A Welsh Constitution V (c): The State – Welshness in a Welsh Constitution

(Title Image: Getty Images)

One of the reasons constitutions exist in the first place is for nation-states to tell the world what their values are and how they define themselves. Where would we start with Wales?

You can have the most emotionally-stirring, over-the-top patriotic preamble you like, but if the nation doesn’t live up to its ideals it becomes a waste of ink. The best way for a nation to demonstrate what its values are is through its actions, not what it says it’s going to do in its constitution or constitutional law.

There are some things most of the people reading this can probably all agree on as a starting point – equality of opportunity, living free from discrimination, freedom to pursue personal goals/live up to your potential, good stewardship of our natural resources and – uniquely to Wales – protecting the Welsh language and culture for future generations (it’s in the anthem after all).

That would probably make part of a decent preamble, but the question “What is Welshness in the first place?” will generate different answers from different people. If so, how can it be reflected in a constitution?

In terms of specific examples, if we’re communitarian then it suggests stronger local government. If we have closer economic and cultural ties to a particular region whilst still maintaining “Wales”, then it points towards a federal or devolved system of government within Wales.

If being Welsh is more about residency than birth, then Welsh citizenship requirements (which I come to later) might be more open. If it’s about protecting the landscape, people and culture, then the constitution may be more small-c conservative than many of us would otherwise like it to be.

Marking our Territory

Would the border need to be redrawn? (Pic: Daily Post)

The boundaries of Wales are already defined in law. The land border is set by the Local Government Act 1972, while Wales’ territorial waters are set in the Welsh Zone (Boundaries and Transfer of Functions) Order 2010.

One issue to consider when using rivers as boundaries (as we do in part with the Dee and Wye) is they change course – and, using an example, the changing course of the Danube has been a source of conflict between those two bestest friends in the whole wide world, Croatia and Serbia (amongst others).

There are some parts of the Anglo-Welsh border which may require redrafting because the border runs through the middle of a property or street – Saltney in Flintshire and both Knighton and Llanymynech in Powys/Shropshire, for example.  Any change to the border in  Wales’ favour would likely have to be compensated by a similar concession to England. There are international borders with far more complicated set-ups operating with few issues (namely due to free movement rules), the most infamous example being the city of Baarle-Hertog which has enclaves and exclaves in Belgium/Flanders and the Netherlands.

Then there’s the issue of fixing a capital (if it needs to be fixed in the Constitution). There have been calls for somewhere other than Cardiff to be the capital city. Building a Canberra or Brasilia for Wales somewhere central (maybe in or near Caersws – there’s lots of relatively flat land there that could easily accommodate a decent-sized city) would be an interesting long-term project. However, a federal set-up for Wales – where larger regional settlements become focal points for their own regional political and economic development – may help decentralise Wales more than simply moving the capital.

There needn’t be a strict requirement on the Senedd to always meet in Cardiff either, or for the head of state to have an official residence in/near Cardiff. As mentioned previously (Part Va), if Wales had a bicameral system the upper chamber could move around the country for meetings while there are plenty of options for an official residence (if we decide to have one) outside of the south-east (Part IVa).

State Name & Symbols

Many constitutions set the main national symbols including the flag, demonym/name for citizens, national anthem etc.

The national flag – Well this one is obvious, isn’t it? A minority of nationalists may argue that Y Ddraig Goch is a symbol of Tudor treason (and the Christian Party argues it’s Satanic) but it’s probably one of the most recognisable flags in the world and has only been used officially in its current guise since 1959. We would be mad to not keep it, though in the Constitution it would need to be given the official design (Independence Minutiae: Heraldry) which is “Per fess Argent and Vert, a red dragon passant Gules in a proportion of 3:5”. Yes, really.

Royal/presidential standard – A flag for the head of state; though it would likely depend on which head of state we would decide to have. It would probably be the standard of Llywelyn Fawr or Owain Glyndwr.

National anthem – Same as the flag; why would we want to change it? The only complication would be on the need for a Royal Anthem (if we retain or elect the monarchy), which means God Save the Queen/King could continue to be used (as it is in some Commonwealth Realms, like New Zealand) for a small number of state events, or a different song for a Welsh monarchy (elected or unelected) or president.

Demonym – Some nationalists argue that “Welsh” and “Wales” are names given to us, not names we gave ourselves, having derived from the Germanic “Wahl” which means “Romanised/Romance language-speaking foreigner” (technically a backhanded compliment, “You’re civilised”) and prefer “Cymry” and “Cymru”. I don’t see why they can’t be used interchangeably as official names for citizens, nor why people couldn’t continue to call themselves Britons or British either – though there would be no such thing as British citizenship anymore unless, like in the EU, certain rights and privileges continued in the former UK nations through a form of loosely shared sovereignty (like the Common Travel Area).

Titles of nobility – There could be a short statement saying no titles of nobility (or no new titles of nobility in a constitutional monarchy) can be conferred by the state (Independence Minutiae: The Aristocracy).

The Language Question

The Constitution would cement both English and Welsh as official languages. “Official language” would mean they would have completely equal standing in public life, education, administration of justice and essential public and personal services (including public broadcasting) as defined in law (Equal Wales: The Welsh Language).

The real issue here would be on the status of minority languages (languages other than English and Welsh) that are the sole means of communication for some people. That could include British Sign Language, Braille and Makaton (a form of sign language for people with learning disabilities). Some form of recognition may be needed, with full consideration given to their use in public life and education in order for the people who use them to enjoy a reasonable quality of life.

So Wales could have two official languages and at least three officially recognised minority languages. Other minority languages could be recognised as eligible for translation upon request for residents who make up a sizable minority in Wales and who are learning English or Welsh (EU languages, Filipino, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Farsi, Mandarin, Cantonese etc.).

Citizenship in a Welsh Constitution

I’ll inevitably come back to this in more detail if/when I look at immigration and nationality in the future. The question here is whether the definition and types of Welsh citizenship need to be included in the constitution, or left to the law?

Putting citizenship in the constitution will lead to more certainty and permanence, guaranteeing that anyone who meets the state citizenship requirements is a Welsh citizen without having to go through the courts (of if they do, resulting in a short hearing).

Leaving the definition to the law would provide more flexibility and scrutiny of citizenship cases but could lead to some measure of ambiguity and also leave the door open to what could be considered unethical changes to citizenship rules.

The question “Who is Welsh?” is best left for a detailed exploration another time, though I’m sure many people agree that it should be a civic definition rather than an ethnic one – if you consider yourself to be Welsh, then you are Welsh.

Citizenship is a bit different to nationality because citizenship is the nation-state to which you legally belong to and are recognised as belonging to internationally (on the most basic terms, your passport) – that’s why as things stand there’s no such thing as a “Welsh citizen” (a Welsh resident for the sake of devolved services and taxes or Welsh nationality, certainly); most of us don’t have any choice on whether we’re British citizens or not.

Any mention of citizenship in the constitution itself after independence would need to include specific circumstances where a person’s Welsh citizenship would be undisputed, as well as circumstances where people would have the option of becoming a Welsh citizen by choice. This could include:

  • Anyone permanently/ordinarily resident in Wales (and Wales alone) – including those granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK or married to a Welsh citizen – up to and including the date of independence (but not after it).
  • Anyone who has been permanently resident in Wales for a minimum of five years after independence (naturalisation).
  • Anyone born in Wales to at least one parent who was themselves either born, naturalised or permanently resident in Wales at the time of the birth.
  • Anyone born anywhere else in the world to at least one parent who meets any of the above.

All forms of full Welsh citizenship should be equal in the law (a naturalised Welsh citizen is the same as a Welsh citizen by birth), though there should be allowance for certain roles and functions to be restricted to Welsh citizens and actively exclude dual nationals and permanent foreign residents (i.e. head of state, standing for election, access to certain welfare benefits, security-sensitive roles).

Therefore, dual nationality and voluntary renunciation of Welsh citizenship (i.e. to become a citizen of another nation) could be recognised and allowed, on condition that those doing so are fully informed that it may affect their rights in Wales.

Similarly, some statement on asylum and refugees (for example, compliance with UN Convention on the Status of Refugees) and preventing revocation of Welsh citizenship which would leave someone completely stateless could be constitutional clauses.

More complicated issues – residency, adoption from abroad, international marriages/civil partnerships, speeding up the citizenship process for certain people (i.e. if they start a business, have vital skills or serve in the Defence Forces) – are probably best left to the law.

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