Snowdon – the highest mountain in England and Wales? The image is released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0.
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
I do not live in Englandandwales.
I live in Wales; not Englandandwales, and I am sick to the back teeth of seeing and hearing it referred to as such.
Wales is a nation overlooked. Far too often it is not treated as a nation in its own right.
When people refer to Englandandwales what they are communicating is that they believe Wales is an afterthought; that they don’t accord its people the same respect as those of other nations.
Yr Wyddfa, the highest mountain in Wales, is often referred to as the highest mountain in England and Wales. Yet I’ve never heard Mont Blanc referred to has the highest mountain in England and France. Do people refer to Mount Everest as the highest mountain in England and Nepal? No, I don’t think so.
Now this example may seem trivial to many, but it is part of a pattern of behaviour that has created societal and legal structures that keep the people of Wales powerless and poor.
The way people are viewed impacts the way they are treated by those in power, and vice versa. It becomes self-reinforcing.
Rather depressingly, the fact that Wales is mentioned as an afterthought is actually a step forward.
The Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 essentially abolished the country as a legal entity. It incorporated Wales into England to create a single state and legal jurisdiction.
The law states that the “Country or Dominion of Wales shall be, stand and continue for ever from henceforth incorporated, united and annexed to and with this his Realm of England.”
Indeed, anyone looking up Wales in 1888 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica would have found the monumentally paltry, dismissive and arrogant entry “See England.”
In many ways, despite the progress that has been made, despite the fact that we have our own Senedd and so on, “for Wales see England” remains the case.
Ironically this was done during the reign of King Henry VIII of England who hailed from the partly Welsh Tudor dynasty.
However, this was actually an improvement because following the Edwardian conquest of Wales in 1282 the nation was pretty much treated as a fiefdom under a sort of medieval apartheid. Under the so-called Acts of Union the Welsh were given a greater amount of legal protection and a measure of equality. In fact, many Welsh people at the time welcomed the development.
That however does not exactly make the situation an optimal one. It’s a sad state of affairs indeed when the destruction of your country is seen as an improvement. Yes, it gave Welsh people a measure of equality, but it had an Orwellian flavour. England was more equal than us, and still is.
The fact that many people have been happy to hold their hands out for crumbs does not negate the arguments for demanding a loaf.
Englandanwales is more than just a frame of mind however – the effect of the Acts of Union is still felt in our ability to run our own affairs for our own greater good.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own legal jurisdictions. Wales does not, and that means it has less control over its affairs. The legal jurisdiction of England and Wales is essentially that of England with an adjunct.
This means we do not have Welsh justice in Wales; we only have English justice. This is problematic because many aspects of the English criminal justice system are dysfunctional, and in Wales we have to endure it.
We have our own Senedd in Cardiff Bay which is developing our very own body of law. Yet we do not have our own legal system. This is problematic, it causes confusion and can lead to anomalies.
It means we are not free to treat drugs as the public health crisis it is, as they have done in countries such as Portugal. So as long as England sticks with a failed approach on this issue, Wales has to lump it, and make no mistake; that means more crime, and more drug deaths.
Wales is not in control of the price of its own water either. Scotland and Northern Ireland are able to regulate the price of their own water.
However, the price for water in Wales is set by Ofwat, which is the economic regulator of the water sector in England and Wales. This essentially means the price of Welsh water is set by England. It’s over 50 years since the village of Capel Celyn in the Tryweryn valley was drowned in an act of legalised colonial theft, and Wales still isn’t in control of its own water.
The current legal order also means that Wales is unable to charge a Tryweryn Tax on it in order to pump money into our priorities, such as the NHS. Meanwhile private firms make a fortune from it.
It is yet another illustration of the unequal nature of the United Kingdom. Wales is treated as more unequal than others, with England being the most equal of all of course.
Wales is the institutionally weakest part of the United Kingdom, and it also happens to be the poorest. Is this a coincidence? I very much doubt it.
Being referred to as Englandandwales is also problematic with regards to understanding Wales.
Recently I’ve been looking up crime statistics for something that I’m writing. Unfortunately finding crime stats, or stats in general, for Wales is not a straight forward endeavour.
The ONS for example does not have crime statistics for Wales. It only has crime statistics for England and Wales. This is less than helpful when trying to understand what is happening in Wales. It is also deeply disrespectful.
It is said that there a lies, damn lies, and statistics. Statistics about Wales are essentially manipulated to act as if Wales almost doesn’t exist.
Statistics are a window through which to see the world. Unfortunately, in Wales our window is largely obscured. To find solutions to issues affecting Wales we first need to understand what is going on. It is much more difficult to do that without the relevant stats.
The dearth of Wales-only statistics also reinforces the perception that it is less than a nation. Because it is perceived as less than a nation it is treated as such. Because it is treated as such, it is perceived as such. These things become self-reinforcing.
Perceptions matter. Each country is an idea. For Wales to be treated as a nation we must begin by regarding it as such, and demand that others do the same.
That is the first step towards making it a reality.