Reporting back from our last ‘Parliaments, politics and people‘ seminar…
A more modern focus at our last seminar of the term when we heard from Rhodri Morgan; MP for Cardiff West from 1987-2001, shadow minister for Labour from 1988-1997 and finally First Minister for Wales from 2000 to 2009. He spoke candidly about his experiences in Westminster, in Cardiff, and within the Labour party from this time – including being overlooked for a cabinet post in Tony Blair’s first government. Despite his disappointment at the time, he now believes that this helped gain him the support of the Welsh people.
Morgan’s talk discussed Wales’ experience with devolution viewed from the inside. He argued that the Welsh people had struggled with the idea at first due to the country’s history, in particular the experience of ‘boom and bust’ in the Welsh valleys and the historic relationship with England. Unlike Scotland, which developed different legal and educational systems and kept these even after union with England, Wales was absorbed into the larger country. Welsh national identity was therefore complicated and society divided between those who either accepted or rejected completely this link with England. This meant devolution was in some ways a difficult sell to the Welsh people, and led to the first referendum passing with such a slender majority. (Morgan remembered that the major ‘yes’ vote winner on the doorstep was a promise that devolution would always protect the Welsh people from another Margaret Thatcher…)
Despite this initial difficulties, and the fact that there was some reluctance on Labour’s front bench to pass the devolution legislation, Morgan argued that it has been a great success. National identity in Wales is now developing in a third way, one which wants autonomy over its own decisions without necessarily completely rejecting English influence. This was demonstrated by the overwhelming ‘yes’ vote in the second referendum on devolution in 2011 which gave the Welsh Assembly greater legislative powers.
Morgan also discussed the future for Wales within the UK in light of the Scottish independence referendum. He believes Scottish independence would be disastrous for Wales, as the power balance between England and the ‘Celtic’ nations would be fundamentally altered if Scotland left the UK. Wales would find it more difficult to get its voice heard in London without the Scottish voice there as well.
Morgan’s talk was lively and full of personal anecdotes from a man on the insider of Welsh and Labour party politics for over twenty years. Questions, many from Welsh members of the audience, ranged from the links to Irish home rule questions, the 1979 devolution referendum and the differences between Wales and Westminster.
To read more on the union between Wales and England in the 1530s, see our website.