From the battles to drive off invasions in the ancient Kingdom of Powys Fadog, through to the charge for Welsh Independence from our last Prince Owain Glyndwr, many of the major flash points in our nation’s historic pursuit of freedom and self-determination have erupted in the north east of Wales. Yet so often, our part of Wales has been marginalised.
Celebrated Welsh author John Davies said at a lecture in Mold in 2007 “There is a tendency – in the south in particular, but also perhaps in the north west – to consider the north east to be a rather detached part of Wales or, indeed, to be more of an adjunct to Merseyside”.
He goes on to describe how many key events in the history of Wales took place in the old county of Clwyd. From our rich history starting with first evidence of human beings in Wales being found in St Asaph, through to Eliseg’s Pillar in Llangollen celebrating the achievements of the Royal house of Powys. He also sets out the cultural achievements and the leading role of the north east in the development of Welsh literature, architecture and Welsh-medium education.
In addition, the roots of the movement that founded the national Eisteddfod are here and also the first trade union branch in Wales was formed among Flintshire ironworkers. We have been integral to the historical and cultural development of our nation.
Despite this central role, the north east has often been marginalised in a myriad of ways. We’ve gone unrecognised in terms of a location for national institutions, something that is only now beginning to be addressed, thanks in part to Plaid Wrexham’s campaign for a national football museum, soon to be located in the town.
We’ve also suffered a failure at all levels of government to recognise the economic importance and potential of the north east in its own right. Despite Wrexham and Flintshire recently being hailed for accounting for a third of Welsh exports, for many years now Labour’s vision for the north east has simply been ‘see the north-west of England’.
This dismissive and submissive approach has sadly also led to local councils displaying a lack of leadership. They have backed the establishment of unaccountable bodies such as the Mersey Dee Alliance. This has the backing of the current Welsh Government despite its stated aim ‘to create a distinctive cross-border region with its own distinct identity’, further attempting to embed the idea that we’re not quite part of Wales.
The practical upshot has been to open the north east up for large-scale housing development to cater for housing demand from across the border, something that is understandably a cause of resentment here.
We have undoubtedly suffered a dereliction of leadership that has allowed our resources to be exploited. What we need now is an economic plan developed for the benefit of communities here, which will be integral for an Independent Wales to thrive.
With the right vision, our pivotal economic position means we have the potential to become the engine of a long-needed north Wales economic power house. A power house that looks to integrate the north east into the north west of Wales and the rest of the country.
We can by all means exploit the economic benefits on offer as a border area, but my word it’s time we did it on our own terms.
Many people from my part of Wales – long denied our own history, culture and language – still have a fierce pride in being Welsh. For many, it’s difficult to articulate where that comes from, given the relentless attempts to erode our heritage, it’s almost a bit of an enigma considering how close to the border we are.
I have watched that cherished sense of Welsh identity steadily grow over the last decade, in particular in my home town of Wrexham. I have seen it begin to express itself in a growing love of our language and rekindled connection with our nation’s stories and symbols. We’ve seen the development of Saith Seren, a cultural centre promoting the Welsh language, the football team have adopted Yma O Hyd as an anthem and the fans now also belt out Mae hen wlad fy nhadau with as much gusto as any native speaker.
Welsh identity in Wrexham, the most easterly county in Wales, is strong and it’s growing. Still, if you ask a non-Welsh speaker here if they speak Welsh, you will almost always get the same reaction, a slight lowering of the head and a muttering of ‘I wish I did’.
For my generation, this sense of belonging and shared identity that has grown alongside our maturing politics, is always tempered by a sense of loss in being denied our own language and the cultural richness that comes with it. It’s almost as if we’re not quite Welsh enough, a forgotten part of the country.
The combination of these ingredients, our geography, the loss of our heritage and our growing sense of optimism in the kind of Wales that is possible, creates a unique type of energy. There is a sense for many of us here that we have a point to prove. We’re as proud to be Welsh as anyone else, we’ve got plenty of ideas to contribute as we shape our nation’s future and above anything else, we’re still here.
I also believe that for the younger generation here the perspective is different again. They’ve grown up with devolution, many have had a Welsh-medium education and conversations about the prospect of an Independent Wales are fairly normal for them in a way they weren’t as I was growing up. It’s a hugely positive shift.
But the key to delivering Welsh independence lies with that somewhat forgotten generation in the middle. It’s the mainly non-Welsh speaking, proud to Welsh, working class communities like mine who will ultimately bring the energy needed to deliver an Independent Wales.
The only question then is how do we reach them. The answer is recognition, it always has been. No part of Wales can be forgotten – especially an area where one in eight of Welsh people live.
The north east of Wales is key because of our history, because of our powerhouse economy and because the unique dynamics that have shaped our communities mean we can ignite this movement.
It’s time to reach out, to reconnect with the Wales that colonialism carved up. These connections don’t need to be created anew, they are already there and deeply rooted but they do need to be acknowledged, to be recognised and fostered.
I’ll be marching for independence in Caernarfon today but look forward to inviting the national movement to the cradle of the Welsh nation in the months to come.