Dominic Alessio. National Identities. Volume 17, Issue 3. September 2015.
By focusing on the ultra-nationalism of the recently defunct Welsh Defence League (WDL), which in turn had a direct influence on the formation of its more infamous relation the English Defence League, this paper re-examines the long-entrenched discourses of competing nationalisms in Wales. By doing so, it highlights a tendency to emphasise only left-leaning cultural and linguistic nationalist types in that country’s historiography, as opposed to the more violent, albeit minority, racist/new racist varieties to be found amongst recent extreme right groupings. Such extreme right antipathy in Wales is not Anglophobic but is directed rather at the ‘substantial numbers of immigrants and minorities … [who] have arrived as a result of empire and its postcolonial aftermath’, particularly those who are Islamic. By taking this new perspective on a heretofore generally ignored, but by no means insignificant Welsh subaltern group, this work further underlines the theoretical difficulties in understanding nationalism(s) generally. More importantly, the paper concludes by tracking the newer and smaller far right groups to have emerged in Wales in the wake of the WDL’s collapse. It argues that these derivative groups and the far right ideology which they represent are likely to remain marginalised but still need to be monitored closely.
From 2009 until roughly 2011, the Welsh Defence League (WDL) dominated extreme far right discourse in Wales. Yet the WDL was also significant outside of the country for having had a direct influence on the formation on the English Defence League (EDL), which for a short time was even known as the English and Welsh [my italics] Defence League (Copsey). The EDL in turn went on to evolve into the most significant anti-Islamic street protest movement in Europe and has been accused of having a direct impact on Anders Behring Breivik, the gunman who murdered 77 people in Norway in July 2011. The violent and extremist politics which the WDL and its sister defence leagues in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland generated, have been said to ‘pose the most significant threat to community cohesion in Britain’s inner-cities since the heyday of the National Front in the mid-to-late 1970s’ (Garland & Treadwell). This paper, therefore, begins to map out the heretofore overlooked Welsh origins of such movements. At the same time, it helps to fill in some of the gaps in terms of research on the far right in Europe as a whole, a subject which has suffered in places from ‘a lack of a comparative pan-European perspective’ (Anastasakis quoted in Mudde).
Whilst there is considerable published secondary material on Welsh nationalism and the question of nationalism in general, this research focuses instead on the radical right in Wales. As very little academic attention has been devoted to the topic, this work relies primarily on reports from far right monitoring organisations, the contemporary media, the Internet and social media. However, the use of social media and the web is particularly awkward; not only can it be unreliable and/or the web pages change regularly, but to compound the problem the two major organisations which this work examines are at the time of writing either non-existent or on the brink of collapse. Thus, their Internet pages are frequently blocked or have been removed. It has to be acknowledged, consequently, that many of the conclusions and inferences stated here about the nature of the far right in Wales are tentative and partial. Nevertheless, the material is still useful for drawing attention to a heretofore generally unacknowledged, yet significant, dimension of Welsh history and politics.
Defining the Extreme Right
The WDL is an example of the larger, far right, international, Islamophobic and ‘counterjihad’ defence movements which evolved amongst Europe’s far right communities in the early twenty-first century in response to an increase in immigrant communities and a perceived threat from radical/extreme Islam. Although fascism as a political ideology is renowned for being self-contradictory and difficult to define (Passmore), these defence movements are often associated with a fascist ideology, evidenced by their commitment to violence, racism, militarism and extreme nationalism. Confusingly, such counterjihad movements simultaneously deny any such links; nor did they emerge directly from established fascist or Nazi traditions, although some of their supporters often do share cross-membership with other more specifically extreme right groupings. Nevertheless, most political commentators agree that the defence leagues belong on the far right of the political spectrum. Lowles has suggested that the EDL is best understood as a kind of bastard cousin of fascism rather than a direct heir: ‘Replacing the old racial nationalist politics of Neo-Nazi and traditional far right parties … it presents itself as more mainstream and respectable’. Allen similarly concludes that ‘it is extremely difficult not to place the EDL’ on the extreme right end of the political spectrum. Jackson too has argued that the EDL’s ‘populist ultra-patriotism’ requires it to be ‘seen as a far right movement’. Alessio and Meredith, in the wake of the EDL’s alliance with the short-lived British Freedom Party, went even further, suggesting that:
Given how the [EDL] movement adheres to Griffin’s theoretical model of palingenetic ultranationalism …, several critical similarities with the Italian squadristi, and its direct links with other fascist organizations and individuals, a strong case can now be made that the form and nature of the movement contain the central tenants of fascist ideology.
The fact that the EDL’s leader left the organisation, citing its far right links as a reason for leaving, also lends considerable credence to the above. This paper analyses the origins, significance, nature and circumstances of the WDL, including: its leadership; its high levels of violence and racism; and its often self-contradictory, ultra-nationalist ideology. The latter are all too frequently signifiers of a radical right identity-politics that perceives the world through Manichean eyes, namely ‘us’ and ‘them’ (Mudde). In the case of the WDL, the special enemy singled out in a post-9/11 world is the Muslim, as opposed to Jews or Roma who have historically tended to be the targets of extreme right organisations. By focusing on the WDL, this paper additionally re-examines the long-entrenched discourses of competing nationalisms in Wales. It highlights a tendency to emphasise left-leaning cultural and linguistic nationalist types in that country’s historiography, which in turn has tended to ignore other kinds of nationalism which are more inclined to be conservative and English in their orientation. As Bryant points out when discussing an absence of discussion on Anglo-British Wales, in particular Welsh Conservative voters:
There does not seem to have been much research on constructions of Wales that had a currency among the Anglophone Welsh who did not identify with an Y Fro Gymraeg [Welsh-speaking Wales] … or with a Labour Wales … What of their Wales?
Williams too echoes this lacuna in the literature on Wales by reminding his readers of ‘the admiration of many Welsh people for England, English culture and the English language … and the devotion to the British royal family’. Rather than focus upon the Welsh conservative and/or royalist, this work will instead draw attention to the far more violent, albeit minority, racist/new racist varieties to be found amongst extreme right groupings. By doing so, not only does this work underline further the theoretical difficulties in understanding nationalism(s), particularly in Wales, but it also argues that the dominance of leftist-inclined sympathies serve as major explanatory factors in the extreme right’s inability to gain much traction there.
The paper concludes by briefly discussing some of the other far right groups to have emerged amongst the radical right in the wake of the WDL’s collapse, in particular, the Casuals United (CU). It argues that these groups, and the far right extremism which they represent, are likely to remain marginalised in the country unless one of two things happen. First, the Welsh extreme right successfully reinvents itself in the manner of a European, far right, sub-state nationalist political organisation, thereby redefining the ‘Other’ of Welsh nationalism; and/or second, if the general cultural, political and ideological context in which these groups operate shifts further to the far right of the political spectrum, in turn making these reactionary political positions more attractive to a larger segment of the population as a whole. Such developments are not impossible as Paul Jackson noted in relation to far right groups in the UK today: ‘Radicalising events can quickly come along that change the dynamic, and allow a wider support base to grow. The emergence of the English Defence League … is a clear example’.
A Brief History of Welsh Nationalism
Kenneth Morgan argued that ‘[a] sense of nationality is as old as the Welsh themselves’ (Morgan). Similarly, Jan Morris contends that Cymru’s ‘triple heritage’ of Celticness, Roman history and Christianity, combined with the fact that the country was never overrun by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, resulted in an historic sense of Welshness akin to the ‘chosen races’ mentalities found amongst some Afrikaners or Jews (Morris). Nevertheless, the early Mediaeval history of what now geographically comprises Wales consisted largely of a series of internecine struggles for dominance amidst an array of smaller competing kingdoms. Whilst the arrival of the Normans in the Middle Ages put an end to the majority of this infighting, it also closed the door on any dreams of Welsh political independence. Yet the country’s indigenous culture still continued to survive in Welsh language, poetry, songs and stories. The later Laws in Wales Acts of 1535-1542, however, virtually ignored this Welsh culture, ensuring that Wales was treated, at least so far as legal terms were concerned, as part of England, albeit with local discrepancies from English courts that at least preserved for Wales ‘some legal identity of its own’ (Bryant).
With the rise of religious Nonconformity in the eighteenth century, which found deep spiritual roots in the country, and in the wake of a triple alliance consisting of the French Revolution, industrialisation and the rise of nationalism in Europe as a whole, a specifically Welsh political voice was rekindled. The story of this Welsh national identity during this time is not in fact that diverse to the ‘condition of Scottish national identity post 1707 … [for] a vibrant and distinctively Scottish civil society’ remained there too (Soule, Leith, & Steven). Consequently, many local supporters in Wales of the then more dominant Liberal and Labour parties at the end of the nineteenth century favoured demands for home rule. This is evident by the actions of Welsh-speaking David Lloyd George, future Liberal British Prime Minister and founder of the welfare state; it can be seen with his membership in Yr Cymru Fydd (the Young Wales Movement), a small and short-lived, end-of-century political movement that campaigned for Welsh self-government. Nevertheless, political independence was not achieved at this juncture, primarily because of a lack of widespread popular support and a shared history of Welsh involvement in the British national and imperial projects. Nevertheless, these were not the only reasons for the country lacking statehood:
It could be said that the [early] English conquest of Wales robbed Wales of its future as a nation-state. Without a history of statehood, with ambiguity about its border the product of annexation by England, with difficult internal communications and strong local loyalties to match, and with a modern capital [Cardiff] without a long history of national significance and one in which English has long been the predominant language, Wales as a nation has been enough of an enigma for Gwyn Williams to write a book entitled When was Wales? in 1985. (Bryant)
Yet Williams did at least write that book, evidence in itself that elements of a Welsh nationalist agenda remained. This sense of Wales reborn, at least in the nineteenth century, was made manifest also, amongst other indicators, namely: the invention of the eisteddfodau (annual poetry and music sessions) in the mid nineteenth century; the adoption in 1866 of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers) as the national anthem; the introduction of the Welsh Intermediate Education Act of 1889 (which resulted in the implementation of secondary education across the country); the creation of the University of Wales (Pryfysgol Cymru) in 1893; the erection of a National Library at Aberystwyth (Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru) in 1916; the disestablishment of the Church of Wales (Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru) in 1920; and the creation of Cardiff’s National Museum of Wales (Amgueddfa Cymru) in 1927. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, one might add to this list of Welsh milestones the introduction of the 1967 Welsh Language Act (providing equal validity for aspects of the Welsh language), the creation in 1982 of Sianel Pedwar (S4C) and the publication of The Encyclopaedia of Wales in 2007. All of the above would seem to fit many of Anthony Smith’s defining features of a nation in National Identity (1991): ‘a named human population sharing an historic territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass, public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for all members’ (quoted in Őzkirimli). Yet for all this, and as Morris argues, modern Wales still remained merely a country without a state.
It was in 1925 that a much longer-lived and more successful political independence movement took root, namely Plaid Cymru/the Party of Wales [Plaid]. Yet calls for independence still did not resonate with the larger population as a whole as other factors, namely the depression and the Second World War, dominated the political agenda. Plaid only achieved its first electoral success some 40 years later during the era of decolonisation and civil rights, when Gwynfor Evans, its then President, took the seat for Carmarthen/Caerfyrddin in 1966. Whilst Plaid party members have never become the dominant political voice in Wales (in 2014 they have 3 of the total 40 Welsh seats reserved in the United Kingdom’s parliament), their support for an independent state has helped to secure a measure of political devolution. This was apparent by the creation in 1998 of a National Assembly for Wales (yr Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru), which by 2011 had the powers of primary legislation over an array of areas ranging from agriculture to the Welsh language. This was Wales’s ‘first taste of self-government in 700 years’ (Phillips).
One of the significant explanatory factors for the failure of Plaid to secure greater popular support for Welsh sovereignty resides in the fact that there were, and still are, opposing varieties of nationalisms operating within the country. Such a situation is not unique to Wales. As Elie Kedourie pointed out in relation to the Arab world in the post-WWII period, just because a people speak one language does not mean that they will automatically unify (Őzkirimli). One only need look at the failed experiment that was the United Arab Republic to see this. Indeed, Welsh national identity is often seen as ‘a heteregeneous movement that has included … multiple organizations, priorities, and strategies’ (Pitchford). According to Morris, the Welsh are thus ‘torn between cultures, languages and loyalties, uncertain of their true identity, divided even among themselves by conflicting notions of patriotism or national interest’. Even today there is no motorway linking directly the northern and southern parts of the country. To be sure, when it comes to Gwyn Williams’s question ‘When was Wales?’, perhaps the more relevant query instead might be ‘Who are the Welsh’?
Such uncertainties about what it means to be Welsh are not surprising given that more recent research on nationalism has demonstrated an assortment of both micro- and macro-level influences to be found in the creation of national identities, including: ‘history, culture, language, religion, political institutions, agents and agencies of socialisation’ (Haesly). Indeed, scholars of nationalism emphasise the fact that ‘collectivities … have multiple and conflictual identities’ (Őzkirimli). In addition to language, when it comes to Wales, one must also talk about geographical divisions, consisting of:
Y Fro Gymraeg, sometimes referred to as the Welsh ‘heartland’; the Valleys; the cities, or urban Wales (Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Wrexham) and so on. Often these areas or zones are said to possess different sets of attributes, with associated meanings, or regional cultures, reflecting not only the size and distribution of their population, but also differences of class, occupation and lifestyle, which present their inhabitants with contrasting problems and opportunities. (Open University, 2.1.2)
Thus, it is not uncommon to see ‘several competing national identities’ operating simultaneously in one given place in Wales (Merill). A similar situation exists in Scotland where many Scottish nationalists, especially those supporters of Glasgow’s Celtic Football Club, identify also with ‘a sense of Irishness’ (Mycock). The same too can be said about English national identity, as England is made up of many different identities also; as a result Kumar advocates that English nationalism is so cosmopolitan that it barely registers.
This notion of Welsh political multiplicity was first noted by Sir Alfred Zimmern at a speech at Jesus College, Oxford, as early as 1921:
There is not one Wales; there are three … There is Welsh Wales; there is industrial, or as I sometimes think of it, American Wales; and there is upper-class Wales, or English Wales. These three represent different types and different traditions. They are moving in different directions. (Quoted in Osmond)
Such a viewpoint was adopted later by Denis Balsom in 1985 with the development of his ‘Three-Wales’ model. Balsom, whilst examining the way Welsh people voted in the 1979 election, envisioned the country as being separated into three distinct political regions: Y Fro Gymraeg, or Welsh-speaking Wales, covering the north and west-central parts of the country; the South Wales valleys and coalfields, wherein lay Labour’s traditional stronghold, referred to by Balsom as ‘Welsh Wales’; and British Wales, consisting primarily of the Welsh-English Eastern border regions and Pembrokeshire.
Zimmern and Balsom were not the only ones to identify contested understandings of Welshness. For James two of the largest and most dominant Welsh nationalist ‘imagined communities’ consist of a ‘reforming urban socialism’, that often tends to be working class, pro-Labour and English-speaking, vis a vis a more middle-class ‘rural, Welsh-speaking’ type. Yet both of these groups do still share a strong sense of Welsh identity. Partly, this collective identity is a result of historical cultural markers; hence it is not surprising to learn that even some English language speakers react favourably to Welsh-language road signs when returning from England (Open University, 6.2.1). Yet this shared sense of national identity could also be due to other factors, such as significant deviations in modern Welsh-English economic and health indictors. Such a shared history of regional underdevelopment suggests the potential of an ‘internal colonialism’ of the kind identified by Michael Hechter in his book of the same name, Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development (1975). Nevertheless, despite the mutual sense of shared history and economic inequality, these Welsh groupings have, according to James, still ‘proved very difficult to draw together into a political movement with a shared agenda and common objectives’. In other words, the English-speaking Labour-supporter from the valleys, whilst still calling himself/herself a Welsh nationalist, might not necessarily want a fully independent country, unlike his/her Welsh-speaking Plaid counterpart from the West or North.
These binary positions are complicated further by other subdivisions which echo the earlier distinctions addressed by Zimmern and Balsom. For Haesly, there are also three types of contested Welsh national identity: Civic, Proud/Insular and Superficial, all of which have different agendas and concerns. Haesly’s Civic Welsh identity (reflecting about 36% of the population) rejects notions that Welshness is tied to blood and is not particularly anti-English, although they do claim a distinct Welsh identity. They would appear to match Balsom’s Valleys/Labour Wales types from the South East. Haesly’s superficial grouping (c. 25% of respondents) is not nationalist at all, appearing less-concerned than the civic type about a possible loss of Welsh identity and for whom the Welsh language and Welsh history are irrelevant. As such they seem to reflect somewhat Balsom’s British Wales. Haesly’s Proud/Insular type, by contrast, and comprising some 23% of the population, is particularly worried about the likes of English-speaking immigration impacting upon the survival of the Welsh language; as such they would seem to mirror Y Fro Gymraeg.
Bryant goes further still and divides Welsh people into five groupings: Y Fro Gymraeg (the historically Welsh-speaking community); Labour Wales (a product of industrialisation that although generally English-speaking shares with Y Fro Gymraeg a strong sense of Welsh identity); Anglo-British Wales (whose representatives view themselves as more British than Welsh); Cymru-Wales (first or second language Cymraeg speakers with a modern sense of cultural and political identity akin to Heasly’s Civic type); and Modern Wales, whose representatives are predominantly English-speaking and cosmopolitan but are more interested in economics than politics or culture. Bryant also points out, however, that these categories are malleable and there are many people in Wales ‘for whom local identities are stronger or who have little interest in national identity’. Bryant is not the only one to comment on the fluidity and fuzziness to be found amongst supporters of a particular national identity. Eric Hobsbawn made the same point in Nations and Nationalism (1990) when he talked about how ‘human beings define and redefine themselves’. More recently, Williams too has chastised Welsh scholars for ignoring hybridity and multiple identities in Wales and focusing too much attention on the models of division mentioned previously (Zimmern, Balsom et al).
Given the varieties and changing nature of nationalism within the country, as well as the concomitant anxieties over linguistic issues, it is not surprising that there are sometimes tensions between the Welsh-speaking groups and their Superficial/Civic/Labour/Anglo-British counterparts. Merrill advocates that working class, English language speakers living in Wales sometimes resent ‘the implication that Welshness was defined by the ability to speak the native language’. As one former Labour MP in 1978 complained: ‘The way is being prepared to ensure that only Welsh speakers will be able to rise to the top’ (Leo Abse quoted on Osmond). Likewise, some on the left view an emphasis upon language as ‘anti-progressive’ and a marker of the kind of ‘”fortress nationalism” found in Quebec before the quiet Revolution’ (Thomas).
Yet language does not necessarily have to be divisive. In ancient Rome and Mediaeval Europe, citizenship or adherence to the Roman faith was of greater import than ethnicity, suggesting that national identity is far more complicated than linguistic commonality alone. Some scholars have pointed out also that ‘Welsh now enjoys colossal good will and growing support from those unable to speak it’ (Phillips, 107). Furthermore, when it comes to education, a number of English-speaking parents in Wales deliberately send their children to Welsh-medium schools:
They were attracted by the demonstrated educational successes of the schools, the opportunity to restore to their children the Welsh linguistic heritage of which they felt deprived, and, from the 1980s, the lure of high-status jobs with a Welsh-language requirement in the media and in the constantly expanding government bureaucracy in and around the Welsh Office. (Open University, 6.2.2)
Additionally, when it comes to Wales class divisions can be just as fragmentary as linguistic ones. Williams notes that English-speakers see the minority 19% of Welsh first language speakers in the country (roughly just over half a million persons), as trying to manufacture ‘a new oligarchy’ for their own personal economic and political gain. Such a position would seem to underpin Paul Brass’s instrumentalist position (‘Elite Groups, Symbol Manipulation and Ethnic Identity among the Muslims of South East Asia’, 1979 in Őzkirimli), which views some supporters of national identity using it as a political construction for their own elitist ends. For all of these reasons, amongst a few English-speakers at least, a ‘backlash’ has appeared against Y Fro Gymraeg (Johnes).
To complicate the question of national identity even further, members of Plaid are themselves coming from very different positions. Rawkins has argued that Plaid has ‘sheltered … individuals with a broad range of concerns and outlooks’ and has identified at least four different types of Welsh nationalists operating under that party’s umbrella. They include: the modernists (who appear to be middle class, educated, cosmopolitan and left-leaning); the fortress types (who are religious, rural-based, pacifist and middle class); the loyalists (who advocate defending the Welsh language primarily through a gradualist political platform); and the militants (who throughout the 1960s to early 1980s were willing to use direct action and limited violence to achieve their aims). The latter can be exemplified by their protests against the Tryweryn Dam (which supplied water to England at the cost of the flooding of a Welsh-speaking area) and by way of arson attacks on English-owned holiday cottages.
Despite this variety of shades and assertions that there is not ‘such a thing as a Welsh national character’ (Morris), what all the above groups do seem to have in common, aside from a frequent passion for rugby (!), is a generally left-leaning political orientation. Research indicates that about 80% of the total nationalist vote in Wales veers to the left of the spectrum (Erk). Such a leftist orientation is not unique. Studies of modern sub-state nationalism, with a few exceptions such as in modern Belgium or Italy, demonstrate similar political leanings. This position is not unrelated to Scotland today, wherein the Scottish National Party and Scottish Labour dominate a left-of-centre political agenda (Lacaita). According to Erk, such a political orientation is primarily a result of such parties taking their inspiration from post-colonial independence movements.
Nor is Erk alone in underscoring Welsh leftist leanings. According to James, this socialist-leaning convention came about even earlier than the post-Second World War decolonisation, arriving with industrialisation: ‘the force for political change in Wales has come mainly through the trade unions, the Labour Party and a left-wing outlook’. Bryant argues a similar point, saying that Welsh Labour politics was forged in the pits and foundries of the South East during the nineteenth century. For Davie, the Welsh commitment to socialism was reinforced in the crucible of the Depression in response to the Spanish Civil War. As testament to this some 174 Welshmen signed up for the Republic’s International Brigades. Davies consequently asserts that it is not surprising Oswald Mosley abandoned any attempt to garner support for his fascist blackshirts in the country during the build-up to the Second World War.
Yet these left wing sympathies are not only to be found amongst the English-dominated and Labour-controlled industrialised valleys of south Wales: ‘Many of the members of Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru were sympathetic to socialism’ as well (Davies). Indeed, ‘decentralised socialism’ was one of the foundation stones of Plaid’s 1925 manifesto, and in 1981 ‘community socialism’ was incorporated again into the party’s political platform (Plaid Cymru). As one Plaid interviewee asserted, it was the party’s overt socialist agenda that began to attract some young, non-Welsh-speaking supporters from the Valleys in the 1970s who had felt betrayed by Labour (quoted in Open University, 6.3.2).
Bryant suggests that these left-leaning tendencies amongst many Welsh speakers might be the result of the concept of the gwerin, a pre-industrial and romantic vision of a classless folk community. Even the more militant Welsh sovereignist movements have followed this leftist political trajectory. Cymru Goch (Red Wales), for example, a small, more extremist, nationalist organisation founded in the late 1980s, advocated openly for an independent socialist Welsh nation. All the above suggest that in spite of the many differing nationalist visions to be found amongst the Welsh ideological landscape, the political colours of the Welsh dragon, which dominate the nation’s flag, remain firmly red.
An Early History of Welsh Fascism and Nationalism
According to Erk, research on sub-state nationalism is now ‘a vibrant subfield of nationalism studies’. Nevertheless, Erk also points out that ‘what seems to have been under-explored is why some of these parties are on the left of the political spectrum of electoral politics while others are on the right’. The fact that many observers associate nationalism with the right makes the leftist leanings of these sub-state varieties particularly fascinating. In terms of the study of Welsh nationalism itself, however, scholars have tended to focus on the leftist leanings of these groupings and, with a few exceptions, not spent much time examining the history of the far right in Wales. It would appear to be the case that the dominant leftist leanings of both these English and Welsh-speaking dominant nationalist groupings may be one of the more significant reasons as to why fascism/radical right ideologies have not taken a political hold vis a vis some other sub-state examples, namely the former Vlaams Blok in Belgium. They may also account for the blind eye taken to the subject of the extreme right in Welsh history.
In English language studies of Wales such a propensity to overlook the radical right could be due to what Hywel Williams has said was a general weakness in the nation’s history to be too parochial or to focus only on elites and their political and trade union representatives. Williams states that Welsh historians have thus failed ‘to place Wales’ in a wider European context. This is a point which Jordan raises when discussing myths about race equality in Wales and assumptions that whatever your skin colour, ‘there is always a welcome in the hillside’; he suggests instead ‘that the time has come to dismantle this prevailing assumption’ Regardless as to the reason(s) for this historical omission, one of the paradoxes of this focus on the left is that in the history of the far right, nationalism is also one of its driving ideological foundations. As Griffin argues, ultra-nationalism is in fact central to fascism: ‘Fascism is a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism’.
In terms of Welsh history written in English, one of the few authors to at least breach the subject of the far right, albeit briefly, is Davies in A History of Wales. He states that some early Plaid supporters saw ‘virtue in Mussolini and Franco’, but he also points out that such positions were ‘deeply offensive’ to the majority of left wing nationalists in the party (591). It is Gwyn Williams who seems to have spent most time discussing the intersections between the far right and early nationalist Plaid members, in particular the ideas of Saunders Lewis, the party’s first leader and founder. According to Williams, Lewis’s vision for the nation was one ‘defined in terms of Latin Christendom … within an organic community’, an ideal that in form and language emulated the language of the Spanish-Catholic Fascists or Action Française. According to Williams, William Ambrose Bebb, one of Lewis’s strongest allies and a co-founder of the Welsh National Party, was essentially ‘a Welsh spokesman for Action Française’, who had publically proclaimed in the early 1920s that ‘it is a Mussolini that Wales needs’. Griffiths argues that Bebb fell under the spell of Action Française whilst teaching Welsh at the Sorbonne, which is the educational hotbed of radical right ideology which also influenced the thinking of Michel Aflaq, the Christian co-founder of the Baath Party. Thus, Williams called Lewis an anti-communist and accused Plaid’s party paper, ironically called Y Draig Goch (The Red Dragon), of tolerating anti-Semitism and supporting Franco and Salazar. Conversely, in more recent work on modern Wales, the far right appears to get less attention. In a chapter entitled ‘Nationalists of many varieties, 1951-70’, Johnes makes no mention at all of the extreme right. Such lack of interest is perhaps understandable given the overt dominance of the previously mentioned leftist agendas of the Welsh and the English-speaking groupings, as well as the fact that Plaid shifted firmly to the left after Saunders Lewis resigned from the party leadership.
It could be argued that the violent actions of a handful of minority Welsh-speaking nationalists in the 1960s, namely paramilitary outfits such as Yr Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Movement for the Defence of Wales) and Yr Byddin Rhyddid Cymru (the Free Wales Army), might constitute characteristics of extreme rightist actions. The same could be said perhaps of the organisation known as Yr Meibion Glyndŵr (the Sons of Glyndŵr), which in the late 1970s carried out arson attacks against English second homes in Wales. Certainly, elements of the English press did label these individuals as ‘fascistic’ (Pitchford). Nevertheless, Plaid publically distanced itself from the actions of Yr Meibion Glyndŵr and expelled Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru members from the party. More recently formed groups, such as Cymuned (Community), whose intention is to stem the ‘in-migration of monoglot English speakers to Welsh-speaking areas’, have similarly denied that they are racist. They say that their focus is not to stop immigration per se but rather to advocate for ‘funds to enable Welsh-speaking communities to assimilate English-speaking in-migrants and develop specific policies that will strengthen the Welshness of Welsh-speaking areas’ (News Wales). They are about protecting the language, not race or religion.
Another reason for a lack of interest with the extreme right in Welsh political history, apart from the afore-mentioned supremacy of the left, might have to do with the dominance of the sovereignty and linguistic agendas over any other ideological concerns, especially amongst Welsh-speaking nationalists. As Pitchford points out: ‘The struggle to defend the language is at the heart of Welsh nationalism’. In other words, as there is no Welsh-speaking Irredentist clarion call to retake the formerly Celtic-speaking regions of Britain and France, and since non-English-speaking immigrants are not generally perceived to represent a threat, most Welsh-speaking nationalists have no desire or need to gravitate to the more extreme end of the nationalist spectrum. Furthermore, most Welsh-speaking nationalists, even those belonging to the Militant type, are in the paradoxical position of being generally anti-militarist and anti-war themselves. Saunders Lewis’s himself was imprisoned for trying to burn down a military bombing school for British fighter pilots in the Llŷn peninsula in 1936. Likewise, the contemporary Welsh nationalist historian and writer Jan Morris imagines a future independent Wales that is neutral in political orientation and without an army. As Chris Williams asserts: ‘[Welsh] Nationalist movements have largely taken constitutional form … Violent nationalist activity … has been small in extent and very limited in appeal’. Such a position is not dissimilar from their Celtic cousins up North, where Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, argued in a conference speech in 2006, that Scottish nationalism was ‘based on a peaceful, inclusive, civil nationalism – one born of tolerance and respect for all faiths, colours and creeds ‘ (quoted in Mycock). Thus, those few violent elements within the Welsh nationalist cause have remained largely ‘muted’ (Johnes). Additionally, not only were the majority of previous Welsh nationalist aggressive attacks against property only, but one group even abandoned plans to blow up a postal box ‘because of the risk to life’. As Owen Edwards pointed out: ‘acts of violence in the cause of Welsh cultural nationalism have been carefully taken against property and not against persons’. Nor should such violent nationalist actions necessarily be associated only with the extreme right. The Provisional IRA (Óglaigh na hÉireann), one of Britain’s most dangerous and violent nationalist organisations, remained heavily Marxist in its political orientation. Instead, tactics for independence amongst the Welsh nationalists incline to be centred around the creation of pressure groups (Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg and Cymuned) and the use of cultural tools and symbols, such as protest songs (Dafydd Iwan) and media outlets (S4C), rather than violent opposition. Nor do Plaid supporters call for an end to democracy like many fascist/far right counterparts; their central political focus remains legal and always on ‘civil rights and social justice’ rather than confrontation and overt racism (Pitchford).
Although some anti-immigrant concerns do appear amongst elements of the ‘Militant’ and ‘Proud/Insular’ types, such anxieties are neither the dominant nor defining ones. Furthermore, as indicated above, they are not directed at Jews, blacks, Asians or Muslims, the prime objects of hatred amongst many contemporary radical right groupings, especially the Islamophobic ‘counterjihad’ movements. Nor are they violent against persons. At worst, the Welsh nationalist focus on the English might be labelled ‘quasi-ethnic’, having more to do with preserving the Welsh language than having any interest in racial or biological purity (Haesly), although some commentators are critical of its exclusionist agenda which appears to have ‘occasionally come uncomfortably close to notions of cultural, if not, racial purity’ (Bryant). Further evidence of Plaid Cymru’s non-racist agenda can be seen on the party’s website which puts much positive emphasis upon ‘its County Councillors from the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities of Wales’ (Plaid Cymru), and its party literature that directly courts the English-speaking vote. Therefore, like the Scottish National Party (SNP), Plaid’s nationalism remains firmly ‘civic’ instead of ethnic or tribal (Soule et al.). Nor do Plaid supporters demonstrate en masse in the streets of Welsh towns and cities to hurl violent abuse against English-speakers, unlike their extreme nationalist defence league counterparts when criticising Muslims and other non-Western immigrants.
In contemporary Wales, it is instead the recently defunk Islamophobic/counterjihad WDL (sometimes also bewilderingly referred to as the Cymru Defence League), which has dominated the political and media landscape of the extreme right. The WDL formed in early 2009, around about the time that a small, extremist Islamist group staged an anti-war protest in Luton, Bedfordshire, to disrupt the homecoming parade of the Royal Anglian Regiment, recently returned from service in Iraq. The WDL began by allying itself with other UK-based ‘anti-Jihadist’ extremist groups, such as March for England (MfE), to run a counter demonstration in Luton against Islam on 28 March 2009. From this combined protest and the national media publicity which it generated, the EDL was formed; consequently, the WDL impact was felt far beyond the borders of Wales itself, even across the sea in Norway.
The name for the WDL movement was first coined by ‘”some of the Welsh Valleys lads” and later adopted by the movement in England as the English Defence League’ (Copsey). Like the members of other similar ultra-nationalist and anti-Jihadist groups, WDL’s members did not carry membership cards or pay annual dues. Rather they evolved out of a pre-existing football subculture scene, in this case, the Cardiff City football hooligan scene; thus, the WDL’s anti-Islamic politics was rooted in violent protest from the very beginning. Coupling hooliganism with extremist politics, and using Twitter and the Internet (particularly Facebook and YouTube) to disseminate its message, the WDL attracted hundreds of followers. Their biggest demonstrations were in Swansea (60 protestors), Wrexham (120 protestors) and Cardiff (200 protestors). These were often violent and cost the state considerable amounts of money to police.
In addition to directly creating the EDL, their violent protests and their use of social media to disseminate their radical politics, there are a number of other parallels between the two defence leagues, leadership being one of them. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who goes by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, has until his resignation in 2013 dominated the EDL, whilst Jeff Marsh was the driving force behind the WDL. Like Robinson, Barry-born Marsh (or ‘Marshy’ as he is often known) emerged from a violent football hooligan culture, has a criminal record (for stabbing and affray), spent time in prison and has utilised several different identities, including ‘Arrylad’, ‘Joe Cardiff’ and ‘Mike Smith’ (Bartholomew).
During its existence, the WDL, like its English-based EDL counterpart, also attempted to present itself as a new phenomenon distinct from the old far right, namely as a human rights and non-racist/non-fascist organisation. Although much of its website is now inaccessible, the movement does not, unlike its English-based sister organisation, otherwise appear to have developed a well-thought ideology. There is, for example, no discussion of economics; according to Mudde, however, this should not come as a huge surprise since economic programmes are often ‘only a secondary feature’ of the populist radical right. Instead, the focus of the WDL remains firmly centred on criticising Muslims whilst simultaneously denouncing a racist and violent agenda: ‘Standing up against Militant Islam … We will peacefully protest … and will travel to help our English, Scottish and Irish brothers and sisters whenever needed. This is not a racist group … No BNP, NF or Nazis here’ (http://welshdefence.webs.com/).
The WDL’s Facebook pages also openly stated that it had an ‘International Outlook’ and was willing to work with others ‘who share its values’ (Facebook), an ambition with the EDL shared given its previous close contacts with Robert Spencer (Director of the US-based Jihad Watch) and Geert Wilders (leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom). The fact that Copsey in his 2010 report on the EDL also named Marsh as one of the EDL leadership team members suggests that similarities between the two defence leagues are not surprising. This international network also supports Mudde’s contention that there is now a growing ‘[i]international cooperation among populist radical right parties’.
Yet despite its supposedly democratic and outward-looking façade, the WDL has been accused, like the EDL, of being a far right front. Many of their supporters share membership with other extremist groups. Trevor Hannington of the Aryan Strike Force (an extremely violent, racist and international Neo-Nazi organisation) has appeared at WDL demos; so has Bryan Powell, who is simultaneously a member of the National Front (NF) and Combat 18 (C 18), another openly racist Neo-Nazi group. Luke Pippen, a Swansea C18 member, also co-ran the CU Blog (see below) with Marsh. Welsh newspaper reports further testify that large groups of WDL supporters at demonstrations ‘were seen making Nazi salutes’ (Wales Online), and far right watchers on the web have produced visual evidence of WDL supporters flaunting swastika tattoos and showing overt sympathies for Nazism. During the Swansea WDL demo in October 2009, members of C18 were present in support (Copsey). Both the WDL and the EDL are also militarist, with Marsh wearing a paramilitary balaclava when broadcasting online (BBC Wales) and stating openly that ‘putting a knife in your back pocket was as much a part of getting dressed as gelling your hair. You couldn’t leave the house without one’ (in Bracchi & Stewart). Marsh himself has said that he views his supporters as a ‘ready-made army’ (Wales Online).
Unlike the EDL, however, whose support base just before the Breivik shootings in mid-2011 (and before the social network Facebook removed their initial account) achieved 90,000 Facebook ‘friends’ (Hope Not Hate), the WDL’s membership did not attain anywhere near the same level of followers; it never seems to have exceeded 900 Facebook ‘likes’, despite the existence of several different WDL Facebook pages. This lack of popular backing may be due to the afore-mentioned leftist and pacifist sympathies of Welsh Labour and Plaid supporters. It might also be the result of some Plaid supporters, especially those described as ‘Militant’ or ‘Proud/Insular’ types, viewing the English-speaking communities in the country (rather than the Muslim ones) as representing the greater threat to Welsh culture.
The Contemporary Extreme Right in Cymru
Unlike the EDL which still operates (despite the resignation of its leader and a few hundred or so members splitting off into even more extremist organisations, such as the Combined Ex-Forces, the North West Infidels and the North East Infidels), the WDL has gone the way of many other UK-based extremist groups and disbanded. Marsh ironically blamed its collapse on the infiltration of its membership by known Nazis. There are indications, however, that another reason for the collapse may have been due to disagreements internally with the EDL over their lack of support for the Welsh-based group. Interestingly, this Nazi infiltration of the organisation was also co-incidentally the reason given by Robinson for his much-publicised resignation from the EDL.
Despite the demise of the WDL, a number of other far right groups continue to operate in Wales, the best-known being another, until recently, Marsh-led outfit known as the CU. The CU were initially set up in parallel to the WDL in 2009 and also had a decisive influence in the creation of the EDL. CU’s origins lie with the Casuals, football firms that evolved in England during the early 1980s out of the pre-existing football hooligan scene. Their mainly young, male supporters, whilst having developed an especially notorious reputation for violence, also became conspicuous for their love of expensive designer clothing, especially for labels such as Lacoste, Fila, Sergio Tacchini, Pringle and Stone Island. Although these ‘firms’ went into decline in the 1990s, some did remain active. One of the most conspicuous and long-standing Welsh examples is Cardiff City’s ‘Soul Crew’, named for their love of soul music and described as ‘perhaps the toughest and most violent soccer gang in Britain’ (Jones & Rivers). Although support for Soul Crew, as measured by Facebook posts and media stories, seems to have diminished, ‘Cardiff city football fans have more banning orders than supporters at any other club in England and Wales’ (BBC Wales).
Whilst there had been several attempts historically amongst some of Soul Crew’s followers to organise the movement and introduce a political or racist agenda, these appear to have largely fallen on deaf ears. According to some of Soul Crew’s own, it seems to be the case that most of their followers were motived purely from a ‘cult of violence’; in fact they were conspicuous for their lack of ‘organisational skills’ and for their ‘internal squabbling’ (Jones & Rivers). As a movement, therefore, Soul Crew’s focus appears essentially local, their bile directed at other football firms, most notoriously against neighbouring Welsh team Swansea. Anti-Englishness or racism do not appear as driving factors. Soul Crew’s followers state that it is rather Swansea’s hooligan supporters, known as the Jack’s, who are more ‘heavily into the British National Party, Ulster Unionism and far-right politics’ (Jones & Rivers). While Soul Crew members do admit sometimes to pretend anti-Englishness or feign support for Ulster Unionism, they state that it is not serious but merely intended to ‘wind up’ their English or Scottish hooligan opponents (Jones & Rivers).
When former Soul Crew hooligan Marsh came along in 2009 in the surge of anti-Islamic feeling that surrounded the Luton parade and which led to the formation of the EDL, he planned to change all of this. His intention was to use the CU ‘as an umbrella organisation for football hooligans to come together’ and to focus their attention instead on a political agenda, namely to fight the spread of Islam (Marshall). According to Marsh, he wanted to unite ‘English [my italics] people, from businessmen and women, to football hooligans … to forget their petty rivalries and come together in a national movement’ (quoted in Garland & Treadwell).
The CU, which are still together although their official website has been frozen and their supporters seem to have diminished substantially, claim to have some 50 branches across the country and hundreds of followers, including like their EDL allies, a small female division (Garland & Treadwell). Yet with their support base now reduced and their web site virtually inactive, like the WDL, it is difficult to determine further details about their politics and ideology. However, one of their most active bloggers, Suzy Marsh (a possible relative of Marsh’s who maintains over 1100 followers), in her web blog entitled CU News Team, or CUNT, not only denies any required football links (‘our group is now comprised of people from all walks of life’) but also states that ‘fighting over football is pathetic and a waste of time’ (Casuals United Blog).
Intriguingly, in addition to a violent nationalism, there are a number of other indicators amongst the CU that suggest elements of a far right predisposition, despite denying (like their WDL and EDL counterparts) any association with neo-Nazism. The first of these includes a militarised organisation. Not only are both the WDL and CU organised into ‘divisions’, but Marsh refers to his CU football hooligan supporters as ‘footsoldiers’ (Garland & Treadwell). A strong anti-leftist agenda also appears, especially amongst the pages of Suzy Marsh’s CU blog; this is a political position that did not come to the fore within the WDL but that is in evidence amongst EDL supporters as well (Alessio & Meredith). Suzy Marsh argues that the European Union ‘is simply turning Europe into a communist dictatorship’, and that ‘the Police, CPS, Ministry of Justice and Judiciary have become … infested with Marxist types’ (Casuals United Blog). Third, despite the presence of a female blogger like Suzy Marsh, the majority of WDL and CU followers appear to be male. Last but not least, the CU and the WDL, although denying they are racist, both display a new kind of racism that scapegoats an Islamic other. This Islamophobia is not based on biological differences but rather on cultural ones and thus tries to hide its nature by denying it is fascist or racist.
In terms of a Welsh national identity, even though the CU is originally a Wales-based body, with some of Cardiff’s Soul Crew having pride of place, their supporters are not necessarily always Welsh themselves. What is more, the Cardiff-Swansea rivalry prominent amongst the hooligans resembles more the tribal rivalries of the old Mediaeval era. As Osmond pointed out, there is frequently an emphasis upon ‘locality rather than Wales itself’ in Welsh political dynamics. Yet as Marsh’s previous statement reveals, the focus amongst the CU is not so much upon Wales itself but rather on uniting ‘English [my italics] people’; indeed, the St George’s flag is widely adopted as the unifying symbol amongst many CU supporters, unlike the WDL, who prominently displayed the Welsh dragon. The WDL and the CU also worked closely with the EDL: ‘the link between Casuals United and the EDL is a strong one’ (Garland & Treadwell). To be sure, Marsh has been accused also of acting as a moderator for the EDL’s website and of having enjoyed a significant leadership position within the EDL (Bracchi & Stewart). Such membership cross-over with other ultra-nationalist groups implies therefore that there is little evidence of a particular indigenous Welsh nationalist or separatist distinctiveness within these extreme right movements. Indeed, the former WDL Mission Statement, now removed from the web, other than stating it wanted to support the ‘Traditions and Culture of Wales’, made no other major reference to the country; it simultaneously argued that it was committed to a ‘British [my italics] liberal, democracy’. Thus, the position of these Welsh ultra-nationalist groupings seems to be fixed more on what the historian Dai Smith refers to as ‘the British dimension in Welsh identity … a dual sensibility, that is divided between Welshness and Britishness’ (quoted in Osmond), albeit in this case the latter demonstrating more pulling power. Such dual nationalism is not far removed from those Scots who also have strong links to Northern Ireland, Orangeism and who support British unionism (Mycock). It also reflects a more conservative, albeit extremist, Anglo-British nationalism (see Wellings), and which as indicated earlier has not been the subject of a great deal of study, at least when it comes to Wales. Intriguingly, when the WDL and EDL first formed, there had been discussions about calling the new movement the ‘British Defence League’; but in light of its similarity to the British National Party such a move was rejected (Copsey).
Given the pro-English/British feelings evident amongst WDL and CU followers, it is likely that what little support these groups attain from the Welsh people comes primarily from the Civic or Superficial nationalist types identified earlier by Haesly or the Anglo-British Welsh grouping identified by Bryant. What we are witnessing here, consequently, is the presence of a group that consider themselves more British than Welsh, although such a conclusion requires further research. At the very least what this article draws attention to, in terms of its discussion of national identity, is the need to explore more the Welsh dimension ‘in all its permutations’ (Soule et al). It is certainly interesting to point out too that the majority of hooligans who followed Soul Crew were from the same region, namely Cardiff and the Valleys (Jones & Rivers). The WDL and the CU, therefore, while they might be ultra-nationalists and based in Cymru, are not especially about or for Wales. Indeed, Marsh has been linked to the Norwegian Defence League (NDL) too, having been accused of acting as moderator for their Facebook site (Hope Not Hate). Given the tendency for many English-based far right supporters to identify also with Ulster Loyalism and to be opposed to Irish nationalism, such an extremist British nationalist position is not surprising.
At the very least, such radical right organisations prove the existence of other forms of nationalism in Wales, albeit British-focused or local/regional, rather than purely Welsh; as such they are deserving of at least some comment, especially now given their influence in England and abroad. More research is required still to see if the majority of this far right support does indeed come from so-called British Wales, essentially the south east and north east regions of the country that border England and which politically tend to demonstrate stronger Conservative party support (Balsom; Osmond). If indeed it proves to be the case that such radical right support is region-specific (the homeland of the WDL and CU does appear to be Cardiff- and Swansea-based), it only serves to underscore further the complexity surrounding the sociological and geographical divisions within Wales. At the very least, what this article does demonstrate, as other recent studies on Scottish National Identity have revealed, is that ‘There is no one … nationalism’ (Soule et al).
What the future holds for the CU is difficult to assess as Marsh has now resigned from the CU and moved to Spain (Alessio & Meredith), hence the demise of the website. Many former supporters have since denounced him, and evidence of continued CU activity appears primarily limited to the Twitter sphere. The defunct WDL and CU are not, however, the only extreme right groupings to appear in Wales. In the wake of the WDL’s collapse, even more obscure fringe extremist groups have emerged, including: the Swansea-based True Welsh Defence League (led by former WDL, NF and C18 member Bryan Powell); the Active Welsh Nationalists (with 61 Facebook likes); the C 18 splinter group Racial Volunteer Force (predominant in London as well as South Wales); and the EDL-related North West Alliance Gogledd Cymru. As indicated by Bryan Powell’s example, or Marsh’s WDL, EDL and CU cross-membership, it is often the case that these individuals have dealings with an ideological range of extremist groupings. Consequently, the support base apparently claimed by the extreme right, and which their Facebook pages and Twitter tweets indicate, may actually be much smaller than asserted. Nevertheless, in discussions of nationalism within Wales, even members of a minority radical right British Wales/Anglo-British types warrant mention, particularly those which pose a potential threat to property and life. As Mudde argues with regard to the growing political phenomenon of the popular radical right in Europe as a whole, ‘the key message’ is that these groups now ‘should be put at the centre of future research’.
Before concluding a discussion of the far right in modern Wales, it is important to note too that there are also a small number of Welsh members amongst the more infamous English-based extremist groupings, namely the British National Party (BNP), NF and C18. Indeed, Nick Griffin, the former leader of the BNP, lives in North Wales and ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the 2007 Welsh Assembly elections as a BNP candidate. However, none of these English-based groups appear to claim any particularly vociferous association with Wales. As a result, they have not fallen under the remit of this study. Nevertheless, their Welsh-based branches sometimes do attempt to make themselves distinct by adopting local mottos translated into Welsh. The South Wales NF, for example, promotes as its slogan ‘Working for Wales – Geithio Am Cymru’. Once more, many of their followers also have participated in both WDL- and CU-organised demonstrations.
Given the apparent numerical and ideological dominance of Wales’s left-leaning Labour and Plaid party positions, the dismemberment of the WDL and the now apparently leaderless CU – not to mention the existence of only a very small number of ultra-nationalists – a discussion of the radical right in the country might not appear of immediate concern. Indeed, as Copsey pointed out, ‘the Welsh, Scottish, and Ulster Defence Leagues … have not been as successful as their English [EDL] counterpart’. All the same, there are reasons for drawing attention to these extreme right groupings.
First, given the prominent influence of the WDL and CU in the evolution and direction of the EDL, a focus on their history and activities is warranted. Nor, as stated earlier, is this influence restricted only to the British Isles, witnessed by the development of the NDL and Breivik’s shooting spree. Second, even if support in Wales for a radical right group is minimal, such groups, because of their violent proclivities, still need to be monitored. This violence is not necessarily restricted to the afore-mentioned demonstrations either. There is always a potential threat from lone wolves and not only in Norway. This can be evidenced by the 1995 Oklahoma bombing in the USA and much closer to home; the latter can be seen in 1999 with London’s ‘Nail Bomber’ David Copeland, followed by the 2013 conviction of Ukrainian Pavlo Lapshyn in the West Midlands for the murder of a Muslim man and several attempted bomb plots.
Third, a discussion of the extreme right in the history of Wales lends credence to the argument that nationalism is a contested term and that no one nationalist ideology can claim to speak for an entire national community. To be sure, given the early pre-Second World War fascist sympathies amongst some Plaid supporters – followed by a later tendency for a minority of English-speaking far right supporters to identify more with English/British nationalism rather than a distinctly Welsh one – there would appear to be in fact two ultra-nationalist traditions in Wales, just as there are two dominant leftist (Plaid and Labour) ones. The former, Welsh speakers from the pre-Second World War period, saw ultra-nationalism as a tool for obtaining political independence from the UK. By contrast the latter, who appear to be primarily English-speaking, see it not as a devolutionary tool but rather as an ideological justification to remain pro-British and to exclude non-western migrants, especially Muslim ones. Like Scottish conservatives and Liberal Democrats who argue that British nationalism is in Scotland’s favour, they too are British-unionist nationalists, although a far more extreme variant of the phenomenon (Ichijo). As such they demonstrate that Britishness is a contested term. Such groups, given their Welsh locale and ultra-nationalist agenda, are literally nationalists of the ‘black sheep’ variety (Shin, Freda, & Yi).
It is worth recalling at this point that despite the existence of prevalent Welsh nationalist aspirations there has also been a concomitant long history of Welsh active agency in British imperial endeavours; indeed, the expression ‘British Empire’ was in fact first coined in 1580 by Dr John Dee, a Welshman (Osmond). There is ‘little doubt that the Welsh were frequently willing participants in imperial adventures, as soldiers, missionaries, administrators and colonists’ in British imperial endeavours (Williams). Supporters of the WDL and CU may just be, therefore, more jingoistic variants of this British persuasion. Therefore, a focus on extreme right ideology amongst the Welsh draws to mind Breuilly’s admonition, in Nationalism and the State (1982), against trying to devise a unified theory of nationalism applicable to all states. Instead, like his work, this article emphasises a need to investigate separate strands of the phenomenon, including a ‘Welsh dual identity’ that is both Welsh and British, but in this case one which has bought more into the latter, or at least a specific far right variant of it (Osmond). Radical right supporters in Wales could represent, consequently, one element of Dai Smith’s ‘British’, or Balsom’s ‘British Wales’, typologies, or at the very least subaltern/hybridised variants of it. Finally, by underscoring the various competing and ambivalent nationalisms in existence at both ends of the political spectrum, and by drawing attention to other voices, however extremist, this work also goes some way towards rectifying gaps, albeit blacker ones, in Welsh history.
There is, however, another reason to examine the extreme right in Wales today, one closely related to the above points. In a paper entitled ‘Relocating Nationalism: On the Geographies of Reproducing Nations’, Jones examined how a local and illegal mass protest, at a bridge in the town of Aberystwyth in the 1960s, high-jacked Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg’s leadership over the use of English-medium legal correspondence and its official preference for non-confrontational tactics. By drawing attention to the significance of other subaltern voices in Wales, in addition to the more dominant ones of the Labour and Plaid political elites, this article warns that that the lessons of the Trefechan Bridge episode might yet be lost. There are without doubt now significant, albeit minority, extreme rightist voices in Wales. There is a chance, however remote, that one day these extreme right leanings could themselves also hijack the political agenda of Welsh nationalism in much the same manner that Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg was caught off-guard by the young, radical, Welsh nationalist language supporters on a bridge in Aberystwyth. Indeed, Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain has voiced similar concerns about the potential rise of the right in Wales, drawing analogies between the WDL and the Hitler Youth: ‘I’m not suggesting the WDL is anything like as powerful as Hitler’s Nazi party became … but once you allow these groups to gain credibility that’s where you could end up’ (BBC Wales).
Such an outcome is indeed the stated tactic of the founders of the New Right, who seek ‘to find new ways of packaging fascism, and make its core arguments … chime with postwar, western cultural values’ (Jackson). Brass has also argued that the key means to initiate a political transformation within a nationalist community are the ability to communicate a position to the masses (Őzkirimli). New and effective tools of political communication, namely social media, have already revolutionised the political communications processes of political parties from all persuasions, especially the radical right. The potential drift to a far right-wing turn in Wales and Europe as a whole could yet be another ‘uneasy coda’ in the late modern history of nationalism, one which also appeared during the break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s (Smith). While the evolution of Plaid in the twentieth century signalled in Wales the beginning of the end of first Liberal, and then possibly Labour party dominance, the existence of radical right groupings could yet herald other political developments. To be sure Scotland witnessed a similar, if not more momentous and rapid turnaround, with a post-war shift in support for the SNP. The last half century saw the SNP go, ‘from being a peripheral, at time ephemeral, movement … to a point where explicit political nationalism is an ever present feature of Scottish politics’ (Soule et al).
With an apparent decline in enthusiasm for Leftist politics (Johnes says that polls indicate socialism is ‘dead’ in modern Wales; Johnes) and in religious observance (especially of the Nonconformist variety, which was hugely influential in the shaping and maintaining of a particular Welsh-speaking identity), combined with a realisation that globalisation is enhancing ‘the awareness of differences among groups of people’ and creating ‘new national identities’ (Merrill), an ultra-nationalist ideology could yet become popular in Wales. As Rembold and Carrier attest, ‘increased economic integration … alongside increased mobility and communication, enhance rather than diminish national attachments’.
History has demonstrated already how other sub-state nationalist ideologies can radically change their political orientation; witness the shift in the 1970s from a previously conservative and Roman Catholic Québécois nationalism to a socialist and secular one (Erk). A similar development occurred in Belgium where the Flemish nationalist party, the Vlaams Blok, evolved into a more conservative Vlaams Belang. Anthony Smith has noted that ethnies can change their ‘cultural contents’ (Őzkirimli). Given a European and British cultural and political climate moving ever more rightwards in places, witnessed by the growing support for the United Kingdom Independence Party in the UK and its hardening anti-immigrant position (Nick Lowles), far right sympathies should continue to be monitored closely. Even if not currently popular, such sympathies might be the beginnings of Miroslav Hroch’s three stage phase for the evolution of a new national movement, Phase B being when activists try to begin winning over support for their cause. Indeed, Hroch notes that at first these attempts will not be successful but suggests that over time their efforts may find ‘a growing reception’ (Őzkirimli). Consequently, this article is not focused upon the past. It does not examine when a nationalist Welsh identity was formed or by whom, the primary subject of Williams’s When was Wales? Instead this work looks to the present and to an often overlooked subaltern voice in the Welsh nationalist discourse. Thus, rather than offering an archaeology of knowledge, it proffers instead a Prophetiae Merlini, replete with warring dragons, of what Wales might become. The Welsh historian Kenneth Morgan once famously concluded in the wake of Plaid’s first electoral victory in the 1960s that ‘the Celts have come in from the fringe’. The danger is now that the fringe could yet come into Wales.