- Posted August 13, 2014 by
Cardiff, United Kingdom
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Interview: Dr. Rebecca Rumbul
I’m in Cardiff, Wales hoping to understand the political implications of the Scottish Referendum on Wales and Welsh politics. I spoke with Dr. Rebecca Rumbul of Cardiff University to help understand the issue better.
Bo Brennan: Would you be able to tell us a little bit about your position here?
Dr. Rebecca Rumbul: I’m the manager of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University. We are research unit that deals in Welsh politics or public policy and the U.K. as well as international issues.
BB: I’m to understand that Wales experienced a devolution in 1997, so how much did that change things?
RR: Right, so pre-‘97 we had something called administrative devolution which was just, as it sounds, administrative stuff. We didn’t have any legislature, we didn’t have any elected assembly purely to look at the needs of Wales. Obviously, the Labour party was elected in ’97 and it was one of their pledges to look at devolution and to hold referendums. In Scotland, their referendum was overwhelmingly in favor of devolution and, here in Wales, it was less than 1%. You can see that the Welsh attitudes towards devolution are not quite as developed as they are in Scotland.
BB: Haven't England and Wales have been together, legally, since sometime in the 1400’s?
RR: Yes, basically. Since very, very early on England and Wales have been treated almost as the same entity. The law in England is the law in Wales…whereas in Scotland, yes, they’ve had their own legal institutions and retained that even in the Acts of Union (Ed’s note: Acts of Union are the legal acts that combined England and Scotland in 1707). So, Scotland has always had a bit more of a definite identity…so here in Wales, we’ve been less quick to embrace devolution.
We have, public attitude shows that people in Wales like the [Welsh National] Assembly. They believe it’s good for Wales but support for independence for Wales has, and does, only hover around 10%. So, there’s not a great movement in Wales that wants independence.
BB: So, how do people in Wales, in general, view the Scottish Referendum?
RR: People are fairly ambivalent; they’re not hugely bothered but, the closer we get to the referendum, the more people are taking notice and maybe forming an opinion. Generally, people really don’t want Scotland to go it alone but, if they do, it’s not the end of the world, as far as people here are concerned. What matters most to the people in Wales is the relationship with London rather than a direct relationship with Scotland.
BB: Do you think that most people here think of themselves as Welsh first and then British or the other way around?
RR: The amount of people who see themselves as Welsh first rather than British has grown in the years since devolution. So I think it’s definitely on the rise, that kind of Welsh identity. That said, there are an awful lot of people do still feel more British than Welsh, so there’s not an overwhelming majority either way…you know, it changes depending on what sporting event people are watching. If you’re watching the Olympics, you feel British, but if Wales is playing England the next week you feel Welsh.
So, yeah, there’s been a growth [of national identity], not only in Wales, but in England as well. The rise of the English national identity is one of the most interesting things that are happening at the moment. 15 or 20 years ago you very rarely heard Englishness expressed as a political identity, whereas now, it’s coincided with the rise of the UKIP [Ed’s note: UK Independence Party, a Euro-skeptic populist party in the UK] and the disenfranchisement with Europe and devolution. I think there are people in England who feel more English than British.
BB: Speaking of UKIP, I get the impression that there’s an undercurrent of anti-European feeling in some parts of England. Is that the same here in Wales?
RR: In Wales, historically, the political class and the academic class have liked to think that we are very pro-European. We benefit significantly from the European Union. We get an awful lot of money…for infrastructure projects here. That said, if you look at the polling and the success of the UKIP in Wales, that kind of ‘we love Europe’ sentiment is not actually borne out in the figures and there’s a lot greater Euro-skepticism here in Wales than a lot people were willing to believe. If you actually look at the voting figures, the proportion of people who did vote for UKIP is huge and it’s a lot of counties. It’s not just isolated pockets. Certainly here in Cardiff, we were very surprised that UKIP enjoyed that kind of support.
So, if there was an ‘in-out’ European referendum, it would be pretty close, here in Wales. It would just about be a vote to stay in, but it wouldn’t be at all in the bag. There’s a lot more, I wouldn’t say anti-European feeling, but Euro-skeptic feeling than there has been in the past.
BB: So do you feel that it’s due to immigration from some of the poorer parts of Europe?
RR: Yeah, there has been a huge influx of Eastern European workers coming into the UK in general and there are pockets in Wales where there’s very large Eastern European communities. Especially after the 2004 enlargement, a lot of Polish communities sprang up.
That said, I’m not entirely sure that’s solely to blame…I think the recession and the impact of the economic crisis has done more to fuel Euro-skepticism than anything else. If you look throughout history, in times of economic crisis, the first people to be blamed are the ‘others’. So, I’m reluctant to say it’s just because of enlargement…because there’s an awful lot of businesspeople who think the communities have been very positive.
There’s a certain hysteria here in the UK about ‘benefit tourism’, (Ed’s note: People moving to the UK solely for the social and healthcare benefits the country provides.) and people coming over here and not working and expecting benefits. Again, that’s not really borne out by the actual figures. There are pockets of deprivation in Wales where migrant communities have established themselves and there is some resentment towards them. There are a lot of contributing factors as to why that kind of anti-European feeling has grown.
Check out more of Dr Rumbul's work at http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/politics-international-relations/profile/rebecca-rumbul