Why we need a Tryweryn Tax to protect our NHS
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
It’s more than 50 years since the drowning of Capel Celyn and our water is still being nicked.
Money that could be spent on the Welsh NHS is filling the pockets of am greedy water companies. We’re not talking about peanuts here either. We’re talking hundreds of millions, probably billions of pounds.
It is legalised theft. It’s not England’s water. It’s ours, and it’s about time we took it back.
Many people are familiar with the story of how the Tyweryn Valley was drowned in the 1960s so Wales’ water could be taken by Liverpool City Corporation. They know about the Welsh-speaking community that inhabited that valley, and how it was callously destroyed. They know about the protests and the fact that pretty much every MP in Wales voted against it. They know about their powerlessness to stop it. It wasn’t the first instance of this happening in Wales, either.
Because these things happened a long time ago some people might be tempted to think that it’s all in the past and we should just forget about it.
But Tryweryn isn’t the past. It is the here and now. That’s why the words Cofiwch Dryweryn (Remember Tryweryn) still resonate. That is what inspired a new generation of young activist to defiantly paint new murals across the nation and even beyond when the original was vandalised. That is why they ignite our passion to this day.
Much of the justifiable anger in the 1960s was about the dearth of rights for Welsh speakers. Many of those rights have now been won, though there is still more to do.
But the economic injustice created by the drowning of Welsh villages has not been addressed at all. It is no better now than it was then.
United Utilities can take 252 million litres a day from Lake Vyrnwy in Powys, which is owned by Severn Trent. It can also take 50 million litres a day from the River Dee.
Severn Trent’s water from the Elan Valley reservoirs mostly goes to customers in Birmingham via a 63-mile (102km) aqueduct.
Water from Lake Vyrnwy is mostly used to supply United Utilities customers in Liverpool and Cheshire, but can be pumped to Manchester if needed.
Severn Trent said it paid “for the upkeep of all the assets in Wales and also reimburse the abstraction fees”.
Essentially, they take our water at cost price. This is outrageous. It is a scandal.
Just imagine if I passed a law so I could go into my corner shop and buy everything at cost price; thus, impairing the shopkeeper’s ability to make a living. I don’t think it would be regarded as very fair.
It is a gratuitous insult to the people of Wales, and it is making us poorer. It means there is less money for the NHS, less money for schools, for social care, youth services, to repair the annoying pothole down the road, and anything else you can think of.
It is not currently within the power of the Welsh Government to pass a law to address this scandalous economic injustice. It is what’s called a reserved matter for the UK Government.
What the law essentially says is suck it up Welshies; there’s nothing you can do about it.
But it does not have to be this way.
The reason they take our water without paying a fair price is because they believe that we will just lie down and take it; that we are docile. Well, we need to show them that isn’t the case.
Frederick Douglass, an inspirational figure who escaped slavery in the USA and then fought to abolish it, said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Douglass knew a thing or two about standing up to injustice.
Now please don’t think that I am in and way shape or form drawing moral equivalence between what he went through and what happened at Tryweryn. That is categorically not the case. What I am doing is making a general point about power, oppression, and injustice.
Now I am not advocating blows, at least not in the literal sense. However, I am advocating we speak up, and that we take direct action.
The rights Welsh speakers have now weren’t just handed over because the establishment was feeling generous.
They were handed over because not doing so became far more trouble than it was worth. It became more bothersome than actually granting the rights.
For example, we got the Welsh language on our road signs because people kept painting over the monolingual ones.
We got our Welsh language television channel S4C in the 80s because the late former MP Gwynfor Evans threatened to go on hunger strike, which would have kicked up a rather big stink.
These are just a few examples. There are many more.
Scores of our fellow countrymen and women went to prison because of acts of civil disobedience.
Put simply, we made ourselves a huge pain in the neck, and we need to do so again. Unless we put pressure on those responsible, nothing will change.
Although Wales doesn’t currently have the legislative power to levy a Tryweryn Tax, it does have the power over water abstraction licences through Natural Resources Wales. The licences should be cancelled until Wales gets a fair price for its water.
The reaction to the repeated vandalism of the Tryweryn mural shows us there is a new generation of activists emerging. They have passion. They have energy. They have purpose. Just imagine what they could achieve if they campaigned for a Tryweryn Tax.
We’re in desperate need of a cash boost from a Tryweryn Tax. We cannot afford to have our resources stolen.
No wonder we’re poor as a nation. I’m sick of being told I’m poor by people who are stealing my money.
It probably will not have escaped your attention that public finances in Wales have been under severe strain for a long time.
We need that money for our NHS and to protect the vulnerable in our society.
They say water is the new oil. It is the most important commodity we have. We simply cannot live without it.
Water could do for us what oil did for Norway. The Norwegians are filthy rotten rich. But instead of just a few greedy so-and-so’s hoarding the profit from their oil, a large chunk of the money goes into wise investments, public services and providing a safety net for its people.
Now I have no problem with water being sold to England. In fact, I’m all for it. But it should be at a fair price.
There is absolutely no moral justification for the law as it stands.
The fact that Wales cannot levy a tax so its people can actually profit from its own resources is nothing less than a democratic outrage.
We won’t be in control of our own destiny in Wales until we are in control of our own resources.
That water is ours; not theirs, and it’s time they gave it back.
We want our water back, and we want it now.