Devolution in Wales: Land of our Fathers

Research Paper (postgraduate) 2011 21 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Miscellaneous


Devolution in Wales: Land of our Fathers

Britain is a composite state that has been governed by relatively stable political institutions. The contemporary United Kingdom is an ethnically diverse and fragmented society with strong national communities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (Kopstein & Lichbach, 2009, p.48). The Scots, the Irish, the English and Welsh had been united at some time in their common endeavour of mutual enrichment through the imperial global conquest in the nineteenth century. However, with the decline of the British empire, the hitherto powerful political common denominator vanished, and strong national communal identities became prominent in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In the early part of the twentieth century, Britain had to deal with separatist movements such as the Irish separatist movement in Northern Ireland. The uneven distribution of welfare benefits and economic recession in the 1990s had come to pose additional challenges tothe British political system. Recently, in the 1990s, the Labour Party promised to create regional assemblies in each country with the capacity to enact laws and raise taxes, a reform commonly known as devolution (Kopstein & Lichbach, 2009, p.49).

Britain was formed as the result of a series of unions, with each component continuing to retain its distinctiveness (Mitchell, 2006, p.154). In Britain, devolution policies have been a strategy to deal with Scottish nationalism, Welsh and Irish nationalism in the hope that it will lead to better government and defuse separatist feelings (Bogdanor, 1979, p.4). Nationalist parties have pushed for the issue of decentralization in the agenda of the British politics (Bogdanor, 1979, p.4).

The phenomenon of British devolution demonstrates how ethnic demands can be addressed bynegociation and through the devolution of powers in the developed world: the strong sense of communal identities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland depict how ethnic tensions and communalism can be contained within thedominant state.

This paper will argue and discuss about how distinct welfare policies, the education program and emergence of Welsh civic institutions have contributed, and stimulateddevolution in Wales. In this essay, I will examine thoroughly the origins of early Welsh nationalist movement in the nineteenth century, and its evolution in the twentieth century. I then draw on the impact of devolution in education and especially in preserving the Welsh culture and language, and considerdifferent social institutions and their welfare policies in post-devolutionary Wales.

First, the Welsh nation is rooted in the Celtic race, tongue and homeland. Celtic myths and legends such as Aneirin’s poem of the three hundred nobles who were killed by the Saxons of Deira at Catraeth are particularly crucial in forging a Welsh identity through literature, for they have provided a distinct Welsh history and heritage (Coupland, 1954). In the Middles Ages, the Welsh began losing their social and cultural identity through interracial marriages that significantly reduced Welsh culture (Coupland, 1954, p.55). In the mid nineteenth century, people often referred to Britain as a composite state made of three nations (and not four): Scottish, the Irish and Cornish. There were no mentions of Wales (Morgan, 1971). The Welsh culture was dying. The salvation of the Welsh culture and nationhood demanded intellectual and spiritual forces, which were either dead or dormant: it demanded an educational and religious revival. Some Welsh folks devoted their lives to advancement of higher Welsh education; it was considered a national service (Coupland, 1954). The British Commission of 1880 revealed that Welsh education was inseparable from the question of Welsh nationhood (Coupland, 1954).In fact, commissioners exposed Welsh ignorance that Welshmen under the lead of Hugh Own began to grapple with the desperate need for more and better education for the children of the working classes. In 1845, nonconformist South Wales Education Committee was formed, and the first training college opened its doors at Brecon in 1846 (Coupland, 1954).

Academic institutions were also set up in Aberystwyth in 1872, in Cardiff in 1883, and Bangor in 1883 (Coupland, 1954). There was clearly a Welsh “spirit [...] that manifests itself in struggles against the supremacy of a dominant [English] race in Wales with maintaining the continuity of the national life” in Wales (Coupland, 1954, p.201). Education in English was seen as a loss of the Welsh identity: there was also a dawning awareness of the loss of identity that anglicization caused. One of the earliest ethnic movements in Wales was the Society for the Utilization of the Welsh Language in Education created in 1885. It was largely due to the sympathetic reaction of the then Vice President of the Council, Arthur Acland, to pressure from this society that in the 1890s Welsh was included as an optional subject in the elementary school code (Webster, 2006, p. 187). This self-conscious cultural need to preserve the Welsh culture and language was a “natural and needful expression of Welsh nationhood” (Webster, 2006).The Welsh nationalist movement was thus born as a genuinely cultural nationalist movement that set the grassroots for the emrgence of the Welsh nationalist movement in the twentieth century and the devolution.Kenneth Morgan (1971) points out how the Welsh Intermediate Education Act of 1889 created a distinct network of Welsh county schools which formed a unique source of social mobility in Wales in succeeding decades. In 1893, the University of Wales was also deliberately created on a federal basis, so that the separate colleges of Bangor, Cardiff, and Aberystwyth could be fused into a national whole (Morgan, 1971). The University was in some respects the supreme achievement of nineteenth-century national consciousness, one in which the whole population shared (Morgan, 1971, p. 162).Education has reinforced the Welsh identity: the University of Aberystwyth provides a context, in which students are capable of maintaining their Welsh identity. Universities such as the University of Wales and Aberystwyth can offer a means of enabling Welsh-medium students to develop a stronger and more secure linguistic identity (Jones &Desforges, 2008). The fact that the lecturer in many classes is a Welsh speaker provides a common identity for both teacher and learner that, to a certain extent, transcends across the usual lecturer/student divide (Jones &Desforges, 2008, p. 283). Such reality helps to reinforce the existence of a network of Welsh-speaking students who see themselves as a relatively cohesive group (Jones &Desforges, 2008, p.283).In much of the nineteenth century, the creation of early academic institutions such as the University of Aberystwyth and University of Waleshad set up the stage for the emergence of early Welsh nationalism.

The early Welsh nationalism emerged with the growth of industry—industrialization in Monmouth, Glamorgan and eastern Carmarthenshire was spectacular and impressive (Morgan, 1971, p.156).In the rural areas, Welsh farmers could find opportunities in their own land instead of migrating to England. This coincided with the creation of immense chapels, the local Welsh paper press, and local eisteddfodau and choral festivals, which are to become the later instruments of Welsh nationalism (Morgan, 1971, p.156). However, the old Welsh nationalism was not thinking in terms of politics or constitutions. However, inthe twentieth, the Welsh nationalist movement, Plaid Cymru,not only focused on issues of history, language, economic organization and bureaucracy, but also struggled with the negative stereotype of Welshness generated by the relationships inherent under a cultural division of labour in Britain (Davies, 1989, p.15). Welsh activists used non-conformity for its issues, image and personnel, and aimed to demonstrate that Wales had contributed to England’s cultural eminence and imperial greatness. Since 1932, members of Plaid Cymru agreed to pursue three objectives: self-government, the preservation of the Welsh Language and culture, and Welsh representation at the League of the Nations—later the United Nations (Philip, 1975, p.16). In the nineteenth century, nationalists in Wales have sought an economic structure for the country, which would provide the strongest support for the Welsh language and culture, and advocated the Welsh rural way of life, and early pre-industrial stage of nature (Coupland, 1954, p.375).

Second, devolution has often referred to the notion of self-government (Jones and Scully, 2003, p.2). In the twentieth century, the Welsh nationalists,lacked significance over the legislative process, but have found other opportunties in the bureaucratic expansion that accompanied the growth of the welfare state in the aftermath of the Second World War (Davies, 1989, p.18). In fact, Welsh nationalists were successful in winning recognition over a period of two decades, culminating in the creationof of the Welsh Office as a separate department of the Britisg Central governemnt (Davies, 1989, p.17). The creation of the Welsh Office in 1964 was an important catalyst in precipitating the creation of distinctive Welsh institutions in the 1960 and 1970s. Loughlin and Sykes (2004) mention that Wales lacked a distinctive policy-making community before devolution, with an under-resourced Welsh Office generally applying policy made in Westminster without significant modification, and with major interest groups active in Wales seeking to influence policy in Westminster (p.1). Welsh Institutions created under the devolution are designed so as to balance two conflicting imperatives: the creation of a new and innovative political system and the need to assuage the fears of those who were opposed to any form of devolution (Loughlin & Sykes, 2004, p.4).Therefore, the creation of a Welsh Office and Assembly has led to significant change. In fact, assembly committees have an active policy development role and the civil service in Wales has significantly increased its capacity to inform distinctively Welsh policy debates. There is a new policy-making capacity in and for Wales (Loughlin & Sykes, 2004, p.1).



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Title: Devolution in Wales: Land of our Fathers