Why have a Senedd if we have no independent vision for Wales?

The Siambr at the Senedd building

Huw Williams

An expanded Welsh language version of this article can be read here.

Culture, as Raymond Williams puts it, can be thought of as ways of living.

Whether it’s the Welsh speaking communities of Gwynedd or the post-industrial communities of the valleys, our cultures are under threat, indeed face a death by a thousand cuts, because of neo-liberalism.

Neo-liberalism itself is a culture valuing consumerism, profit and atomistic individualism over all else, and is entrenched in the British state and reproduced, not challenged, by the Welsh Assembly.

It will inevitably strangle our ways of life and the environment which sustains it.

Our society, in becoming secularized, has not articulated successfully nor established securely other grounds of belief – another common good and purpose for action.

One consequence is that as our standard of living falls, the means for distraction in ‘excitments & gadgets’ run dry and the authority and the certainty of neo-fascist tropes become so much more appealing.

No end goal

In the language of philosopher Alisdair MacIntyre our culture is in danger of becoming an ‘emotivist’ one, where we have no substantial end goal or ‘telos’; where moral language is bereft of any overarching framework or meaning.

This emptiness is reflected in our politics.

It avoids questions of basic first principles, seeking to bypass them, whilst the elites work to provide us with only limited alternatives – which prohibit debate and criticism of the underlying terms of modern politics as a whole.

In such a condition, the attraction of figures who question those terms forcefully, even violently, is inevitable.

Common good

What can we do?  In Wales we have summarily dismissed these fundamental questions too, despite the fact our ‘politics’ has only been recently established.

Simultaneously and paradoxically, we unreflectively forge first principles that prescribe an end goal – through the process of legislation.

The Future Generations Act, for example, embodies a potentially radical politics, but as a political society we are not even aware that we are setting ourselves these end goals, which render their achievement unlikely from the start.

Underlying the act are the fundamental ideas and principles we should be discussing, and building up through reflective public debate into a ‘common good’ – a vision of our telos.

We need to discuss, create and continually critique our national way of life.

Co-operativism

Doing so now will have to be built on our radical past, because in our current crisis we must do things differently.

There are many figures we can turn to for inspiration in order to embed our hopes for the future in our relationship with the past.

And who better than Newtown’s Robert Owen, visionary and advocate for so many of the ideals that have shaped modern life?

Key aspects of his thought continue to speak directly to the challenges we face today:

  • The central importance of a balance and respect between humanity and nature;
  • The possibilities of mechanization & emancipation of the human personality from the daily grind;
  • The universal ambition and hope that virtuous local politics can be the foundation for a peaceful world order;
  • That socialist values – community life ordered by equality, respect and solidarity – are built on a way of life, and not abstract notions of equality. This is what our rural, industrial, and civic communities have all fought for in their different ways.

Unfit for purpose

This solidarity can be revitalized and used to build our common good, but this is an arduous task in the face of the political culture that is enveloping us.

Our first politicians in the Assembly, so many from other walks of life, held some concrete ideas about what Wales meant to them and what it might become.

These were ideals forged in lives and spheres outside of politics, bringing purpose to their work and a sense of what Wales meant to their activities; now we seem to have targets forged in the bowels of a visionless mechanism of technocratic politics.

Today, sustaining political orthodoxy and careers appears to be the norm.

This lack of vision can help to explain the limp response to the challenges of the time, for if Wales does not embody for our leaders a substantive telos or common good, how can we expect them to respond with purpose and direction in the face of a crisis?

After 20 years of devolution, we may ask, why have a Senedd, if there’s no independence of spirit, and no meaning to the idea of ‘Wales’?


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Benjiman L. Angwin
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Benjiman L. Angwin

Dwi’n anghytuno á dadansoddiadau Huw Williams, gan fod cynnal rhyddid dynol yn erbyn gormes cydymffurfiaeth mor bwysig. Hoffwn i gynnig hefyd nad ydy cyfreithiau Hywel Dda yn sosialaidd ond yn Rhyddfrydol (peth hollol wahanol i ryddfryddol a neoryddfryfol).

Alla i ddim cyfystyru sosialaeth á da a chyfalafiaeth á drwg gan fod hynny’n creu casineb rhwng pegynnau mor eithafol a’i gilydd.

Edeyrn
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Edeyrn

Hywel Dda’s laws weren’t economically liberal…..as anyone who was hungry could expect to receive at least one free meal a day – that is not economic liberalism

Benjiman L. Angwin
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Benjiman L. Angwin

liberalism, Liberalism, neoliberalism, social liberalism, economic liberalism, and classical liberalism are all entirely different things.

John Hoffer (2014), New liberalism
Jo Grimond (1959). the Liberal Future
Cook, Chris (1998). A Short History of the Liberal Party

I see nothing incompatible between centrist Liberalism and Welsh independence, quite the contrary. Dwi wedi siarad yn ddigon.

Edeyrn
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Edeyrn

I agree there is nothing incompatible, not arguing on those semantics….I remember liberalism always being considered an economic doctrine…but the definitions have been hijacked since WW2 period for politcal reasons

Petroc
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Petroc

Diddorol a dadleuol. Am aelodau Seneddol â phwrpas a chyfeiriad rhaid nodi Neil McAvoy a Dafydd El, (ac efallai er mawr sydod i bawb Neil Hamilton) Neil M wedi ymgyrchu i gadw meysydd chwarae a chyfleusterau i’r dosbarth gweithiol yn erbyn peiriant haearn Llafur Caerdydd. Dreuni bod pabellau’r Pleidiau “cofrestedig” mor gyfyng …

Dafis
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Dafis

It now looks suspiciously like the Senedd/Cynulliad was a device aimed at stifling any aspiration for independence. A dark interpretation of events was that a Whitehall mandarin or minister came up with the idea of creating a political class of say 60 A.M’s and a few other aspiring types, and create a dependency culture within the institution which would serve to constrain and eventually disperse any lofty aims like independence. Current behaviours seem to support this view.

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

Of course it was. I don’t think anyone was fooled that the (grudging) agreement of the Blair government to offer a measure of self-government was anything other than an attempt to hold the union together, merely a change to maintain the status quo. We weren’t offered any more in 1997 than we were in 1979, and that showed – even though I of course voted for it, I was under no illusions that at best it was going to be a kind of super county council, but at least it would go some way to deal with the democratic defecit… Read more »

Dafis
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Dafis

That’s basically what I’m getting at, we started at a fairly low point with some expectation of progressing. Instead we have regressed somewhat – “standing still” is going backwards in relative terms. I suspect that even those manipulators in Whitehall/Westminster ever imagined how successfully their project has worked in their favour. Time to break out.

Edeyrn
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Edeyrn

Its a branch of Westminster…..always has been

Graham John Hathaway
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Graham John Hathaway

The tools given to manage Wales by the National Assembly were at best blunt at worst a forgery. A shimmering mirage of weakness and imperfect conception. Let’s not forget how the first motorised vehicle started. I see pictures of a man waving a red flag walking dead pace in front of a stuttering box on wheels. That’s how a model of transport started. The idea was to convince supporters to invest and improve the design and efficiency of the means and mode of transportation. That’s how I and others voted for and campaigned for our own fledgling government with an… Read more »

Edeyrn
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Edeyrn

Without wealth creation powers, devolution is a scam