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Wales should make companies pay to rename Welsh place names

23 Jun 2018 5 minute read
Snowdonia, or Eryri? Should companies have to pay to rename Welsh place names?

Huw Webber

Here in the USA, where I live as a Welsh ex-pat, the 10th Amendment to the Constitution confers powers to the States (or people) that are not already conferred to the Federal government by the Constitution.

Analogous to this is the principle in the Wales Act of 2017 that the Welsh government is assumed to be able to legislate on matters that are not already reserved by the Westminster parliament.

In effect, Wales should, like a state in the US, be able to govern its own affairs without much interference from a Federal government on matters within the state’s competence.

Yes, the list of powers reserved by Westminster may be quite long – but that list can and will get shorter, with the right will of a Welsh government.

One of the ways Wales can get more powers is to be creative in the way it imagines powers for itself.

That is, to push the boundaries of power and instead of asking permission to adopt powers, Wales assumes that it has those powers already.

The old adage, “seek forgiveness and not permission applies” here.

Respect is often gained in relationships through taking active initiative in policy, as opposed to passivity.

The Scottish experience should teach the Welsh in this regard, especially when it comes to framing issues and setting the Overton window of acceptable discourse in your favor.

Doing this gains you leverage. And even if a position is eventually lost, you will get a better outcome through aggressive compromise. And more likely than not, you’ll start to win.

In this spirt, it’s time to start using Wales’s assumed powers for good. That is, to benefit the Welsh economy and its culture.

A Welsh government should be seeking better policy outcomes that its neighbors, and realize competitive benefits from policy positions it adopts, as well as to reduce damaging outcomes from effect like cultural colonialism.

The problem with a Labour government is that it does not see Welsh governance in these terms, and it will fail as it seeks to administer Tory Westminster policies.

I wish it would be open to new ideas, but one hundred years of political dominance is hard to overcome, and its unfortunate shackling to a badly led unionist party is something that will lead to its comeuppance in times of turbulence that cause election volatility – and realignment.

When it comes to tax, Wales should be more assertive. It could, for instance, start to compete on air routes, and cut the Air Passenger Duty.

Plenty of carriers would love to serve Wales and half of England with cheaper landing slots at Cardiff.

The question should be, why not use tax powers to compete with England? It is in the Welsh national interest to do so.


Another area of innovation would be the application of tax to discourage cultural colonialism, and in particular the renaming of prominent Welsh landmarks or places.

A traditional policy suggestion would be to ban the practice, but I personally would think this reaction is an unimaginative and possibly, illiberal.

My policy response would be to tax the practice: if one genuinely believed that it was going to profit your business by changing the name of your property from a Welsh name to “Pleasant acres,” I’d want to charge you for this with a one time fee of £20,000 or 1% of your sales income for a period of ten years, whichever was greater.

That way, the tax could contribute to a fund to promote fund for Welsh language STEM programs and other cultural activities.

And, after a period of ten years, the name would have to revert to the Welsh one, or else you reapply under the same terms of the original application.

Such policy nudging is a good instance of where the Welsh government could promote good outcomes without being unnecessarily draconian.

If a business using a bland English name can draw more customers than the original Welsh name, then good luck to them: pay the tax in recompense (although I’d argue the reverse is true, Welsh names promote marketing differentiation and better stories).

In any case, the tax provides a useful check and balance, and would be an imaginative use of policy.

And why couldn’t Wales impose a tax on newspapers or other news distributed in Wales who have headquarters outside of Wales?

Such thinking would nudge news producers to pay more attention to Wales, and be a bit more Welsh.

And that could happen without even devolving the official power of broadcasting regulation back to Wales. Wales just has to start pushing policy boundaries to make it happen.

So, I’d encourage Welsh politicians to take interest in these sort of ideas. Who says Wales cannot tax a name change or maintain a register of Welsh place names?

Even when Westminster then takes issue with such a policy, Wales can eventually negotiate a policy outcome that discourages cultural colonialism as a consequence of having passed legislation.

It’s time to take charge and realize a primary lawmaking parliament with assumed powers can actually make a difference.

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