WHEN I studied for my undergraduate degree, my department was based in a modern building with an enormous atrium and high-tech lecture theatres in the basement – the exterior more suggestive of a Redrow housing estate than of an authentic red brick institution.

The contrasting adjacent buildings told the story of the amalgamation of different schools that made up this former polytechnic. The 1960s tower block that housed the school of architecture, around the corner from the drama school formed in 1970 that trained the likes of Julie Walters and Steve Coogan.

Alongside these pretty bog standard twentieth century lumps stood the former Manchester School of Art; a Grade II-listed neo-Gothic building of yellow sandstone and all the typical features you’d expect – pointed arched windows, gabled wings and decorative spires.

At the door is a blue plaque in recognition of Adolphe Valette, a French impressionist painter who taught at the school from 1907 to 1920, and while his own work is not particularly well remembered, his legacy as a teacher is. It was here that he taught L.S. Lowry.

Lowry’s work is inseparable from geography – his pictures of “matchstick men” outside mills and factories in England’s North West are iconic works of 20th century art, and the establishment was desperate to recognise the importance of his work.

The National Wales:

L.S. Lowry's iconic painting The old customs house, South Sheilds

As such, Lowry holds the honourable distinction of refusing more British honours than anybody else – five in total, including a knighthood.

His artwork left less of an impression on me than the record he held. To refuse an honour from the British state, in all honesty, is my life’s ambition. It’s never going to happen, but I like to daydream about what I’d do if I won the lottery, too.

Getting your work recognised by the powers that be, and then telling the Queen herself to jog on? Yes please.

Once you’ve had the offer of the honour, that’s recognition of your work. What’s the point of accepting the shiny bauble that comes with it? Through his strong Lancastrian accent, always gently spoken, Lowry said of his own refusals; “There seemed little point… once mother was dead”.

More recently, the actor Michael Sheen returned his OBE. Upon writing his 2017 Raymond Williams lecture, in which he was critical of the use of the title of Prince of Wales by the English royal family, he concluded that keeping the gong while advocating against the institutional role of the monarchy would make him a hypocrite. He quietly returned the honour, and only revealed that he had done so three years later.

The National Wales:

Michael Sheen, who is originally from Newport

However, refusing an honour from the British state is about much more than exercising autonomy and power over a head of state chosen by God, and more even than about the consolidation of one’s own personal views.

There is a duty to refuse honours from the current British state as a way of rejecting the colonial connotations of the gongs themselves.

In 2003, the activist and poet Benjamin Zephaniah rejected an OBE, writing at the time: “Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word "empire"; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised”.

The National Wales:

Benjamin Zephaniah rejected an OBE in 2003

And that really cuts to it.

To be honoured for your services to an empire that plundered the earth and has subsequently shrunk and shrivelled as its constituent parts gain constitutional emancipation is a total joke. It’s long past time for the entire system to be overhauled.

Tony Blair isn’t just “Sir” Tony Blair – he’s a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, and will soon receive a specially-designed heraldic flag to be hung up in Windsor Castle – a building that has electric lighting despite its desperation to exist in the age of the Crusades.

The list of honours dished out for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee that have been accepted by Welsh people should be a wake-up call to any fellow nationalists as to how other Welsh people view their Welshness within the British state apparatus.

After completing nine years playing football for the royalist Real Madrid (the clue was in the name), Gareth Bale has accepted an MBE. Welsh football fans, many of whom are nationalist and at the very least indy-curious in their nature, projected their image of Welsh nationhood on Bale, even singing about the player’s rejection of the Union Jack. They will be completely shattered by this.

The National Wales:

Gareth Bale, now an MBE

Any route to independence has to recognise the duality of Welsh and British identities and accept “Britishness” as completely valid in an independent Wales. Just like being Welsh and European, one can be Welsh and British.

To win independence we need the support of people who feel both Welsh and British to tip the scales in a referendum as well as to build the institutions (including a new honours system) in a newly independent nation.

Even then, one must be wary of the role of an honours system. The great historian AJP Taylor was probably the most likely a candidate you’d see for an honour from the British state despite his left-wing politics. A professor at Oxford and author of highly influential books on the Second World War, he pre-emptively rejected any potential honour coming his way, and his words should guide us all when considering the role of the honours system: “There is nothing more agreeable in life than to make peace with the Establishment - and nothing so corrupting”.

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