Whenever Wales win a Grand Slam or progress to the latter stages of a major football tournament, newspaper articles proliferate – linking on field success to a renaissance of national feeling.

What drives these think pieces is a dream that our country will one day translate its passion for the ‘soft power’ pursuits of culture and sport into the hard realities of politics. Formerly latent but increasingly blatant is a hope that Wales can one day delete the word ‘football’ from this ‘independent football nation’.

If only we could bottle our passion for the red shirt, goes the argument – and apply the same sort of commitment and endeavour we have to a stadium sing-song to ‘real’ life – we might mitigate the perpetual indignity of Welsh local authorities holding wooden spoons for most of the UK’s key socio-economic and associated wellbeing indicators.

But this simplistic view is to miss a whole series of points, and to misunderstand nationhood, human nature and Wales.

The problem is that politics sees culture and sport as peripheral pursuits. Considered next to ‘bread and butter’ issues such as the economy, health and education, football and rugby, like literature, theatre and music, are seen as ‘nice-to-haves’ – rather than integral to existence.

This is evident in the way Welsh Government organises cabinet. Finance, rural affairs and now notably climate change are all full ministerial briefs – but Dawn Bowden, who holds the arts and sport portfolio, is a deputy minister.

There’s an analogy to be found in secondary schools, where some subjects – English or Welsh, mathematics and science – are described as ‘core’, and non-academic subjects like art and design, music, drama and physical education are relegated to options. When people want to be snooty about such subjects, the pejorative they reach for is ‘soft’.

But where some see soft subjects, or – on the political level – soft power, I see the things that make us human.

In 1941, writing during an air raid, George Orwell had an epiphany: “One cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognises the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty… as a positive force there is nothing to set beside it.” That Orwell essay is called ‘England Your England’, but it applies equally to Wales.

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If I were to write an update – perhaps this article should be titled ‘Cymru Your Cymru’ – it would begin with a claim that there is nothing to set beside the sight of Connor Roberts sliding on his knees toward the corner flag.

By kissing the dragon on his chest, the unlikely scorer of Wales’ second goal against Turkey was honouring an emblem associated with the country for at least 1,000 years.

Nations are ever-changing, made and remade in the images of successive generations, but the very idea of a nation is also linked to the idea of continuity.

This is a point Orwell makes through metaphor. “What have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.”

The Football Association of Wales has reminded us of this through its partnership with Cadw. ‘Dreigiau Cymru’ monoliths installed at historic sites across the nation demonstrate the rootedness of this modern, diverse team of young athletes in the landscape and history of Cymru.

Another collaboration, with Literature Wales, the Cymru Euro 2020 Poetry Competition, for primary-age children – won by Nansi Bennett and Martha Applebly – cements the team’s bond with the culture and language of the nation, and with fans of all ages.

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Meanwhile, independent initiatives like the Expo’r Wal Goch series of events and the launch of the Amar Cymru group of Wales supporters from South Asian backgrounds have leveraged the power of football to engender national unity and a sense of belonging.

The FAW has been rightly and widely praised for a marketing strategy that plays heavy on the Together, Stronger slogan – and now the football community, and the country at large, are reaping the rewards.

The reason such campaigns land so well with people from all walks of life, is that human beings have a deep longing for their spirits to be stirred, their imaginations to be fired and their hearts to pump with both jeopardy and joy.

Culture and sport deliver in spades. So when we lament political apathy, pitiful turnout figures at Senedd elections or the breakdown of community in our cities, towns and villages, of course there are hard, often malevolent realities at work. Westminster orchestrated neglect. Weak indigenous media. Our own collective and individual failings.

But if Wales is to fulfil its potential as a political entity, either as an independent nation – or as a healthy devolved democracy, with a programme of government that delivers on ambitious targets for social justice and wellbeing – it’s time to flip these old arguments about bottling sporting passion on their head.

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that what many have long considered nice-to-haves – a film that makes you cry, a poem that inspires, celebrating a last-minute winner – are the very stuff of life.

Last week the Welsh Government announced a 'Summer of Fun', “to support children and young people to have more opportunities to play and take part in’”– guess what? – ‘sport and the arts’.

Its stated aim? To support “social, emotional, physical and mental well-being”.

A holistic approach, with sport and culture front and centre. Not a soft option but a fundamental right, and a statement of who we are.

So with that in mind, it is almost certain that if George Orwell were alive and Welsh and writing for The National today, he’d be expounding the deep cultural significance of Mark Drakeford choosing to wear a Spirit of ’58 bucket hat.

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