they just speak in a different accent, but they are British, aren’t they? You still talk to each other. It’s like, when you go abroad, it’s totally different, isn’t it? But I do feel, I think we’re safer as a United Kingdom. So yeah, I would say I’m British rather than a Welsh person.

John describes himself as ‘a proud Welshman’, especially when it comes to rugby and sport. But in several instance he places his British identity ahead of his Welsh identity, particularly when outlining his concerns over separatism, but also security. Amongst several strong Welsh identifiers in the sample, it is striking just how much Britain represents the framework for society and state, and for the organisation of similarities and differences along those lines (‘I’m proud to put Wales first, but ultimately we British are all the same’). In contrast to this, we see ‘Welsh’ as a category of considerable national pride, but primarily referenced through emotion, sport or local belonging. We find little reference in these interviews to the Welsh government or to Wales as a state entity. We do find people living in Wales, born inside and outside the country’s borders, with strong views on immigration and the way the country is changing, but it is the ‘British’ category that represents the framework for that discussion (Mann and Tommis 2012). The following set of extracts also emphasises Wales as forming part of a broader social, economic and political entity:

I’m a, you know, I am a proud, proud Welshman, but obviously I think I’m a part of a greater entity. I don’t think at this point in time we’re the modern, dynamic, forward-thinking society that we, that we try to portray ourselves as. I’m not convinced. I am certainly convinced that devolution is not the way to do it. (Localities Study P30).

What is Wales? I’m an Englishman right, so I tend to see Wales as a very beautiful part of the British Isles, and that’s it for me. I don’t believe in national boundaries, I’m not a fan of nationalist approaches, I just don’t like ideological orientation. I love it though, I think it’s a beautiful country and I love the people, um, so, but what is it? I think it’s a place. (Localities Study, P74).

It has its own language, its own identity, its own culture, but I think it should, it plays an important part in the identity of British, you know, Britain as a whole. It is a vitally important part of that as a whole if you like. (Localities Study P8).

Wales is a region of the United Kingdom, and Europe I suppose, which in the UK context has a degree of devolved government. But I don’t see it in economic terms as being a nation, although obviously in cultural terms it is. It’s not an economic nation but perhaps a cultural nation? (Localities study P73).

These examples provide some illustration of how a sense of pride in being Welsh sits alongside a continued attachment to Britain as a wider social and economic system within the political context of devolved Welsh nation-building.

 
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