I had the great fortune to be born and brought up in Wales. In a town called Llanelli, on the south coast of Wales, about 12 miles west of Swansea. Whilst, ultimately, in ancestral terms, “The Land of My Fathers”, I would admit, is a tad closer to Dublin than it is to Cardiff, the land of my mothers though is very definitely more Swansea, and I consider myself to be Welsh, and rather pleased about that fact!
Llanelli, especially in the 1960’s, when I turned up there, was an intensely Welsh place. One of the strongholds of the Welsh language. Even the accent identified you as being of Llanelli, or to the less discerning Welsh ear, somewhere in Carmarthenshire…or Dyfed as it became…or Carmarthenshire as it then became again. Give politicians a job hey!
Even if you were not of a Welsh speaking family in a place like Llanelli you inevitably became at the very least able to get by in the Welsh language simply by being immersed in an awful lot of Welshness. In fact it was quite normal in Llanelli and other parts of the south west of Wales for entire families to never speak English at all in everyday family and social circumstances. On the rare occasion, I have even met people of my grandparents generation who could hardly get by in English at all, and never needed to use English due to the strength of the language in the area they lived. Llanelli people were so proud of their Welshness in fact that we used to joke that if you crossed the Lougher Bridge, which took you out of town and East into Swansea, you were in England!
You would have thought that being brought up in such an environment that a powerful Welsh nationalist movement might have existed. Maybe there would have been a strong movement for self government, independence or some other assertion of a Welsh state as distinct from the rest of the UK. Well, you know what….there was nothing of the kind. Sure, some people may have banged on about a free Wales or raged with anti-English government sentiment occasionally, but there was nothing serious, no commonly held belief that we should be free of the evil clutches of the Westminster Parliament. I admit to having once met a man who claimed to be part of the Free Wales Army…but that was the closest I ever got to the serious disunity of the United Kingdom courtesy of the Welsh!
So, I’m wondering how on Earth we came to have a Welsh Assembly? Well, to cut a long story short it was a cunning plan devised by Labour governments in the 1970’s. The Welsh themselves were not demanding it, raging against Westminster or for freedom from the shackles of the English oppressor…no!
In 1979, on St. David’s Day, a referendum was held, basically asking the Welsh people if they wanted an Assembly or not. It was totally rejected, the No’s won by 4:1. No big surprise really, as I say, I had never heard the Welsh themselves discussing the possibility of self-government or Welsh home rule etc. The pubs, the chapels and the streets were not buzzing with the prospect of another layer of government. Had I been hanging out in the wrong company, was my education pathetically politically lacking….was I just stupid?
The Welsh have never really been separatists. How could we be? This island we live on has arguably been occupied for people with a claim to Welshness longer than all other ethnic groups here. Our flag is the oldest, our language is the oldest. This is our gaff. We are the British aborigines! The word Prydain is a Welsh word…it became Britain of course. We are comfortable in the knowledge that this place belongs to us, we don’t need to be separated or “nationalised“! It is obvious though we are different, and have as a nation within our British nation a distinct part of the overall British story. If not, then why would we need any form of government distinct from those nice English people next door?
However, back to politics. Not to be beaten, another labour government in 1999 launched yet another campaign trying to convince the Welsh of their need for a nice new layer of government and set of bureaucrats. This time, an expensive publicity campaign by the government saw a narrow victory for the Yes vote. Sadly, for me, my home county, Carmarthenshire (or was that Dyfed) gave the last, decisive although very narrow yes vote. Wales now had it’s own political and bureaucratic job creation scheme. Not a real law making, tax raising government, mind you (as they say in Wales); but the Welsh Assembly was born.
Then, to mark the event, they immediately did what every good government does…wasted millions of pounds (not Welsh pounds or Euro pounds I hasten to add, but British tax payers pounds) on digging a hole in Cardiff Bay. A very large hole at that. They said it was to house the new Assembly building, but we were soon to learn that it was a hole to start shovelling more taxpayers money into. The new Assembly building cost some 70 million pounds, well over budget of course, and was 4 years and 10 months, precisely, overdue!
The important consequence of the creation of the Welsh Assembly was that now the Welsh people had not just the European parliament, governing them, but the Westminster Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and while we are at it, let’s not forget the local authorities either. If my maths is correct that’s 4 layers of Government. Four layers of government, just like the lucky Scots! Four layers complete with the usual assortment of people required to keep such a monster fed, burning up taxpayers money in order to keep it‘s tummy full. The Welsh Assembly running costs are I believe somewhere in the region of 40 million pounds. I don’t even want to add that to the cost of the other layers of government for fear of my first heart attack. Have we any idea what we are doing? Have we any idea what they are doing? Have we all gone stark staring bonkers? This is not democracy, this is not even funny any more.
Even more serious than all this self inflicted government is the fact that they can’t actually do anything useful at all. Why? They have limited powers, but do get, or are supposed to get involved with all things Welsh. Because they are all under the control of the European Parliament, and the European Parliament is telling us all what to do. However, just like the Scottish Parliament, once you bring a monster like this into one it wants more and more powers. What about tax raising powers, law making powers? When can the Assembly become a real government of the Welsh people? The bit, one feels, is being gnawed slowly. In my humble Welsh opinion, the Assembly will become a true government of the Welsh people and show an example to the rest of Britain when it proves its Welsh credentials. When it stands and fights, to the death if needs be, for Welsh culture, history and tradition. Prove you are for the Welsh people, prove you are of the Welsh people…make yourselves truly wanted by the Welsh people.
So I have a challenge for the Welsh Assembly, one they are duty bound to take up with all urgency, if indeed they value Wales and where she came from. Wales after all is the elder sibling in the British family, we should lead by example.
But first, a question for all members of the Welsh Assembly and its supporters. Is there some reason why Wales is different enough from the rest of Britain to have its own government or its own Assembly? There can only be one answer…YES. Exactly the same is true of Scotland of course. The fact we have the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament is an admission that there is something different and distinct about these areas. Something distinct and different about the history, culture and traditions of these places, just start with language. We all still share being British though.
Well, Welsh Assembly members there is a directive called THE TRADITIONAL EUROPEAN HERBAL MEDICINES DIRECTIVE being implemented by Brussels as we speak. Look at the title chaps… DIRECTING/LEGISLATING for TRADITION. ..That is a dreadful legal precedent to set! The tradition in question being herbal medicine. The only written and preserved tradition of herbal medicine in Europe is Welsh…by default British. The oldest tradition we have is the herbal one, it pre-dates language and religion, and we have it written down. Can we expect the TRADITIONAL EUROPEAN LANGUAGE AND RELIGION DIRECTIVES soon?
This herbal system is our history, our cultural heirloom, our birthright. I do not expect modern politicians to be overly familiar with tradition and culture or to be familiar with the accumulation of herbal knowledge over millennia upon which it is built, and the way it has been transmitted from generation to generation. If you are not aware of it, get familiar fast…look up the Physicians of Myddfai. When you have familiarised yourselves I expect to hear the noise of military hardware being readied from the direction of Cardiff Bay!
Herbal medicine is humanities longest tradition, not just Wales longest tradition. If you really work for Wales then you must drop everything else for this. Saying we can not do anything to overturn European law is not going to cut it. This is our culture, this is worth loading the guns for. What Brussels is doing is illegal, it is cultural genocide. This herbal tradition, and all the other precious traditions of Wales, such as our language, is the very substance of our Wales... our Prydain.
If the Welsh Assembly does not attack this Directive with everything it has and stop the European Parliament from legislating for our history then our distinct culture, the very reasons for the Assembly itself, is doomed and you will prove Wales to be no more.