07/04/2015

A positive nationalism that includes all those who have chosen to make Wales their home

I have supported Plaid Cymru for a number of years, but it was the white noise created by the Westminster parties over the issue of immigration that drove me to become a member. Specifically, I was aghast that Labour – a party which still claims to pursue democratic socialism – had caved in to the right wing and begun to talk as if ‘cracking down’ on immigration were a cornerstone of social justice.
Immigration has become a hot potato essentially because political courage is in short supply. UKIP’s anti-EU rhetoric has become the newly acceptable form of xenophobia, and instead of challenging what Nigel Farage claims the British public believe, the Westminster parties have essentially said, “Yes, you’ve got a point”.
I am proud that Plaid Cymru seeks to fill the vacuum left by this betrayal of inclusive democracy and tolerance. By rejecting a reactionary stance on immigration, and emphasising the positive contributions made by immigrants, we will encourage fair-minded people everywhere to consider who they wish to support in the coming national elections. And our stance helps to dispel the myth that nationalism somehow breeds intolerance; ours is a positive nationalism that includes all those who have chosen to make Wales their home. As someone born in England, I find that this – and the party’s warm acceptance of me as a parliamentary candidate – has a particular resonance.
Nonetheless, we should accept that many people have genuine reasons to be wary of high levels of immigration. Jobseekers may despair at a situation where skilled immigrants apparently arrive in Wales and secure employment more quickly than they can. This should strengthen our resolve to create a world-class education system, with increased apprenticeship opportunities as well as better school leadership. But we also need to guard against the temptation – followed too easily by the Westminster parties – to accept anecdotal evidence too readily. Areas with high unemployment often have lower-than-average levels of immigration, and their plight may be a symptom of entrenched underdevelopment over decades.
We must also not ignore the infrastructure challenges faced by local authorities with a high influx of immigrants. These are real problems that should be addressed by providing more affordable housing and a fairer system of local taxation. We must also remind ourselves that economically, immigration is a big net benefit; but much of this benefit is seen by the UK treasury, in the form of non-devolved taxes. Funding needs to be rebalanced so that local areas, rather than bearing huge austerity cuts, can provide the services needed for their communities.
Ultimately, Plaid Cymru alone cannot stem the UKIP-led tide of hard talk on immigration. But by taking an approach that is both principled and pragmatic – rather than reactionary or racist – we can demonstrate that there is another way. We should be proud of Wales’ welcoming and inclusive nature, and this should continue to drive our vision for the nation.

This article was originally published on The Slate in January 2015.

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