As a I wave goodbye to Wales, I look back at a wonderful nation in the grip of Westminster
Goodbyes are never easy. In about a month from now, the inevitable will come to pass and I will leave the land that has been my home as a university student for the past three years.
The shift from Holland to Wales was exhilarating: after having lived my whole life in a country famous for its flatness, I moved to a land dotted with hills and mountains.
As a Dutchman who has been privileged enough to be welcomed by the Welsh community, I can attest to the friendly and diverse spirit of the nation, as well as the allure of its landmarks.
In the beginning, I deeply enjoyed the little wonders of the north of Wales — the steep walks in Snowdonia, the occasional visits to villages and piers, and the scenic train rides along the seaside.
It was pure chance that I arrived in what could only be described as one of the worst periods of recent history.
A mere four months after settling in Wales, a deadly pandemic washed over the world, locking us away from loved ones and forever changing the course of our lives.
Much can be said about the Welsh government’s pandemic response. There was of course a limit to the measures the First Minister could take, given the reliance on resources from Westminster.
But during those masked pandemic years, when there was little breathing room between lockdowns, the difference between Wales and Westminster could not have been more clear.
There was widespread frustration in Cardiff over London’s lack of strategy that came down to playing catch-up with the virus. Luckily, public safety was central to the Welsh covid response. Mark Drakeford acted much sooner than his English counterpart.
It was during this period I became increasingly more conscious, as many others did, that Wales had its own political character and voice. It also dawned on me however to what extent Westminister’s wishes seep through into all aspects of life in Wales.
It is perhaps now that the pandemic is on its way out and the cost-of-living crisis is putting people’s livelihoods at risk that the drawbacks of Tory control over Wales are again taking centre stage.
Pride in austerity
Despite Cardiff’s calls for the UK government’s aid, adequate relief has so far been nonexistent. The Queen’s speech was a further display of disregard for the most vulnerable, offering no hope of support.
Then there is Parliament’s recent outpour of controversial bills. The Policing Bill will hand the police powers to limit peaceful protests, and the Judicial Review and Courts Bill will weaken people’s ability to challenge the government in court.
It is precisely my admiration for the community that welcomed me with open arms that make it all the more painful to take stock of Westminster’s grip on Wales.
When I think about the damaging bills and budget cuts imposed on Wales by the Tories, I long back to being somewhat indifferent to politics.
I was a teenager when the global markets crashed in 2008, and for as long as I can remember have lived under the rule of conservative governments that take pride in their policies of austerity.
The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which has delivered the Dutch Prime Minister for the last twelve years, can in many ways be compared to the English Conservative Party.
However, Dutch conservatives lack the cruelty and outright apathy for people’s wellbeing that have come to define the UK’s Tory government.
In the Netherlands, many can afford the luxury of ignoring the newest wave of right-wing measures, simply because vital social infrastructure has stayed more or less in place. The same could not be said of Wales.
In Wales, the UK government’s cruelty means that many people now find themselves unable to meet their basic needs. No Levelling-Up Lies can cloud the fact that children go hungry and pensioners cannot heat their homes.
Wrongs of Wales
It is disheartening to admit that I experience the grief of the wrongs of Wales — and by extension, the UK’s — on a daily basis.
The Welsh NHS, which is overwhelmed, underfunded and understaffed, has condemned my name to waiting lists. I am glad for the painkillers, but I am yearning for meaningful treatment.
Despite the hardships, Wales has shown it is a place of acceptance, diversity and creativity.
Just days ago, Mark Drakeford proposed reforms that will make the Senedd more representational. Bangor, the oldest city in Wales, last year elected the world’s first nonbinary mayor.
Welsh Ministers often do what they can to alleviate, if ever so slightly, the worst damage being done in London. The Winter Fuel Support Scheme, which offered help to pay energy bills following cuts to universal credit, came at the right time.
Transfer of power
Given Wales’ undisputable entanglement to England, I would not argue for independence — rather, a healthy transfer of power from London to Cardiff, which appears to me as the majority’s wish.
It is my hope that more devolution is a start to solving Tory-inflicted crises, and allows Wales to set out progressive plans for its future.
As for me, I will not be returning to my homeland — not just yet. I went through a lot on this island, and my love for its culture, language and people has not withered. I am happy and privileged to call Scotland my next home.
For now, I shall remain a Dutch resident of the Disunited Kingdom.
Hwyl fawr — or, as you would say in Dutch: bedankt en tot ziens.
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