Wales Begins with a Yes


On the 3rd of March, people in Wales shall be voting on greater powers for the Assembly. This is a huge step forward for the country, and another nail in the coffin of the UK. Despite some narrow-minded gibes about Wales being the “slow boat in the convoy”, by Scottish activists, this is in fact not the case. Wales is unlikely to overtake Scotland, but for the last ten years, it has actually travelled further and faster than Scotland has in that time.

1979 was a grim year for Scotland and Wales, and so were the 1980s. Not just the Referendum failure, but because of Margaret Thatcher’s election in England. It looked as if Wales would never achieve self-government. Pessimism was prevalent, Welsh industry in heavy decline in the Valleys, the Welsh language in a perilous state, rural Wales devastated by high housing prices and holiday ghost towns. Even the Welsh rugby team went into a form of hibernation for the best part of twenty years.

The only ray of hope came in 1982 when Gwynfor Evans and Cymdeithas fought a brave fight, and held the Tories to their pre-election promise of a Welsh language channel. Billy Kay has described this victory as “kicking in the door” on the language issue. But this came in the wake of the Falklands War, in which Welsh troops had taken disproportionate casualties. More ironically, many of the Argentine aerial strikes had been launched from Trelew, in the Province of Chubut, which had been founded as a Welsh-speaking colony. S4C still exists, but other than receding memories of the war, the Falklands have faded back into obscurity

I mind well, visiting Cardiff with my parents in the 1980s. The place seemed dark, the people despondent. And no wonder. It had been built on the coal mining industry. When I visited there in the early 2000s, it had changed for the better. The city was brighter, and it seemed happier. It still had one or two rough areas, but the effect of the Assembly on the city was much more noticeable than that of the Scottish Parliament upon Edinburgh. The new Millenium Stadium, and Millenium Centre, also made the city better, and unlike the Dome on the Thames, seemed to have a purpose. The city’s resounding “no” in the two referendums was now being counteracted by a growing confidence in devolution, even if support for independence and Plaid Cymru, Forward Wales etc was fairly low. Wales as a whole seemed to have a new self-confidence beaming out of it.

1997 was a better year for Scotland and Wales. Labour was closer to the Welsh heart than the Tories, at least Welsh people voted for that party in larger numbers. Welsh Labour had ceased to be quite as anti-Welsh as it had been under Neil Kinnock (aka “Kinnochio” in his home country) and George Thomas, even if it had a way to go. Cardiff voted “no” again, but the rest of Wales was less hostile, and the devolution referendum slipped through by the narrowest of margins.

So where does 2011 find Wales? The deprivation is still there in some places. The grimness has not completely gone away – the suicides of young people in Bridgend and its surrounding communities in recent years bear testimony of this. But there is still vast improvement. The One Wales coalition – Labour-Plaid – has proven itself more progressive than the Westminster governments of Brown and Cameron. It’s not ideal, but it has fought to keep medical care free, and is currently trying to pass an Affordable Housing Bill, to protect council housing stock from depletion by “right to buy”, and to ensure people in rural Wales can afford to live in their home areas. There are also plans afoot to pass a new language bill. The housing bill has already been blocked once by the current British set up (see appendix), which is a good reason why Wales needs this.

So why more powers? Devolution has proven more popular in practice than it ever was at the referendum. It’s actually grown on people there. Certain powers have already been passed over to the Assembly, so it’s in a stronger position than it was on foundation. However, it’s still pretty toothless in many areas. As Ieuan Wyn Jones, the deputy first minister, and leader of Plaid Cymru says:

“Just imagine how much more effective and transparent our process of making laws would be if we didn’t have to steer them through the various offices of the Sir Humphreys in Whitehall? So the question remains – why on earth wouldn’t we want to move to a more efficient, less costly and less bureaucratic system? I have yet to hear a plausible reason to vote ‘no’ in this referendum.”

The campaign has united the leaders of all four main parties in Wales, even the Conservatives, who were utterly opposed to devolution in ’97. Unlike the proposals of the Calman Commission in Scotland for greater powers, the Welsh proposal holds genuine merit and benefit for the country.

I dedicate this piece to the memory of Rhobert ap Steffan, who died recently after a long illness. He was a shining example of Wales’ potential.

Appendix

And here’s why Wales needs a “yes” vote, and a less complex system.

Although the Assembly has the power to modify legislation from Westminster, and to legislate in twenty different areas, any other bills proposed by it have to go through a torturous system known as “Legislative Competence Orders” (LCOs). Here are the stages which an LCO has to go through to be approved:

1 – Instigation by Assembly.

2 – Draft order discussions with Whitehall (i.e. the unelected Sir Humphreys)

3 – Draft order discussions with the Welsh Office (proving that it still has a purpose, unlike the Scottish office)

4 – Publication of draft LCO.

5 – Examination by Committee at the Assembly.

6 – Examination by the Welsh Affairs Committee at Westminster (currently Tory-heavy)

7 – Examination by the Constitutional Committee of the House of Lords.

8 – Report and proposed amendments by Welsh Affairs committee.

9 – Ditto by the Constitutional Committee of the House of Lords.

10 – Examination and amendments by the Secretary of State (House of Commons) if s/he wishes it.

11 – A formal LCO approved in Cardiff, and presented to the Welsh Assembly.

12 – Consideration by Welsh Affairs Committee (Westminster again)

13 – Examination by Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

14 – Approval by House of Commons.

15 – Approval by House of Lords.

16 – Royal Assent.

And yet we hear all the time that it’s Brussels which is bureaucratic! The referendum would cut down all of these stages into an easy handful, sorted and decided in Wales.

As you may have noticed, several of the stages include unelected sections of the British legislature, such as the Civil Service, the Lords and the Monarchy. It also includes several ones which are self-selected by Westminster, i.e. committees, the Welsh Office and the Palace of Westminster itself, which has an inbuilt English majority (which notoriously voted for Treweryn and other Welsh communities to be drowned in the 1960s).

It is unlikely the royal part will go, but roll on the “yes” vote…

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  1. Junius says:

    Oh god Yes!!! – vote yes !!! er… that was for separation from England wasn’t it??? Sooner the better I say!

    1. Nick Illingworth says:

      As an English (civic) nationalist, I am also looking forward to an overwhelming Yes vote next week and heartily wish you progress towards stronger control over your own affairs. However, your reference to ‘separation from England’ looks a bit skewed from where I sit. Wales at least exists as an official entity under the UK, but not so England. I think you mean, ‘separation from the UK’. It’s impossible for Wales to be legally separated from something (England) that legally doesn’t exist. Separation from the UK incidentally is certainly what increasing numbers of taxpayers in England want – separation of England from the UK. By the way, that means bringing to an end what the politicians in Cardiff call ‘the Westminster Chequebook’ when preparing their budgets. The reliance will then have to be on the ‘Brussels Chequebook’ – per the Irish model.

      1. bellacaledonia says:

        Thanks for the message Nick – great to hear from our friends in England. When you say ‘ Separation from the UK incidentally is certainly what increasing numbers of taxpayers in England want – separation of England from the UK’ – how do you quantify that?

        Genuinely interested. For me the shift for England will happen when it has a sense of what it wants to be in a positive sense – rather than base an idea of independence on a misguided notion that you subsidise all the other nations – an idea you hint at. Paradoxicallly (or not) it’s also key for Scotland to think positively about what we want to be / become rather than to blame everything on England.

      2. Welsh Sion says:

        I agree with Bella – and I wish the political leaders in my nation would show more courage in proclaiming this, and more often.

        Off subject (sorry), I didn’t realise there was a “Reply” button you could click (it’s a little too light grey for poor short sighted me) so my first response to Nick is lower down. I don’t know if the administrators/mods can move it – but I’ll learn to use it next time.

      3. Nick Illingworth says:

        I appreciate the positive tone of your responses, may I say? In terms of quantifying the desire of taxpayers in England to separate from the UK, there is only anecdotal evidence of this as, to my knowledge, this has not been surveyed (and therefore quantified) in opinion polls as yet. However, there is some quantifiable evidence of a steady rise in a desire for England to have control of its own affairs. For instance, the recent survey at the Conservative Home website showed a rise in support for the statement, “England should have its own Parliament”‏ over 2 years from -28% on balance (60% against vs. 32% for in 12/2008) to +9% in favour (42% against, 51% for in 12/2010). Other surveys corroborate this trend (I could dig out the specifics on this if you’re interested). In general, people I speak to in England are unhappy with the situation particularly around university fees, but other events e.g. the attempted sell off of England’s forests, prescription charges only in England, etc. have also contributed. There is a rising perception, despite the failure of the British press to report the facts objectively (though the BBC is improving), that England is being singled out for unfair treatment compared to other nations in the UK. I am not talking about committed nationalists like myself here – I mean ordinary people who don’t take a special interest in politics. If the UK politicians from whichever country really care about the Union then they should recognise that England is being treated anti-democratically, for instance by being denied any votes of the kind scheduled next week in Wales. What they appear not to realise is, that people in England are already asking what the Union is for, and are not finding many positive answers. However, to come back to your original point, real progress would be to be able to quantify this. What price a democratic referendum on home rule for England? However, this is not to decry the democratic progress in other parts of the UK, which I genuinely applaud and support.

      4. Nick Illingworth says:

        A footnote on quantifying support for English nationalism – there is an interesting article this morning over at the Observer on this subject. Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/feb/27/support-poll-support-far-right. Let me just make it clear that I am an avowed anti-racist while we’re on the subject! Thanks.

    2. Ray Bell says:

      Nick, I find your comments interesting. I think there is a crying need for organised (moderate) English nationalism (or self-determination or whatever you wish to call it. It seems that only the far right seem to tap into any latent potential, plus the main political parties’ abandonment of the working class.

      I think England is doubly complicated because it is large, and forms the bulk of the UK. So, the parliament for England matter is complicated by calls for regional devolution (which exist in Scotland as well, but at a very low level right now).

      1. Nick Illingworth says:

        Ray, Many thanks again for your positive engagement, which is greatly appreciated. I absolutely agree that moderate, civic nationalism is the way forward, as much for England as for the other nations in the UK. And you are right that England is complicated by virtue of its size, so that there may well be more scope for regional government than in other nations. Overall, though, what is striking about England is its strong cohesion and sense of identity in the face of strong Establishment attempts to marginalise England, or to discredit is as being the preserve of the far right. There are very strong historical reasons for this cohesion of course; England is the oldest nation state in Europe, going back to the early 10th century. England therefore has every right to self determination, and this raises the question of why the UK Establishment is so determined in its unprincipled opposition to this. To answer this, it is convenient to ask who would lose from the dissolution of the UK. Brief overview:
        1. Scotland would win nationhood, though the economic consequences could be a deterrent (depending on treatment of North Sea oil etc.).
        2. Wales likewise, though the economic deterrent is clearer here.
        3. Ireland would win unification though the cost economically would be high
        4. The NI protestants would see themselves as the historic losers
        5. England itself would win both politically and economically, of that there can be no question.
        6. This brings us to the British, i.e. the political class and their associates in the press etc. They stand to lose prestige power and control – the very factors which motivate them. Seats at the UN, clout at EU conferences etc. None of this matters much to people in the nations of the UK I would suggest, but it matters very much to politicians. I think this goes some way towards suggesting why we in England are facing such anti-democratic resistance to quiet, reasonable suggestions that there should be a fair and democratic settlement in England. Incidentally, it follows from this that the British hope to gain massively from setting nationalists from the different nations arguing with each other. By treating England unfairly, I think the British hope (1) to provoke arguments between English and Scottish people in particular, and then (2) to use these resulting squabbles as a pretext for discrediting all nationalists as small minded xenophobes. All the more reason not to rise to the provocation in my view. Would be fascinated to hear your response to this.

  2. Welsh Sion says:

    Dear Scottish cousins, well wishers and Ray,

    1

    Thank you all for allowing us Welsh the right to share a platform with yourselves in these highly exciting times to share our nationalites and ideas. Together, outwith the Disunited Kingdom, we will be stronger and the need to co-operate with such strong poltical and cultural allies is a prerequisite for mutual respect, understanding and cooperation. Long may it continue. You will see part of my ideas in previous comments on the excellent Newsnet Scotland site – and praise be, I can say that here without being modded off.

    Thank you also, Ray, for conveying what our vote is all about. I have submitted a rallying cry to fellow exiles on the YES for Wales site as well as on the NNS web site, the text of which I prduce here.

    Sion Rees Williams is a Welshman currently living outside Wales, but he’s determined to play his part in this referendum. Here is his call to other Welsh people living elsewhere to do the same:

    Friends, fellow Welsh exiles and patriots, lend me your ears. Now is the time for you to make your mark on history and to shape the future direction of our great nation.

    On March 3rd this year, a referendum offering more legislative autonomy to our National Assembly will take place. If you are registered to vote in Wales, this will be your opportunity to say Yes to a brighter future for all our people and for subsequent generations. A Yes vote will allow our own democratically elected politicians greater freedoms to make real decisions in Wales; and make laws closer to the needs and wishes of the people of Wales. No longer will it be necessary to ask London for permission to pass laws and make decisions which directly affect you – it will be your own elected representatives throughout Wales who will put our country first.

    Another way people can help, other than voting and campaigning, is by donating, though people need to be registered UK taxpayers to do so. Yes for Wales needs to raise a large amount to fund their campaigning work and this is a good way for people elsewhere to contribute. If you live outside Wales and are still registered as a UK taxpayer, you can still donate money to Yes for Wales.

    Your vote on 3 March is crucial in enabling this to happen. By voting Yes you are showing your commitment to our country and our growing, young, vibrant democracy. You will be shaping the future policy of our nation in matters of health, education, welfare and the environment – all key concerns and traditional Welsh values. Your own personal involvement will be buttressed by the knowledge that your interest in these things is shared by your family, your friends, your community and your delegates in the Senedd. Those to whom you empower to deliver concrete results will be freer to deal with those matters which directly affect you.

    All this will flow from a Yes vote on 3 March, delivered by the Welsh people, for the Welsh people. Your vote. Your people. Make your mark on Referendum Day. Encourage all the other exiles you know to vote Yes as well. You can make history – be part of it.

    Vote YES to become a stakeholder in a new, vibrant and dynamic Wales. Vote YES for your future. Vote YES for the next generations. Vote YES for Wales .

    ——————————————————————————————————————–
    2

    Following on from Ray’s excellent posting, I feel that a slight clarification is needed on the language issue. (It helps that not only am a committed patriot, but I am trained as a lawyer and a linguist – and now work trilingually professionally in that capacity in England). Further, Welsh is my mother tongue, having been introduced formally to English when I entered primary school in West Sussex.

    Thus, it is now clear that the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 is now law and has made Welsh legally official in Wales. The ramifications of this are incredibly important – and not just for professional linguists like myself. It will surely provide for more work, boosting the economy, but also increase the self esteen of compatriots who for centuries have had a foreign language rammed down their throats and told their own was worthless or silly or sufficient justification for dismissal (in certain establishments – illegal, yes, but still prevalent) or previously a means of humiliating and physically and psycologically harming children.

    I enclose further links to the Measure and trust that they will be of interest to my readers. Those wanting to learn more are welcome to contact me here.

    Passage of the Measure, including the unanimous approval of the 60 Members of The National Assembly 7 December 2010 and the Royal Consent on 9 February 2011:

    http://www.assemblywales.org/bus-home/bus-legislation/bus-leg-measures/business-legislation-measures-wl.htm

    Copy of the Measure:

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/mwa/2011/1/resources/enacted

    In .pdf format:

    http://www.assemblywales.org/ms-ld7944-e.pdf

    What it means in practical terms:

    http://wales.gov.uk/topics/welshlanguage/legislation/measure/?lang=en

    And in lay person’s terms (date of Royal Consdent is wrong in this article):

    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/02/12/royal-assent-for-official-status-of-welsh-language-91466-28159012/

    ——————————————————————————————————————–

    3.

    To wish Ray, and everyone a very happy St David’s Day when it arrives. Scots, feel free to join in with any local celebration of a Welsh Society near you. You are sure to get a fine, enthusiastic and warm welcome from all. I will myself be attending a similar celebration for exiles here in the south of England – but there will be attendees from all over for our dinner.

    Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus i chi i gyd.

    ——————————————————————————————————————–

    May we have an overwhelming YES vote then in our Referendum. I’m sure you Scots and others of the same mindset as ourselves wish us luck and send best regards. Be of good cheer then, and ensure that 4 March is also a day of national celebration for both our great, historic and noble countries.

    In the continued spirit of Cymro-Scot collaboration, goodwill and friendship, I toast the idea that our continued amity will result in great things for our join futures.

    Alba a Chymru am byth!

    1. Ray Bell says:

      Diolch yn fawr, W.S, I appreciate the thanks.

      I do not think our countries have ANYTHING to gain from arguing against one another. Competing, well, yes – Scotland could do better on the language front (both of them), and Wales may be better on the civic front, but this is all coming together anyway.

      I am delighted to see the way Wales is evolving. Okay, it’s not all improvement, and Cymru does have its ups and downs, but it’s generally on the up.

      By the way, I believe if there is a slow boat in the convoy, right now, it’s England. I don’t say this to be anti-English, but because political evolution seems to have been happening more slowly there, in terms of P.R., and a lot of archaic structures remain.

      1. Welsh Sion says:

        Mutual thanks and co-operation to be the order of the day – not least on Wales’s national day. Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus i bawb, including the English.

        I accept your point with regard to your slow boat – I suspect many would agree with the sentiment that the (often deliberate) confusing/blurring of the “U”K with “England” by many in this part of the world has a lot to do with this… Why else have they gone into paroxysms of writing tomes and lengthy articles about What it is to be English or the Death of the nation (either of which could be the “U”K or England.

        Please have sympathy for me too – I live down the road from where the EDL was formed…

        Cross your fingers for the results on Friday morning. You are all invited to toast a new beginning for my nation if we get a YES.

        Pob hwyl,

  3. Welsh Sion says:

    Rightly or wrongly, the Referendum next week is NOT about separation from England, the United Kingdom or any other entity – legal or otherwise. I would refer the posters above to the excellent summary prepared by Ray above and additionally to the Yes for Wales website:

    http://www.yesforwales.com/site/

    and also following the links on “Why vote Yes?”

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