Over the decades, who has actually given a jot about Wales and its citizens? Did the dynastic quarry, pit, and mine owners of the industrial revolution? Did the landowners that squeezed every dram of effort from the workers who ploughed its soil? Well, those who did were few and far between.
Did successive political dynasties see Wales as little more than a bountiful Eldorado of resources to feed, roof, and fuel the biggest empire the world has ever seen? Probably not. What about the executives of the National Coal Board responsible for tip No. 7 of the Merthyr Vale Colliery? History will show us otherwise.
Who cares about Wales?
Do the masses of Mountain Warehouse-dressed weekend warriors care as much about Wales and its people as much as they do about its beauty, as they stride towards the nirvana of their ‘happy place’ by sea or up a mountain? Well, occasionally they do, but unfortunately, they seem few and far between.
Luckily, across the centuries, people have cared. Cared enough to get together to accomplish Herculean feats. From the power of the Chartist movement and the miners’s strike to the language campaigners of recent decades.
With vision and passion, our communities have pulled together to create such working class cathedrals to learning as the Workers Education Association (WEA), the workers’s halls, and our very own schools and universities. A lot of us do care and have cared about Wales over the years.
Who cares about how we are governed?
Do we care about how we are governed? Do people in the early years of the 21st century care about who happens to be in government at any point in time, and how? It is sadly the case that those of us who take an interest in politics and its mechanics are in the minority today. And that maybe party politics has mostly dissolved into a grey, lukewarm soup of murkiness, the boundaries blurred between all the key components.
Voter participation in Wales at local and Senedd level is very poor indeed, and over a third of voters won’t even turn out for a general election despite the relentless media coverage that comes with it. Have we become apathetic because we know we have no agency here in Wales? That it doesn’t matter who we vote for: injustice, unfairness, and poor treatment for Wales will continue?
The perception that none of the political class of this century hold the moral scruples of their predecessors is constantly upheld by the actions of many politicians. Successive Westminster scandals, from expenses to partygate, have left the legacy of a public more disengaged than ever from politics and governance. Electioneering now seems nothing more than who can shout their three-word slogan the loudest.
Enduring our fourth economic downturn in 15 years on the back of a global pandemic and a messy divorce from our biggest trading partner has focused vast swathes of the people of Wales on survival. A large proportion of our population have learnt how to blank out the white noise of rhetoric in the traditional media as much as the new. Surviving until the next payday with the occasional mid-month flourish on the odd meal or takeaway is the new norm.
What difference does political bluster and rhetoric make? We are poor and getting poorer, and knuckling down to get by is sucking up our individual and collective energy and enthusiasm.
Fortunately, a great deal of us still care. Many care enough to turn out to vote, to engage in debate in the pubs or in online forums and chats. There is a realisation that good governance makes a real difference to daily life, from public health policies in times of crisis to legislation and regulation preventing tenants from being burned alive in high-rise homes.
Maybe the crossfire of on-line and off-line misinformation will polarise and cloud the issues, but decent people will always strive for truth and fairness, and should expect integrity, passion, and compassion from those who govern.
Who cares who governs?
Party politics might well be a murky soup, but the question of who makes decisions for Wales is clear enough: the ruling Conservative party in Westminster and the Labour administration in Cardiff Bay. Further down the food-chain it is less clear; apart from the odd charismatic opposition leader, who knows anything about who is who, and what is what?
Do most of us actually know the difference between party, Government or Parliament in Wales? Do we really know where Westminster responsibility ends and the Senedd begins? How Welsh Government projects, statutory obligations, and regulations interact with governance? Can we grasp the absurdities and inadequacies of the devolution settlement as it stands today?
The lack of understanding of the basic functions of our democratic institutions is itself a threat to our devolved structures. But as time goes by, understanding improves, and so does confidence. Those who’ve grown up with the Welsh Government feel far more keenly that Westminster treats Wales poorly. They implicitly accept that Wales has a government and, as a result, are more likely to believe that Wales should stand on its own and divest itself of Westminster rule completely.
The Senedd is yet to win over the hearts and minds of all the citizens of Wales. A weak press and patchy broadcast media make it hard to cut through the confusion of overlap in political authority. And harder still for the Senedd and its politicians to communicate broadly, easily, and well with the whole of Wales. Even so, Wales has democratically and emphatically put its weight behind the Senedd. Twice.
Over the past few decades the Assembly and Senedd have changed the landscape of Welsh politics. In recent years, the people of Wales have seen the Westminster emperor in all its naked filth. Its cover has been blown. Self-interest, and the interest of the dominant partner in the Union, are clear to anyone who takes the time to look. This will never change, whatever colour or stripe the government in London takes.
Meanwhile, the challenges that the Cardiff Bay administration faces are numerous. Reversing decades of economic and social decline. The need for investment and radical reform of health, social care, transport, and education. With true power, the devil in every detail of these challenges would be surmounted by Wales.
Small is beautiful in the modern era of government. And knowing and understanding all the dusty corners of our own nation, as we Welsh do, is an enormous asset in the creation of effective long-term solutions for bringing success, growth, health, and well-being to us all. But first, we must set ourselves free.
Editor’s note: Part 2 of 2 can be found here. It is the editorial policy of Bylines Cymru to publish all arguments and opinions for, against, or agnostic about Welsh independence as long as they are within the bounds of civil discourse. In this way we hope to provide an open platform for discussion of the subject from all perspectives.
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