Working within the Labour Party: the Welsh language, devolution and the ‘road to independence’

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By Ray Davies

When I was first elected as a County councillor in May 1964, I wanted to raise awareness and campaign for more Welsh language in our schools.  Every overture I made to Headteachers and educationalists in Monmouthshire and Glamorgan County Council met with a frosty reception.  None of the mainstream political parties was interested in anything Welsh. I was outraged by the fact that even in our primary schools they refused to sing the Welsh national anthem.

After Local Government Re-organisation in 1974 I was elected onto the new Mid Glamorgan County Council. I campaigned vigorously for new Welsh schools.  At that time  most Welsh schools were housed in old classrooms, with leaky roofs and miserable surroundings;  but the education being delivered was top quality.

I fell out with my colleagues on the Labour Group when a former Caerphilly Girls’ Grammar school became available, and I proposed that it be made into a new Welsh medium primary school, to cater for the huge demand from parents who saw the success of other Welsh schools.  I enlisted the help of Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales in the 1997 new Labour government. At the full County Council education meeting, he said that if Mid Glamorgan County Council did not implement the plan to cater for for the growing number of parents who want their children to speak Welsh in the Caerphilly Basin, he would aim to take away control from Mid Glamorgan and deal with it himself from his department.  This jerked the Labour Group into accepting my resolution  to turn it into a Welsh school.

New Welsh schools were springing up all over, from Ebbw Vale, to Bridgend in the west, Merthyr in the north and Cefn Mably in the south.  In Mid Glamorgan we had one of the first all Welsh comprehensive schools in South East Wales; but it was on five different campuses.  After I spoke to the Headteacher and other activists, the Governors and the Headteacher agreed to have a march through Bargoed. I told Ron Davies that I would be at the front of that march, and he had better be there with me if he valued his political future. Ron was becoming more and more supportive of the Welsh language, and so together  we headed the march, in spite of criticism from some members of the Labour Party.

This set the ball rolling with the former Mid Glamorgan County Council and the case for a new Welsh comprehensive school was taken up by the newly formed Caerphilly County Council. We built a brand new Welsh secondary school in Pontllanfraith and Pengam.  Since then we have opened at least four more new schools, and a second Welsh comprehensive school for Caerphilly at St Ilan’s.  Welsh has never been so popular, and the numbers of parents moving from English medium education to Welsh is growing.

I was campaigning not only for the Welsh language, but also for greater political power in Wales.  The Devolution referendum in 1979 offered a toothless Assembly without legislative powers . It was absolutely pathetic.  If it had been implemented Wales would have been the poor relation of Britain.  I must confess I did not support that referendum; but it fired me up to campaign for Welsh people to have greater control over their own lives, away from the power of Westminster.

I joined Cymdeithias Yr Iaith, the Welsh Language Society. I was jailed twice for non -violent direct actions ;  when we occupied the offices of the Welsh Language Board in St Mary’s Street, Cardiff, and in a protest against Dixons, who refused to have Welsh signage in their Queen Street shop. Plaid Cymru members on the Council were quite embarrassed. Here was I, a Labour Councillor in a party that was seen as anti Welsh, giving up my freedom for the language and culture I love so passionately.

My good friend Ron Davies was Secretary of State for Wales, and he persuaded the Labour Cabinet in Westminster to hold a second referendum in 1997, with greatly increased powers. We joined together with many other parties (except for the Conservatives) to campaign vigorously for a yes vote, in Caerphilly, Cardiff and South East Wales, in Carmarthen, and wherever the campaign needed a boost.

On the night of the count,  our prospects of winning the referendum looked so dim that I left the Leisure centre and went home, defeated.  Wendy and I  switched on the television;  and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Carmarthen’s vote came in last. When all the votes were counted, by the narrowest majority,  we had won the day.  I was so excited that I wanted to run down to Cardiff to join the celebrations.

Have the new powers given to Wales been a success?

Of course there have been problems; but for me it has been hugely positive.  The people of Wales are beginning to have greater self confidence, and the appetite for more powers is growing.  Our vision for Wales – having control over its own financial , foreign and defence policies – is no longer a pipe dream, but is fast becoming a real possibility.

When Scotland held  its referendum on independence, I was determined to make a contribution. Although my own Labour Party was totally against a Yes vote, I stuck to my guns, and was very proud when I was asked to speak on the steps of the Senedd on behalf of Scottish independence.

I told the large crowd on the Assembly steps that Wales has been a beacon of light for small nations threatened with the loss of their language and culture.  It  has been a source of encouragement for people in Northern Ireland setting up Irish schools, as well as Cornish and Scots Gaelic schools.  Around the world,  people struggling for their  rights to self determination, whether in Catalonia or Palestine, have taken heart from the Welsh and Scottish example.

Loyalty is one of my favourite words, I said.  I am loyal to Caerphilly County Borough Council, I am loyal to my Labour Party ; but the overriding loyalty for me is to the people of Wales,  for their future well being.

The road to independence is long and tortuous but hope grows brighter by the day. The campaign goes on.


Ray Davies is an 84 year old campaigner for peace and justice in Wales and around the world.  He has been imprisoned for refusing to pay the Poll Tax, for taking direct action against Faslane’s nuclear submarines, and for breaking into Aldermaston bomb factory to highlight the menace of nuclear weapons; he was arrested in Tel Aviv for campaigning for peace with justice for Palestine, and was shot whilst escorting ambulances carrying injured Palestinians to hospital in the West Bank. He is passionate in defence of Welsh language and culture,  and firmly believes  that people have the right to control their own lives, which was his motivation for supporting the Scottish Yes campaign.





Categories: Politics / Gwleidyddiaeth

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