Wales – Country or Colony?

T N D Anderson argues that independence is the only remedy for economic marginalisation

Every weekday morning, hundreds of Wales’ best and brightest board trains for London and Manchester, or drive to Bristol or Birmingham.  There, they earn good incomes, admittedly most of which is spent in Wales.  Their rail fares and fuel costs go elsewhere, but that is small beer.  They also add substantially to the GVA/capita of the areas where they work and produce.  But not to that of Wales.

Our daily brain drain is probably our most significant export, yet Wales receives little return for it.  The Barnett formula does not account for it.  Overall, it is a large net loss.  But we cannot condemn them for choosing to work in England.  There are insufficient high-quality jobs in Wales currently to support the talented and innovative, whether graduates from Welsh universities or otherwise.  They have made the choice to seek better prospects across the border.  Who can blame them for making such a rational decision?

Will Wales ever provide sufficient quality work to retain those people and their skillsets here?  In part, the answer will be driven by external forces.  Climate change is continuing to drive up energy costs.  Commuting – already a waste of time, money and energy – is likely to become increasingly, even prohibitively, expensive and less frequent.  Deployment of ultra-speed broadband throughout Wales could facilitate much more home-working, and consequently higher local productivity.

Our existing transportation infrastructure is geared to meet the needs of England, and to a lesser extent Europe.  Most highways and railways run west to east across Wales, while north – south travel remains difficult.  This north – south divide harms our country politically – and economically.

Both the Labour Government in Wales and the UK Government are seemingly intent on providing further infrastructure – the New M4, the third Menai bridge – which will reinforce Wales’ position as a colony, supplying more of our most valuable resource, people, to enrich the economy of England.  And allowing microscopically more efficient passage for freight from Ireland to and from mainland Europe, without touching the sides.

Already, the GVA/capita of Wales is the lowest of any region of Britain.  There is no current initiative to redress this imbalance.  Transfer payments from the UK Treasury make little difference.  Fundamental structural reform appears on few agendas.  Similarly, smart and sustainable growth.

Following the London model, the Cardiff City Region wants to adopt beggar-my-neighbour policies to increase its GVA/capita, already the highest in Wales, at the expense of the rest of Wales.  The Metro – another unwise investment at its proposed scale and range – would aid and abet the pre-eminence of Cardiff.  Small business owners outside of Cardiff (and Swansea, another putative city region in the making), should be alarmed by the drift of employment and economic activity into the city.  This will undermine or bankrupt many local enterprises.

Continuing with and reinforcing the present model, in short, will perpetuate and exaggerate the differences in productivity between Cardiff and the rest.

Who cares?

Certainly not the Cardiff Establishment, which exhibits indifference to those outside it – in the Valleys, West, Mid and North Wales.  Leadership will not here be found – either in big business or in the unionist parties.  Despite all the data to the contrary, their interest is in holding on to the coat-tails of UK plc as being the best hope for Wales.

Well, we’ve tried that.  Ask anyone from Blaenau Gwent or Haverford West or Ynys Mon if they think it has worked?  Why has the proportion of hungry children in Wales increased from 31% to 33% in very recent years – despite the manifest brilliance of the UK Government’s financial and economic policies?

Fortunately, the Federation of Small Businesses, trade unions and many local councils have a clearer idea of how Wales could flourish.  Sensibly, the FSB opposes the New M4 as irrelevant to the needs of Wales.  The Wales TUC, in conjunction with the New Economics Foundation, has argued for a new industrial strategy for Wales.  These are the people and organisations with their feet on the ground – where we all live and attempt to survive the vicissitudes of austerity and other counter-productive or ideologically driven Westminster policies.

There is no doubt that the Labour Government in Wales is culpable to the extent that they have been able to influence policy.  Fair play to them, they have softened the worst of the clumsy mendacity reaching us from across the border.  But not much.  Some will hope that Jeremy Corbyn will make a difference.  To the upper reaches of the Labour Party in both Wales and England though, Corbyn is just a bad dream that will soon end, and business as usual can resume.  A cosy capitalist cabal, with only a tiny tinge of socialism…

At least since Thatcher, England has been a land of no alternatives.  The peculiar cast of mind that challenges the status quo is absent, the intellectual community has been quietened, the universities have been emptied of mavericks, brown crap rules, and economists are in disarray, as ever.  Meanwhile, the Government is not listening.  Perfect.

Much of Scotland has realised that England has been doing them few favours.  Independence there is surely inevitable.  It is apparent from this blog that people in Wales have been doing some serious thinking about our country as well.  Voices in the wilderness as yet maybe, but dissatisfaction is rising, and the people of Wales are beginning to think like the Scots.

Economic power flows from political power.  Scotland’s renaissance is beginning.  Mere devolution is proving not to be enough. Scotland’s strong national identity, much deepened by the referendum, has fostered a demand for self-government and independence.
Scottish solutions for Scottish problems…

Wales can choose to remain under Auntie England’s wing, and remain a peripheral basket-case with a limping economy.  Or it too can say, we can do it better than Westminster and Whitehall!  Welsh solutions for Welsh problems!

Is Wales to be, or not to be?  Country or colony, that is the question.  It is in our hands.

When we vote in May 2016 for the National Assembly, do we commit ourselves to marginal economic prospects for another four years? Or do we vote for change, and unequivocally begin our journey to self-realisation as a country and a culture?

Neil Anderson is a New Zealander of fully Scottish descent, and proud to be New Welsh.

23 thoughts on “Wales – Country or Colony?

  1. “Every weekday morning, hundreds of Wales’ best and brightest board trains for London and Manchester, or drive to Bristol or Birmingham”

    This is very true… and I wonder what percentage of them are non Welsh speakers? A significant majority I should think. We know for a fact from census data that our young people are far more likely to move to England if they don’t speak Welsh and on that basis I’d wager that they are also significantly more likely to commute to England to work as well….. and Who could blame them? Over there they are treated on the basis of equality and for their relevant skills. There, they can progress their careers normally without having artificial boundaries placed in their way.

  2. I think this is a naive and ill-informed piece. I’ll leave aside the obvious fiscal deficit point – it’s been well-rehearsed many times elsewhere, and I’m surprised that Neil is apparently ignorant of it. Then again, the article provides little evidence of that it takes account of essential economic facts.

    Even if Wales was independent, there would still be substantial cross-border commuting (unless the frontier was closed). This is a simple function of economic geography. There are good jobs in Cheshire and Bristol, and relatively cheap housing within commutable distance in Wales. If someone with a well-paid job in Bristol chooses to live in Chepstow, what’s the problem? As the author himself admits, they spend their salary locally and generate demand for their hometown shops, restaurants and tradespeople.

    As for the transport issue: east-west links have been the dominant economic vectors in Wales since the days of the drovers, and probably before (at the time the economy was subsistence-based, and trade less important). Wales has a small population which is concentrated in its coastal belts and southern valleys. The area in-between is mountainous and sparsely settled. There is no large, unexploited market there. You could turn the A470 into a motorway and downgrade the M4 to single carriageway, but motorists and hauliers would still be clamouring to use the latter rather than the former.

  3. Cue the usual anti-Welsh language comments from the same sad individuals who hate the language and its speakers with all their might! They are British (read ‘English’) nationalists, and the Welsh language is evidence that the forced assimilation of Wales and England has failed- so far. No wonder they hate it then, it is a symbol of Welsh separateness.

  4. Is there a reason so many anti welsh people frequent this site. People who want to keep the welsh down. convince them they are not even a country.
    Go away people. If you hate wales so much why live there?

  5. It’s interesting as I see people in London finding London increasingly unworkable due to rocketing house prices and poor family life, more want to come home. I also see some industries thinking more regionally post credit crunch. I went and came back feeling that Wales was my home and where I belong. It’s been very hard career-wise – good jobs are scarce but I want to help wales’ economy and actively look for ways to do so.

  6. Mr Anderson invites us to “vote for change”, but what party is offering the change he wants?

    Only a few weeks ago Ms Wood made it clear on Question Time that Plaid Cymru under her leadership would not campaign for independence. So what party will?

  7. Wales appears to conform closely with the model of internal colonialism developed by Michael Hechter and others. Political dependence leads inevitably to economic rundown of the dominated nation – little wonder Wales faces an unfavourable budget deficit, not that the UK has much to shout about. In the long run, independence is the only answer.

  8. Two of the first three comments in reply to this post are either insinuating that Cymraeg is holding Wales back or that Wales is simply too small, too poor and too stupid.

    We’ve had over a thousand years of Wales being run for the benefit of another country and it hasn’t done us any favours. Time to change the record.

  9. This is not a Welsh/English thing this is a rural/urban thing which is reflected the world over. The author should be all too familiar with the dominance of Auckland & to a much lesser extent, Wellington within his own country and the brain drain as New Zealander’s board the flights for London, Sydney and Los Angeles.

    Freedom of movement of labour is a good thing – that’s how we got Gatland.

  10. “Is Wales to be, or not to be? Country or colony, that is the question. It is in our hands”

    Well if you put it like that….

    But that’s the whole problem, it’s how you make the case. The North East could probably bemoan its lot in much the same terms but wouldn’t consider itself a colony. It’s just the pejorative rhetoric that makes your piece look like it has substance. In reality it is just piffle.

  11. I’m glad that these comments have been made in terms of a colonial analysis – its seems to encapsulate the weak excercise of power in this country – the faltering will to make lasting changes. Some of the comments in response are good examples of that lack of political confidence. Why do we let this Imperial mindset hold us back?

    Nationalism and independence are increasingly disputed and thereby unhelpful words, but the need to make a strong, sustainable future surely begins at our feet. We can all agree on that can’t we?

  12. J Protic is so right. The Welsh language – that tribal tongue – must be banned, if we are to have any chance of increasing our GDP by 0.001% over the next five years.

  13. Ken Thompson

    Don’t forget another good reason for banning the use of Welsh – bilingual children tend to become too intelligent and therefore they tend to stray from home.

  14. Unusually polite response Ken Thomson and surprised the usual wrath I get is missing from these pages including messages of support!

    Through the Y Fro stranglehold of the Welsh media, especially BBC / ITV Wales and Trinity Mirror papers, corrosive and damaging aspects of the Welsh language imposition are never debated or even questioned.

    Ignoring the damage done so far just think about the future as it’s no longer possible to have teachers with no Welsh language skills in primary education including the EM schools.

    Welsh Medium higher education is in overdrive to produce a new breed of ‘Perfect Teachers’ in Welsh language terms and many of those that have or will be unleashed on our kids often have inadequate English language literacy or adequate numeracy!

    Will this format of education help Wales to develop in economic terms and have young people that would make us proud internationally or it would stifle and damage progress effectively for ever?

  15. “bilingual children tend to become too intelligent and therefore they tend to stray from home”

    actually the census data and ONS reports show clearly that it is the monoglots who are far more likely to leave Wales than their Welsh speaking counterparts. I’m not sure it has anything to do with intelligence though…except that they are intelligent enough to realise that the oppressive social engineering and preferential treatment of Welsh speakers within the public sector has effectively given them no other option.

  16. “bilingual children tend to become too intelligent” That’s interesting…but what are you saying exactly?

    All bilingual children are more intelligent that all monolingual children on average?
    Any bilingual child will be more intelligent than any monolingual child?
    Bilingual children will be more intelligent than they would have been if they weren’t bilingual? (How do you check on that by the way? How do you compare the same child at the same age with the same developmental history once as a bilingual and once as a monolingual?)
    How, in any case, do you explain away Prof Susan Gathercole’s extensive 2014 study of bilingual and monolingual children in Wales that showed no bilingual advantage in cognitive function?

  17. There is a general academic consensus (across a wide range of countries and languages) that children who learn at least two languages tend to do better than monoglots. That is all.

  18. This says it all “Economic power flows from political power” and it will take time.

    For those of you who make a choice to stay here; brilliant you can be a part of the solution. If you don’t wish to help us to succeed you are just part of the problem regardless of whether you speak Welsh or not.

    I feel that Wales as a country has so many opportunities and can be small enough to change and change quickly but we need to build our confidence and skills; far too many people are prepared to blame every thing, including the Welsh language, for their own lack of success or abilities or opportunities.

    It never stopped me and it gave me the confidence to be not scared to be different; a quality that served me well through all of my career. Be brave grasp whatever opportunity that is out there. go on you can do it!!

  19. Brian,

    And many of us choose to return after being educated elsewhere and developing careers outside of Wales. This is a hard country to think about leaving forever. That fear creeps up on you as you get older – hiraeth is a pretty powerful thing and I don’t think the people who constantly run Wales down really appreciate how lucky they are to live here. I’m sure that a healthy proportion of the youth who leave today will return, it might take them time to work out how to do it if the jobs aren’t there, but the real entrepreneurs will find a way and we need to support and encourage them to do that.

  20. aledf,

    I don’t worry about those who have been away and returned with global experience. It is the one eyed views of those who haven’t that vexes me – especially when I find them running the legislature.

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