Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bonds, scrutiny, and trust

As is becoming increasingly common, many of the letters in today’s Western Mail focus on the upcoming referendum.  Many of the ‘anti’ letters rehearse the same old arguments, with the mythical lack of scrutiny being one of their favourites.  Indeed, I almost gave up on the first letter today, since almost every point made seemed to be a variation of the scrutiny theme.
Every time that I hear the ‘scrutiny’ argument, the counter thought that comes to mind is a very simple one – “Why does our Assembly so desperately need more scrutiny than the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Scottish Parliament, both of which have far more powers to start with?”.
I’m glad that I stuck with the letter to the end, because for the very first time that I can recall – in the author’s point 10 – we have an attempt by an opponent to articulate a reason for treating Wales differently.  In his words, “Wales enjoys a unique bond with England. This is not shared to the same degree by the other devolved nations in the UK”.
It doesn’t necessarily follow, of course – but I did wonder whether the same unarticulated reason lies behind the thinking of others.  It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t need to be articulated by those who think that way – because it’s so obvious as to be second nature.  In the same way, the counter view – that it’s simply a product of a longer period of integration – also doesn’t need to be stated – because that’s also obvious.
But failing to articulate such basic assumptions is one of the reasons that communication and debate fail – because people simply don’t understand ‘where others are coming from’.  And such lack of understanding means that the arguments are phrased in terms which are simply not comprehended by the ‘other side’.
There’s a certain irony in the argument, in a way.  It’s one of life’s mysteries that the Celtic nation which has most effectively retained a different linguistic identity for longest is also the one closest to, and most closely integrated with, England.  And therein, I suspect, lies at least part of the reassuring counter argument – taking more responsibility for making our own decisions on a range of issues, just like retaining a strong national identity, doesn’t mean a weakening of the relationships with our neighbour, it’s simply a change of the structure within those relationships exist.
At another level, though, accepting that the bond between Wales and England is particularly strong for historical reasons, why does that bond need to be expressed in a way which requires the predominantly English legislature to exercise ‘scrutiny’ over the Welsh legislature?  It seems to be a complete non-sequitur to me – indeed, one could almost stand it on its head, and ask, “Should not the very strength of the bond make it easier to develop a level of trust in the Welsh legislature?”.


Anonymous said...

The problem with bondage is who is doing it to whom and who gains.
The assupmtion here is that the arrangement is mutual and the relationship is one of equality.
Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of our (Welsh)history will know that our relationship with England has not a trace of mutuality or equality.
Pre 1066 the Anglo Saxons allowed Normans to develop Portskewett and after 1066 the Marchers were given a free hand to annexe land in Wales which we resisted until 1283
The English of 1066 were a nation of one million people and they were rolled over by Williams Norman/French army of 7000.
You simply cannot deny 200 years of active resistance to a colonial power by a small country trying to maintain its independence from a more powerful neighbour.

Our case today remains that of restblishing the simple human right to be able to run our own affairs as we see fit and to mold the future for the benefit of all our people

John Dixon said...


I cannot, and do not, disagree with your summary of history, but what I was trying to drive at is that we all need to try and understand each other's viewpoints a little better.

Not everyone stops to think about how and why we got to where we are; they just look at the present, and worry about change. History is always open to more than one interpretation anyway, and I don't think that it is reasonable or sensible to try and impose one particular view of history on people so that they can see the error of their ways in the way that they look at the 'today'.

I think, rather, that we need to accept that they hold the view which they do, respect that view, and attempt to debate on the basis of understanding those concerns rather than dismissing them.

Anonymous said...

No problems with that but we seem to lack the vehicle to get our point of view over.
I cannot remember any occasion on which an MP or an Am has stood up and sinply said that what you want in England is fine but we in Wales want something different for our people.
A federal or independent Wales is a fantastic challenge for us all and we should be able to demand it without fear or favour from anyone

John Dixon said...


You seem to be suggesting that Wales needs a nationalist party prepared to put the case for Independence. I wouldn't disagree with that.

Unknown said...

Thought provoking, and very timely argument, John. It is essential that we understand the unconscious core beliefs of those who oppose us. And here you have identified an important one, which has great currency in the older generation.

It is difficult to challenge and change core beliefs - as they are held, by definition, unconsciously, but it is possible.

First of all identify them - as you have done here.

Secondly - challenge them to examine their beliefs on logical, not emotive grounds.

Thirdly - giver the believer full permission to still hold those same illogical beliefs - but they will never seem the same to them!