Benjamin L. Angwin
Labour would rather we believe that Wales is at heart a socialist country, and this reinvention of history has led our national movement astray.
However, if you look back at the history of our country the strand that runs throughout is liberalism, not socialism.
Only a radical, nonconformist attitude – a determination to choose of our destiny rather than give it up to those who do not know better – will save Wales from its current predicament.
So let’s remove ourselves from the currennt, fruitless battle between two bad choices – Labour or the Conservatives – and try something new.
Here are 10 liberal leaders Welsh people should know about and what their ideas can contribute to Wales.
1 – Hywel Dda
Hywel Dda has been painted as a socialist, but again this is is projecting our current politics on the past.
The progressive laws for which ie is so famous, such as women’s rights, and an illegitimate son’s right to inherit his father’s land, are liberal ideas.
He was a Humanist in his desire to punish with payment (galanas) rather than pain. Gathering an assembly to codify laws rather than dictating them is also a liberal act.
Hywel Dda’s laws were before their time and demonstrate how far back Welsh liberalism extends.
2 – William Morgan
William Morgan was the first man to translate the complete Bible into Welsh.
The very idea that the people should be able to read the Bible in their own language, and interpret it as they saw fit, was a liberal one.
Jo Grimond said, ‘Liberals see no salvation which is not personal.’ The Bible gave people access to salvation through their own efforts, if that was their Free Choice.
It is no surprise that those who stuck with this principle became the nonconformists that dominated he Liberal Party in Wales in the 19th century.
3 – Thomas Gee
The Welsh nationalism of the second half of the 19th century was distinctly liberal, and Thomas Gee’s Y Faner newspaper was at the forefront of that fight.
The liberal idea of freedom of religion and freedom to interpret the Bible as you see fit drove the remarkable growth of the Welsh publishing industry during this time.
Thomas Gee’s press published y Gwyddoniadur (A Welsh encyclopedia), the most ambitious publication ever produced in Welsh.
More Medieval Welsh survives than the works of all Medieval Russia, and Thomas Gee’s press published them in The Myvyrian Archaiology in 1870.
He was a Liberal, a prominent voice in the Tithe War. He struck a blow against Tory landlordism and the unfair practice of the sgriw – where landowners forced their tenants to vote the same way as they did.
He was also instrumental in the campaign for disestablishing the Welsh Church, the University of Wales, and other national institutions.
His publications revived the idea of Wales as a nation for the first time in centuries.
To say that Welshness re-emerged at the end of the 19th century via socialism is simply the history you are told to believe.
4 – Michael D. Jones
Michael D. Jones was the first man to set forth the intellectual case for the Welsh nationalism that is familiar to us today.
His own mother was turned out of her own home by a Tory landowner following the 1859 election, an experience that seems to have had a profound influence on him.
While many around him supported the British Empire, he was very much before his time in realising that Wales got a raw deal from the union.
He is best known today for establishing y Wladfa in Argentina in 1865, which produced the first Welsh-medium school on earth
Back home, he won an election as a Liberal by 8 votes over his Tory opponent, helping him to push Cymru Fydd, Wales’ first Welsh Nationalist movement and one founded by Liberals, forward.
He saw the Welsh Language as an essential of Welsh nationality at a time when others were turning their backs on it. Emrys ap Iwan, another Welsh Nationalist Liberal, was deeply influenced by his writings.
Both Michael D. Jones and Emrys ap Iwan were marginal figures in their own day but their writings had a profound influence on Welsh nationalists in the 20th century.
5 – William Ewart Gladstone
Cardiff’s founding stone is Gladstonian. His era is built into Cardiff’s soul, and Wales. For over 60 years Wales support him.
His Liberals were the first party to recognise Wales as a ‘political nation’. These ideas ignited Cymru Fydd, which sprang out of Liberalism, not trade unions, and inspired young men like O. M. Edwards.
Gladstone’s library in Flintshire is one of Wales’ treasures. Go there and you will see why Liberalism is Rhyddfrydiaeth (Free-Mind-ism).
6 – Herbert Henry Asquith and David Lloyd George
These two were like Efnisien and Nisien – you cannot understand one without the other.
One brought Britain into the war, whilst the other saw it out to the end. The war which tore their deep friendship apart tore the Liberal Party apart too.
Their opposing natures produced an intense energy which reformed the House of Lords, and introduced welfare and women rights. But it also enabled Labour to become the force which destroyed them.
Their conflict cast Liberalism into the desert for many decades, forcing Liberals to evolve and return to Humanism in order to survive the coming of socialism and mass media.
7 – Jo Grimond
He led Liberals back from the brink of extinction between 1956 and 1967. He cast Labour as an oppressive, conformist authority, and his own party as a resistance of individualist liberators.
It has been said he is the greatest politician to of never been Prime Minister. ‘Liberalism is a personal matter,’ he said, seeking to speak to each of us as individuals when the newness of television was making this a radical act of protest.
He fought for a Scottish Parliament his entire life, was the first political leader to support gay rights, and persuaded his party to support the abolition of nuclear weapons.
If his values and energy were fused with Welsh Nationalism I am confident Wales would be independent within 25 years.
His biography, Towards the Sound of Gunfire by McManus, is worth a read.
8 – Paddy Ashdown (The Rt Hon. The Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG CH KBE PC)
This former Lib Dem leader’s formal title has a lesson for Wales. The British Empire is part of Wales no matter what future it chooses. Our national poet, Ifor ap Glyn, has presented poetry to the Queen.
Hundreds of thousands of Welsh people consider the Royals and the Empire’s legacy a part of their Welsh identity. Some Welsh people are Royalist, get over it!
If you can say his formal title without a childish grimace on your face, his ebook, 1983: The Winning of Yeovil, is priceless for Plaid Cymru.
It is the moment that made the Liberal Democrats possible.
9 – Gwynoro Jones
This man defeated Gwynfor Evans, in his prime, twice. Gwynoro Jones’ reasons for leaving Labour to help establish the SDP and later the Liberal Democrats reveal how Labour’s ideas can restrict civil liberties.
Imagine Plaid had listened to him, and by now we had heard 10,000 times: Labour restricts your civil liberties, we won’t.
His knowledge of Labour may be used to defeat Labour. He fought for the Rainbow Alliance, something which would have transformed Wales with new ideas. He still campaigns for an anti-Labour coalition.
10 – Nick Clegg
Thatcher’s revolution need not hurt Wales any longer. Holding on to Labour’s ideas means holding on to Thatcher’s ideas. You cannot have one without the other.
Nick Clegg’s story is one of a man refuting political ideologies and trying to get people to stop fighting each other as the volume is slowly being turned up on their voices.
Nick Clegg entering into coalition with the Tories is the single most courageous thing I have personally seen a politician do. He knew it could destroy him personally and his party. But it was right to steer his country away from Labour’s increasing authoritarianism at the time.
I wonder, can Wales ever be as courageous as Nick Clegg was, and do something which spits in the face of the last 90 years?
I end with a woman, Rosaria C. Butterfield, who said, ‘Lord, please protect me from Your people.’