Wales: waiting for inspiration

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By Sulien Morgan

Only a few weeks ago 13,000 people packed the Hydro in Glasgow to listen to the new SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon: testimony that something quite remarkable has happened and is indeed happening in Scotland. In comparison the political situation in Wales could not be more different; a nation still stuck in the political apathy that has blighted it for the past few decades. The energy and engagement with politics in Scotland has been astonishing.  One could have expected such fervour leading up to Sept 18, but the continuation of the passion for change amongst the defeated Yes campaigners has been the unexpected tale in the aftermath of the referendum.

The coalition of Yes voters has channelled its energy primarily, but not exclusively, into the SNP which, two months after being on the losing side of an independence vote, which it and Alex Salmond secured, is now not only Scotland’s primary political force but the UK’s third force: a remarkable achievement. Enthusiasm for a better Scotland seems to be going from strength to strength with political engagement fast becoming the norm rather than the exception. For how long it continues only time will tell but for now we are all witnesses to a belief that politics can be for the people and of the people. The success of the SNP and the wider Yes campaign in Scotland was surely their ability to allow people to dream of a better future.

Sadly this belief is lacking in Wales. Politics here revolves around minutiae and nuanced jargon and not around principles. A Scotland governed from Edinburgh bringing democracy closer to the people, a new dawn unassociated with the dinosaurs of Westminster; an outward looking Scotland in contrast to an inward looking rUK and the rise of the regressive UKIP: these were all visions of a new Scotland promised by the Yes campaign. Visions of a Scottish future presented to people, without the civil servant speak which has blighted Welsh politics since the advent of devolution, captured the imagination of Scotland’s people.

Whilst the people of Scotland are adamant that they must fight for a better future regardless of a No vote, response in Wales to a changing union has resulted in a quiet consensus amongst Carwyn Jones, Leanne Wood and Kirsty Williams that Wales should be treated on similar terms to Scotland. Believing this and bringing it into any meaningful reality are two different things. However much Carwyn Jones’ sees himself as standing up for Wales who, in all honesty, believes that a Labour government after 2015 would listen to him and agree to devolve to Wales what Scotland already has? Carwyn Jones’ and Welsh Labour’s cause is not aided by those intent on trying to constantly undermine devolution; step forward Owen Smith.  Kirsty Williams and the Liberal Democrats are fast becoming irrelevant to the voters in all parts of the UK.  Her influence to bring about change is and will be increasingly more limited.  This then leaves Plaid Cymru who have firmly attached themselves to the SNP bandwagon, attempting to source for themselves some of the magic that propelled the Scottish Nationalists to become the primary political force in Scotland.  But Plaid Cymru do not currently seem a serious threat to Labour’s hegemony in Wales; they trail significantly in the polls.

It is thus possible that, as Scotland moves further towards Home Rule, Wales will be left languishing, with no one really able to influence real change.  Its Assembly Members will be left to fight for minimal power over scraps of new legislation given at the benevolence of a Westminster government.  Whilst a recent YouGov poll suggested that 63% of people wish to see Wales gain similar powers to Scotland a groundswell of political activity, if this does not transpire, seems unlikely.  And this surely is the challenge that progressive politicians in Wales must face. If we are to move forward as a country and ultimately towards Home Rule and not remain with the half-way or quarter-way house that we currently have then Welsh politicians must, more so than anything, inspire and allow the people of Wales to dream that they, the people, can decide their own future and that they, the people can influence change.

This task is not made easy, seeing as a large percentage of the Welsh populace does not receive its news from the Welsh media, unlike Scotland with its Scotland orientated national papers.  It may have been a positive that finally Welsh Assembly members appeared en masse on Question Time, but it’s a step in the right direction with a long way to go.

Battling the deficiencies of the media is one thing, allowing people to believe they can partake in Welsh politics is another.  However much one may argue that the potential voter is far more savvy than he is given credit for and hence enjoys the minutiae and detail of policies there must be limits; you can sell an idea without the over-jargonised civil servant speak. Endless discussions about the Barnett formula and how it works, and discussions on the power model currently practised at the Welsh Assembly will do Welsh politicians no favours. Talk of commissions and recommendations will dampen enthusiasm.  Convince people of what is possible for the country, yes, but over-complicate things by explaining politics in terms more fitting for civil servants and you become part of the bureaucratic problem that people love to hate.

The Yes campaign in Scotland managed this; they had their answers ready down to the final detail if needed but they were able to present them in a way which excited people about the possible future that lay ahead. Because of this, Caledonian politics at present seems to have been taken out of the hands of men in suits; the mass movement which formed during the Yes campaign has snowballed. The Yes campaign’s success was bringing together people from all walks of life: writer, poet, singer, coffee-shop worker, farmer, bar worker etc., people who may have for a long time felt that they had no influence over the political destiny of their country but were made to believe that politics no longer belonged to men in suits. They themselves saw how they could shape their own destinies.

And if Wales wants to move forward as a country, mature as a democracy and ensure that its society becomes a better, equal and a fairer place in which to live, if its devolution settlement is to mirror that of Scotland it must find a way forward without relying on the old party political system alone, which may not be the sole answer to bring about the desired change.  Fire the imagination, allow people to dream of a better nation and it will become a reality.

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Categories: Politics / Gwleidyddiaeth

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