A growing feeling that ‘Cardiff doesn’t care’ in the north-east could threaten the future of the Senedd
Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru Councillor for the Queensway ward on Wrexham Council
A post-Brexit YouGov poll for ITV Cymru Wales and Cardiff University has delivered some significant results that point to a polarisation of views amongst Welsh voters as regards both Welsh Independence and devolution.
The poll released this week shows growing support for Welsh Independence, now up to 27% (omitting don’t knows, not voting and refused to answer). But this was countered by another result which has raised a few eyebrows. The poll also showed that 33% would vote in a referendum to abolish the Senedd altogether.
The figures also suggest that support for abolishing the Senedd is at its highest in the north of Wales. Of course, it’s important not to overreact to small regional sub-samples in individual polls, but a growing disillusionment with devolution chimes with what I’ve heard here over the past few years.
In the north-east where I live, the ‘everything goes down south’ and ‘Cardiff doesn’t care’ lines feature regularly in conversations on the doorstep and increasingly so. This frustration stems from the sorry state of transport, the health service, the lack of television coverage, as well as a general sense of disenfranchisement.
And this spike in frustration is undoubtedly down to the failure of the Labour Government that’s been in power since 1999 to deliver what people want, or indeed to articulate any kind of vision at all. It’s been so lacklustre in fact that a growing number of people are clearly now questioning the validity of the institution itself.
In terms of Welsh Government economic policy, Government Ministers such as Ken Skates relentlessly tout north Wales as an add on to the north West of England. He is obsession an “east-west economic axis” but has spectacularly failed to set out a genuine economic vision based on building on our strengths and aspirations. A plan that amounts to better links with England is lazy economics, especially given that the north-east accounts for a third of Welsh exports.
There is also a growing sense of a democratic deficit too. People feel that housing and planning are being dictated by a distant Welsh Government with no understanding of the impact it will have on communities. Add to that a health board in meltdown with seemingly no hope of recovery under the current Labour Government and we have the recipe for a large-scale backlash.
These frustrations have been brewing for a long time and aren’t all unique to this part of Wales. But if we’re not careful, we may just see a Brexit style boil-over here, with people ready to kick out at any institution within reach. Many blame devolution itself for this long list of failures and neglect, rather than the political party that’s presided over it for 22 unbroken years.
This is an issue that now needs tackling head-on, we need to acknowledge and address the concerns people are raising. As it stands Plaid Cymru are the only party who have attempted to do that, with policies proposing legislation for fair spending and ideas such as devolving Government around the country.
It’s not time to panic about the future of devolution. It’s clear from the poll results that a majority of Welsh people in the north as elsewhere do support devolution and also that support for Independence is on the rise. Opposition to devolution has always been there and we have come a long way from 1997 when half the population didn’t want any devolution at all.
It’s also heartening that among the youngest in the population support for scrapping the Senedd is at its lowest and support for independence is at its highest.
However, we’d be foolish not to notice that the danger of such a campaign to overturn devolution and return us to full Westminster control is there.
Key Welsh figures such as historian and broadcaster John Davies have long described the north-east as a crucible of Welsh identity, and he was exactly right. We now stand at a political crossroads which could see this rich identity grow and thrive, or alternatively we could see it lost unless we gain political power over our own future.
We have to give people confidence that as a fundamental principle, we can and should chart our own course. The alternative is both the Tories and Labour pushing us in the opposite direction – assimilation.
Stand-alone polices won’t be enough going forward, it’s clearly time for a more in depth analysis of the challenges we face, with a view to producing a cohesive plan of action for the next phase of devolution. One idea would be the establishment of a commission for the north of Wales, which could examine all the dynamics touched on here and set out a longer-term vision of integration and empowerment for this part of Wales.
In the midst of the current frustration with politics in general which is undoubtedly bubbling away, there are also opportunities. There is an appetite amongst the people I talk to for solutions, along with a growing sense of Welsh identity and curiosity about Independence.
We now have a unique opportunity to knit these threads together and give people the answers they’ve long been asking for.
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Re Carrie Haroers article. I live in Cardiff but travel for work. The point about TV is crucial. In hotels across the north east TVs are tuned to English stations….no Wales Today or ITV News Wales……is this the same in homes? If so, how can this be addressed…..no wonder people feel disconnected.
It also doesn’t help that quite often on Wales today or itv Wales news any news story from say Colwyn Bay is described as “in North Wales” like its from the moon. North Wales should never be used as a geographical term on Welsh national news. It should be Conwy or in Denbighshire etc. Also bbc radio Wales is actually BBC radio South Wales. I do not know of one person who listens to it as there is everything is M4 centric. Quite often on BBC radio Merseyside they will have callers from Prestatyn etc showing that in their view… Read more »
Yes it is, the masts serving us are based in England, infuriating, there were BBC Wales programmes I wanted to watch but couldn’t, same with S4C
@ Chris Hoyle: As regards TVs being tuned to English stations, it depends where you live. Although we’re slightly less than twenty miles from the nearest bit of the English border, being in Dyffryn Clwyd means that we can’t get English TV because , being westward of the Bryniau Clwyd, the signal’s too poor. But if you live east of the Bryniau in Flintshire, or for quite some way along the coast, I hear that it’s pretty easy to pick up English stations. Another factor is sense of identity. My impression is that a fair number of folk native to… Read more »
I wonder where they bury them?
Wherever’s cheapest? For the Mancs, at any rate!
In Wrecsam they ran out of room and the cemetary has transferred to Llay, I think. All my family were in the old Ruabon Road, where there still should be enough room for pots! I could go on but I’m dead tired. Seriously, people take up room?
‘Seriously, people take up room?’
Indeed they do. Across much of Europe you ‘rent’ a burial place for a set period of years. You’re at complete liberty to extend the lease if you’re so motivated. If you aren’t, the remains are exhumed and placed in a charnel-house.
Far more sensible than the practice here of leaving remains in situ until burial space runs out, while cemeteries, filled with the graves of folk whom no one now remembers, revert to scrub and wilderness.
Chris Hoyle: If you live in the Maelor Saesneg (the old ‘Flintshire Detached’) east of Wrecsam, the likelihood is that you will not get a TV signal for BBC Wales, BBC2 Wales, ITV Wales, or S4C. The problem is that the transmitter is situated to the west of Mynydd Yr Hob (Hope Mountain). Hence, a large swathe of Welsh people receive no news about Wales on their telly. There’s always BBC Radio Wales, but, as others have pointed out, it’s really ‘BBC Radio Valleys + Cardiff’, and it has little of news value anyway (people should read Dic Mortimer’s excellent… Read more »
It is not the same in homes. My Mam watches footy on S4c.
Lle mae hi’n byw, JR, purely out of interest? Dw i wedi ddim medru cael S4C erioed, dwyrain o Wrecsam. Except on iPlayer. I can only get ‘Sgorio’ on YouTube!
When I was little, S4C couldn’t be picked up in the town of Holywell at all. We lived in a village outside and turned the ariel so we could get it, but that wasn’t the norm. So there were both problems, some people want TV from Wales and can’t get it, some choose not to have it (or just use the default).
Not surprised to hear that. The whole thing’s a train-wreck and needs to be addressed and fixed.
Hermitage estate, Wrecsam.
Wake up Cymru. Someplaces in the Northeast are +%70 English (higher with 2+3 generation) who dont identity as Welsh.
If Kent was %70 French there would be riots in every major English city every week. Our passiveness makes our country a joke.
A few years back there was an interesting TV programme which explored the sense of identity which people in places like Connah’s Quay and Shotton had. These weren’t retiree ‘blow-ins’ from England – Deeside’s not pretty enough for that! – but local folk who’d lived there years, quite often all their lives.
And my recollection is that quite a lot of ’em – though certainly not all – did primarily define themselves as English, or at least British, rather than Welsh.
I doubt if that’s the case to such a degree now; the number of adult Welsh learners in Flintshire is slowly increasing. But they do have the same lack of contact, and the same sense of estrangement, with Cardiff Bay as certain other parts of Cymru do.
Well, I can tell you all this. When Wales are playing soccer or rugby, they are almost standing on the tables, Flint or Wrecsam!
That was one of the issue explored in the TV programme. They found that some supported England, but in general it tended to be Wales …
Might it not be that the England supporters are blow-ins? You’ll be hard put to it to find a Welsh supporter of England in an England-Wales match, I think.
If you were a post-retirement ‘blow-in’, would you choose Shotton or Connah’s Quay?
There are other people who have moved over the border who are not retired or elderly. The point is that these are likely to be the England supporters, although living in a Welsh community.
That may be so, given that there’s certainly work to be had on Deeside. It’s proved to be more resilient than quite a lot of places in the south in the aftermath of the demise of the old heavy industries.
Absolutely. Welsh flags all over the county borough on match days.
Don’t forget. We need (and needed) a residency law! You must be born in Wales or have one Welsh parent or have lived here for 10 years. Other than that, people bringing value added given priority.
Keep it simple, fair, sensible. And no building on green sites!
Carrie makes a valid point, but much the same can be said about the relationship, or lack of, between most of Wales and its capital city. “Cardiff centric” is becoming as much of a curse to Wales as “London-centric” is to the whole of the UK. Whether its drivers are due to lazy thinking among our political and business leaders or some other more deep seated flaws remains open to question and should be examined closely to ensure that effective remedies are selected.
Well its understandable that people feel cut off from Cardiff but does anyone really believe that they will feel more connected to London if we got rid of devolution? Or Manchester or Liverpool? People need to get better at running their own affairs and take part in the work of community councils and vote for county councillors. Basically, people everywhere just need to “grow up!”
‘lacklustre’ is the right word and , to me, it is not just something that describes NE Wales but rather a review of devolution in Wales so far. That’s not to say that Wales, Welsh Government and the Senedd haven’t done some really interesting and very different things. The Well Being and Future Generations Act is a case in point. The weird thing is that we don’t shout about these differences and quite profoundly innovative things from the rooftops.
It was a travesty and real own goal to establish the Assembly in Cardiff in the first place. It should have been based somewhere in Mid-Wales where the whole of Wales would have felt more included and would have brought the country closer together. However the powers that be predictably chose Cardiff not to unite the country but to divide it further and cause resentment up north – a mirror image of our next door neighbours. Had the assembly been based in Mid-Wales the torrid journey up from the south would have maybe concentrated minds on improving infrastructure, but that… Read more »
That reminds me that for many years the Church in Wales’s Governing Body used to hold its meetings in Llandrindod: the joke frequently cracked was that though it was inconvenient as a location, it was at least equally inconvenient for everyone! Wales’s geography is an abiding and intractable difficulty in the way of building a sense of a ‘whole’ nation. As for basing things in Cardiff, I think the crucial issue was that Cardiff had been formally declared ‘the capital of Wales’ quite a long time before devolution was seriously thought if, which gave it a prior claim once it… Read more »
The Assembly is more than just a building and 60 A.M’s.
There is nowhere in mid Wales with the infrastructure that could support the Senedd.
If the assembly were set up in Mid-Wales, say Aberystwyth you will still have the same problem. North Wales has no direct rail link there and that is especially true for NE Wales. Then South Wales will also have the same problem as there is still no plan to reopen the Carmarthen – Aberystwyth line. We need a new rail network linking the main centres of population within Wales. We need to bring our country together. On old rail maps there is also a trackbed route from Cardiff into central Wales can this be reopened? Our nation has been cut… Read more »
Spot on. Cardiff voted No to devolution. There was almost a better argument for reinstating Ludlow as the administrative capital of Wales, like it was in Henry VII’s time!
….. which could be facilitated by shifting the border east a few miles. Leave Chester to the English but taking a strip of Shropshire, Hereford&Worcester and Gloucestershire west of the Severn. Howzat ?
Agree. I don’t think, in the event of an independent Wales, that the border could remain exactly as it now is. Up here in the north there’s a trading state on the outskirts of Chester which straddles the border, with some commercial premises partly in Wales and partly in England.
On the other hand there are areas of Shropshire around Oswestry where the village names and the names of farms and roads are Welsh, and where the Anglican parishes were, prior to disestablishment, in Welsh dioceses rather than English ones.
That’s true, John. You’ll nearly always hear Welsh spoken on the streets of Oswestry, or in the shops. There was talk a few years ago of a local referendum on becoming part of Wales. That might become an issue at some point in the future, possibly depending on how Brexit pans out, and on how ‘united’ the United Kingdom will be some years down the line.
There are significant sections of the borderlands where the geography creates a natural and obvious border between England and Wales – the lower Wye valley being an obvious example. But there are other places where the current border has a considerable degree of haphazardness, and in the ultimate event of Welsh independence I just can’t conceive the border remaining exactly as it currently stands. In the nature of things borders are necessarily debatable; clearly, for example king Offa viewed what is now Flintshire as part of Mercia! And there is some precedent for the ‘local referendum’ which you mention. When… Read more »
Those Anglican parishes on the English side of the border are still in the Church in Wales under the diocese of St. Asaph. Just as the modern Catholic Church does not recognise Hereford as part of England. Hereford and parts of Herefordshire (part of the ancient Welsh kingdom of Erging) are part of the Archdiocese of Cardiff within the province of Wales. As the modern archdiocese covers the ancient dioceses of Hereford and Llandaff which were both Welsh and French speaking in the middle ages. The ancient diocese of Hereford which existed up to the reformation covered roughly the boundaries… Read more »
‘Those Anglican parishes on the English side of the border are still in the Church in Wales under the diocese of St. Asaph.’ I’m afraid that’s just not the case. The only Anglican parishes offered a choice at the time of disestablishment were those whose church buildings were situated in Wales but whose ancient parish boundaries extended across the modern border to incorporate parts of England. I think there were seventeen of those in all. One English parish – Selattyn – uniquely sought to remain in the diocese of St Asaph at the time of disestablishment, but was not allowed… Read more »
The Welsh were not happy losing their Latin mass.
The church was, is, Catholic : “Universal”.
Mid Wales is not central though is it? You can get to Cardiff more easily from the north east than you can Aberystwyth. Why choose somewhere that’s difficult for most people?
Wouldn’t reopening the Camarthen-to-Aber line fix that?
It’s the old debate: is devolution a matter of just shifting power to the same types of people, just based in a new location, i.e. Cardiff rather than London, because it is a matter of national identity, or is it a matter of changing how we are governed so that the decisions are brought closer to people they effect wherever possible through each decision being made and then implemented at the most effective level of government, whether local, regional, national, supranational or international. And if it’s both, then how do we balance the two?
I live in the north-east myself, and I believe Councillor Harper’s pretty much on the ball in this opinion piece. I don’t sense much hostility to devolution in my area – Dyffryn Clwyd – but I don’t notice much interest in it either, let alone enthusiasm for it. It’s peripheral, and when you live here Cardiff seems – is! – a long way away. I’ve commented before on these threads on my impression that a sense of Welsh identity – patriotism, even – while real enough, attaches more to the part of Wales in which you live rather than to… Read more »
Well said Carrie. We can’t afford to be complacent. Unfortunately the “Bubble in the Bay” applies to all the political parties, including Plaid. During my campaign for Plaid Chair last year, when I visited the North East, I was made very aware of the disillusionment among local Plaid members, several of whom have since left the party. My manifesto contained a commitment to establish a Plaid office in the North East., as close to Broughton as possible Sadly there is little chance of that occurring. [No sign yet of Alun Ffred’s promise of an “on line forum for members either].… Read more »
Once again, is Plaid a National Party, or a group of Left Entryists who entered in the sixties and seventies, as the Labour party wouldn’t have them? Plaid Wrecsam seem to be a National group.
Tell me if I’m wrong, as I don’t insist. btw I’m an Adam Price supporter, though a catholic.
Definitely of the National Party variety. Plaid has a good local branch that has campaigned for Welsh-medium schools and has fought to prevent unwanted new build in local villages to facilatate Cairns’s ‘NorthWestern Powerhouse’ and commuter overspill from Cheshire and Merseyside. Carrie Harper is worth her weight in gold. They put Leanne Wood and co. to shame.
The mindset of political and ‘business’ Cardiff doesn’t give a damn about Newport, never mind North Wales. Western Mail hardly ever mentions Newport County or the Dragons.
Build Nation Cymru, then?
Ironically, Cardiff hosted the most relevant and popular National Eisteddfod just 18 months ago so where do we go from there? (Unfortunately to a muddy field in Llanwrst and a refusal to release the attendance figures for the week. Can’t wait for the roaring moorland winds around Tregaron…)
There is hardly a country, in Europe at least, where the population does not dislike the capital city and its people.Just look at the social media for comments on London. Seething!
Good point. But Wales’s colonial situation means that it needs a fostering of national togetherness that is made virtually impossible by geography, poor transport links, lack of media and and an unmotivated Welsh Government that has only limited powers.
Amazing, then, that we are on 27%?
I think it’s the Adam Price effect!
In regards to Chris Hoyles comments its the same in the South East with many viewers in the Newport area are tuned into BBC/ITV West instead of Wales. Surely this is unhealthy for democracy ie people not knowing who their elected representatives are, as well as not getting urgent appeals such as missing people. I feel that this is more down to technology rather than identify. In the pre-digital days Channel 4 wasn’t available from Welsh transmitters and this was more preferable among non-Welsh speakers than S4C. That’s not a criticism of S4C but more of a criticism of the… Read more »
I think you’re broadly correct in your diagnosis. In fact in the days before S4C when Welsh transmitters were incorporating Welsh language programmes into their otherwise English language schedules, monoglot English speakers in southern Wales – and, I imagine, in the north too – got into the habit of getting their telly from English transmitters if they could get an adequate signal. That was certainly very common in the ’70s in Swansea and in Newport when I was living there. And once that becomes the habit, it doesn’t readily change. We can get the north Wales TV channel where I… Read more »
In the pre-digital days S4C was a bilingual channel that carried a lot of Channel 4 programmes like Brookside etc and used to have English and other foreign language films on, on a Friday night. Growing up in north east S4C was one of the most popular channel for most people my age growing up. The old bilingual S4C was way better then the modern fully Welsh S4C or the fully English Channel 4. When S4C Digidol came on the scene (which is basically what modern S4C comes from) it seemed like the beginning of the end. The same period… Read more »
Build a new green capital city in mid Wales with a service based economy.
Amazed you are on minus for an obviously terrific idea!
Adam has also broached such a thing, and I’ve added Wales international airport.
Yes, on second thoughts, it’d be ideal. Trouble is we haven’t got quite as much land as Australia and Brazil had when they did it, and there’s been enough new street-building done in Cymru in recent years. I still think the best option would be to move them to Aberystwyth and to build them a less ugly building this time. Any new location for the Senedd would require far better transport links, of course.
I remember Dafydd Wigley saying that one of the first things the Assembly should have done was put signs on each end of the A449 saying to the north, to the south…. at least try symbolically to link Wales. When the National Assembly was first set up it had regional committees, in part to deal with alienation from the centre. However these were quickly abandoned as they really were toothless talking shops. Maybe re introduce them with oversite roles for things like the health boards and other regional agencies, give them some teeth. Personally I’d go further and introduce directly… Read more »
Historically, border communities have found common cause as often as enmity with England. That’s a pragmatic response to Wales’ geography. So how can a threat to Welsh identity be turned into renewal? Here’s one suggestion: The Caer/Chester twin city, a themed urban development on the Welsh side of Chester, ambience, architecture and streetscapes distinguishing Caer from Chester; designed and built by the people for the people by a networked foundational economy; a fun progressive statement about difference and diversity challenging a world of walls and checkpoints.
Let’s see them do something about their clock? Though I admire your spirit.
Google Chester Clock 3 Faces for an explanation of what JH is refering to if you don’t know this story. Not exactly Tryweryn, and it may be apocryphal, but it does fit in with Cestrian attitudes historically. Interaction between the two sets of supporters at Wrexham v. Chester matches has not tended to be of a relaxed nature. The heddlu have a very conspicuous presence. I blame the Normans.
The thought of assimilation with Westminster fills me with complete and utter horror. I personally support Welsh Independance or at the very least stronger powers for the Senned. I think Wales is in a very precarious position, particularly with the prospect of Scottish independence and reunification in Ireland. If Wales doesnt rise to the challenge at this point in history, we are doomed to become an insignificant region in the increasingly xenophobic inward looking Little England, run by a very right wing Westminster.
If ‘a week is a long time in politics’ it’s unwise to presume that the political climate in May next year will be the same as the political climate now. But I think that it’s reasonable to assume (a) that the Brexit party’s on the way out and that after the next Senedd election not only will the last remnant of UKIP be gone, but there’ll be no Brexit party AMs either; and (b) that the folk who voted for those two parties will switch their support to the Bunterite Tories. Which at the least may mean a larger than… Read more »
Well, Its easier for me from Barry to get to Barcelona than Blaenau. From Clwyd it’s quicker to Kent than Cardiff.
All roads lead to London.
Whilst totally agreeing that the WG is Cardiff centric and that tokenistic promises of an occasional meeting in Eg Caernarfon does nothing to resolve the increasing divide across Wales, I am equally concerned about West Wales ‘beyond Swansea’ where services appear to end. As a Pembrokeshire resident and dysgwr Cymraeg, I want to know when prosperity will be spread equally across Wales as opposed to poverty across Wales. That is cultural, economic & environmental prosperity. With job boosts, better social housing offers, a decent health service to include nhs dental treat, for better editorial opportinities and a financial recognition from… Read more »
Many successful nations are much smaller than Wales. So why not have three independent Wales, all with their own assemblies – North , South East and South West?
I live in North Wales and there is no doubt in my mind that the disconnect is fuelled by the failure of our National broadcaster – the BBC. A visitor to Wales watching or listening to their output wouldn’t even know we existed up here! BBC Radio Wales is a joke – I don’t know of anyone who listens to it – simply because it seems to exist entirely for the south!