Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Leanne Wood, Bae watch (September 2011)

(September 01, 2011)

Bae Watch; with Leanne Wood

Leanne Wood - Senedd


Since writing my inaugural column for Cymru Culture, an important break-through has been made in a long-running battle to get Wales' status as a country officially recognised by an esoteric, but very influential organisation. Not many people will not have heard of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), but they bill themselves as the “world's largest developer and publisher of International Standards” and “a network of the national standards institutes of 162 countries”. In their newsletter – which is circulated to a key council of the United Nations - they had taken to describing the United Kingdom as consisting of two countries; England and Scotland; with Northern Ireland labelled a province and Wales a principality. I have this website’s co-editor (Dai Barnaby, who lives in my South Wales Central region) to thank for bringing it to my attention. I didn’t expect that it would take nearly 18 months of correspondence to the Welsh Assembly Government, the Wales Office and the ISO to correct this inaccuracy. Despite the frustrating time delay, it has been a worthwhile exercise as the ISO has now given an undertaking to refer to Wales as a country from now on.

That Wales could ever have been described accurately as a principality is doubtful but that status undoubtedly came to an end in the middle of the 16th century. It is a description of our country that persists in some quarters even today. It is common to find it in a lazy reference of a journalist, particularly if they are writing for a London-based paper. Organisations such as the ISO do not help the cause when they perpetuate this myth from a position of authority. In their defence, the ISO claimed to have relied on reference works such as the 1976 Oxford Illustrated Dictionary to inform their definitions. To paraphrase my party colleague, Eurfyl ap Gwilym, the Oxford dictionary should do their homework.

Does all this matter? Such out-of-date references have no place in the modern and increasingly confident Wales. This confidence was demonstrated with the overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote in this year’s referendum on law making powers for the Assembly. The 1997 vote on devolution was very close, so the 2011 result represents a sea change in the attitudes of people in Wales towards self-determination. Subsequent polls indicate that a majority are in favour of further devolution of powers in areas like the criminal justice system and finance. Given the mixed messages that the Westminster coalition has issued on everything from police cutbacks, prison numbers and sentencing powers, I am firmly of the view that devolution of the criminal justice system could only be a positive thing for Wales. This argument is explored in far greater detail in my 2008 policy paper, Making Our Communities Safer.

From an economic point of view, we should broadcast the fact that Wales is a country in its own right and not allow the impression that we are some suburb of London. While it may not be easy to alter the prevailing lack of understanding, particularly outside of Europe, we should try our utmost to ensure that people understand that Wales is indeed a separate country with its own culture, own language and a distinct and proud history. It goes without saying that our biggest industry; tourism, would benefit if more would-be international tourists realised that Wales can offer experiences they won’t find elsewhere in the UK, or the rest of Europe for that matter.

While there remains a dwindling band of people who are uncomfortable with the new found confidence in our nationhood, they will just have to get used to it.

One such dinosaur is Roger Lewis, the book reviewer for the Daily Mail that is, not the Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union. In his critique of Bred of Heaven by Jasper Rees, Mr Lewis referred to Welsh as a "moribund monkey language." Apart from exposing his own prejudices, Mr Lewis also revealed his lack of knowledge about the resurgence in the native language of Wales. If Mr Lewis ever decided to come back to his hometown of Caerfilli, where I’m sure a warm welcome would await him, he would see first-hand the difficulties that the local authority has in order to meet the demand for Welsh-medium education. There are now plans to re-open a former English-medium secondary school which closed several years ago in order to create a middle school for 11 to 14-year-olds being taught through the medium of Welsh in the Caerfilli basin. Moribund language? It doesn’t sound like one to me, or to anyone else who does not allow their bigoted views to get in the way of the facts. The big shame about the controversy surrounding the poison pen of Mr Lewis was that it overshadowed the positivity of Jasper Rees' book. I listened to the serialisation of Bred of Heaven on Radio 4, and enjoyed the journey Mr Rees underwent to get in touch with his Welsh ancestry after being born and bred in England. Perhaps it is no surprise that it took a Welsh man who moved to England a long time ago to articulate the old attitudes that once prevailed but are now consigned, thankfully, to the bin; just like any reference of Wales being a principality.


Leanne Wood AC/AM, 1 September 2011


Also by Leanne Wood:

     Bae watch - Ambition is Critical; 1 June 2011


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