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For Britain See Wales – Part One

01 Jul 2024 4 minute read
For Britain See Wales

In a new series of articles in the run up to the election, Joe England explores the impending constitutional meltdown of a divided UK and its consequences, reflecting on Wales’s position as the poorest nation of all.

As a crisis looms, his new book For Britain See Wales, contemplates a reimagined Wales and what it would mean for its people.

This is the story of how Wales reached an economic and constitutional crossroad and the choices that must now be made…….

Wales is the poorest country in the United Kingdom.

Poverty still challenges the reason and conscience of men, and instead of becoming less acute as national wealth increases, it becomes more serious. Ramsay MacDonald

For more than twenty years, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have had devolved governments growing in confidence, taking policy decisions over increasing areas and being allowed to do so.

Yet apparently this was hidden in plain sight until Brexit, and the different ways in which England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales dealt with Covid-19, brought the devolution changes to public attention.

The exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union raised three fundamental issues: who is responsible for rebuilding the devolved economies, who controls the funds that previously came from the EU to the countries of the United Kingdom, and how should those funds be spent?

The devolved governments at Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast have one view. The current Conservative Government at Westminster has another.

Its determination to centralise power undermines the powers and responsibilities of the devolved governments. An unresolved constitutional dilemma threatens.

The initial industrialisation and peopling of Wales collapsed in the first third of the twentieth century, was rebuilt on an entirely different basis after the Second World War only for that to fall apart in the 1970s and 1980s.

The deindustrialisation of the UK, including Wales, in the last third of the twentieth century, the consequent poverty in large parts of the UK, the exit from the European Union, the constitutional issues revealed, and the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic are remarkable events compressed into a few short years.

They deserve discussion.

I am approaching the discussion and challenges in three parts.

The first highlights the present and that Wales is the poorest nation in a United Kingdom where the former coalfields in England and Scotland – Kent, the east Midlands, Yorkshire, County Durham and Fife – have areas of deprivation.

The once United Kingdom is now economically and politically divided. It was the stated desire of the Boris Johnson government to ‘level up’ this economic deficit by investing in the deprived areas. This remained an aim of the government led by Rishi Sunak.

However, governments based in Westminster appear not to acknowledge the governance of Scotland by nationalists, the strength of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, and in Wales, the clear differences from England.

These differences are expressed in sentiment and in practical action, with, since 1997, a Welsh Labour government exercising devolved powers.

The second section of inquiry describes the historic flourishing and subsequent breakdown of the Welsh economy, the responses of the people, local councils and the Welsh Government to this economic decline, and the features inherited from those years of industrialisation.

And finally I want to look and reflect on the changes stimulated by the pandemic and the environmental crisis, the state of Wales today, what new Wales might arise from the old, and what kind of society it could be.

The pandemic highlighted the significance of the localities where we live and where everyday activities make our lives possible. For too long they were ignored until the pandemic opened our eyes and highlighted their inequalities and potentialities.

There is a related issue. The, so far, United Kingdom seems committed to the seemingly never-ending pursuit of economic ‘growth’ in the face of clear evidence that in recent decades ‘growth’ has led to environmental degradation, comparative poverty for many, and threatens the survival of planet Earth as we know it.

The deindustrialisation of areas of the UK that were growth centres in the nineteenth century, the attempt by Downing Street to assert central control, and the questions raised by a never-ending race for economic growth are intertwined themes.

This is the story of how we reached these economic and constitutional crossroads and the choices to be made.

Joe England was educated at Cyfarthfa Grammar School, Merthyr Tydfil and at the University of Nottingham where he studied Economic and Social History. He has enjoyed a distinguished career in Higher Education. He has published several books including a critically acclaimed biography of place, Merthyr: The Crucible of Modern Wales.

For Britain See Wales is out next week from Parthian.

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adrian savill
adrian savill
13 days ago

Edrych ymlaen

13 days ago

Poorest, yet the one that has contributed the most to Empire! From its resources to the very name used. We have been taken for ride and we continue to accept its continuation. On a side note, are we truly the poorest? Whatever happened to all that gold we supposedly had? I am starting to believe that the narrative about us being the poorest is nothing but a lie, designed to drive the notion that we can’t afford to control our own affairs.

Claudia Barron
Claudia Barron
13 days ago

Wales has water and can produce green energy. At the moment profit from this is going to Crown Estate, Westminster and private hands.. if a proper share of it went into the Welsh economy, maybe Wales would no longer be the poorest nation. At the moment, I’m sorry to say it’s looking the same as the exploitation that happened with coal, all over again

Bob Sinclair
Bob Sinclair
12 days ago

“Wales is the poorest country in the United Kingdom”

The problem with this statement is that it gifts London to England. Why should one UK constituent get the economic credit for the UK capital?

Any intra UK comparisons must consider the English regions. In that league table, North East England is the poorest part of the UK.

Until independence, the only place for an England vs Wales contest is on the pitch.

Last edited 12 days ago by Bob Sinclair
12 days ago
Reply to  Bob Sinclair

“Until independence, the only place for an England vs Wales contest is on the pitch.”
What do you see as being the “England vs Wales” contest now?

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