Insult to Injury: The Proposed “Wales Bill”
The Necessity of a Multi-Cultural Wales National Movement
Wylit, wylit, Lywelyn, Wylit waed pe gwelit hyn. Ein calon gan estron ŵr, Ein coron gan goncwerwr, A gwerin o ffafrgarwyr Llariaidd eu gwên lle’r oedd gwŷr.
You would cry, you would cry, Llywelyn, You would cry blood if you saw this. Our hearts in the hands of a foreign man, Our crown in the hands of a conqueror, And a peasant-folk of favour givers Meek their smile, where men used to be.
——— Gerallt Lloyd Owen, ‘Fy Ngwlad’ or ‘My Country.’
The offer in the Wales Bill of the powers over the ports, regulation of taxis (not taxes one should note well) and sewage is a provocative and intentional insult to the people of Wales.
Yet, it is certain that Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales, the only viable opposition to the Westminster parties (Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and UKIP) will not be able to be elected into government in a predominately English speaking population as Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales is perceived as a party of Welsh speakers.
We already know moreover that the current Constitutional Arrangement of the United Kingdom is an injustice against the people of Wales, whether the current population wish to acknowledge this fact or not – and irrespective of one’s first language. So, the issue of the independence or at least the homerule of Wales concerns everyone.
Indeed, from the results of the most recent General Election, it would seem that the majority of the population of Wales were afraid to “rock the boat” (having been bribed by the Labour administration to stay the course with such amenities as free health care and the subsidisation of Higher Education) or, become a “little less well behaved” as suggested by Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales.
There also appear to be others who are not only held captive, in a sort of “Stockholm Syndrome”, a malady in which the captive begins to identify, psychoanalytically, with the captor, but are also outright racists. It is ironic that the words of Plaid MP Candidate Mike Parker turned out to be true, and once again, truth is the first casualty as the people living in Wales voted for UKIP in more numbers than Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales itself.
Yet, how can this be? It is clear that the current constitutional arrangements of the “Family of Nations” are woefully dysfunctional and not fit for purpose.
And, how can a “Family of Nations” be at once “One Nation”?
Wales is moreover the second most impoverished country in Europe. Need anyone say more?
Apparently a lot more needs to be said and done as the voters of Wales behave as sleepwalkers un-prepared for the cuts that are immanent. Free health care? Higher Education subsidies? The local post office? The hospital, school, day care facility, hospice?
These are not new questions. The original devolution settlement of Wales was (though historical significant) radically flawed and ineffectual, as was the augmentation of 2011 – mandated by a democratic referendum.
Indeed, without the state-building process of home rule, devolution itself (as we can see with the devolution of Manchester) could be used as a means to break up the welfare state itself – if that is, such interpretations of devolution are not challenged by the people of Wales.
Such blatant inequities are already a clear violation of European Union legislation on Equality in such matters. Yet, no suits are being taken in the European Court of Human Rights for what seems to be an obvious challenge on the grounds of the Human Rights Act and the previously mentioned legislation of equality of regions and nations.
The inequality of Wales has already been enshrined in the European Structural Fund, which was established for the poorest “regions” in the European Union.
Imagine what would happen to Wales if either the Human Rights Act was abolished or Brexit occurs. Wales would cease to exist.
The existential threat to Wales could not be more explicit as is the utter contempt of the current “One Nation” government has toward not only the “National Assembly” of Wales, but also its people. But, the people of Wales seem to either ignore the situation altogether, or if they choose to engage, fail to comprehend the urgent threats to Wales, not only as a Nation, but also as a cultural community and way of life.
Although this threat has been recognised by some, it is at the end of the day the current population which will decide the fate of the nation – and it is to these people who we must speak and build relationships. Indeed, it is the current population and all of its demographic specificity which voted as it did. This is the reality of our current situation as excruciating as it may be.
It is indeed perplexing that, despite the prolonged national humiliation of the Welsh and the very difficult lives of most of the people (not to mention their utter servitude to the tourist economy and external control of land ownership and natural resources) and lack of any control over any important features of their national existence, Wales has not been A LOT LESS well behaved (although in the past, this has been the case).
Yet, from the view of the streets, people seem to have resigned themselves to a mythology of historical cliché and believe the political situation will always be unsatisfactory, one way or the other, and that the best way is to support one’s own tribe, like a rugby or football team.
Hope for a better life has died for many in Wales.
Indeed, perhaps it was unknown to some – but it is hardly possible that anyone in Wales did not notice something different this year – there was a party (it showed up in the “national” Leaders Debates for the General Election 2015), which campaigned for an extra £1.2 Billion in the Welsh budget – parity with Scotland – a demand that had been, before the election, endorsed by Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland.
The question? Why did the people of Wales vote for the status quo instead of seeking to add £1.2 Billion to their own economy? The party which presented this offer to the voters was of course Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales – an extra £1.2 Billion in the economy.
The question again – So why did Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales come in fourth in popular votes in the General Elections, even after UKIP?
Why, for that matter, was the Rally For Welsh Independence, organised by Yes Cymru, only attended by several hundred people? It certainly was not for lack of advertisement.
The comparison with Scotland is a distraction, though, it could be – if the appropriate strategy and tactics are enacted – a vision or model for the future of Wales – though it may have to be achieved by different means than Scotland has employed. Scotland is not the only model available for the cultivation of self-governance in Wales.
No one should be complacent that “things” will simply carry on as they have done.
The situation in Wales, moreover, is radically different than Scotland, in two important respects. On the one hand, Scotland has always been ahead of Wales – for three hundred years at least in terms of its constitutional status and powers. The specific features and qualities of this difference are well known.
On the other hand, the national movement in Wales has become embedded in the labyrinth of the National Assembly – and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales has achieved significant success in the legislative domain, including measures to protect and augment the Welsh language, something that Scotland cannot boast. The longstanding survival of Cymraeg as a living language is significant and it was a major achievement for proper steps to be taken to preserve and strengthen this cultural and existential life world.
Yet, it is perhaps this achievement – the protection of the Welsh language – which has also created a difficulty for the Wales National movement. It is a common assumption, by many people in Wales, that Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales is a Welsh language party. And, even though it is true that most members and all employees of the party are proficient in Welsh, Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales is merely following the law for public employees of a bi-lingual Nation. They are actually a left of centre party for progressive change.
It is ironic that its work to save the Welsh language has served, it would seem, to alienate or dis-associate a large portion of the electorate. Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales is the only party which, for instance, translates nearly all of its communications on social media into Welsh or English as the case may be – though it is usually from English to Welsh. This mirrors the National Assembly, but it does not mirror the current population of Wales who predominantly speak English. This may not always be the case, but it is the case now.
In fifty years, the situation will perhaps be completely different, if nothing essential changes. (But, that is a big “if”). At that point, nearly all people in Wales will have received training in Welsh, and the percentage of Welsh speakers will have risen dramatically. In a significant manner, the battle for the Welsh language has been won, though nothing is set in stone if hostile parties win at the box office and influence policy on the local, national and multi-national levels. It is legally possible, for example, for the National Assembly of Wales to be abolished.
In this light, if 80% of the population of Wales has English as their first language, then a party that is identified, rightly or wrongly, as one merely of Welsh speakers, could lag in the polls for decades. As we have seen with the vote share of UKIP, it is possible that the National Assembly will remain impotent or face possible abolition for decades.
In this way, it would seem prudent for the Wales National Movement to celebrate its achievements and distinction with regard to the Welsh language, and continue to protect this distinctiveness, but, for the sake of electoral success and philosophical accuracy, realise that a language does not equal a Nation. If that were the case, Scotland would not be a nation as most of the people speak English. Think of Belgium, Switzerland, etc. This is not to downplay the Welsh language movement. Indeed, it has been a resounding success. Yet, we must understand that nation-building requires victories at the ballot box, amidst a nation of voters, 80% of whom currently speak English as their first language.
The Wales National Movement must, as it did in the 1960’s reach out to – and be composed of – multiple communities in a proactive manner for the sake of nation-building and the improvement of the life of the people, irrespective of their particular language or ethnicity.
The danger of course is that in the meantime, while we wait for the bi-lingual Nation to evolve, in a generation or so, it will either struggle for decades or even no longer exist as parties like UKIP – or even the Conservatives – decide that the National Assembly of Wales is too burdensome for their vision of a One Nation Britain.
At the same time, however, it could even be imagined a Wales National Party (WNP) which is predominately English speakers, like the SNP, and the population of Wales, and works to build the Nation of Wales in the context of whatever constitutional arrangement that may exist in the “Union” at that time. Such a movement would of course still support the Welsh language, heritage, history – and the growth of the living Cymraeg language and bi- or even tri-lingualism – but it would not be identified with the Welsh language per se but with the bread and butter issues which matter to the people living now in Wales.
The importance of these issues lies in the fact that Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales is the only party which is seeking the shift the scales of power and wealth with respect to the people of Wales. Yet, not enough of the people are listening since many believe Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales is a party of Welsh speakers, a belief which is not altogether inaccurate, as noted above. Of course such tribalism is irrational and counter-productive but is a fact of life amongst a population which ironically is quite diverse. The truth of the matter is that most people in Wales do not work in the public sector and thus are not required to be proficient in Welsh.
Amongst the current population, there are many voters who will never need to learn Welsh, but are still concerned with the immediate issues of survival, employment, austerity and cuts. But, if the only “viable” opposition to the austerity parties, Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales is not favoured by the electorate, then the people are left without an alternative. In this way, Plaid must focus its message on those issues which concern the people: employment, education, healthcare and social security.
If Plaid Cymru is no longer the only custodian of devolution or even of the Welsh language, as recently suggested by Leanne Wood in her recent speech “What Next For Wales,” then it must open itself up to the demographic and cultural realities of contemporary Wales or expect continued disappointment at the polls. This concerns both the internal culture of the party itself and the resulting perception and communication problems.
In this way, over the next twelve months, the party that is open to all the people and is seen and heard working for the fulfilment of the needs of all the people of Wales will be the party that wins at the ballot box. If Plaid Cymru fails to make a breakthrough in 2016, the Wales National movement will have to, as Adam Price MP recently suggested, think differently for the sake of “real change”.