Ignored, neglected and patronised, Wales may now prompt as much change to the UK as has Scotlandby Kenneth O Morgan / October 16, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
The years 2014 and 2015 bring with them a tsunami of anniversaries. This year we commemorate the First World War; next year it is the Magna Carta. Scotland, of course, celebrated the anniversary of victory over the English at Bannockburn by voting decisively against becoming an independent state. But another historic landmark in the remote Celtic fringe has been totally ignored: the 600th anniversary of the ending of Owain Glyndwr’s uprising in Wales in 1414-15. Wales’s charismatic national hero is forgotten. He is as mythic a figure as King Arthur. No Welsh Braveheart popularises his memory, while his burial-place is unknown.
Nevertheless, a creative new phase in the projection of Welsh identity may yet emerge from the ashes of defeat for the cause of independence in Scotland. The preservation of the Union there, along with the pledges wrung from panicky British party leaders for greater “devo-max”-type powers for the Scottish parliament, has implications for Welsh devolution. The Welsh people voted for it by the very narrowest of margins in 1997, and its early years aroused more cynicism than enthusiasm in the public. Over the past seven or eight years, however, since the Government of Wales Act of 2006, and thanks in great measure to Rhodri Morgan’s dynamic leadership as First Minister, devolution has become a settled and accepted feature of Welsh life. The voters have expressed their approval in opinion polls, as they did in a subsequent referendum in 2011, endorsing by a two-thirds majority primary legislative powers for the Welsh assembly. That body has not set the Cymric world alight, but there is recognition now of the merits of local decision-making and local accountability. And even within the most traditionalist elements of the Welsh Labour Party, there is acceptance of a sort.
Perhaps, therefore, the prolonged Scottish debate, with all its vibrancy and civil engagement, presages a new dawn for Wales, and the prospect, within the wider constitution-making that will follow the vote in Scotland, of rekindling the enthusiasm for devolution that inspired Welsh citizens in the aftermath of the 1997 referendum. For me and for many others in Welsh public life, it certainly revives the vision of the future that we entertained then.