Opinion

Why the title of First Minister undermines Welsh democracy and keeps it subordinate

04 Aug 2021 6 minutes Read
Wales’ First Minister, Mark Drakeford. Picture by the Welsh Government

By Gareth Ceidiog Hughes

The title of First Minster isn’t a great one.

Indeed, it is so bad, it is questionable whether Wales should have a First Minister at all.

Now, by this I don’t mean that we get rid of the post for leader of our democratically elected government – far from it.

No, it merely means that we ditch a title that was designed not only to differentiate, but to communicate that the leader of a devolved government is lower in status than the Prime Minster of the UK. It was created to draw a distinction between overlord and underling. Westminster does not want Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon to seem as important as Boris Johnson.

Though, it should be remembered that at the advent of devolution, Wales was deemed so lowly by the Westminster establishment that even the title of First Minister was deemed to be far too grandiose for its elected leader. The leader of the Scottish Government was deemed to be worthy of title. But it was seen as too good for Wales.

The Westminster establishment is acutely aware of the power of titles and how they can shape perception. This is because they denote ones place in the pecking order, how low or how high one is the hierarchy.

Recently released documents reveal that Tony Blair contemplated handing down the title of Chief Executive to Wales’ democratically elected leader. He later settled on the miserable title of First Secretary. According to officials the British Government did not want leading figures in the Welsh administration to be viewed as “Ministers of the Crown”. It did not want Welsh democracy to be “new tier of political activity”. Heaven forbid.

We weren’t to be given a Parliament or a Senedd at the time either. We were to be given an mere Assembly instead. In this context the title of First Minister for the leader of the Welsh Government may seem like a significant upgrade – and in a way it is. But that does not mean we should settle for it. It is still a title that essentially tells Wales to know its place.

Why shouldn’t the leader of the Welsh Government be referred to as the Prime Minister of Wales?

Welsh language

Interestingly, we can look to the Welsh language for inspiration. It draws no such hierarchical distinction with regards to these titles. The title of the First Minister in Welsh is Prif Weinidog. The title of the Prime Minister of the UK is also Prif Weinidog. The Welsh language treats them as equivalents – as equals. If we can treat both posts equally in the Welsh language, then we can do so in English too.

Some might argue that this would cause confusion. Anyone who does so cannot have much faith in the cognitive abilities of English speakers. The title being the same has not caused any confusion whatsoever among Welsh speakers.

Therefore to believe it would be too confusing for English speakers to do the same would be a tad insulting would it not?

There a plenty of Prime Ministers in other nations and we don’t seem to get confused about them either.

In English, the title has been defined by the Westminster establishment, but when it comes to the Welsh language, we have defined it ourselves. The time has come for us to define it in English too.

It is within the gift of our government here in Wales to do that, and it should use its power to free itself from the shackles of linguistic subordination.

Yes, it may be symbolism. But symbolism matters because it influences how we see ourselves and how others see us too. How we see ourselves influences how we act, or indeed how we don’t. If we see ourselves like subordinates our behaviour will reflect that. If others see us as subordinates, their behaviour will reflect that too.

If we begin to think of ourselves as equals, and define ourselves as such, we will begin to demand the power and the responsibility that is commensurate with that status.

That’s why we should change the title of First Minster of Wales to Prime Minister of Wales. It has a rather nice ring to it.

It would send a signal that the head of our government should be treated as a leader of a nation in his or her own right. It sends the signal that they should be treated as an equal, not an inferior.

Already done something similar

We have already done something similar with our primary democratic institution. The name has been changed from Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru and the National Assembly of Wales, to Senedd Cymru, and Welsh Parliament.

This is to reflect how the institution has matured, how its powers have been enhanced, and the increased stature it has as a result.  Our elected representatives rightly thought this was important. Ditching the title of First Minister and replacing it with Prime Minister is just as important for similar reasons.

A parliament is viewed differently to a mere assembly. That is why those who want to destroy Welsh democracy and abolish our national parliament insist on still calling it an assembly despite the official name change. Changing the title of First Minister to Prime Minister would cause them to have a collective hissy fit, which is almost good enough a reason on its own to do it. It would probably get up the nose of the Westminster establishment too. They don’t like it when we refuse to know our place.

Changing the name would not only begin the process of changing how we view ourselves, but how others view us too. Leaders of other nations would have to start referring to the Prime Minister of Wales, and the media would invariably begin to follow suit.

We could also change the title of Finance Minister to Chancellor of the Welsh Exchequer while we’re at it, and we can refer to them as Canghellor in Welsh. It is somewhat of a conceptual landgrab. But it is only grabbing land that is ours by right anyway. The public has an understanding of what a Prime Minister is, that politically, she or he is the big boss, the head honcho of the nation. That understanding should be harnessed to elevate the status, not only of our democracy, but our nation.

A nation does not need to be independent to have a Prime Minister. Canada had Prime Ministers long before it became independent. Same goes for Australia, which had its first Prime Minister in 1901. I am not suggesting anything outlandish. Though it may seem outlandish to those who believe that we should not define ourselves but should instead allow ourselves to be defined by others.

The change would emphasise that Wales is a nation in its own right; not a mere region of another. It would be a statement of intent, that we plan to take control of our own country.

If we describe ourselves as equals in Welsh, then we should do so in English too.

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Crwtyn Cemais
Crwtyn Cemais
4 months ago

Cytunaf cant y cant. ~ I agree one hundred percent.

Dafydd ap Robart
Dafydd ap Robart
4 months ago
Reply to  Crwtyn Cemais

Dwi’n cytuno. Ond yn lle defnyddio’r gair Lladin ‘canghellor’, beth am ddefnyddio ‘alwerydd’. Dyna ddisgrifiad agosach o’r hyn maen nhw’n ei wneud. Gall Canghellor hefyd fod yn bennaeth y wladwriaeth.

Welsh_Sion
Welsh_Sion
4 months ago

Beth am “distain” ar gyfer y Llyw? 🙂

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
4 months ago

Prif Weinidog Cymru 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

arthur owen
4 months ago

I have no opinion about the title First Minister but I do not know why the National Assembly changed its name,Cynulliad Cenedlaethol is good enough for the French.

defaid
defaid
4 months ago
Reply to  arthur owen

Out of context it’s fine but most of us are aware that it was probably deliberately named to underline its subservience to Westminster.

The name change was an essential part of our increasingly solid national identity. The same is now true of ‘first minister of Wales’ (know your place: you’re not prime and you have no authority anywhere else…).

Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
4 months ago
Reply to  arthur owen

I agree that Cynulliad Cenedlaethol is equally good as Assemblée Nationale in theory but in practice too many words in Cymraeg begin with the letter C, making abbreviation formation in the future somewhat fraught. We already have CCC for Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. What if we also wanted a Comisiwn Cynulliad Cenedlaethol.? We’d end up using the English abbreviation. Better by far to use the term Senedd and avoid such hassles.

Welsh_Sion
Welsh_Sion
4 months ago
Reply to  arthur owen

Remember, in colloquial speech, the reference was always to “the Assembly”, the dropping of the qualifying adjective, “National”, was clearly a nod to those who had predetermined that we were/are not “a nation”. Again, the NI institution, when it operates is known as the Legislative (my italics) Assembly and its politicians, correspondingly MLA’s. Cymru fach got a non-legislative Assembly in the first instance, and by a very small majority back in 1997. Its politicians being also identified as non-legislating ones – AMs. (I don’t suppose even Bliar would have called them non-law making Assembly Members, NLMAs, however. But that, in… Read more »

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
4 months ago

Hmmm, when we gain independence we can choose to call our head of state whatever we wish regardless what Westminster thinks. The President of Wales sounds strong and powerful and able to stand up to whatever bullying our neighbour may throw at us.

Last edited 4 months ago by Steve Duggan
Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Duggan

A president is actually higher in a hierarchy than a prime minister, and equates in position with that of a monarch. Do we really want to risk potentially electing a primadonna to a position possessing executive powers, such as happened in the case of Trump, or would we prefer a non-partisan figurehead with no executive powers such as is the case in Ireland?

I know which I’d prefer, and it ain’t no wannabe Trump! Which would mean that we’d still need a prif weinidog.

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
3 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Personally I’ve always preferred the Swizz approach, they have a Federal Council which does away with the need to have a head of state, either executive or figurehead. That way you don’t get some demagogue like Trump or Johnson.

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
3 months ago
Reply to  Barry Pandy

I of course meant Swiss.

Erisian
Erisian
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve Duggan

No Kings, no presidents. We have an archdruid, let that suffice. Culture, not politics.

hdavies15
hdavies15
3 months ago
Reply to  Erisian

Some of them have been well dodgy too !

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
3 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

That may be the case but other than the Eisteddfod they aren’t in charge of anything important such as managing a pandemic.

Gareth
Gareth
4 months ago

People need to remember, that Mark Drakeford is first and foremost a Unionist, and First Minister comes after. When recently asked about the devolution of social care and services to the Senedd, he said he would not consider it, as these things ” bind the union”. So to think that this man would consider any move that would signal a move away from his idea of the Union, is just not going to happen.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
4 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

He said that about social security, as responsibility for social care is already devolved. However, social security does need to be devolved, but this could backfire on the Welsh Government and devolution very badly. All considerations of the union aside, the sheer cost of social security without very much enhanced tax raising powers could just provide the enemies of constitutional change in Wales with another very big stick. Look at how Westminster’s failure to provide sufficient funding under under Barnett has affected funding of healthcare here. I’m sure that there are many in the Senedd who would be very keen… Read more »

defaid
defaid
4 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

I hadn’t thought of the devolution of welfare in this way. Given how MD describes Wales’ relationship with Westminster (in his less guarded moments), I think you’re probably right about the polite refusal of the poisoned chalice. Calling it part of the union’s glue also makes insistence more difficult for Westminster. We’d best keep it at arm’s length until we can comfortably afford it.

hdavies15
hdavies15
3 months ago
Reply to  defaid

…………..or better still, when there isn’t such a desperate need for it ! Maybe I’m just dreaming but we need to foster an economy that draws people into worthwhile work, not seasonal, part time bottom book stuff.

Steve
Steve
4 months ago

Perhaps a better fit would be ‘Tywysog’ (leader) from the same root as the Irish Irish word taoiseach. We just need to convince Charles Windsor to give up the title.

hdavies15
hdavies15
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Tainted by centuries of abuse !

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Why bother asking Carlo? The title is ours to take!

Gareth Wyn Jones
Gareth Wyn Jones
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve

He is not the prince of wales, his ‘title’ is the maximum disrespect and distain that the establishment can throw at us, this is the root of the everyday contempt that many over the border show to our culture and language

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve

I’m not sure about ‘Tywysog’, the German for ‘Leader’ is ‘Fuhrer’ and the Italian is ‘Duce’.

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
4 months ago

There is no reason why the head of the Welsh Government should not be styled as the Prime Minister of Wales. The precedent was clearly established in Northern Ireland. The head of the Government of Northern Ireland between 1921 and 1972 was styled as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
3 months ago

No!!! All this suggests is that the titles directly copy – and subservient to – those used by Westminster.

What exactly is wrong with “First Minister” which he is!

And the archaic Chancellor……

Llywelyn ein Llyw Nesaf
Llywelyn ein Llyw Nesaf
3 months ago

Simplest solution is to follow the example of the Irish, and only use the Cymraeg terms. If Taoiseach and Dáil Éireann are fine in English and Irish, why can’t we just refer to the Prif Weinidog and the Senedd? Ditto for other offices.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
3 months ago

Absolutely!

Alun
Alun
3 months ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

Yes. I was just trawling down to see if anyone had made that point before making it myself. Prif Weinidog and Senedd in both Welsh and English

Meurig W
Meurig W
3 months ago

Changing the title of First Minister to Prime Minister would go a long way to raise the profile of Wales in the world which is an objective of the International Strategy for Wales.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
3 months ago

In 1997 Wales voted for devolution, by a small majority, where the name National Assembly and First Secretary was conceived by New Labour. Where Scotland got a Scottish Parliament & First Minister. NI a Legislative Assembly & First Minister. New Labour showed Wales utter contempt by offering a a National Assembly with no powers and First Secretary. See devolution was only meant for Scotland & NI, so to disguise their agenda offered Wales third rate devolution hoping it would be strangled it at birth and rejected by voters for a return to Westminster direct rule. It was later admitted that… Read more »

Mark Rhydderch-Roberts
Mark Rhydderch-Roberts
3 months ago

Er….breaking news – the ” First Minister” is subordinate to the Prime Minister of the UK – The current incumbent has made Wales an embarrassing joke internationally with his anti English sniping and precautionary principle nonsense – and don’t forget the English actually pay for everything.

Marc Evans
Marc Evans
3 months ago

We should all use ‘Prif Weinidog’ in English and Welsh speech / text – just as Llywydd (‘Presiding Officer’) has been accepted. There’s no problem for the English language media with using the Irish language equivalent terms.

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