Westminster owes Wales reparations: It’s not charity we seek but justice

Adam Price. Picture by Plaid Cymru.

Adam Price, Plaid Cymru leader 

Last month marked 99 years since the birth of the great Welsh poet, Harri Webb.

An iconoclast seldom rivalled in his wit, Webb wrote mostly in English, but perhaps his most famous work – “Colli iaith” (Losing a Language) was written in Welsh.

Few works succeed in summarising so well that feeling of loss and longing which so often plagues the Welsh psyche. If non-Welsh speakers know one word of one of Europe’s oldest languages then it is often “hiraeth” – that inexplicable, untranslatable sense of yearning for a Wales that’s disappeared over the crimson-edged horizon.

Through the long lens of our nation’s history we see a once resource-rich country ground down into crippling poverty.

From Swansea’s Copperopolis to King Coal’s vast realm, Wales was anvil and furnace for the workshop of the world.  It was quite literally the locomotive of the industrial revolution, where Trevithick’s engine puffed its way on those very first railway tracks.

At the Coal Exchange in 1907, a stone’s throw from our Senedd, the first million pound deal was signed and delivered, but for Wales the ensuing years have been more plunder than profit.

Today it’s not charity we seek but justice.

British rule in Wales has left deep scars. No, it may not have been so bloody but the human cost in blighted lives is to be measured in the millions. The sun at one time never set on the British Empire – but in the underground of the coalfield it never even dawned.  Deprived of our inheritance we were left without the tools –the levers and pulleys – with which to prise ourselves out of the rut of poverty.

We’re not the only ones to have been short-changed, of course.

The Wales Office – that colonial outpost of a Westminster Government – stands in Whitehall in the building that once housed the Slavery Compensation Commission which infamously paid out to the slave owners after abolition rather than the newly liberated slaves.  The argument that the British Empire owes reparations to the people of its former colonies is powerfully well-made by the Indian politician Shashi Tharoor.  But England’s first colony should be added to that long list of creditors.

 

Value

Cofiwch Dryweryn – Remember Tryweryn – a mural that has moved a nation should be engraved on the walls of Whitehall too – a permanent memorial to injustice to the villages drowned to serve not our own but another nation’s needs.  And it’s not just Tryweryn that is a gaping wound in our memory – but Epynt, Clywedog, Aberfan.  And perhaps the most telling monument of all to the negligence of our rulers: the third of our children living today in poverty.

We can’t rebuild the village of Capel Celyn, but we can rebuild our country.  We need a new sense of hope and a National Reconstruction Fund to finance it.

Wales is at a watershed moment, with the world turning like a gyre on its axis.  All the focus now is on a No Deal Brexit.  But Wales has had No Deal, No Plan, No Policy for the last hundred years  – since forcing Germans to produce coal for free left Wales overnight without a market.

Consider this – Wales is the fifth largest exporter of electricity in the world – placed above energy-rich Norway and its $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund built on surpluses for its energy policy.  And yet there are factories in Wales with full order books that cannot expand simply because they cannot afford to connect to the National Grid whose patchy footprint means in Wales its very name is something of a fiction.  We are a 21st century nation with 19th century problems.

We need something on the scale of the Marshall Plan after World War Two, or the Solidarity Fund in post-reunification Germany.  Such is the size of the wealth gap in this so-called United Kingdom.  Unionists say they value this Union.  Well, now is the time to prove it.

Change

An independent Wales, in the near future I hope, will have other options.  We could issue our own long-term bonds, even at negative interest rates – as is the case for 50% of Government bonds across Europe currently – with bondholders paying Governments for the privilege of lending them money.

Except at this unique moment, where the cost of borrowing is at an all-time low, Westminster limits the Welsh Government’s borrowing as Thatcher used to rate-cap councils.

This is the opportunity cost of being – to use a much-liked phrase – a vassal nation.

A multi-billion pound programme could catapult Wales from laggard to leader in half a generation. Past weakness could even become a future strength – thanks to years of under-investment Wales is akin to a blank piece of paper.  We could become an Innovation Nation, a test-bed for the leading edge, where the Wales of 2030  – carbon-free, super-automated and hyper-digital – is the world of 2050 in prototype.

So let’s turn Harri Webb’s melancholy into positive motivation and harness our hiraeth into a vision of change.

Now is the time for Westminster to settle up so we can knuckle down to do the work. This is not the politics of grievance, but the economics of generosity, a redress for a bitter past and a down-payment for a better future.

No one has put this case better than the great Phil Bennet who fired up the national team ahead of 1977 Grand Slam decider against England;

“They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel… What have they given us? Absolutely nothing.”

Wales does not need anyone’s charity.  But our future was stolen. And it’s time we had it back.

Articles via Email

Get instant updates to your inbox

We do not moderate comments before they appear. The views expressed in the comments are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of Nation. Cymru. Please read our community standards and participation guidelines before contributing.

26
Leave a Reply

avatar
7 Comment threads
19 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
12 Comment authors
Clive SwayRhosddujr humphrysJohn EvansGaynor Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Benjiman Angwin
Guest
Benjiman Angwin

To force those who live now to pay for what others did in the past will cause conflict for those who have yet to be born.

John Evans
Guest
John Evans

when you say ‘those’ who do you mean – I assume no – one anticipates that westminster will pass the hat around england insisting on donations. Although your statement has the ring of profundity it is anything but. this isn’t group a pays for group b – it is central government compensating one of the poorest regions (soon to be a nation independent! watch and see) for playing unfair for decades if not centuries read your history – I really recommend H.V.Morton’s 1930’s journey around wales amongst others.

Benjiman Angwin
Guest
Benjiman Angwin

I don’t rue with cavil.

John Evans
Guest
John Evans

‘i don’t rue with petty objections’ ? do you mean you feel no remorse for making petty objections ?

Clive Sway
Guest
Clive Sway

I feel no remorse and neither does my friend.

Clive Sway
Guest
Clive Sway

So the money would come from ‘ central government’ not individuals? I happen to think that Wales could have a bright future as an Independent nation. However rather than pursuing pipe dreams such as reparations our priorities should be keeping John Evans and anyone else who think that state spending simply comes from ‘Central Government ‘ as far away from handling the finances as possible.

Rob Bruce
Guest
Rob Bruce

I’m not sure about the direction this would take us in. Would Wales in turn then be obliged to pay reparations for the undoubted advantages it gained from its place in the empire?

Joanne Davies
Guest
Joanne Davies

Yep. Of course solipsistic people like Adam would deny Wales’ involvement in empire.

John Evans
Guest
John Evans

please explain precisely what is solipsistic about this – I see no solipsism in this article.

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

Plenty of slop though. Why get into “who owes what ” arguments about deeds done over decades or even centuries ? I think we will get nowhere until these politicians re-focus and aim for independence as the primary and overriding goal. We appear to be fed a number of diversionary “issues” ( that word again) – is it because there is no real stomach for the big challenge, so we have to create something else to fuss around instead ? And quoting Bennett , FFS that was a rallying call inside a rugby changing room with no political meaning or… Read more »

John Evans
Guest
John Evans

please list the ‘undoubted advantages gained’ i am curious to know of these as i don’t see any – please draw the veil from my eyes.

Rob Bruce
Guest
Rob Bruce

Read some Martin Johnes, John.

John Evans
Guest
John Evans

have done – individuals from all nations at some time or other have done well for themselves on the backs of others. I think that if there were any real advantages of empire they were for select few only – captain morgan as an example. some people are able and willing to take advantage of the system they live within – anthony o’sullivan comes to mind! If I look around Wales why don’t I see the left overs of our advantages ? why do I know of so many firsts that the rest of the world seems unaware of and… Read more »

Joanne Davies
Guest
Joanne Davies

Just when you thought Adam Price couldn’t possibly be worse than Leanne Wood.

Cringe cringe cringe.

I honestly think it’s time for Plaid Cymru to die.

John Evans
Guest
John Evans

please explain what you find to cringe about – i honestly don’t understand. which bit particularly? don’t you want an independent nation?

Joanne Davies
Guest
Joanne Davies

Yes but not the one advocated for by the so-called Party of Wales

Clive Sway
Guest
Clive Sway

It’s very perfectly possible want an independent nation and cringe at this nonsense from Adam Price.

Clive Sway
Guest
Clive Sway

There’s a huge list here of stuff to cringe about. For a start not being able to have sensible discussion about the future of Wales without quoting Phil Bennet from 1977.

Clive Sway
Guest
Clive Sway

There’s plenty to cringe about here. For a start not being able to have a sensible discussion about an independent Wales without quoting Phil Bennet from 1977.

Gaynor
Guest
Gaynor

I know, totally embarrased by this latest laughable, pronoucement from the offspring of The Mab Darogan…

Gwynne Jones
Guest
Gwynne Jones

Please Mr. Price help us to stop devolution so that Wales can have some real goverment.Tell us how we are going to survive as an independent principality.

Rob Bruce
Guest
Rob Bruce

That’s just trolling.

Jonathan Gammond
Guest
Jonathan Gammond

I have just been reading about how the inhabitants of two villages in the Derwent Valley were evicted in order to build reservoirs to supply water to the people of Sheffield and Leicester. We can all quote history. I wonder if we will ever see the day when politicians are able to make the case for a policy without referring to events 50, 100, 200, 800 or more years ago. No one justified the creation of the NHS by referring to the Black Death or even the Poor Law. Politicians should look at the situation NOW and propose new, radical… Read more »

CapM
Guest
CapM

If Welsh Unionists really were Unionists they’d have been saying what Adam Price says above a century ago and making damn sure Cymru did get a share commensurate with it’s contribution to generating the UK’s wealth.
The irony is that supporters of the Union (if those posting here are an indication) see a fairer and more just allocation of the UK’s wealth among it’s constituent nations as being against the best interests of the UK! Or even against the best interests of Cymru!!

An opinion I wouldn’t find surprising if it came from Anglocentric British or English Nationalists.

jr humphrys
Guest
jr humphrys

But that’s exactly who they are!
Comments should come from subscribers only.
If they wish to denigrate effort, they should damned well pay for it.

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

If – repeat, if – Westminster were to compensate this country for 150 years of industrial exploitation, it would help to generate a real Welsh economy and make big inroads on poverty, if spent wisely. But Westminster would want something in return, and you’d be required to forget about independence. Wales has other colonialism-related problems as well as poverty, and those problems wouldn’t go away with a big handout. Only a transfer of political power can feasibly do that. We’d simply be a richer colony, and the exploitation would continue. I don’t want their money, I want rid of ’em.