A sweeping re-distribution of power from Government to… Theresa May?

In 2010 the Tory Party made a commitment to making “the use of the Royal Prerogative subject to greater democratic control so that Parliament is properly involved in all big national decision…

Source: A sweeping re-distribution of power from Government to… Theresa May?

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It is only a week since the EU referendum. It seems like a year. Some poor deluded people think that’s it, we’re out. In fact it’s only just beginning and we have years of wrangling ahead of us. We may never leave the EU. Why 52% voted for Leave is discussed at length. Of course politicians have to be careful what they say so as not to offend the many loyal constituents who voted for Leave. It would be awkward to suggest any of them voted because of xenophobia, or bigotry, or ignorance. Righteous UKIP supporters have complained of being called racists, even as their leaders promoted horror stories of millions of Eastern Europeans, Turks and even Syrians swarming over our little island if we don’t take back control. UKIP supporters posted on facebook with jolly little slogans like “Piss off, we’re full”, harking back to the good old days when landladies freely put up signs saying ‘No Dogs, No blacks, No Irish’. An article in the Telegraph as recently as March 2015, before the General Election, concluded: “Well, here you go. Ukip’s leader believes racial discrimination in the workplace should be legalised. Not just discrimination on the grounds of nationality, but on the grounds of colour and race. ‘No dogs. No blacks. No Irish.’ That Ukip policy in full.”   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/nigel-farage/11467713/No-dogs.-No-blacks.-No-Irish-is-now-Ukip-policy.html

So why did people vote for Leave? We can’t look into the minds of 17 million people. But before the referendum I made probably too many forays into the darkness that is social media and engaged with Brexit people. It was interesting but confusing. I was so perplexed by what I was reading that I made some notes one day in February, a good three months before the voting. I had a most enjoyable conversation on Facebook with a group of Leave.EU / Brexit people. Enjoyable because it did not descend as it so often did to personal abuse. In my conversations with Brexit people I had been told I was ‘a traitor to my country’, ‘should go back to Broadmoor’ and worse.

One facebook ‘conversation’ started with a post from a young woman who worked in financial services and was excited by a Daily Express ‘poll’ that found 92% wanted to leave the EU. This was February, remember. It was an online poll of Express website readers and, even though she agreed they would be brexit biased, she still claimed it was “a huge result”. The role of the press in the referendum has been questioned and there’s no doubt ‘news’ like this has had an influence. The role of politicians also needs to be questioned. She was impressed by “a classic quote” from the classical Tory James Rees-Mogg who said: “It shows the Prime Minister’s deal is failing to butter parsnips.” Such a clever comment and the quaint, old-fashioned language that captures the mind of the great British public but adds absolutely nothing of any substance to the debate. Some might say that was the essence of the Leave campaign. At the time Cameron thought his ‘deal’ would solve everything but already brexit people were turning against him, even though it was he who had given them the referendum.

A man called something like Disney Dingleberry-Sloe quickly replied. He wanted to leave the EU, thought that we would vote to do so, but thought “there will be no panic or tanks or burning of buildings”. That was good to know. He thought that life goes on quite happily for countries outside of the EU and the same will be true of us. How he was so certain he didn’t say. He thought that the UK leaving will be the end of the EU because it’s the UK that has kept it going all these years! There you have the brexit idea that ‘they need us more than we need them’. This idea was reinforced by the brexiter notion that the UK is a self-contained ‘little island’ – always ‘little’ and always ‘full’ – but which can bravely stand on its own two feet. Many brexit people think that the Second World War was won entirely by Great Britain ‘standing alone’ against who else but those Germans.

Another brexit reason for leaving, that we’re in a mess but it’s all the EU’s fault, was more curious. One contributor pointed out: “We don’t need a share of Euro problems when we have enough of our own”. Trying to explain that our problems are largely of our own making made no difference to the belief that leaving the EU would ‘sort everything out’. Close the gate, lock the door, draw the curtains and everything will be fine. One brexit person thoughtfully added that “We may well prosper”, suggesting he had some doubts about leaving. He happily avoided the fact that we have already prospered over the last 40 years. Again, for those who hadn’t prospered as well as others, the blame was nothing to do with our governments, it was all the EU. In essence they seem to be saying that everything’s gone wrong since we joined the EU so if we leave we’ll manage quite nicely on our own and everything will be fine. One brexiter said: “I just think we are a nation struggling to stay afloat” citing the debt mountain, NHS struggling, roads, food, blah, blah. I pointed out that all of these domestic problems have nothing to do with membership of the EU and are completely within our government’s control. No answer.

One brexiter thought that we would vote Leave because “when the British public are taken for a ride, as they have been by British politics over the last 40 years since the so called common market, they will become like donkeys and resist. Pushing us towards the EU will just make the masses vote NO”. Looking at his profile, these were the words of an apparently well-educated, intelligent and seemingly prosperous middle aged man in middle England. He seemed not to know if it was British politics or the EU that was the problem. British public taken for a ride? Pushing us towards the EU? We’re already in it, we don’t need to be pushed. The public will become like donkeys and resist? The problems laid at the EU’s door are so often of our own making but brexit people ignore this and blame the EU. There’s no logic but worse, there’s a denial of any responsibility, just slightly stroppy moaning and wingeing like a spoilt child who’s been cosseted for too long, who just starts not liking things and demanding something else on a whim. Like Andy Pipkin in the aptly named ‘Little Britain’ TV show, asking for things without even looking at what he’s asking for: “I don’t like it – Want that one”. After the referendum quite a few Leave voters have admitted they voted ‘on a whim’.

Andy Pipkin

Then there was the belief that we are totally dominated and dictated to by the EU and by Germany in particular, if not Angela Merkel. This was sometimes accompanied by mutterings of Nazi Germany. You’d think we were still fighting WW2. To read some comments you’d think people are prisoners in their own homes which of course are also controlled by ‘EU laws’, viz: toasters, hair driers, bananas. One brexiter said that no one had yet given him a single reason why we should continue to submit to “EU domination” and that “we (the UK) are fully capable of making our own laws that best suit our people (everyone living here) and our land (all of it, The Falkland, Gibraltar etc)”. Gibraltar of course was notable for voting 97% to Remain, and the Falklands weren’t allowed to vote.

Another said that the EU is “a massive unelected bureaucratic dictatorship”. At this point I wondered how much brexit people really know about the EU. I wondered how seemingly reasonable and aware people could say: “Norway and Switzerland continue to trade with Europe. But their people get a say in how their country is governed. What laws are made.” Unlike the UK, where we have absolutely no say in how our country is governed?

Mention of the Falklands and Gibraltar as part of ‘our land’ suggest that part of the brexit psyche still dreams of Britain and its Empire. The feeling of loss seems to have endured and fed into a loss of identity. One brexiter wrote that “there is nothing wrong with wanting to take your country back and recover your identity. This is not jingoistic, this is simply placing more value on your country than our politicians seem to”. I looked at his facebook profile and saw he is born and bred British but lives in the Philippines where he owns a company that provides ‘a powerful data management system designed specifically for Realtors’. Nothing wrong with that but how much does he value his country? Probably in US dollars per square foot.

Oh, and then there was the cost of it all! This was the biggest success of the Leave campaign, sustaining the big lie about the cost of the EU, painted on its battlebus. One brexiter wrote “If we weren’t sending £55m a day to the EU let alone all the other things we are fired [sic] to provide and pay out for other things then we may be able to pay for the NHS, roads, education, etc!” Yes, Farage’s fabled £55m a day or £20bn a year. I pointed out it’s nearer £30m or £11bn a year. To put it into context I told him the UK Tax Gap (tax that should have been collected but wasn’t) was about £119bn a year, including £18bn alone of debts written off by HMRC. But it didn’t matter as much as ‘them’ wasting ‘our’ money. That’s one of the most pervasive brexiter ideas, that it’s ‘us’ and ‘them’. It’s ‘us’ and the EU, not accepting that we are in the EU. I tried to convince one proud English woman that she was British and European but she wasn’t having it. She conceded some of her family’s ancestors were Huguenots but they didn’t count because it was before the 1600s.

Brexiters are never racist and one kind gent who didn’t like foreign immigrants assured me he’s not jingoistic. For many of the brexit people the immigrants were the cause of all our ills and of course it’s the EU that allows them in. One said: “2008 all over again is not good for anybody.” Those Eastern Europeans; no good for anybody. There was nothing like immigration for unleashing a steady dribble of immigrant horror stories. In one facebook conversation a brexiter told me of: “many British youngsters that tell me that they cannot compete with European workers living 20 to a building, or in cars.” This stretched my credulity. I’m sure there are some plucky Brits who could beat that, but twenty people in one car is impressive. I was told that some of these European workers even live “in the woods (yes I can give you photographic evidence of what two Eastern Europeans built in an area of outstanding natural beauty beside my house – to live in. Until one of my neighbours found it and destroyed it.” Such nice British neighbours. And the reason that British people can’t do this is because “British people have British costs.” Yes, really, that’s what this brexiter said! “A British family of 4 with a mortgage in a small house will spend around 1000-1500 a month minimum to just live”, so that clearly explains why it’s wrong for ‘Europeans’ to live 20 to a house. Because they’re not playing fair. Bloody foreigners. Our Brexiter continued with this: “I recently helped a friend inspect a property he was concerned had more than the person on the AST living in it. He had every reason to be worried. We turned up at 10pm, the 2 bed house had 15 people in. All quite chilled, all very sensible people in garden chairs and all quite comfy…lots of mattresses…however, I took from that that their accommodation costs must have been about 25 GBP a week each. I do not know many young British workers that would live like that, it’s just not in our DNA … each to their own but it’s not apples with apples. They can and will work for very low wages and make it work.” He wasn’t worried that 15 people were sharing a house, only that they weren’t paying enough. It’s not unscrupulous British employers paying less than the minimum wage that are to blame, it’s the EU.

That was just a few hours on facebook, back in February. What saddened me then, and still does, is that our once great and outward looking Britain has turned in on itself like a frightened child. European is what we are, geographically, culturally and socially. We should be playing our part in Europe and not cutting ourselves off from it. We are constantly reminded that ‘the British people have spoken’ but we’ll see

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Work to start on £500m Circus of Wales

Circus of Wales text

01 April 2015 Last updated at 01:23

Work to start on £500m Circus of Wales

2,000 acres of beautiful open land near Ebbw Vale will be transformed into the £500m Circus of Wales to host all kinds of international acts. The project will include a massive circus ring, off-road driving facilities, a hostel and a complex leisure complex.

Work on the Circus of Wales will start before Christmas if someone on the local council says OK.

Lewis Jones Lloyd, Head of the Head of the Valleys Company said: “We envisage our construction partners O’Hara Groundworks being on site very soon.” He added: “The Circus of Wales will be more successful than even I can imagine.”

Lloyd Jones Lewis, Circus of Wales CEO, said: “Sustainability is at the forefront of everything we do not only now but for our children and their children’s children. Future proofing is a given.”

Lewis Lloyd Jones, Head of Sustainable People Development, said the scheme had reached a “huge milestone”, adding “this means we are now a major step closer to delivering a sustainable and vibrant future for the people of the Valleys, their children and their children’s children”.

As part of the deal, the Head of the Valleys Company has committed to a total of £200m for the community to spend as they wish and £100m a year to help local people to continue their traditional workless lifestyles. The company has agreed in principle with Natural Resources Wales to enhance biodiversity including facilities for travelling people, fly tipping and a wild pony population.

The first phase of the Circus of Wales will be the construction of a state of the art circus ring designed to host international events and a centre for circus-related industries such as horse trading, drug smuggling and people trafficking.

Circus ring

Professor Garage Rhys of the Welsh Automaton Forum, commented: “Inward investment, Ford, Jaguar, entrepreneurship, 1970s, price to pay, enterprise zones, hit the ground running, economic hotspots, good multiplying effects, WDA, those were the days, Brynglas tunnels, better links to motorways, GDP, value added, multipliers, when I was a boy…” He added: “I could go on…”

A fund of £100m will be given to the community to fund artworks for the Circus of Wales. Viarde Stärcke, of Creative Urban Rendition, explained: “I welcome the opportunity to engage local people in mucking around with recycled waste to create community based legacy artworks that will kickstart a vibrant and sustainable people focussed environment for people”.

Welsh composer Karl Jenkin is writing a symphony for the Circus for Wales inspired by a 19th century bardic ballad ‘Y Clowniau Cymru’. The world premiere will be performed at Ebbw Vale’s Beaufort Theatre & Ballroom. Mr Jenkin said: “I am a musical tourist. Like the Circus of Wales, I take my influences from around the world and put them together.”

Baron Elis Elis Thomas, revered Welsh nationalist and cultural critic, commented: “I have spoken of nationalism growing out of the bowels of Welsh social democracy, and now I see it bursting from the loins of a circus ring.” He added: “Anything that benefits my beloved Wales is welcome; it is unfortunate that this project does not.”

Jonty Adams, sharp-end, fashionable, avant-garde architect of the Iconic Wales Millennial Centre© and occasional Sir Clough Williams-Ellis impersonator, looked forward to the project sweeping away the tired Valleys communities and replacing them with a National Parks style environment free of poverty and poor transport links.

Cultural historian Professor Dai Word-Smith, Raymond Chandler Chair of Research into Literature and Language, speaking from the bar of Pontypridd Rugby Club, countered with: “God spare me! We need poets!” An old man outside shouted: “Bastards!”

Ardent Welsh Nationalist Leader Reeanne Wood pleaded: “I’m Valleys through and through I’m telling you, I was born in the Rhondda and still live in the street where I grew up and still buy my sweets from the corner shop where my mother and her mother before her bought theirs. The Valleys is where I live and if that Adams thinks he can clear away our lovely old terraces he’s got another thing coming, the thought of it, no matter how far-fetched it may be, fills me with revulsion. The time for inertia as far as the Valleys are concerned is over. Will the people decide now we are not prepared to tolerate this neglect any longer? It’s time to take a stand and fight for our children’s future and their children’s children’s…….”

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Famous People who have met Ian Layzell

Janet Street Porter: she met Ian at the Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture while she was there from 1966 – 1969. She was plain Janet Bull then and not quite as famous as she is now. But she was well known and you couldn’t miss her with those long legs and loud larf!

John Peel: It was 15 Dec 1967 at the AA all-night Carnival at the Roundhouse in Camden Town, London – when the Roundhouse was still a ruin. Second Year students organised this annual event and Ian had been chosen to be ‘Carnival King’ of the organising committee. We had hired an up and coming DJ to do stuff between the main acts. Some time in the early hours, Ian retired to the gallery with his girlfriend to gaze at the throbbing masses below (over 2,000 people). They were sitting on the edge of the Roundhouse gallery when they were joined by the young Mr Peel, who shared their grapes and two bottles of Martini and conversed about how the night was going. He had just joined BBC’s new Radio 1 to co-present Top Gear.

Enoch Powell MP: He was the Conservative politician famous for his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. He met Ian around 1970/71 on a bus going along Oxford Street, London. Ian was working with architects down Regent Street. He hopped (as you did then) onto a 73 bus and sat down on one of the ‘bench’ seats at the back, next to a dapper old gent wearing pin stripe suit and bowler hat, with a leather briefcase on his lap. It was Enoch Powell, who obviously knew Ian had sat next to him. He said nothing, so when Ian was getting off at Tottenham Court Road he bade Mr Powell ‘Good Afternoon’.

Barbara Dickson: The Scottish singer (still going strong) was a friend of one of Ian’s friends. We used to eat sometimes at a Greek Restaurant off Holloway Road. Barbara lived nearby and also dined there, which is how she met Ian. It must have been around 1977, just after her top ten ‘Answer Me’ in 1976.

Andy Warhol: In July 1978 Ian was working on alterations to the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London with architects Levitt Bernstein, and got invited along to the private viewing of the Andy Warhol ‘Athletes’ Exhibition. There was Andy, large as ‘life’, standing in front of Ian. As he didn’t say anything, Ian ventured a cheery ‘hello’. Andy was lost for words and didn’t reply. He looked white and vacant.

Christopher Reeve (aka Superman): it was 1977/78 while Reeve was living in London for the filming of Superman at Pinewood Studios. Ian was working at Levitt Bernstein architects in Camden Town. When we felt like something a bit more special for lunch than lovely Stella’s Café on Parkway, we’d stroll down to this smart new wine bar on Delancey Street. Who should be on the next table but Chris Reeve and who must have been his lady friend at that time, Gae Exton. Let’s hope so. Anyway, that’s when Christopher met Ian.

Celia Birtwell: Celia had married another famous Sixties fashion designer, Ossie Clark, in 1969. Ian went to a party given by a fellow architect around 1987. Celia was there. Maybe because she’d heard Ian was going to be there. Maybe not. Ian remembers talking to her about home furnishing. As it happened, in 1984 she had set up a shop on Westbourne Park Road selling furnishing fabrics.

Margaret Thatcher: Ian was working at London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC). Mrs Thatcher had become Prime Minister in 1983 and on 13 April 1984 she made a formal visit. Walking round the LDDC office in the Fred Olsen building (arch. Norman Foster) on Millwall Dock, she came up to Ian’s desk and asked: “And what do you do?” Ian can’t (or doesn’t want to) remember what he said in reply.

Jermaine Jackson: Jermaine being former member of The Jackson 5 and brother of Michael Jackson. He’d just finished as runner-up in Celebrity Big Brother. It was late Sunday night on 4 Feb 2007 at Leigh Delamere Services on the westbound M4 Motorway. We stopped for a toilet break and Ian went off to the Gents. It was quiet but there were some dark suited heavies with ear-pieces standing around. Ian went to wash his hands in one of the large circular stainless steel ‘basins’ that are peculiar to Leigh Delamere. On the other side of the bowl, washing his hands, was Jermaine in his ‘Big Brother’ greatcoat buttoned up to the neck but no shades! Jermaine looked pleased to be meeting Ian but was so surprised he was lost for words.‘Good evening Mr Jackson, and all the very best to you’, said Ian.

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National Natter Initiative: sustainable conversations

I attended this ground breaking event recently; here’s an account by organiser Manon Topp:
#supperclubwafflesession and ‘That Thing That’s Hiding Over By There’
Posted on May 30, 2014
By: Manon Topp, Founder, Director and Life President of Leading Leadership Leads Cymru

On Friday night we held our latest #supperclubwafflesession as part of the National Natter initiative with the Commissioner for Sustainable Living Scenarios on behalf of @WhatWeWantIsWales. Great people, great food, great wine, a few gassy beers and great conversation. That’s what #supperclubwafflesession is all about and that’s exactly what we had on Friday night. Fabulous!

The Commissioner for Sustainable Living Scenarios gave a really helpful introduction and set the scene ahead of us tucking into our starter of hand potted smoked mackerel and fennel shavings on brown bread (from a locally sourced artisan baker) toasted over a renewable Welsh woodburning grill, or Perl Wen glazed parsnip and sun blushed tomato tart accompanied by a lovely Château Guirauton Sauvignon Blanc, clean and bright, with a pale lemon colour, gently aromatic, notes of lemon zest, elderflower and peaches. Superb!

Our tables discussed each of the three main conversation questions relating to the Welsh Government’s draft goals underpinning the foundations for building the structure of ‘Wales What We Want’ and the Future Living Scenarios Bill. It wasn’t easy, particularly in view of the glorious food in front of us! Ardderchog!

Over the starter we discussed: Goals? What Goals? No, it wasn’t about Cardiff Bluebirds, as someone humorously suggested! Funny! Then we discussed: Do we need a Goal keeper? over a main course of organically bred Rump of Welsh Lamb with minted Pembroke new potatoes and Bro Morgannwg runner beans washed down with a delightful Château Angludet Cabernet Sauvignon with its aromas of sweet bright fruit jumping out of the glass and silky velvety red berry notes; or a fish course of responsibly sourced Teifi Sewin pan fried in Penclawdd cockle butter with sauté potatoes, hand foraged renewable wild samphire and another bottle of Château Guirauton. Marvellous!

The last question: How many Goals? was pondered over a gorgeous organic Welsh Dairy Chocolate tart with Welsh Vanilla ice cream or Panacotta with poached Fairtrade peaches, all eased down by the honeyed sweetness of a Château Doisy-Védrines Sauvignon Blanc & Sémillon. Divine!

After dessert, co-facilitator Julian Callender effortlessly eased us into pulling our conversations together with the help of an extraordinary Château Suduiraut Sémillon Blanc which was utter liquid decadence! Honestly, it felt naughty quaffing this magnificent wine. Heady aromas of white peach, passion fruit, pineapple and mango all interwoven with clotted cream. Somebody bring me a spoon! Bendigedig!

Then, over an ethically produced Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Arabica coffee and locally hand crafted after dinner mints, Julian (thank goodness he was there!) collated our key thoughts for feedback into the larger ‘National Natter’ debate. I will upload these in a separate blog post, but one important thing which emerged from our supper conversation I would like to raise here: ‘That Thing That’s Hiding Over By There’. Challenging!

In our discussions we were overwhelmingly committed to seeking out stories of Welsh successes to engage pride, develop belief and aspirations in a Wales that is not just the land of our fathers, grandfathers or mothers but the land of our grandchildren, a nation responding to our rugby heritage and engendering a narrative of pride, belief, real unity and warm feelings of inclusiveness. We all really wanted to see a Wales where everyone is united and happy and has comfy sofas and likes a cwtch and is engaged with hearts and minds in shared pride, belief and aspirations that really can build success and a sustainable living scenarios for now and evermore. Exciting!

But I thought, what is ‘That Thing That’s Hiding Over By There’? This would be a great place to start thinking about helping us to really create the real Wales What We Want. We are a land full of things hiding over by there: things we don’t like, that we can’t discuss or resolve, conflicts and jealousies that we allow to flourish under the surface but never name or acknowledge, incomprehensible public sector jargon or management speak and lots of other stuff. Extraordinary!

For me our most important ‘Thing That’s Hiding Over By There’ is the cultural-societal mindset that says in order to change the way we manage change we must look for things to fix and find someone to blame for what’s wrong instead of celebrating what is successful and then doing more of it. It dawned on me after finishing the last bottle of Château Doisy-Védrines that the way forward is to adopt a Reductive Inquiry method, a really simply change management tool, working out what works successfully, working out how it works and then working on doing more of what works. It is a working thought process that is about engaging everyone to work in a structured working conversation with clear purpose then continues to work as a shared way of working. Nice!

But the very real issue we face in approaching ‘That Thing That’s Hiding Over By There’ is that we must challenge and change our deep-rooted assumptions from the ones that are currently and strongly in place and which drive our behaviours to look for problems and to try and fix them then examine, make visible through conversation and debate our current assumptions and collectively, individually, culturally and societally agree and change our beliefs. Without this conversation the best kind of change cannot happen and we will fall back into problem solving mode and blaming other people for making mistakes and being nasty to each other in our usual way. Let’s get rid of ‘That Thing That’s Hiding Over By There’ and build the ‘Wales What We Want’ for our grandchildren, pets, wildlife, flowers and other people. Godidog!

A huge thank you to everyone who took part and also to @CharliesFastFoodCardiff. Fabulous!

To be continued in another blog! Brilliant!

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St David, Silk and Scotland

I wrote this on St David’s Day 2014 after watching the BBC 1 Question Time TV programme the week before which was broadcast from Newport, South Wales. During this programme I felt some uneasiness towards the distinctly negative attitude of many of the audience towards issues such as immigration (stop it), NHS Wales (useless) and the Welsh Government (get rid of it). Distinctly negative to me, that is. What’s going on, I wondered; this didn’t seem like an audience of the Welsh people who, I’ve always thought, are more caring and sharing than the average Brit.

Which got me thinking about this nation that I have such fondness for, and sympathy with, and asking myself if ‘my’ Wales is an illusion? Before I go any further, I’ll deal with the first of many confusions; is Wales a country or a nation? I opt for the generally accepted view that a country is an independent, self-governing political entity. Examples of such entities that are not countries being, most notably, the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. According to the internationally accepted legal definition of the League of Nations in 1937, reaffirmed by the United Nations in 1945, a resident of a ‘country’ is subject to the independent exercise of legal jurisdiction. People in Wales cannot claim to have that. A ‘nation’, on the other hand, is generally taken to describe a group of people who share a common history, language or culture. You could say it’s debatable whether or not Wales, England, Scotland or Northern Ireland fit that description today. But if they’re not countries, they must be nations. Unhelpfully, the constituent ‘nations’ of the UK are referred to as ‘countries’ on the UK government’s website.

Never mind for now; Wales has been my home for the last twenty one years; a third of my life and by that measure is my home ‘nation’. My parents were from Hampshire and Yorkshire, so were English (if Yorkshire folk accept themselves as English). I was born and spent a large part of my early years abroad so have no particular affiliation to England or, for that matter, no particular affinity to the idea of being British. I have a British or should I say ‘United Kingdom’ passport but I could have had, by virtue of birth, a Malaysian passport. Wales is home and it’s where my heart is.

Which is why I was a little upset by the Question Time audience. I like to think that Wales is different to the rest of Britain and particularly to its neighbour, England. I tell myself that, yes, this is Wales! Like most Welsh people, I get that special feeling of coming home when I pass the Croeso sign on the motorway. This is a different country, it is not England; it has its own distinct identity. It has its own language, too, which may not be too evident in spoken form but is clearly in evidence in place names, road signs, magazines and books. If anyone asks me where I’m from or what I am, my answer is Wales and Welsh. This is especially entertaining when answering anyone abroad or Americans who, if they have heard of Wales at all, know it as Wales, England.

That’s fine, but what exactly is ‘Wales’ and what does it mean to be ‘Welsh’? St David – Dewi Sant – is the patron saint of Wales. Dewi is reckoned to have died in the year 589 AD, but most of what is known about him for certain is an account of his life written by Rhigyfarch some five hundred years later towards the end of the 11th century. St David has been celebrated for centuries as the patron saint of Wales although the day of his birth only became a national festival during the18th century. Only recently have more organised, public events taken place on St Davids Day. Are these a sign of a growing national sentiment or a growing nostalgic sentimentality? When I arrived in Wales twenty odd years ago, St David’s Day was celebrated mainly by school kids dressing up in a faux ‘national’ costume for the girls or something like a miner’s costume or a Welsh rugby jersey for the boys. This is as near to a ‘national’ costume as you’ll get and signifies the uncertainty revolving around what is Wales and what it is to be Welsh.

The idea of a national costume developed in the early 19th century mainly thanks to Lady Llanover, the wife of an ironmaster in Gwent, who encouraged it at home and at eisteddfodau (another early 19th century idea). The idea was gratefully taken up by artists and photographers who produced thousands of prints and postcards for the rising tourist trade. You can still buy these in any reputable souvenir shop, not that you see anyone wearing the garb during normal working hours. Lady Llanover was not concerned with a costume for Welsh men so they do not have a national dress, hence the uncertainty for boys of what to wear on St Davids Day. Adding to the confusion, attempts have been made in recent years to revive a ‘traditional’ Welsh kilt and tartan which has never in fact existed.

I used to take my kids to the St Fagans Folk Museum and was always delighted by the picture of Welsh social history that it presented. But how genuine was the picture? On reflection, it was more picturesque than the dark and difficult reality of Welsh life through the ages. In my work I’ve been lucky enough to travel around and see most parts of Wales, and spend many lovely holidays in Wales. There is no doubt Wales has wonderful landscapes, glorious coastlines, nice places to visit and friendly people. All the ‘Visit Wales’ advertisements are true: “Our great mountain ranges, lush valleys and ancient castles were some of the reasons why Wales was voted Rough Guides’ Best Place in the World to Visit 2014”. But there are not so lush valleys, still recovering from the collapse of coal mining and heavy industry in the 1980s, and those ancient castles are a reminder of the English King Edward I’s subjugation of Wales. As much as I want to believe in the rose-tinted view of Wales, it’s not the whole picture and it’s not the reality.

The confusion and uncertainty around Welsh identity has its roots in the past. It was only after the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 4th century AD that a Welsh national identity emerged among the Celtic Britons. Even the name is a confusion. There is the ‘official’ English name Wales and the Welsh name Cymru, each having a different origin and meaning. ‘Wales’ comes from a Germanic word used to refer to all Celts across Europe. The Old English speaking Anglo-Saxons came to use the word Waelisc for the Celtic Britons in particular and Wēalas for their lands: Welsh and Wales. They were not restricted to the modern Wales and refer to other places that the Anglo-Saxons associated with the Celtic Britons, such as Cornwall. Across Europe it crops up in names such as Wallonia and Wallachia and people such as the Vlachs of Romania and Moldova, or the Walloons of Belgium: Walsch in Dutch. So the ‘official’ name Wales derives from English while the Welsh name ‘Cymru’ and its people ‘Cymry’ derives from the language of its original inhabitants: the ancient Brythonic word ‘combrogi’ for ‘fellow-countrymen’. But this didn’t originally apply only to Wales, either. Apparently the ‘Welsh’ and other Brythonic-speaking people of northern England and southern Scotland used ‘Cymry’ to describe themselves, which is where Cumbria comes from.

Any emergent Welsh identity was halted when Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s death in 1282 marked the completion of Edward I of England’s conquest of Wales. In the early 15th century Owain Glyndŵr restored some semblance of independence in what would become modern Wales. One hundred years later, after part-Welsh Henry VII became King of England, Wales was annexed and incorporated within the English legal system under the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542. The intention was to create a single state and a single jurisdiction. Wales never really re-established itself as a nation until the late 19th century, with Cymru Fydd (Young Wales) established in 1886 to promote the objectives of the Liberal Party in Wales and campaign for Welsh ‘home rule’. Welsh Liberalism, the growth of socialism and the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru in the early 20th century continued to develop Welsh national identity.  

Ironically, Henry VII’s green and white banner with a red dragon became the national flag of Wales in 1959. This sets Wales apart from the other countries of the UK who adopted their various patron saints’ flags which, of course, are incorporated into the Union Flag or Union Jack. In 1999 Wales was granted its own devolved government, a National Assembly for Wales, but with limited powers. Even then it was not clear what this body and its executive was going to be called in every day language. I remember the early variants of Prime Minister or First Minister; Welsh Assembly, Welsh Assembly Government or Welsh Government; Assembly or Senedd? Your elected representative in the Senedd (Senate) is not a Senator or even a Seneddwr, but an Assembly Member. All of these uncertainties are not only signs of an evolving nation, but symptomatic of continuing confusion about what Wales is, its status, position and relationship with the UK, not to mention with the ever present Lloegr over the border. Lloegr being the modern Welsh word for England, although originally it referred only to a part of Britain south of a line extending from the Humber Estuary to the Severn Estuary, and excluding Devon and Cornwall.

The Scottish Independence debate is interesting as far as Wales is concerned. In all the discussions and blogs the argument revolves around Scotland and the UK but, more often, Scotland and England. Wales is never mentioned, let alone Northern Ireland. The Scots have at least managed to establish recognition that Scotland exists as a social and political entity. Geography helps but history has played a part. The Kingdom of England after 1284 included Wales until 1707 when a political union with the Kingdom of Scotland created the Kingdom of Great Britain which, in turn, was united with the Kingdom of Ireland to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. Some would argue that Scotland never lost its independence through the Act of Union. It certainly kept its own identity, legal system and church but Wales continued as an appendage to England. Wales, despite acquiring its emblems of nationhood in recent years – a flag, an anthem, a capital city, a government – still hasn’t been able to define itself as Scotland has. Geography plays a part; Wales’ border with England is larger (257km) than Scotland’s (117km) and adjoins a more densely populated part of England.  

If we’re honest, Wales’ identity has been threatened over centuries by a history of defeat, annexation and exploitation. Its identity changed with immigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wales’ modern day population has grown from immigrants and incomers who came to service the industrialisation of Wales over the last 250 years. The Welsh population grew from 0.6 million in 1801 to 2.0 million in 1901, while the population of Scotland increased from 1.6 million to 4.5 million. During the 20th century, from 1901 to 2001, the Welsh population increased by 44 per cent whereas the Scottish population grew by only 13 per cent. By contrast Northern Ireland’s population has remained almost constant over 200 years.

The reason for the increase was the increase in industrial employment, bringing in large numbers of non-Welsh people. In 1811, the majority of Welsh inhabitants were dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. But by 1851, two thirds of the families of Wales were supported by activities other than agriculture, Wales being the world’s second industrial nation after England. Unfortunately the industries that attracted these people were concerned with commodities – coal, copper, iron, steel – rather than consumer goods and many parts of Wales are still struggling with their demise in the late 20th century.

What of the future? I happen to believe that Wales, like Scotland, would be better off as an independent country in Europe. Failing that, I’d be happy with a greater degree of autonomy within the UK, going back to the Cymru Fydd idea of ‘home rule’. But that would first require wholesale restructuring of the UK’s constitution and governance which I can’t see the London-centric, Anglocentric government in Whitehall achieving very soon. It can’t even achieve abolition of the unelected House of Lords and don’t mention the Barnett formula. People in Wales will no doubt resist the idea, along the lines of ‘we can’t afford to’, ‘we’d be worse off, ‘we can’t support ourselves’ and so on. The recent BBC Cymru Wales St David’s Day poll found that more than a third of people would like to see the Welsh Assembly gain more powers, but only 5% want to see an independent Wales (although, curiously, that rose to 7% in the event of an independent Scotland).

This lack of self-confidence, prompted by centuries of dependency, needs to be shrugged off if Wales is going to progress as a nation. The point of independence is that it gets rid of dependency. Without going into all the economic and political ramifications, consider that in terms of population Wales is equivalent to successful sovereign states like Lithuania, Slovenia or Latvia and a lot bigger than states like Estonia, Cyprus or Luxemburg. In terms of GDP/capita, Wales at around $26,000 is on a par with the Czech Republic or Portugal and a lot higher than some Baltic states or even Russia. Not to mention Iceland which has a population the same as Cardiff’s and a GDP/capita higher than the UK’s.

I raise the question of Scottish independence because, if Scotland leaves the UK, where does that leave Wales? As things stand, whatever the response to the Silk Commission, it will leave Wales as an even smaller part of what’s left and overshadowed even more by its neighbour. The argument for Scottish independence, broadly, is that Scotland can do even better if it is not tied down by the so-called ‘UK partnership of equals’

Unionists like to think that the UK is a partnership of equals. Wales has a population of just over 3 million and a total land area of 20,800 sq.km. England has a population of over 53,000,000 and a land area of 130,400 sq.km. Nothing equal there. Even with greater devolution the notion cannot be supported. But we could become a truly equal partner through independence: addressing the Union’s democratic deficiencies and making sure that we vote for the governments we want in Wales. We would have the powers we need to meet Wales’ economic and social aspirations. Then we could play a part in a renewed, stronger, more positive partnership within the British Isles. 

Which brings me back to the Question Time audience in Newport last week. The fears and negativity which they exhibited didn’t seem very ‘Welsh’ to me; they seemed ‘English’ with their concerns about being flooded by immigrants (forget climate change), foreigners and complete distrust of government or institutions like the NHS. The Wales that I believe exists is better than that, and should be able to see the world differently. My worry is that, even if Wales is given greater ‘powers’, it will not give the very thing that gives any nation its real power – its national identity.     

St David died at the end of the sixth century and became recognised as the national patron saint a few hundred years later, during the Welsh resistance to the Normans. The tenth century poem ‘Armes Prydain’ prophesied that the Welsh people will unite and join an alliance of fellow-Celts to repel the Anglo-Saxons under the banner of Saint David: A lluman glân Dewi a ddyrchafant (And they will raise the pure banner of Dewi). Maybe the time has come to join that alliance, but maybe we’ve got the wrong flag?

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The Future of the Coal Exchange in Cardiff Bay

The Coal Exchange in Cardiff Bay, once the hub of the coal and shipping industries in South Wales, shut without notice last June 2013 for safety reasons.
The 127-year-old venue could be converted into business and residential use. Owners Macob Exchange, Julian Hodge Bank and Cardiff council will hold talks to discuss the idea.
The council is hoping to work with the owners and bank to secure the building’s future.
The Grade ll-listed site has been used for live music and other events over the last two decades and since the hall reopened again in 2009.
Russell Goodway, cabinet member for finance and economic development, said: “The previous attempt by the owner to regenerate the building was hit by the property crash.
“But we are now hopeful that a scheme can be delivered that will save this historical landmark and recover the costs incurred to date by the council, without the need for any further financial investment by the council.”

Let’s hope that plans for the Coal Exchange will be made public. This iconic building is too important for its future to be decided behind closed doors.

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