Brexit has made people in Wales feel more Welsh, top academic suggests

The people of Wales feel more strongly Welsh than they did in 2016, and Brexit is likely to be the reason, a top academic professor has said.

Professor Richard Wyn Jones who is the Director of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance, pointed to polls showing that the percentage of people who defined themselves as Welsh in Wales had risen from 24% to 30%.

Meanwhile, the number we defined themselves as British and Welsh had fallen from 27% to 19%.

Writing in the Welsh language Barn magazine, Richard Wyn Jones postulated that as Brexit was defined as a national British project, those who were opposed to Brexit were increasingly defining themselves according to alternative national identities.

“My theory is that it is Brexit that explains this fall,” he said.

“Over the past five years, it has become clear that Brexit is a national project in that it is an effort to embed and advance a particular understanding of a nation’s past as well as a possible future.

“But of course, it’s an understanding that both divides and polarizing understanding, with many rejecting it outright. In such a context, is there not likely to be a tendency among those who reject also reject the national project and the national identities most closely associated with that project?

“After all, in the context of the complex patterns of identity that exist in the UK, we all have options! And indeed, on closer scrutiny of the latest data, it seems that the supporters of Remain – the Remoaners, as the tabloid press call them – are those who abandon their dual identities and embrace a sense of national identity that better links with their political aspirations.

“One of the consequences of Brexit, therefore, is to make the Welsh Welsher.”

Devolution

The findings come after a poll published last week revealed that a majority of Leave voters in Wales believed that Brexit should not be used to remove powers from the Senedd,.

Writing in a British Politics after Brexit report for the UK in a Changing Europe initiative, the academics used Welsh Election Study (WES) data to show that 52% of Leave voters rejected the suggestion that “the UK Government is right to remove powers from the Senedd if it is necessary to maximise Brexit benefits”.

There was also opposition to using Brexit to undermine devolution among 88% of Remain voters, and 71% of the Welsh electorate as a whole.

The data confirm that the Leave vote in Wales in the 2016 referendum was not fundamentally linked to scepticism over devolution, according to the authors Richard Wyn Jones, Jac Larner and Daniel Wincott.

This finding – that voting Leave and ‘devo-scepticism’ are not interlinked – was replicated at last year’s Senedd elections, where anti-devolution parties collapsed without generating an equal-sized increase in vote share for the Conservatives, they said.

Previous WES findings demonstrated that Welsh Labour succeeded in holding on to a larger than anticipated share of its own Leave voters.

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