St David’s Day – Let this year be the year that our country thinks big
In an exclusive article for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark St David’s Day, Leanne Wood AM writes that this St David’s Day, we look towards the Wales we want to build: a Wales with stronger, better public services; a more just and more equal society and strengthened economy and communities. Overseas, she argues, we must aim for a Wales which is at the heart of international processes as opposed to a Wales confined to the side lines, marginalised and without a say.
Leanne Wood is the Plaid Cymru Member of the Welsh Assembly for South Wales Central and is Leader of Plaid Cymru.
To follow Leanne Wood on Twitter – @LeanneWood
St David’s Day is the national day in Wales. It is a day that has grown in significance in recent years. St David’s Day previously only really happened in school. Pupils dress up and hold concerts and competitions known as the “Eisteddfod”. In more recent times, having learned some lessons from our cousins over the water in Ireland, St David’s Day has grown beyond the confines of the school environment. People are now more likely to be aware of it by what is on sale in shops and on nights out as well as through the variety of parades and events held throughout the country. Demands for St David’s Day to be a Bank Holiday have also grown. The bitter irony of all four parties in the Assembly agreeing that it should be, but the Assembly not having the power to legislate for it, serves as a reminder that while we celebrate our nationhood in a devolved Wales, we still lack basic and fundamental decision-making powers.
St David’s Day tends to focus people’s minds on the cultural characteristics of our nation and the related symbolism. Those characteristics are an important part of our unique and rich national tapestry and deserve to be celebrated. But isn’t it also worth considering our political and international characteristics too?
Wales has a proud tradition, too, of looking outward, of embracing the spirit of an international family of nations, and our place within it. Both nationally and internationally, the last year has seen important developments in our national story. The coming year will see more.
The constitution is never far from the political debate in Wales and since St David’s Day 2013, we’ve seen the publication of the draft Wales Bill; a legislative instrument that provides a framework for Wales to have responsibility – albeit limited – for taxation.
The Bill emerged as a result of the Silk Commission’s deliberations. Silk was a cross-party commission established by the UK Government to make recommendations on the devolution of further powers to Wales. It has been disappointing to Plaid Cymru that the draft Bill has not reflected Silk’s recommendations in full. My party – the Party of Wales – entered the Silk process in the spirit of cooperation. We have been prepared to meet others half way.
The UK Government has been intent on watering down the Silk recommendations. To Plaid Cymru, that is unacceptable. It speaks volumes about the current cumbersome processes for constitutional change within the UK, that such strong public opinion and cross-party political consensus within our country comes so far down the priorities list of the Westminster establishment.
Particularly ham-stringing is the ‘lockstep’ clause of the current draft bill. Here is a bill offering Wales the possibility of sharing income tax powers with Westminster with a clause that would render that power useless because it would restrict the Welsh Government’s ability to vary income tax at individual bands. The Party of Wales remains hopeful that the will of a clear majority of Welsh Assembly Members, as reflected in the support for a recent Plaid Cymru amendment at the National Assembly, will prevail and that Wales’ political nationhood will be respected.
Shortly after this year’s St David’s Day, the Silk Commission will publish its second report, this time looking at subject areas such as justice, energy, policing, and broadcasting. Yet again, Plaid Cymru awaits its publication with the hope that it can match the ambition of the people.
Plaid Cymru has consistently argued that the closer decisions are made to the people they affect, the greater chance those decisions have of being good decisions. It is a sign of growing Welsh collective self-confidence that support to gain a greater say over our domestic affairs continues to increase.
On the international front, we are just over two months away from European elections. In this election people in Wales will not only consider the kind of Europe they want but the kind of Wales they want to see in the continental and global context.
As a traditionally progressive, European nation, we benefit greatly from our membership of the common market – 150,000 jobs are directly linked to our place in the world’s largest trading bloc and £5 billion a year is added to the value of the Welsh economy because of our participation.
Sadly our industrial demise of the past few decades has made us eligible for European convergence funds. Convergence funds have been the EU’s modest attempt to redistribute wealth Europe-wide and they have provided us with an opportunity to reshape and rebuild or economic structures. We still have a long way to go, but Welsh economic infrastructure has been aided by these funds.
Europe can only continue to work for Wales, and indeed to work better for Wales, with a strong Welsh voice at its heart, fighting for the Welsh national interest, putting Wales first, every time. The xenophobe-driven alternative as proposed by UKIP and their ilk would be the opposite of that. Welsh interests simply wouldn’t feature under such an alternative. It would be Wales last.
So this St David’s Day, we look towards the Wales we want to build: a Wales with stronger, better public services; a more just and more equal society and strengthened economy and communities. Overseas we must aim for a Wales which is at the heart of international processes as opposed to a Wales confined to the side lines, marginalised and without a say.
The tectonic plates of politics, in Britain and across Europe are shifting and will continue to shift between now and St David’s Day next year.
One of our patron saint’s most celebrated phrases is ‘gwnewch y pethau bychain’ – ‘do the little things’. Over this next year why not turn that around? Let this year be the year that our country thinks big instead. We are only as small as our ambitions. With that in mind, let’s hope that next year, for Wales, is a momentous one.
Published: Friday 28 February 2014
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2014
Photograph: © Copyright of Leanne Wood AM
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.