Elis-Thomas sparks debate on Welsh future

John Osmond argues that sooner or later Wales will have to choose between a re-negotiated British structure or independence within the EU

In a wide-ranging speech at Westminster last week (reported here) former Assembly Presiding Officer Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas illustrated once more why he is at odds with many in present day Plaid Cymru. He declared himself an “out and out federalist”.

In an interpretation of Welsh history that may be correct, but will not be music to the ears of his colleagues in Cardiff Bay, he said there has never been a project for Welsh independence:

“Revisionist nationalists always seem to imagine Wales as always having been a people’s republic… But the principality of Wales is not a creation of Norman military ascendancy. It is the creation of Welsh leaders themselves and that project was always federal in nature.”

This is an argument that goes back to Plaid’s conference in 2003 when for the first time the party formally adopted independence as its unambiguous constitutional aim. Why did it take so long for it to reach this position – after all it was founded in 1926 – and why is it still an issue today?

One reason is that the party’s founders were reluctant to use the term ‘independence’ for essentially moral reasons. Saunders Lewis, the party’s founder set out the essential position in his formative lecture at the 1926 Summer School when he argued the case for Welsh freedom rather than independence:

“First of all, let us not ask for independence for Wales. Not because it is impractical, but because it is not worth having. I have already shown that it is materialistic and cruel, leading to violence, oppression and ideas already proved to be bad. The age of empires is fast passing, and afterwards there will be no meaning or value in independence. Europe will return to its place when the countries recognise that all subjects and dependent …”

The lecture is worth revisiting in full, but this is the gist and it remained influential for the rest of the century. Unlike the SNP which adopted ‘independence’ from the start, the term Plaid Cymru used was ‘self-government’. After Britain voted to join the Common Market in 1975, this mutated to ‘full national status’ within the institutions at Brussels and Strasbourg. In the run-up to the first Assembly elections in 1999 the party’s then leader Dafydd Wigley famously said:

“We haven’t used the term full independence or independence at all at any stage in our history. We have used the term self-government and self-government within the European context as we believe that is the relevant term. We don’t believe any country is independent in the 21st Century.”

So what accounted for the break in this underlying philosophy just a few years later? The answer, in a word, is Europe. From the mid-1980s when, led by former opponent Dafydd Elis-Thomas as it happens, Plaid Cymru became reconciled with membership, the idea of Wales’s place in the European Union, became central to its thinking. In those days this project was expressed in terms of the idea of a ‘Europe of the Regions’. A self-governing Wales could join with other emerging ‘Regions’ such as the Lander in Germany, the Basque Country and Catalonia in Spain, and Flanders in Belgium to crate a patchwork of regionalism that could form the democratic bedrock of a united Europe.

That, at any rate, was the idea, and it reached some kind of persuasive peak in 1994 when the Committee of the Regions was established as part of the Maastricht Treaty that recalibrated the institutions of the EU. The Committee was supposed to be part of the democratic structures of the ERU. Some envisaged that it might evolve into an upper chamber for the European Parliament.

But it has proved a great disappointment for those who invested such hopes. Part of the reason is that is that its 350plus members, appointed to reflect the fact that about three-quarters of EU legislation is implemented at local or regional level, are not a voice for regional governance as such, but generally local government. This led to the creation of a separate organisation, RegLeg – the EU Regions with Legislative Powers – which, for a time Rhodri Morgan was an enthusiastic exponent when he was First Minister. However, this has no formal place within the EU structure.

In the early 2000s this lack of effective representation at the EU level led the German Lander which previously had been in the European regional vanguard, to put more effort into ensuring their interests were better represented in the overall national position. By then it had become obvious that only independence could equip a Region or aspirant country to full membership of the EU Council of Ministers and Parliament. It was noteworthy that in the enlargement that occurred in May 2004, of the ten states that joined the EU, five had populations smaller than Wales – Malta (0.4 million), Cyprus (0.8 million), Estonia (1.4 million), Slovenia (2 million), and Latvia (2.4 million).

Today there is a putative new enlargement process underway, known as ‘Enlargement from Within’. Candidate states include Catalonia, Flanders, and Scotland.

So that is the main reality that drove Plaid Cymru thinking at its conference in 2003. Significantly, the case for it was led at the time by Adam Price, now likely to enter the National Assembly in 2016. Looking back some time later he acknowledged that it would be some while before Welsh independence became a realistic prospect, but said Plaid should not shy away from it:

“Quite simply if we don’t talk about our ultimate aim, then our political opponents will. Better for us to lead the debate than constantly be on the defensive. Secondly, we need to create a new generation of nationalists. We do that through presenting clear arguments as to why our vision of an independent Wale offers the greatest opportunity for social progress and prosperity.”

In his speech last week Dafydd Elis-Thomas aligned himself with Carwyn Jones in calling for a constitutional convention to put federalism and a new partnership between the nationals of the UK on the agenda. However, as he acknowledged, a problem was persuading England to join in. His concern was that the mood in England was firmly against federal options that were associated with all things European. As he put it:

“What worries me is if the English bulldog barks up the wrong tree because England is a great European nation which once had lands in France… People in England – and I don’t know how we do it – need to see England again as a European nation which is no longer an empire.”

It seems to me that this debate encapsulates a choice that sooner or later Wales will have to confront – whether to seek our constitutional future within a re-negotiated British structure, or as an independent country within the European Union. There is no doubt that most of us would prefer to have some combination of both. But it seems unlikely that the English will allow that to happen.

John Osmond is Editor of ClickonWales.

35 thoughts on “Elis-Thomas sparks debate on Welsh future

  1. I venture that Comrade Osmond is as shaky on history as the First Lord. Contrary to what he wrote in 1926, by the time Saunders Lewis was candidate for the University seat (1931?), he stood unabashedly on Dominion-status, the version of independence in vogue at that time and, of course, pre-EU. See his and the party’s clear list of aims for its British MPs. Notably, three out of six were internationalist, confirming the centrality of Welsh statehood to the party’s aims.

    That too was Eire’s status, although enhanced by its Irish Free State moniker. The then Welsh Nationalist Party seems pretty well in lock-step on constitutional issues with Fianna Fail in this period. And the 1931 Statute of Westminster had just ‘given’ all British Dominions freedom in international affairs, which Canada promptly used to negotiate its own inter-state Treaty with the USA.

    Of course, Gwynfor Evans’ presidency ploughed the same furrow, with only a minor tactical diversion into a “British Confederation” during the dark constitutional days of the late ’60s / early ’70s and, again, pre-EU.

    It’s obvious there’s a debate on the fringes of Plaid Cymru, but two major internal elections recently seem to have confirmed where the vast majority of party members stand. Might it help if that continuing debate – internal and public – was based on greater knowledge of the historical facts as well as an extra-insular perspective on current political options?

  2. Lord Wigley is quite right that the concept of independence is meaningless for any nation in the 21st Century, but the first law of political dynamics, that any political organisation will seek to increase its own power, suggests that the Assembly will seek to expand its role until Wales has some form of quasi-independence under the name of autonomy, self-governance, home rule, or whatever. This is precisely why Nationalists supported the Assembly in 1997 and Unionists opposed it. National sentiment was always the driving force behind devolution because – be honest – the administrative case for it was always weak. Certainly, there is no case in local government terms: no economic geographer would use the boundaries of the Principality as the basis of an optimal region for the purposes of strategic planning and service delivery; in purely administrative terms, it would have been more logical to split North and South Wales, and link each to the adjacent areas of England. The only function for which the boundaries of the Principality might be optimal is cultural policy, which is, despite the passionate discussion of the subject on this website, not really a priority for the vast majority of Welsh people. That said, there is no reversing the process that began with the decision in 1997. What we have seen since then are attempts to justify that decision retrospectively in administrative terms, independently of national sentiment. Regionalism was the first, but, by putting Wales on a par with an English region, it rather negated the only substantial argument in favour of a Welsh Assembly, that Wales should have a different political structure to reflect our being a separate nation. In any case, the administrative case for English regionalism was as weak as the administrative case for an All-Wales Assembly, so there was no real demand for it in England and it seems to have died a natural death. Federalism is taking its place, but again there is no real administrative or constitutional necessity for it, and no real demand for it in England. A separate English Parliament within the UK is an obsession for a minority of English nationalists, but the majority do not seem to be particularly interested and may be increasingly inclined to cut us loose altogether.

  3. I don’t know what it is about Lord DET but he seems to suffer from non-stop vilification from the Culture and Language Nationalists:


    “As a dog returneth to his own vomit……” Michael Haggertt, returneth to his attacks on the noble Lord….must be something in the London water. Nevertheless its interesting to see how intolerant of ideas Plaid can be.

  4. John Winterson Richards – why use the term Principality to refer to Wales? Despite Dafydd Elis Thomas’s tongue-in-cheek comments, it’s not a meaningful term.

  5. @John Winterson Richards- interesting comment, and difficult to disagree with much of it. As far as the point on any political organization always wanting to increase its own power, well you only have to see the difference between Welsh Labour/ British Labour and the difference in sentiment between the Welsh Labour of the First Assembly and Welsh Labour of the Fourth Assembly. Most parties apart from the Welsh Tories seem to be in favour of more powers (obviously Plaid as well). We need to stop trying to justify devolution on the grounds of administrative necessity or democracy, nationalism-lite is leading devolution, which is why the British Labour Party are opposed to it (and they are, that much is obvious as much as they pretend otherwise). However, I would diverge on one point. Wales is not a principality, and many in Wales including myself see it as a pejorative and condescending term. The Principality only existed between 1216 and 1536, and refers to only two-thirds of the lands of Wales, and were actually run by the native princes of Gwynedd. The idea that the principality still exists, and that an English prince ran it, are both entirely wrong.

  6. @Jon – DET comments are like a Tory MP saying he doesn’t support the free market. Coming out saying not only that he does not believe in Welsh statehood, but that that was never the aim of Plaid, has naturally ruffled the feathers of all the members of Plaid. He speaks on behalf of himself and does NOT speak for Plaid Cymru or its membership. We are not ”intolerant” of ideas at all, the fundamental raison d’etre of the party is to secure Welsh independence and become a nation in our own right; saying that this was never the aim will obviously extremely annoy the membership. What if Nigel Farrage said he never wanted to leave Europe anyway? This is the magnitude of DET’s comments. As I said, he speaks for himself, and his resounding defeat for the Leadership only goes to prove how out of touch he is with the membership, a point alluded to by Osmond in the article.

  7. It is not the case, as John Winterson Richards suggests, that “national sentiment was always the driving force behind devolution”.

    The driving force was the lack of democracy in relation to the election results of 1979 and beyond. When the Labour Party was continually winning elections during that period but was unable to deliver on its election promises because of the electoral make-up of Westminster, somethng clearly had to give. This, combined with the fact that people were being appointed to positions of influence by virtue of being invited to do so across the dining table at some function or other, simply served to highlght just how discredited the centralist order had become. Undoubtedly nationalists were involved in the campaign as they saw it as a way of progressing their cause, but what enabled people of differing political persuasions to come together on this issue was the democratic deficit, not national sentiment.

  8. Dafydd Elis-Thomas should retire gracefully. He has always been a maverick; now with little support within Plaid hence his abysmal leadership bid. That aside, I’m in favour of an inter-dependent, self-governing Cymru within a reformed and more democratic EU. The London, English-dominated dictatorship of all the levers necessary for our prosperity must come to an end. Not to demand control of all our natural resources and all other powers of a free nation signals further poverty and destitution for our country. And change must come about so that our talents and fine traditions may be rebuilt before it’s too late.

  9. The British elite do not want to leave the EU but they have conceded so much ground to the garagiste element in the conservative party that they will have difficulty managing the situation. UKIP’s anti-politics appeal further complicates matters. Peasants’ revolts don’t usually succeed so perhaps we’ll stay in but it has become unpredictable. All very well for Guto Bebb to say regional policy should be repatriated from Brussels but there is nothing in the performance of any recent British government to suggest they would reproduce the scale of the European funds. If we haven’t spent it well, that’s our fault but not a good argument to shrug off the loss of much-needed resources. The truth is Wales will be in a terrible jam if England votes to leave the EU. Locked up behind little England is not appealing but independence is a pipe-dream to anyone with the ability to count to ten. Wales’ budget deficit is about a third of our GDP. As for a national bank – great. And who will finance that? Welsh deposits? The thing wouldn’t be as big as the Principality Building Society. Fellow patriots, we need a numerate plan not these idle fantasies. Wales is s.k.i.n.t. Face it and start from there.

  10. An independent country within the EU is a contradiction of terms. EU law is superior – independence applies to fewer and fewer remaining areas of competence… So few they are almost meaningless and what remains is being eroded 24×7…

    Some people seem to be writing when they ought to be reading! Or are you working with common purpose deliberately to deceive?

  11. Ben is technically correct that the Principality of Wales as an active feudal dependency of the English Crown was limited both in time and space. However, the title of ‘Prince of Wales’ was borne by two Kings of Gwynedd before the Edwardian Conquest, and as such has a double meaning. Although the English might have interpreted it as a sign of subordinate status relative to their King, the Welsh may have read it as a sign of superior status relative to the other independent Welsh Kings. The English word ‘Prince’ is derived from the Latin ‘Princeps’ or ‘First’, the title borne by the Roman Emperor Augustus and his early successors, indicating more-than-Kingly power independent of the title of King. At least one historian has noted that the Edwardian Conquest of Wales was the conquest of the last part of the Western Roman Empire to fall to the descendants of the Barbarians. So the use of ‘Princeps’ may well have been intended as, simultaneously, a diplomatic gesture towards the English Crown and an assertion of the hegemony of the Kings of Gwynedd over the other Welsh Kings, even if that hegemony was not completely realised in practice. In this sense, it is legitimate to apply the word Principality to Wales as a whole, not just to the medieval counties of Caernarfon, Anglesey, Merioneth, Flint, Carmarthen, and Cardigan.

    Talking of history, it is difficult to equate Rhobat Bryn Jones’ version with established facts. In fairness, it was probably just a typo but it is worrying to reflect there probably are people who really do believe the ‘the Labour Party were continually winning elections’ in the period ‘1979 and beyond.’

  12. “Wales is s.k.i.n.t. Face it and start from there. ”

    But so is the rest of the UK! The UK government’s government deficit has been has high as 150 billion pounds per year. This year it’s expected to be well in excess of 110 billion. Furthermore, one always hears about London and the south east subsidizing the rest of us. In fact, the opposite is true with London being subsidized by the rest of the UK. subsidies from the rest of the country (London ‘weighting’ of salaries, Housing Benefits, the massive subsidy paid to finance firms etc etc….Whitehall/Westminster, policies to boost London house prices). It’s endless. And today we hear that with a third of the UK population, London and the south eat gets 89% of transport investment. It’s in an FT article entitled ‘Transport Spending Skewed Towards London’. What I find amazing is that it’s taken this long for us to discuss these issues. Or maybe it’s just that these discussions were more muted before the advent of the web and the Assembly?

  13. “it is legitimate to apply the word Principality to Wales as a whole.”

    Can you have a ‘principality’ without prince? As the title is not hereditary there have been large gaps, decades long, when there has been no ‘prince of Wales’ walking this earth – and it doesn’t seem to have made one iota of difference!

    This business of post-conquest princes of Wales turning up in Wales is a 20th century phenomenon and is entirely self-interested and self-serving. It’s time for the title – and the use of the word Principality – to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

  14. ‘Can you have a ‘principality’ without prince?’


    All right, it has two ‘co-Princes,’ but as with of the Prince of Wales, the title has no real authority. In practice, Andorra is a functioning democracy, and a fully independent small nation, with, incidentally, one of the highest average life expectancies in the world. If more attention were paid to how and why such small nations can not only survive but succeed, the debate in Wales would be very different.

  15. David,
    No the rest of the UK is not skint at all. Do not be deceived by publicity aimed at justifying austerity policies designed to shrink the state. The Uk’s budget deficit is 7 per cent of GDP (Wales’ is between 30 and 40 per cent of GDP). UK government debt to GDP ratio is below its historical average and below that of most large developed countries. The structure of the debt is long term too – 14 years before it has to be refinanced on average. Welsh benefit recipients get at least £9 billion a year from social security, money which could not remotely be financed from Welsh taxes. Welsh taxes would cover the devolved expenditures of the Welsh Government but all other government expenditure, including benefits, could not be financed. Welsh natural resources would not support taxation. No-one wants our coal any more and the market value of our wates is tiny compared with the financing gap. Just look at Dwr Cymru’s accounts if you don’t believe me. Look, I regret all this as much as you do and would love to see Wales stand on its own feet. But there is one hell of a long way to go and you have to know where you are before you can set out

  16. John Walker
    All EU law is the result of treaties signed between ministers of sovereign states. There is no ‘erosion’ of independence that is not pre-agreed by government ministers. it is pathetic and dishonest of British politicians to agree to soemthing and then disown it in order to score political points and get cheap popularity. You should not be so easily taken in.

  17. I have little to add to Gwylon’s remarks regarding Dafydd Elis-Thomas. Every time he opens his mouth, something different comes out. He is a weasel with words, extremely difficult to pin down, or even understand, for that matter. He is not a credit or an asset to his party, and wouldn’t be in any party, in my opinion.

    The association of the term ‘principality’ with Wales is not only condescending, but insulting. It is an on-going reminder of Wales’ conquest and colonial status. Those who bandy it about, like JWR, are usually aware of the connotation it carries. They like to provoke.

    The founders of the Labour party wouldn’t recognise it today. I suspect that most of them are turning in their graves at what it has become. What Saunders Lewis and others of his generation thought may have been applicable in the 1920s & 30s, but Plaid is the party it is today, with it’s fundamental aim of achieving statehood for Wales. Were SL alive today, I think he too would have abandoned the concept of dominion status or such.

    Dafydd wants to live in the past. His concept of federalism is undefined. Neither does he explain how it could possibly survive, even it could be set up, in the medium to long term. The massive asymmetry of its likely members and tensions over issues such as defence and foreign policy would ensure its disintegration in short order. We are thus left with independence or the status quo – some level of devolution which Westminster is willing in its superior wisdom to bestow on us. The tensions are already emerging. There have been three commissions in little over a decade, whilst Wales suffers from bad government both at Westminster and in Cardiff.

    I hope that the Scots have the good sense to vote YES. It will have a huge repercussion in Wales. Supporters of Labour here will have an almighty headache. After their hangover, independence for Wales will be on the agenda, whether we like it or not.

    Wales’ budget deficit will have to be dealt with sooner or later. We are destined to get poorer, either in or out of the UK. Borrowing £120bn a year, on top of a trillion debt, isn’t sustainable. Smaller countries like Ireland and Iceland have handled their economic woes better, and are recovering, whilst the UK languishes. In a span of twenty years a number of eastern European states have overtaken Wales in terms of prosperity. How long will it be before we are overtaken by Romania & Bulgaria?

    Times are a-changing, and we must change with them.

  18. “Talking of history, it is difficult to equate Rhobat Bryn Jones’ (sic) version with established facts. In fairness, it was probably just a typo but it is worrying to reflect there probably are people who really do believe ‘the Labour Party were continually winning elections’ in the period ‘1979 and beyond.’

    @ John Winterston Richards

    Some facts.
    1979 – MPs in Wales

    Labour – 22, Conservative – 11, Plaid Cymru – 2, Liberal Democrat – 1;

    Government in Westminster – Conservative

    1983 – MPs in Wales

    Labour – 20, Conservative – 14, Liberal Democrat – 2, Plaid Cymru – 2;

    Government in Westminster – Conservative

    1984 – Miners Dispute

    1987 – MPs in Wales

    Labour – 24, Conservative – 8, Liberal Democrat – 3, Plaid Cymru – 2;

    Government in Westminster – Conservative

    1992 – MPs in Wales

    Labour – 27, Conservative – 6, Plaid Cymru – 4, Liberal Democrat – 1;

    Government in Westminster – Conservative

    1997 – MPs in Wales

    Labour 34, Plaid Cymru – 4, Liberal Democrat – 2; Conservative – 0;

    Government in Westminster – Labour.

    Therefore, between the period 1979 and 1997, the Welsh electorate voted by an overall majority for the Labour Party. But that party was not only unable to implement its own manifesto in Wales, but also unable to protect the electorate from the effect of Conservative policies, despite that electorate having voted for them. The consequence was the establishment of the National Assembly which, for the last 14 years, has been a fact.

  19. Rhobat, the only relevant fact here is that, whether you like it or not, the boundaries of Wales, as currently constituted, were not the boundaries of the sovereign polity for electoral purposes at the time. Whether or not they should be is, of course, precisely the subject under discussion. This has led on to the question, ‘What is Wales?’ It is difficult to sustain the notion that Wales, as currently constituted, is a natural or organic unity in terms of economic geography, and so, just looking at the map, there is no purely administrative reason why Wales should be the sovereign polity for electoral purposes. So that leaves national sentiment as the only sustainable argument why it should be – the very point you contested.

    The weakness of current Welsh nationalism is that, unlike its politically far more successful Scottish equivalent, it is reluctant to accept that national sentiment is founded mainly on historical tradition. What else makes us Welsh different? Race? One hopes that the once-popular notion of ‘race’ as the basis of nationhood is now thoroughly discredited. Common culture? Much as some might object, we are all, even the bilingual 20%, principally consumers of the provincial version of American culture that dominates the whole British Isles. Language? Not exactly a unifying force, judging by contributions to this website! The irony of the – honestly, no offence meant – oversensitivity of some nationalist contributors to aspects of their history which they dislike is that their failure to embrace their country’s historical tradition ignores the strongest weapon nationalism has at its disposal.

  20. Well, Dave, good luck in explaining to Wales’ benefit recipients that they won’t be gettng any money henceforth but they can be proud citizens of an independent state. Perhaps I underestimate my fellow-countryment but it doesn’t sound like a winner to me.

  21. @ JWR

    I’m afraid your argument is far too dogmatic to explain the complexities that led to the establishment of the National Assembly.

    Just as a footnote, the only sovereignty in the UK is that of the Queen in Parliament which makes Parliament the only sovereign body. There is, however. a tension between that principle and the fact that Governments are elected by democratic mandate.

    The fact that the elections were for a Westminster Parliament does not negate the point I was making. I have acknowledged in my comment above, the party that was elected as the government in Westminster. The key player in the run-up to the establishment of the Assembly was the Labour Party, not because it was in the vanguard of democratic reform during that period, but because it changed its mind. And it changed its mind because of the results indicated above.

    With regards your point on the importance of national sentiment, I remember attending a committee meeting of the Campaign for a Welsh Parliament, of which I was first Treasurer and then Secretary. One lecturer who was a member of the campaign said that one thing we could share was that we were all nationalists in the sense of we all belonged to the same nation. A Labour MP who was also present rejected this stating that it was a matter of democracy. My experience of this campaign was that establishing democratic accountability in the governance of Wales was the issue that united people, although they did come from different political and cultural backgrounds.

  22. Rhobat, politely ignoring the use of the word ‘dogmatic’ in a way that might be interpreted as pejorative – and which also calls to mind a proverb about pots and kettles – and passing over your failure to engage with any of the main points raised, there was nothing complex about the establishment of the Welsh Assembly. Excluded from national power for a prolonged period, the Labour Party grabbed any stick with which to beat the Conservatives. When they finally achieved power, they felt obliged to keep their promises without really thinking through the longer term consequences. A referendum in 1997, when Labour still had the momentum that had swept their beloved Mr Blair to an overwhelming victory, was only ever going to have one result – the only surprise was how close that result was in the end.

    Repeating the word ‘democracy’ is meaningless because the issue here is not democracy but the geographical boundaries of the polity within which that democracy operates. Why Wales? Why the present boundaries of Wales? Those are the questions you failed to address – and to which there is no answer unless you admit that the foundation of Wales as polity is national sentiment.

  23. R.Tredwyn – “independence is a pipe-dream to anyone with the ability to count to ten. Wales’ budget deficit is about a third of our GDP.”

    Lucky that I can count to ten and beyond then. Because I read (in the financial press) and the BBC and quoted that Wales (Governance) budget deficit is 3% while the UK’s current Budget deficit (Sky) is running at 10%. That means that since we are paying for the 10% not the 3% we are subsidising England to the tune of about 8%.

  24. @ JWR

    I use the word ‘dogmatic’ because of your repeated use of the word ‘only’. There is rarely ‘only’ one reason for anything. There are usually various reasons for a course of action, all of which have a differing degree of influence on the final outcome. Perhaps ‘dogmatic’ is unfair; ‘reductionist’ is perhaps more accurate.

    And perhaps reductionist is the word I would use to describe the idea that there was ‘nothing complex’ about the establishment of the Welsh Assembly. You assert that the Labour Party grabbed any stick with which to beat the Conservatives. But again that is an over-simplification. The Labour Party was not unanimous in its support for a devolved Assembly and the leadership had to work hard to take a reluctant membership with them. Many of their supporters, I suspect, voted against the proposal, the rejection by Cardiff of an Assembly was very likely the result of that. It was, in short, a complex and uncertain process.

    I don’t agree with your view that deciding to adopt the Assembly as their policy was a haphazard act. I believe they calculated that if there was an Assembly, it was likely to be Labour dominated. This would enable them to protect their voters from the policies emanating from Westminster and promote their own pollicy agenda. Political calculation in the light of experience, not haphazardness, was the basis of their decision to change their mind.

    You say that democracy is not the issue, but in relation to which question? In the context of establishing an Assembly, the absence of accountable Government in Wales was the unavoidable heart of the question. So what are you referring to when you say that democracy is irrelevant?

    What is also not clear from your comments is what you mean by national sentiment. You don’t seem to have any meaningful definition that it is possible to engage with. I can’t be accused of ignoring something that doesn’t exist.

    As for the question of why the non-historic nation of Wales has persisted for so long, I would point to linguistic, cultural and political characteristics which make the concept of Wales a necessity.

  25. Rhobat, far from being ‘irrelevant,’ democracy is the assumption on which this whole discussion rests. It is surely common ground between us that democracy is usually the best, or least-worst, mechanism for collective decision-making, so this discussion is not about that principle but about the boundaries of the polity within which democracy should operate. This is the dividing line between Unionists who think the sovereign polity should be the UK, Nationalists who think it should be Wales, and Federalists who believe it somehow can and should be both. Since you seem to be at some pains to reject the Nationalist label, the question for you is ‘What practical basis is there for Wales within its current boundaries being the polity for democratic purposes if you exclude national sentiment?’ It is a simple obvious and simple question, to which an articulate, and apparently educated and intelligent, activist should have an obvious and simple answer. Yet you have been given three opportunities and failed to address it. If you, as a Past Secretary of the Campaign for a Welsh Parliament arguably one of the architects of our present situation, do not have a ready answer, who does? Is there an answer?

    Wales within its current boundaries can hardly be described as a distinctive unity in terms of language, culture, or politics, as already explained in the 1048 post on 25th June. Far from not existing, our national history is the only thing that meets both tests of being distinct about Wales and common to the whole of Wales. As for a definition of Welsh national sentiment, a small book would be necessary to do the subject justice, and we are already in danger of monopolising this thread and abusing the hospitality of the Institute. However, should any kind publishers be reading this, such a book could quickly and happily be written if required…

  26. R.Tredwyn

    We’ve heard it all before, ‘too poor, too weak, too stupid – abandon hope’. You, RT, haven’t got a solution to offer at all – except stay in the workhouse, take the decreasing handouts and starve slowly. What you can’t explain is how poorer countries, with fewer resources, have managed to overtake Wales in 20 years from a much lower base.

    I’ve met plenty of people with your attitude during my life. It’s the attitude which has got Wales into the mess it’s in and what has kept us there. We should have stood up for ourselves a long time ago, but people like you claim we’re a basket case. It’s been shouted from the rooftops for so long people believe it’s true. Meanwhile Wales has sunk deeper and deeper into dependency. It isn’t sustainable. Before too long, external circumstances are going to force us to stand up for ourselves, and it’s going to be tough.

  27. @ JWR

    My point concerning democracy was in response to your assertion that national sentiment was behind the referendum campaign.

    Regarding your point on sovereignty, as I explained before, the Government in the UK is based on the principle of the sovereignty of Parliament which is devolved to Wales. The assertion that the people of Wales are sovereign is a political one, not a constitutional one. Whether it becomes so in future is a matter for debate; but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

    You ask the question:

    “What practical basis is there for Wales within its current boundaries being the polity for democratic purposes if you exclude national sentiment?”

    The practical basis is the fact that the electorate of Wales voted the Assembly into existence and gave it legislative powers and vote for their Government in elections.

    Wales is culturally diverse which is the norm in most modern democracies. However I would expect a greater degree of cultural cohesion as the authority of the Welsh Assembly is established.

    I agree that Welsh history does have the potential to outline the narrative to which all the people of Wales belong whatever their background, as demonstrated by John Davies’s excellent “History of Wales”. The difficulty is in disseminating that history. Plans to introduce Welsh history into schools are apparently under way but there is a lack of programmes on Welsh television that draws on our history, including dramas. The Story of Wales is a notable exception but it was a story rather than a history.

  28. Rhobat, at least we seem to agree on one thing: the people of Wales need to be more aware of the history of their country. However, we disagree about John Davies’ book: it was something of the proverbial curate’s egg – parts of it were indeed very good, but some bits read like the Labour Establishment History of Wales.

    Once again, you fail to answer the basic question, ’Why Wales within its existing boundaries if you exclude national sentiment?’ Your reference to the referendum is, of course, a circular argument, because the referendum only endorsed prior proposals, and the issue here is why those proposals referred specifically to Wales within its existing boundaries. The repeated failure of someone as well-qualified as yourself to provide a clear answer on this point suggests that there is no answer – unless you admit national sentiment as the decisive factor.

    Put it another way: if Wales has the right to opt out, wholly or partially, from the UK, then surely a given area has the right to opt out of Wales. This is a very big issue in Scotland at the moment, with Orkney, Shetland, and the Hebrides now taking a hand. So we could have Wales leaving the UK, Monmouthshire leaving Wales, certain villages leaving Monmouthshire, and individual houses leaving their villages …all rather fun in a ‘Passport to Pimlico’ sort of way, and appealing to those of us with a strong libertarian streak, but not, one suspects, what the Campaign for a Welsh Parliament had in mind. If you wish to keep Wales as currently defined united, the only valid – albeit far from decisive – argument on your side is recognition of Wales as a distinct historical entity.

  29. @ JWR

    So we agree on the importance of history and its teaching. John Davies is a left of centre historian but my understanding is that his sympathies are with Plaid Cymru.

    With regards national sentiment, I don’t know what you mean by national sentiment. And which comes first, the nation or the sentiment?

  30. Rhobat, what you say about John Davies is surprising but your word is enough to accept it. One lives and learns!

    Your final question is fascinating. Again, one could easily write a book in an attempt to answer it. If pushed for a one-word answer, it must be ‘nation’ – but subject to so many qualifications, reservations, and footnotes that space does not permit them.

  31. Part of the reason behind the book, and this is my interpretation only, was to offer a narrative which could be supported by both Labour and Plaid Cymru in support of devolution. If you listen to Ron Davies’s speeches at the time, you can hear the historical assumptions of the History of Wales in his wording, in my view. In a way, his conversion to Plaid Cymru was the logical conclusion of that.

    My point about the nation of Wales is that its existence has always been a disparate one. People identify themselves as being Welsh but for different reasons, based on their distinctive experiences. However the existence of Wales as a historic nation is something that only begins in 1999. Therefore Wales as a distinct polity, to use your phrase, is a new phenomenon which is still continuing to take shape. And its existence is due to the fact that the people who live within the boundaries of the non-historic nation voted for it.

    As for when Wales acquired its current boundaries, I would guess at the Laws in Wales Acts of 1536 and 1543 but I’m wandering dangerously out of my depth here,

  32. Rhobat, in an attempt to wrap this up on a note of partial harmony, it is impossible to disagree with the first two sentences of your second paragraph. Thereafter, of course, we part company!

    Purely from memory, without text or maps to hand, the Laws in Wales Acts did involve some ‘boundary alterations,’ but it is doubtful if anyone on either side of the debate would cite the ‘Act of Union’ as the beginning of a Welsh polity or seek to define the boundaries of Wales on that basis.

    The only independent Welsh polity with boundaries at all similar to today’s was the short-lived hegemony of the 11th Century King Gruffydd ap Llywelyn ap Seisyll, but, again from memory, he was almost certainly a liegeman of the English Crown.

    Finally, we can also agree that, whatever his political orientation, John Davies can be assured that he has had a definite impact on his country.

  33. Rhobat Bryn Jones

    “However the existence of Wales as a historic nation is something that only begins in 1999..”

    How would you explain the growth of the Cymru Fydd movement in the late 19thC, led by Tom Ellis MP and others? There was a definite political Home Rule movement in existence which had the support of the then ‘Welsh’ Liberal Party, which at one point held all the seats in Wales. Tory unionism contributed to its failure, followed by the high watermark of British unionism 1914-45, which put it into abeyance. Its re-emergence since bears witness to a national political consciousness having existed back to the time of the birth of modern democratic nation states during the 19thC.

    Taking a long view of history, and given the remorseless decline of the UK, with its deep social and economic tensions, its break-up is a matter of time. The Scottish referendum is a symptom of it, and may well result in its death knell. I think most of us on this island will, eventually, be better off and happier when it has passed into history. We might than have a positive future to look forward to, and to pass on to our children.

  34. Welsh deficit 3 per cent? You dropped a zero Dave. Welsh Government spending about £14.5billion; UK government spending in Wales nearly the same again, with over £9 billion of that being benefits. Wales population-based share of UK spending on things like debt servicing, aid and ‘defence’ another 5.5 billion. Total therefore well over £30 billion. Don’t take my word, you can look it up. Welsh tax receipts, less than £18 billion – estimated by Professor Rowthorne. Deficit is therefore at least £13 billion. Wales GDP is just under £45 billion. I’ll leave you to work out the percentage since you claim you can count to ten. Wales receives a huge net subsidy every year. This ‘triumph of the will’ stuff just won’t do. If you want to save your country you’ve got to face reality.

  35. How come poorer countries than Wales got richer you ask? Easy. When they were poor, they lived poor. No-one pumped in a subsidy so they could have the public services of a much richer country. In Wales we have much the same public services and welfare benefits as England – public spending per head is higher than in England with output and productivity just under three-quarters of the English level. If we were starting with everything down at 75 per cent, we could give it a crack but we’re not. Welsh people would have to see huge cuts in their benefits and public services if we went independent. That’s the problem. Tell you what: you persuade our fellow citizens it’s a good idea and I’ll join you and them on the barricades. I’m not holding my breath.

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