John Osmond reflects on the future political economy of Wales’s water resources
It is a striking testimony on how far the Welsh political establishment has been transformed in recent years that a piece of graffiti designed to ignite political protest against a British government trampling over Welsh interests has been awarded a £30,000 Welsh Assembly Government grant. I refer of course to the ‘writing on the wall’ on the A487 roadside a few miles south of Aberystwyth near Llanrhystud.
Cofiwch Dryweryn is one of the most powerful images in modern Wales, recalling a turning point in modern relations between Wales and England. The row was about water resources, who would benefit and at what cost. In the 1960s England won and Wales paid the price. Yet this sparked a protest that made a major contribution to the growth of Welsh nationalism and ultimately a shift in political power from London to Cardiff. In future any disputes over water resources, and they seem inevitable, will result in a more equitable outcome.
Most people will have seen the words, initially painted in white as Cofiwch Tryweryn in 1963 or thereabouts on a broken down farmhouse stone wall. It has subsequently been recrafted many times until today’s image has the words Cofiwch Dryweryn in red on a white background, complete with the Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s dragon tongue symbol beneath.
Now Llanrhystud Community Council has launched an appeal to raise £80,000 – kickstarted by the £30,000 Assembly Government contribution handed over by Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones at the Bala Eisteddford – to buy the wall and the land around it in order to preserve the landmark. It says the graffiti, perhaps the most famous in Wales, is a “last symbol” of the 1960s campaign to prevent the flooding of the valley to supply water to Liverpool.
The original graffiti was the work of veteran nationalist and prolific author Meic Stephens who a few years ago owned up, describing it is as “my most famous statement, my best-known poem, my most eloquent speech, and my most influential political act.” In a leaflet promoting the fund-raising campaign Llanrhystud Council observes, “The flooding of the valley became a turning point in the history of Wales, convincing Welsh people that they must have the right to govern their own affairs.”
Is it not a little ironic, therefore, that now Wales has its Assembly and it is inconceivable that another valley could be flooded against the unified will of an overwhelming of its national representatives – as happened with Tryweryn – such a prospect is being contemplated?
The scenario is painted by Morgan Parry, former Director of WWF Cymru and now Chair of Cynnal Cymru (the Sustainable Development Forum for Wales) in the IWA’s latest publication Wales in 2050: A View from the Future. In it he imagines himself as his nine-year-old son Math when he is 50 in 2050, looking back at what has happened in Wales in the intervening years. He recalls that in 2015 there was a massive against a demand from the City of London for a new dam in the Elan Valley to combat growing water shortages in the south east of England. Later that year a referendum on full law-making powers for the Assembly was successful, mainly because of the English demands for Welsh water
However, a few years later: “Although the Government in Cardiff had the power to say no, they were offered good money by the private water companies that wanted to build the dam and sell water at a profit to Londoners. A deal as agreed, and construction began.”