Oh dear. I think I may have inadvertently contributed to the dissolution of Great Britain. I’m not claiming sole responsibility. In due course, when the blame game begins, I’ll play second fiddle to the party leaders, Gordon Brown, Eddie Izzard and successive generations of carpet-bagging aristocrats. Nevertheless, when the rise and fall of the British Isles is written, I’ll be deserving of a minor footnote. I’m talking, of course, about the imminent secession of Wales from the United Kingdom.
I say ‘imminent’, but it’s contingent upon a ‘yes’ vote in next week’s Scottish referendum, which isn’t yet a foregone conclusion. But I don’t see how a referendum on the future of Wales can be avoided if the Scots secede, shortly followed by a Northern Irish referendum, a Cornish referendum, a Black Country referendum and a referendum on the Isle of Sheppey. Some people have speculated about an English referendum, but at this rate there won’t be anywhere left to secede from. On the contrary, we’ll be reduced to trawling the dregs of the former Soviet empire looking for impoverished countries willing to accept our generous welfare subsidies in return for adding their colours to our flag. Mind you, that might be dangerous given that Putin will have his nuclear submarines parked in the Clyde at that point.
If there is a Welsh referendum, I fully expect a piece I wrote for the Daily Telegraph last week to be dredged up by the nationalists. It was supposed to be a light-hearted response to President Obama’s invitation to his fellow Americans to visit Wales at the end of the Nato summit. ‘You can see the extraordinary beauty, wonderful people and great hospitality,’ he said. ‘So I’d encourage everyone in the United States to come visit Wales.’ Not a typical reaction after spending two days in Newport, but still.
The message of my article was: Americans, be warned. The Welsh are, by some margin, the chippiest people in Europe, ready to take offence at the slightest provocation. I told a story about how I’d made some mildly derogatory remarks about the Welsh language — what have they got against vowels? — during a live appearance on BBC Radio Wales, only to be held hostage by a member of the Taff Taleban who motored over to the station in Bangor and nobbled me on the way out.
I took the precaution of saying that any Welshmen who took umbrage at being described as ‘oversensitive’ would only be proving my point. But if I thought that would discourage them, I was mistaken. Within seconds of the article appearing I was deluged with abusive tweets and comments, being described as an ‘ignorant buffoon’, a ‘racist’ and a ‘typical Tory’. ‘What a sweet fellow Toby seems to be, and not in any way patronising,’ tweeted Jonathan Harper. ‘Can’t understand why he’s disliked.’ (I’ve corrected his spelling and syntax, obviously.)
It was the ‘typical Tory’ stuff that was most revealing. For Welsh nationalists, the era when rapacious English landlords stole their land and forced the local peasantry to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, to earn a loaf of bread is still upon them. It’s escaped their attention that for the past 50 years at least, almost the exact opposite has been happening, with ‘carpet-bagging Southerners’, a majority of them Conservatives, willingly handing over their hard-earned money to prop up crumbling Welsh public services.
I’m not suggesting that Welshmen should simply tug their forelocks and move on when confronted with a munificent Englishman such as myself. The truth is, I like the fact that the Welsh are on such a hair trigger when it comes to the merest hint of Tory condescension. In the ongoing pageant that is British national life, I’ve cast the Welsh in this role and the drama would be all the poorer if they didn’t conform to type. I feel as most Englishmen do towards the Welsh — like Gandalf surveying a village full of restive, quarrelsome but ultimately lovable hobbits.
I don’t suppose many Welsh nationalists will be placated by this description. My Telegraph article will be held up as Exhibit A in the case for the prosecution against ‘Tory toffs’. They will prevail, borders will be erected, and I’ll need to take my passport with me on my annual pilgrimage to the Hay Literary Festival — or, rather, the Gwg Ktghrsfg Brwyklnm, to give it its proper Welsh name. That’s assuming I can get into the country, which after this piece may be in some doubt.