As in Glyndŵr’s day, if we can win the Welsh Marches we can win Wales

Picture by grassrootsgroundswell (CC BY 2.0)

Ben Gwalchmai

When he echoed the words of Raymond Williams, ‘Who speaks for Wales?’ Michael Sheen may have spoken to you.

He definitely spoke, not just to me, but to my area.

When we talk about Wales, what’s the first place that comes to most people’s minds? Would it be the south, the valleys, and Cardiff? Perhaps it’s Y Fro Gymraeg?

When I talk about Wales, I mean Powys. But who speaks for Powys? More specifically, who speaks for the Welsh Marches?

In my part of Powys, Wales was lost. Specifically, Owain Glyndŵr lost the Battle of Shropshire just over the border from where I grew up and where I live. It was as a direct result of this, that his reign ended.

I wasn’t told this at school but, rather, found it out as a 20-something researching the brief history of Maldwyn.

When it’s World Cup season, here there are alternating St George Cross flags and Y Ddraig Goch flags in every other window.

For my part, I relish it – to me it always felt like the Marshes were a liminal space between Wales and England and showed just how steeped in history we are, how diverse we could be.

And yet, our politicians do nothing to enable this history nor encourage diversity.

Battle

Here in Maldwyn, if we want an operation we go to England by default; if we want to go to Bangor or Cardiff, we go through England.

Surveys have shown that although non-UK immigration is lowest in Powys, UKIP has some of its highest support in Wales.

Political engagement in Powys is so low that we hold the dubious record of 2017’s only unelected councillor seat. Yscir was the only ward in Wales with no one standing for election

“For the Welsh Marches, see England.”

Though this may not paint a pretty picture, I don’t mean to denigrate – I love my part of Wales and feel a deep connection that can only be described by the Welsh word “cynefin”.

There is still a great feeling of pride in our Welsh heritage, here. We have proud Welsh speakers, proud Welsh lineages, and happy new-Welsh folk here.

With the low political engagement, the living history, and the subtleties of national identity, it’s entirely possible that – once again – this will be the final battlefield.

Unless the east is won, independence will not come in this lifetime.

So it is that I am setting out to do something about it on a local level. As one of the founding members of Labour for an Independent Wales, I hope to work within my party to increase discussion of independence.

As a Maldwyn man, I am setting up YesWelshpool to win the debate in the east.

I cannot do this alone so will be calling on other YesCymru groups to visit, to give lectures, and to come to our public spaces and use megaphones.

I think that of all the regions of Wales, the east will be the hardest but the final battle to be won.

With this, I not only hope to discuss independence but to reinvigorate political engagement in the county that gave us The Rebecca Riots and Robert Owen.

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