Context: Wales and Devolution

The aim of this section of the Devolved Voices bibliography has been to produce a short and highly targeted set of texts (complete with commentaries) that will function as touchstones for the project’s understanding of the devolved context in which the poets under our scrutiny are working.

As such, our intention here has not been in any way to try to reproduce the sort of wide-ranging bibliography that graces a landmark volume of scholarly political science such as Richard Wyn Jones and Roger Scully’s Wales Says Yes: Devolution and the 2011 Welsh Referendum (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012). Rather, this section of our bibliography constitutes a small group of texts which we feel collectively throw light on the socio-cultural circumstances of post-1997 Wales (as well as on the history of Welsh devolutionary tendencies in general) in a way that helps to contextualise appropriately the literary-critical studies that are the project’s central endeavour. The material presented here is thus highly and necessarily selective. We make this list public as evidence of the contextual basis for our critical thinking in the Devolved Voices project itself. However, we also hope it may be a useful annotated resource for other literary scholars who may be interested in post-devolution Wales.

The commentaries offered in this section of the bibliography are not intended to be comprehensive scholarly responses. Instead, they seek to target issues which seem to be important to the immediate concerns of the Devolved Voices project. However, we hope that they may also highlight issues which are of concern more broadly to other literary critics who have a post-devolution focus.

Matthew Jarvis

Note: this page was last updated with new material on 30 April 2013.

 

Aughey, Arthur, Eberhard Bort and John Osmond, Unique Paths to Devolution: Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (Cardiff: Institute of Welsh Affairs, 2011)

This pamphlet is valuable to the work of the project for its ‘Introduction’ (pp. 1-3), for the section ‘Wales’s path to devolution’ (pp. 19-30) and for the speculations of the ‘Conclusion’ (pp. 31-2). As the title of the section ‘Wales’s path to devolution’ would suggest, the focus here is usefully historical. But it also gives a very strong interpretation of the path to devolution over the latter half of the twentieth century being crucially to do with Wales’s emergence as a ‘political nation’. Drawing on the thinking of ‘the Dutch theorist Herman Dooyeweerd’ who ‘defined a political nation as one that “has become conscious of its internal political solidarity”’, the authors suggest that ‘Even as late as the 1970s Wales could not be regarded in this light’ (p. 20). However, they identify the 1984-5 miners’ strike as a key moment in changing this situation as it ‘saw the stirring of a new kind of politics in Wales, one that saw collaboration between parties and other groups which in combination represented civil society’ – and also one that saw Wales’s geographical areas brought together in new ways. As Kim Howells put it, ‘Friendships and alliances flourished; old differences of attitude and accent withered’ (quoted on p. 23). The authors suggest that, historically, ‘whilst the distinctive cultural identity of Wales has never been in doubt’ (p. 19), ‘the idea of a civic identity embracing the whole of Wales was foreign to the Welsh. Instead, their identity relied upon a much more diffuse and fractious sense of locality, language and culture’ (p. 3). Asserting that this is one of the reasons why ‘the idea of a National Assembly was so controversial’ (p. 3), they nonetheless suggest that the notion of the Assembly constituted ‘the novel idea that Welshness could be understood and felt in civic, national and unifying terms’ (p. 27). Thus, in a passage exploring why Welsh adherence to Liberalism and then Labourism ‘did to a great extent come to signify Welshness’ but were nonetheless ‘essentially causes to which people adhered, rather than embodying the essence of the nation’ (p. 24), they offer the following significant quote from the historian Merfyn Jones (writing in 1992): ‘The Welsh are in the process of being defined, not in terms of shared occupational experience or common religious inheritance or the survival of an ancient European language or for contributing to the Welsh radical tradition, but rather by reference to the institutions that they inhabit, influence and react to. This new identity may lack the ethical and political imperatives that characterised Welsh life for two centuries, but it increasingly appears to be the only identity available.’ For literary-critical purposes, this suggests that the notion of civic Welsh identity may need to play a significant part in our contextual thinking – a notion that is emphasized by a number of other items on this bibliography. In short, Wales can be thought of critically in relation to contemporary affiliations – perhaps particularly institutional ones – in addition to, or even potentially rather than, Jones’s list of more familiar markers (‘shared occupational experience or common religious inheritance or the survival of an ancient European language or for contributing to the Welsh radical tradition’).

 

Bogdanor, Vernon, Devolution in the United Kingdom (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1999)

This is a highly significant background text for any scrutiny of literature for which devolution stands as a primary analytical context – even though its concerns only take it up to the book’s own completion in September 1998 (p. viii). Its most significant chapters for the purposes of the Devolved Voices project are parts of Chapter 1, Chapter 5 (for Wales-specific historical context prior to the 1979 referendum), Chapter 6 (for 1979 and the period leading up to 1997), and elements of the long Chapter 7 (which details the constitutional and political issues surrounding the Scotland Bill and the Government of Wales Bill of 1997).

Bogdanor’s initial chapter begins by suggesting why devolution is such a conceptual challenge in a British context. The pre-devolution United Kingdom, he explains, was highly ‘centralized in one supreme and omnicompetent parliament [Westminster]’ (p. 1). Thus, ‘We have remained a highly centralized country’ and have been ‘amongst stable democracies, the largest of the unitary states, apart from Japan: no other democracy seeks to manage the affairs of so large a population through a single parliament’. Devolution thus stands as a conceptual challenge to that ‘unitariness, as expressed in the supremacy of Parliament, [which] has been one of the strongest of the tacit understandings which underpin our constitution’ (p. 2). It crucially constitutes a departure from familiar forms, and is thus bound up with a sort of departure into uncertainty which appears as a significant motif elsewhere in the work considered in this brief bibliography – and which is thus clearly a key framing concept that literary analysis needs to take on board.

The initial chapter is also useful for Bogdanor’s threefold definition of devolution itself as: ‘the transfer to a subordinate elected body, on a geographical basis, of functions at present exercised by ministers and Parliament’ (p. 2). Within the context of the 2011 vote to extend the powers of Wales’s devolved administration, Bogdanor’s subsequent definition of differing devolutionary types is also crucial, drawing a distinction between legislative devolution (the capacity actually to make laws, which the 2011 referendum subsequently granted the Assembly) and executive devolution (the making of secondary laws, ‘within a primary legal framework still determined at Westminster’ – the pre-2011 referendum situation) (pp. 2-3). Section II of the opening chapter provides a useful sketch of the constitutional development of the pre-1997 UK, and is useful for its contentions about the dominance of England in the mix – ‘England came to be permanently unified far earlier than any Continental state, and there was already a powerful English consciousness and sense of national identity before the Norman Conquest. The dominance of England meant that notions of Scottishness and Welshness were to be formed in opposition to that of Englishness’ (p. 5) – and for its explanations of how Wales was ‘assimilated’ into England, particularly through the Act of 1543 (see pp. 6-7). Running somewhat counter to this, however, Bogdanor notes that the Tudors were happy for a certain degree of power to remain ‘in the hands of local Welsh elites’ and observes that ‘separate Welsh courts were to survive until 1830’ (p. 7). Thus, concluding his initial observations about Wales, he argues that whilst the British state has insisted on ‘political unity’ it has simultaneously relied ‘upon local interlocutors and the mechanisms of indirect rule for the administration of the peripheries’. As such, he takes the position that this has meant ‘in the case of Wales, that union was not incompatible with the retention of Welsh cultural identity and a sense of Welshness’ (p. 7).

Chapter 5 of the book is specifically dedicated to Wales. Whilst Bogdanor’s introductory comments suggested that union with England and the survival of Welshness were ‘not incompatible’, Chapter 5 seems to indicate a somewhat different perspective as it starts by suggesting that ‘Following the incorporation of Wales with England in the sixteenth century, the Welsh people did not find it easy to maintain their identity’. Specifically, on a constitutional level, Bogdanor makes the crucial observation that ‘Wales, unlike Scotland, did not enjoy those independent institutions which not only ensured separate treatment, but, more crucially, preserved the memory of independent statehood’ (p. 144). As such he offers the following significant analysis: ‘Welsh nationalism, lacking an institutional focus, had to build on less concrete factors – language, religion, and culture. It was left to writers, poets, and preachers to create “the cultural form, the tracery of a nation where no state had existed”’ (p. 144). As such, Bognador suggests the central importance of cultural life to Welsh identity, in the absence of Welsh institutions of statehood. The rest of the chapter is a striking analysis of the shifting currents of ‘Welsh national consciousness’ (pp. 145-6) over time and of attempts at various approaches to devolution. There is an interesting broad suggestion that ‘Nationalism in Wales’ has typically proven to be ‘divisive’ rather than ‘integrative as it was in Scotland’ (p. 148). As such, with nationalism in Wales initially unable to create a strong enough ‘Home Rule movement’, Bognador suggests that ‘cultural aspirations and religious distinctiveness’ (p. 149) became the dominant points of focus for Welsh nationalist tendencies from the end of the nineteenth century until the later twentieth century. Crucially, Bogdanor emphasizes that Welsh aspirations during the years of Liberal dominance in Wales in this period (up until 1922) were primarily to do with recognition within the UK rather than separation from it (p. 150), whilst he makes the equally important observation that the subsequently dominant Labour Party ‘always held an ambivalent attitude to Welsh national claims’ (p. 150). However, perhaps most interesting of all is the contention, as part of Bognador’s analysis of Plaid Cymru, that ‘whereas the debate in Scotland has been primarily one about nationalism, in Wales it has been about how to restore the lost spirit of community’ (p. 155). The penultimate section of the chapter (pp. 157-62) is important for detailing the slow shift of administration from London to Cardiff over the twentieth century – what Bogdanor calls ‘administrative decentralization’ (p. 158) – a process that Ron Davies also acknowledges (in Devolution: A Process Not an Event), and one which is clearly an important part of Wales’s devolutionary journey (even if it clearly did not, as Bogdanor usefully asserts, ‘reflect any overall plan of devolution’).

Until its last few pages, chapter 6 is primarily an assessment of the 1979 Wales and Scotland referendums and their context. Perhaps most interesting for the immediate purposes of an analysis of post-1997 literature, however, are the suggestions towards the chapter’s end that a manifestly different sensibility was growing up in Wales and Scotland – by comparison with England – over the long period of Conservative government from 1979-97. Observing that, after 1987, Conservative parliamentary majorities were achieved with ‘the votes of less than a quarter of the Scots, and around three-tenths of the Welsh’, Bogdanor argues that ‘Scotland and Wales, instead of following England by swinging to the Right, were developing a specifically Scottish and Welsh consciousness of their own’ (p. 194). This suggestion of a distinctive geopolitical identity in Wales – or at least, one that is different from the overall tendency of England in the same period – is an idea that literary analysis needs to take on board as a potential framing context. If Bogdanor is right, this does not of course suggest that people in Wales necessarily felt more Welsh over the period running up to 1997 (a point that also becomes clear in Jones and Scully, Wales Says Yes). Rather, it suggests that Wales was on a significantly different socio-political trajectory from that of England in the decade after 1987 – one that, Bogdanor goes on to elaborate, was much to do with a rejection of ‘The Thatcher government’s policies of competitive individualism’ because they were seen as ‘undermining traditional values of community solidarity’ (p. 196). This is interesting, as it suggests that there are clear socio-cultural grounds for literary analysis which relates texts to a sense of growing Welsh distinctiveness over this post-1987 period – at least in terms of political divergence from England. However, as the chapter closes, Bogdanor’s suggestion that the ‘yes’ vote of 1997 indicated a growth in a ‘sense of Welshness’ (p. 200) is clearly at odds with the later analysis of Jones and Scully, Wales Says Yes, who rather suggest that ‘the political implications drawn by many people in Wales from their national identities have changed significantly in recent decades’ (Jones and Scully, Wales Says Yes, pp. 208-9). Taking these two analyses together, then, there appears to be a distinction to be drawn between (a) Wales apparently developing a character that is different from England and (b) Welsh people feeling more Welsh. In other words, political divergence from England (including the institutional divergence of devolution itself) does not – perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively – necessarily equate to greater Welsh self-identification on the part of individuals.

Chapter 7 is interesting for its various considerations of the provisions and implications of the Government of Wales Act 1998 – although its detailed technical assessments of the Act (and of the Scotland Act 1998) are unlikely to have direct bearing on our literary analyses. However, Bogdanor crucially highlights the sense of Wales advancing into the unknown, when he pertinently declares that the 1998 Act ‘proposes a novel form of devolution, one hitherto untried in the United Kingdom’ (p. 209). Indeed, this is a point Bogdanor emphasizes again on pp. 255, 259, 262 and 264, whilst his analysis in this section as a whole emphasizes the sheer complexity of the processes of legislation, in terms of the relationship between Westminster and Cardiff, under the initial devolution settlement. Finally, it is worth noting a point in Bogdanor’s Chapter 8 which argues that devolution is most simply to do with a ‘dispersal of power’ (p. 297) – an observation which suggests that we emphatically need to bear in mind a socio-political context of greater self-determination when approaching post-1997 Wales-associated literary work. As might reasonably be expected, Bogdanor’s analysis thus points towards complexity, and our analyses must acknowledge this. Just to concentrate on two points, for example: from the perspective of Bogdanor’s work here, post-1997 Wales is a place which has grasped greater powers of self-determination (suggesting the potential for greater confidence and self-direction); however, it is also a place which – under the initial devolution settlement at least – experienced a situation of manifest complexity and uncertainty by virtue of the ‘untried’ model of government through which such powers would operate.

 

Davies, Ron, Devolution: A Process Not an Event, The Gregynog Papers, Vol. 2, Number 2 (Cardiff: Institute of Welsh Affairs, 1999)

This very short volume is valuable in the sense that it represents the insights of the prime mover of the political processes which resulted in the 1997 devolution referendum. Admittedly the text is in part future-gazing, as suggested by the statement that ‘The dynamic which will be released by the creation of the National Assembly for Wales will boost self-confidence within Wales’ (p. 7). But such future-gazing is itself testament to the hopes which were initially invested in the Assembly by those centrally concerned with the devolution project. Moreover, Davies’s ideas about how the Assembly can impact on a sense of ownership of Wales – and how that ownership should be ‘inclusive’ (a key word for Davies: pp. 6-8) – provide a sort of yardstick against which the actual, subsequent operation of the Assembly might be assessed. Crucially, Davies declares that: ‘It is vital for the construction of a more inclusive society that the new spirit of confidence and assertiveness is owned by all the people of Wales, not just those born here and those able to speak the native language’ (p. 7). In literary-critical terms, we might respond to these observations by asking whether literature under devolution does in any way explore, express, suggest or critique the sort of self-confidence which Davies hoped to see generated under the Assembly.

The volume also contains some very useful historical insights, particularly concerning the development of devolutionary ideas within the Labour Party, which Davies sees as struggling against a tide of ‘mainstream socialist economic thinking [which] drifted towards centralism’ for much of the twentieth century. As he puts it, ‘in pursuit of a “New Jerusalem” much of the Labour Party sought to increase the strength of the London government, not reduce it’ (p. 3). However – and perhaps surprisingly – he also has valuable comments to make about the Conservative Party, particularly in terms of the way in which they pursued administrative devolution, which ‘continued apace through the Conservative period in government from 1979-1997’ (p. 10). However, it is of course the volume’s title which provides the book’s primary observation about devolution in Wales: that it has been an ongoing process over many years (Davies’s analysis goes back to 1895), and that both 1997 and 1999 should be seen within that context. Alongside this is the sense that, during the long period of Conservative dominance at Westminster from 1979-1997, Wales ‘was being denied a voice’. As Davies writes about the 1987 general election, ‘Despite commanding just 29.5% of the Welsh popular vote and majorities in only eight of the 28 Parliamentary constituencies, the Conservatives won a third consecutive General Election. […] For me, this represented a crisis of representation’ (p. 4) – or what he also calls a ‘democratic deficit’ (p. 5). Here, then, is an important notion about pre-Assembly Wales being effectively denied sufficient voice in UK-wide politics in the latter part of the twentieth century, and the sense that Wales was, politically speaking at least, emphatically different from England. Such notions of Welsh difference and the denial (or at least submergence) of a voice on the UK stage in the years immediately preceding 1997 are clearly important in any work of cultural analysis relating to this period and its immediate aftermath.

 

Haesly, Richard, ‘Identifying Scotland and Wales: types of Scottish and Welsh national identities’, Nations and Nationalism, 11.2, 2005, pp. 243-63

This is a striking piece of research which attempts to break down national identity within Wales and Scotland into identifiable types. Haesly’s data analysis suggests three specific national identity types within Wales, which together account for 76.8% of his respondents: ‘Civic, Proud (Insular) and Superficial’ (p. 249). The detail of each identity type is very well worth pursuing in full in the original article. However, the three types basically distinguish between (pp. 251-2): (1) respondents who see Welshness as fluid and much to do with self-definition; (2) respondents who reject the self-definition approach and who also ‘argue that Wales’ borders should not be open to all who wish to settle in Wales’; and (3) respondents who ‘are not sure if Wales is a meaningful nation’, who are critical of Wales taking itself too seriously, and for whom – although perceiving differences between the English and the Welsh – ‘All that really remains is the belief that “Welshness is the feeling that a Welsh person gets when Wales plays – and better when it beats – England at rugby or football”’. Interestingly, Haesly suggests that, by comparison with Scotland, it is hard to describe any of the types as nationalist as such. Thus, writing about the ‘Proud (Insular)’ type, he declares: ‘This type is least likely among the Welsh types to reject the notion, “Welsh nationalism is so important that extreme measures may be needed in order to achieve it” (Statement 16, -2). However, it is difficult to describe them as “nationalistic” because they remain indifferent to all other statements related to the nationalist ideology (Statements 14-18)’ (p. 251). Haesly’s subsequent analysis of common factors across all three types – what he calls the ‘core’ of Welsh identity – suggests that there is ultimately very little that is common to a sense of Welsh identity beyond ‘an emotional bond with Wales’ (p. 253). Thus, in relation to the ‘core’, he declares that: ‘the Welsh emphasise a strong emotional bond at the foundation of their national identities. More than an expression of patriotism, the statement makes clear that this emotional bond is more important than other complicated ideas associated with language, history, culture, etc.’ (p. 256). His ultimate assessment is that ‘While the Welsh are sure that they are Welsh, there is no shared idea about what precisely Wales is or who is Welsh’ (p. 256). Interestingly, Haesly goes on to argue that ‘the core of Welsh national identity also emphasises the compatibility of simultaneous Welsh and British identities’ (p. 257) – although he draws on early post-devolution research to suggest that the initial Assembly period saw an increase in identifiers with ‘an exclusive Welsh identity’ (p. 259). This is in line with the comments in Royles, Revitalizing Democracy?, but seems to have been overturned by the later work of Jones and Scully, Wales Says Yes which presumably indicates that such early ‘bumps’ proved to be only temporary shifts.

The significance of Haesly’s analysis for our work is the capacity it offers for us to understand Welshness and Welsh national identification in the post-devolution period in various and variegated terms – moreover, as a complex of civic, ‘ethnic’ and simply emotional tendencies. It should also emphasize the extreme caution that should be exercised in making an appeal to any generalised notion of Welsh identity.

 

Institute of Welsh Affairs, Devolution: A Decade On; IWA response to the House of Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee Call for Evidence ([Cardiff]: Institute of Welsh Affairs, 2007)

This volume is valuable for some of its insights offered from the perspective of ten years into Wales’s contemporary devolutionary journey. For example, the authors observe a growing sense of Welsh political difference, in their observation that ‘some 56 per cent of the Assembly’s subordinate legislation is either unique to Wales or substantively different from the equivalent legislation applying to England’ (p. 2): note, however, that this is a statement of legal-political difference, which does not necessarily speak directly to the issue of cultural difference – although it is arguably related to notions of distinctive civic identity. Moreover, they make the striking opening contention that ‘the Welsh devolution “settlement” remains complex, without precedent and, in our opinion, not well understood’ (p. 3). Drawing on from this, one of the most useful aspects of this booklet is its section on ‘Complexity of Powers’ which – describing the pre-2011 situation – observes that ‘Rather than constituting a clearly understood settlement of devolved authority, the [legislative] scheme is a constantly rolling and potentially unpredictable process for transferring legislative powers’ (p. 9). In short, the keynotes raised by such assessments that our literary analyses should bear in mind would seem to relate to a political climate of uncertainty, unpredictability, and open-endedness. Moreover, in section 2 of the pamphlet (‘Progress of Devolution in Wales’) – itself a very helpful digest of the different legislative and consultative stages through which devolution has passed since 1997 – the following observation again emphasizes the unusual and potentially uncomfortable political circumstances in which Wales’s electorate finds itself: ‘The implications of the Welsh electoral arrangements are not well understood. The past dominance of the Labour Party has inculcated expectations derived from the practice of single party government. That proportional representation makes coalition government more probable than not is only just beginning to be acknowledged, not least in the political parties themselves. Until this is better recognised, it may be expected that public impatience will be registered when faced with inevitable inter-party negotiations’ (p. 7).

 

Johnes, Martin, Wales since 1939 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012): Chapter 14, ‘“A nation once again.” 1997-2009’ (pp. 412-42) and Conclusion, ‘Wales 1939-2009’ (pp. 443-8)

The opening of Chapter 14, ‘“A nation once again.” 1997-2009’, emphasizes the lack of preparedness in Wales for the 1997 devolution vote, noting the near-total lack of public debate here about devolution and suggesting that the ‘push’ for devolution at that point came, not from ‘Wales or Blair but from Scotland’ (p. 413). Johnes goes on to observe the lack of ‘any real excitement’ generated by the first Assembly elections, and notes that ‘less than half the electorate voted’ (p. 417). He helpfully analyses the shift away from ‘the inclusive and open brand of politics initially envisaged’ as a result of the first-term decision to separate ‘the Assembly’s legislature, as represented by its members and presiding officer, from its executive, what became known as the Welsh Assembly Government’ (p. 420). However, one of the most striking notes over the initial pages of the chapter is Johnes’s identification of strong continuities between Wales and England, and the sense that – although nation-building may have played a part in the work of the WAG – distinctively Welsh positions were harder to identify within the electorate itself (p. 421). Moreover, in a similar vein, he variously notes the equivocal response to the achievements of devolution on the part of the electorate (p. 421), confusion over the Assembly’s initial powers (p. 422), and difficulties over funding issues (p. 422). It is pertinent, within the context of how we understand the circumstances of devolution in relation to cultural production, that Johnes effectively begins this post-1997 chapter by talking about what he bluntly calls ‘The Assembly’s problems’ (p. 422) – and yet, almost within the same breath, notes ‘how quickly the Welsh electorate came to accept devolution as the status quo’ (p. 423). The registering of these apparent paradoxes – which Johnes does very well – is a sharp warning to any cultural critic against making simplistic use of devolution as a contextualising notion within analysis.

By contrast with the opening pages of the chapter, pp. 426-8 deal with notions of a more confident Wales in the post-devolution era, with the useful assessments that ‘Cool Cymru smacked of media exaggeration but the connections drawn between devolution and a popular sense of nationhood never went away’ (p. 427) and that a ‘popular sense of Welshness had always existed but […] was clearly becoming more prominent’ (p. 428). Johnes’s nuanced analysis is crucial, however. Having established that such popular sentiments are hard to ignore, and that a ‘sense of Welsh identity was more obvious in daily life in the post-devolution period than at any other time since the war’ (p. 427), he makes statements such as ‘Children themselves had a pronounced sense of Welsh identity, although it was often confused and had limited points of reference beyond accent, sport and language’ (p. 428) – an observation which seems to echo the notion of a very limited set of shared factors in contemporary notions of Welsh identity in Richard Haesly’s ‘Identifying Scotland and Wales: types of Scottish and Welsh national identities’. Johnes also goes on to examine events which ‘showed how shallow any notion of Welsh confidence was’ (p. 430) in the post-devolution period. As he puts it, very pertinently, ‘There was plenty of […] evidence that the old insecurities had not gone away just because Wales now had an Assembly’ (p. 430). In other words, Johnes seems to conclude that whatever confidence Wales may have expressed, post-devolution, such confidence did not run deep. His assessment that ‘Welsh identity was thus a curious mix of the confident and the insecure, although the scales were tipping in the direction of confidence’ (p. 431) is both extremely useful and also slightly odd in its latter part – unless he is taken to mean that a certain element of confidence had been regained, rather than suggesting that confidence was now actually starting to outweigh insecurity. As part of this broad analysis, Johnes observes the continuing importance of self-identification as British amongst Wales’s post-devolution population (p. 432) – however important Welshness also was to the same people at the same time. Thus, discussing potential Welsh ‘otherness’ within a British context, he argues that ‘the extent of Welsh “otherness” should not be exaggerated’ (p. 433).

Johnes’s concluding two pages of this chapter (pp. 437–8) continue his careful balancing of a range of divergent post-devolution characteristics – that complex sense of divergent tendencies being especially important to his overall analysis. Thus, his concluding remarks are an important gesture to post-devolution Wales as a complex place, and one which – for the purposes of literary-cultural analysis – must not be simplified into headline tendencies (such as, at the extremes, confidence or disengagement): ‘Wales now had a political function and a political meaning as the creation of the NAW gave everyone in Wales a democratic citizenship. They might not have noticed or have even cared but it happened all the same’ (p. 438). In short, it is within the context of the precisely divergent complexities of post-1997 life that we must understand the literary work which Wales’s most recent history has produced.

The book’s concluding chapter is a summative assessment of changes over the 1939-2009 period. However, for our purposes, it contains useful statements about a greater consciousness of ‘being Welsh’ in the post-devolution period (p. 443) – something that might seem to be at odds with the work of Jones and Scully, Wales Says Yes, p. 71. Perhaps, though, one should primarily see this statement within the context of the previous chapter’s assessments of the greater visibility of Welshness under devolution. This final chapter also suggests the importance of economics to the success of the devolution process: ‘the widespread acceptance of the Assembly and Wales as a legitimate level of government’ was, on one level, only possible ‘Once devolution proved not to be an economic disaster or the end of the UK’ (p. 446). However, moving his analysis in an interestingly contrary direction, Johnes emphasizes that economic divisions internal to Wales ‘were far more meaningful than any notion of national unity’ (p. 447). Notwithstanding this (shifting his ground again to respond sensitively to the complexity of the cultural situation), Johnes draws towards the end of the volume by observing that a 2003 survey about pride in the Welsh flag indicates strong attachments to the idea of the nation – but that post-1997 ‘Welshness had become something more than a matter of simple pride. By 2009 Wales was acknowledged as the level at which many political decisions should be made at [sic], especially those that governed the everyday existence that people’s mental outlook was dominated by. And that was a rather remarkable change’ (p. 448). In short, in Johnes’s analysis, civic nationhood appears to have established itself as a primary factor in Wales’s post-1997 existence and experience. However, what is crucial about Johnes’s work in this volume is the way in which it suggests so many contrasting tendencies in the post-1997 period – tendencies which are not necessarily resolvable.

 

Jones, Carwyn, The Future of Welsh Labour (Cardiff: Institute of Welsh Affairs, 2004)

In some ways this is an odd choice for this bibliography, in the sense that this pamphlet is much to do with internal thinking within Welsh Labour about what it has stood for and what it should stand for in relation to devolution in Wales. However, given the huge significance of Labour within the ongoing narrative of devolution (a result of their long political dominance in Wales), statements such as ‘Where the party presents itself as a Welsh party it will succeed’ (p. 9) – especially from the man who is now First Minister (since December 2009) – are clearly significant: they indicate a strong alignment with a distinctively Welsh identity rather than with the centralising tendencies that dominated the Labour party for much of the twentieth century. Just as important, however, is Section 7 (pp. 18-21) of the document, ‘The Case for Primary Powers’. Whilst that case has now been won, and a referendum granting such primary legislative powers has taken place, this section offers up a snapshot vision of the complexity and uncertainty of the initial devolution settlement in the absence of such primary powers. Broadly interpreted, it suggests that the keynotes for the early years, within which our critical thinking should develop, are precisely these two just noted: complexity and uncertainty. Indeed, as Richard Wyn Jones and Roger Scully indicate elsewhere (Wales Says Yes, p. 83) this situation of complexity and ‘interminable [legislative] delays’ was in danger of making the very processes of devolution – even after the Government of Wales Act 2006 – ‘wholly unworkable’. Such notes should stand as an important counterbalance to those ideas of confidence-growing with which Ron Davies was in part concerned in Devolution: A Process Not an Event. In other words, ideas of self-confidence and of confusion and/or anxiety can all generate significant questions for the study of post-devolution literature in Wales.

 

Jones, Richard Wyn and Roger Scully, ‘Devolution in Wales: What Does the Public Think?’, Briefing No. 7, Devolution & Constitutional Change: An ESRC Research Programme ([Swindon]: Economic and Social Research Council, 2004) <http://www.devolution.ac.uk/pdfdata/Scully_RLJ_Briefing7.pdf>

This short ESRC project report is an extremely useful digest of early responses to the experience of devolution. Its ‘key points’, summarised on p. 1 of the document, are as follows: (1) ‘Public support for devolution has grown substantially in Wales since 1997, though there is still a strong sense that government in Westminster has too much influence in Wales’; (2) ‘The National Assembly is not felt to have made much of a difference in policy terms’; (3) ‘There has been modest change in national identities with more Welsh people claiming a stronger sense of Welsh identity – and a weaker sense of British identity – since devolution. Younger people are more likely to have a strong Welsh identity’; (4) ‘Many people vote differently in Westminster compared to National Assembly elections, systematically favouring Labour in Westminster elections and Plaid Cymru in Welsh elections’; (5) ‘There is little evidence of widespread public radicalism underpinning a policy agenda committed to “Clear Red Water” between Wales and England.’

The third of these points (suggesting a growth in people ‘claiming a stronger Welsh identity’) is one that the authors’ later work in Wales Says Yes (see below) overturns, perhaps indicating that such growth was merely temporary. Indeed, even at this point, the report indicates that any changes in the area of identity were ‘modest’ and that Wales remained notably different from Scotland in the much greater willingness in Wales for people to associate with a British identity (p. 4). On the issue of the impact of the Assembly itself, it is clear that, at this early point, respondents to the surveys cited felt that the Assembly had made little impact on key areas (standard of living, education, health) – with either majorities of those responding (on standard of living and education) or a plurality (on health) feeling that the Assembly had made ‘no difference’ (pp. 2-3). However, it was equally clear that the Assembly, rather than Westminster, was by this point considered the body most likely to act in the interests of Wales, with this seeming to match the data which indicated that ‘support for reversing devolution has declined to barely one in five’ (p. 3). However, perhaps the most interesting element of the document for the purposes of literary analysis is the suggestion that there is little hard data to support the notion of ‘clear red water’ between Wales and England – the notion, in other words, that Wales is more politically radical than England. Rather, the survey data cited suggests that attitudes in Wales are actually less ‘radical’ than those in England (p.7). Responding to the apparent oddity of this data, Jones and Scully present information which suggests that people in Wales tend to associate with being working class considerably more readily than people in England, irrespective of actual occupation (p. 7). The authors also question their own approach to this issue, suggesting that ‘It may be, for example, that the social values characteristic of the radical tradition in Welsh politics are best characterised as communitarian rather than “left wing” and that the scales that we utilise in analysing the survey data are not accessing the correct traits’ (p. 8). The suggestion of a ‘communitarian’ political character to Welsh political distinctiveness is clearly one that may be raised in relation to literary output, even if notions of Wales’s traditional ‘left wing’ character are, it seems, statistically unreliable in terms of contemporary Welsh culture.

 

Jones, Richard Wyn and Roger Scully, Wales Says Yes: Devolution and the 2011 Welsh Referendum (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012)

This book is fundamental reading for anyone interested in the processes of devolution in Wales, and thus stands as a primary contextual volume for the project as a whole. Not only do Jones and Scully engage with historic developments in Wales’s devolutionary journey (particularly pp. 28-42), but they crucially bring that history right up to the 2011 vote on greater powers and what such powers mean in practice.

In terms of the years since the ‘yes’ vote itself, Jones and Scully characterise the period 1997-2004 as one of ‘collaborative development’, by which they mean to emphasize ‘the extent to which the politics of devolution was characterized by inter-party cooperation in pursuit of a more workable system’ (p. 42). Within this period they identify the emergence of ‘what Richard Rawlings termed a “virtual parliament” instead of [Alun] Michael’s “Welsh Office plus” model of devolution’ (p. 43). They also observe the crucial work of The Richard Commission, noting Lord Richard’s important assessment that the ‘prevailing system’ of the initial devolution settlement was ‘grotesque’ – another important suggestion of the problematic complexity of that initial stage. They identify the period 2004-2006 as a ‘reassertion of single party dominance’ (p. 45) – ‘Once more it was Labour, and pretty much only Labour, that mattered’ (p. 45). However, they also note the unexpected survival of the notion of legislative devolution in the 2005 White Paper (Better Governance for Wales) (pp. 48-9) and the fundamental importance of the subsequent 2006 Government of Wales Act (which provided for the possibility of the move to legislative devolution). Crucially for our purposes they suggest that ‘almost continual instability’ (p. 53) has been the constitutional keynote of the devolution period, as ‘the successive edifices’ of the devolution arrangement have given way one to the other. Moreover, and damningly, they argue that ‘A highly flawed process of constitution building has resulted in governmental structures and processes that have repeatedly proven inadequate to the task in hand’ (p. 55). Such keynotes of instability and inadequacy clearly provide a striking cultural-political context for the production of cultural material in the post-1997 period.

Chapter 3 of the book is of primary importance to our work. Concerned with ‘The evolution of public attitudes’ it looks back to the 1960s for early opinion surveys on devolution, notes the long disappearance of the issue from ‘the Welsh political agenda’ after 1979 and the consequent paucity of survey data for those years, and then attends to survey data available from 1994 onwards when the issue again became important to the political classes. However, it is the section on ‘Public attitudes after 1997’ (pp. 67-72) which is especially important from the perspective of post-1997 literary analysis. Here, then, Jones and Scully draw on the wealth of available survey data to demonstrate the striking shrinkage of opposition to devolution within Wales from 37% in 1997 to 17% in 2009. Considering why this might be the case, they suggest that the survey data indicates that what is crucial in terms of public opinion is that ‘a growing sense of the appropriateness of a Welsh institution making major political decisions for Wales appears to have become established among many of the people of Wales’ (p. 72). By contrast there is little evidence that people believe the Assembly has had major positive, practical consequences for Wales (pp. 70-1) or that Wales’s inhabitants are now feeling ‘more Welsh’. Indeed, on that latter issue, Jones and Scully write bluntly: ‘It is not true […] that as support for further devolution has grown and opposition to devolution declined since 1997, there has been an increase in the proportion of strong Welsh identifiers in the population. To the contrary, the national identity profile of the Welsh population has remained remarkably consistent since the 1970s. While the people of Wales did become more Welsh in their desired centre of government in the first decade of devolution, in their basic sense of national identity they became no more Welsh at all’ (p. 71). However, as they subsequently observe in Chapter 5, in their analysis of the results of the 2011 referendum itself, the period since 1997 has seen ‘a distinct homogenization of attitudes across Wales’ in terms of support for devolution: the biggest swings towards devolution in 2011 were recorded in those areas which had rejected devolution in 1997 (pp. 121-2). Thus they state that by 2011 ‘Wales had not become wholly unified on devolution, but it was clearly less divided than before’ (p. 123). Indeed, drawing on the 2011 Welsh Referendum Study, they conclude that matters such as language and identity played a much smaller role in the referendum outcome than constitutional concerns: ‘that is, voting choices were most strongly related to how people thought Wales should be governed’ (p. 155).

For the purposes of literary-critical analysis of the post-1997 period, the implications of all this are various and arguably contradictory. From the material of Chapter 3 in particular, we might conclude that there are insufficient grounds to discuss literary production in general in terms of an increased sense of Welshness in the post-devolution population – at least in the sense of what Jones and Scully call a ‘basic sense of national identity’. Similarly, there seem to be few grounds for assuming a general surge of cultural confidence on the basis of the performance of the devolved body itself. Rather, what Jones and Scully’s work seems to imply is that the questions we might need to ask about literature in a devolved context are to do with how literature might fit into a sensibility of being governed within structures that are felt to be more appropriate; of living in a situation of power closer and (again) more appropriately to hand. Similarly, we may need to address the notion of literary production within the context of the instability of the devolution journey and the ‘grotesque’ complexity of its initial manifestation. However, arguably contrary to some of this, elements in Chapters 3 and 5 both suggest that a sense of civic Welshness is strongly and confidently on the march post-1997, as opposition to devolution has crumbled and as pan-Wales division on the issue has also seemingly been reduced. On such terms, an increased willingness to identify with (or at least to accept) the institutional aspects of Welsh nation-building seems to be apparent across Wales – something which suggests that arguments for literary production within an era of (a) increasing acceptance of Welsh (institutional) distinctiveness and (b) an increased civic-oriented sense of Welsh self-identification are both viable. In short, the situation of cultural production in post-1997 Wales is complex, fissured, and over-determined; as such, extreme caution needs to be exercised in how literary analysis can begin to draw on the experience of devolution as any sort of framing or explicatory narrative.

 

Osmond, John and J. Barry Jones, eds, Birth of Welsh Democracy: The First Term of the National Assembly for Wales (Cardiff: Institute of Wales Affairs and Welsh Governance Centre, 2003)

This book relates only to the first term of the National Assembly. However, its introduction (by the invaluable John Osmond) provides very useful contextual notes for understanding the significant changes that took place in the Assembly’s initial life. Indeed, Osmond starts the entire book with the striking assertion that ‘Viewed from the vantage point of the last months of the National Assembly’s first term it was clear we were witnessing the birth of Welsh democratic governance. Though little noticed outside, the Assembly was transforming itself from an institution subordinate to Westminster into a parliamentary body with the potential, and the intention, of acquiring primary legislative powers’ (p. xix). Fluidity and constant transformation are again keynotes here. Osmond also usefully considers the ‘development of Welsh civic society’, observing that ‘The notion of Wales having a civic culture is novel to a society with such little experience of its own institutions’ (p. ccvii). However, whilst approvingly observing the way in which ‘a growing number of organisations are recasting their structures to reflect the new Welsh polity’ (pp. xxviii-xxix), with ‘organisations […] progressively establishing more autonomous Welsh structures’ (p. xxix), Osmond concludes with an important warning: ‘A very large caveat needs to be set against this catalogue of the growth of civic society and identity in Wales during the first term of the National Assembly. This is, quite simply, that by and large it has been confined to an élite strata in Welsh society, the political class’ (p. xxx). In other words, Wales may have seen an upsurge in organisations that were recognising the new political arrangements of Wales itself; and such organisations may have been developing distinct Welsh engagements; but development in such matters has been socially lop-sided.

Chapters 16 and 20 are also useful for our purposes. The former, on ‘Culture and Identity’ (by Geraint Talfan Davies and John Osmond), contains the helpful assessment of the early Assembly as constituting an ‘unsettled settlement’ (p. 244), but one which has nonetheless offered ‘within the Assembly, and outside it in the wider civil society, an increased ownership of problems, an increased sense of responsibility for finding answers’ (p. 244). This very much ties in with the sense in Jones and Scully, Wales Says Yes, of an acceptance of power more appropriately to hand – and is usefully phrased in pragmatic terms of ‘increased ownership’ and ‘increased sense of responsibility’. Of course, the sense of an ‘unsettled settlement’ echoes persistent notions of instability and uncertainty elsewhere in this bibliography. This chapter is also significant for its scrutiny of developments in the arts under the Assembly. Thus, it notes the criticism of the Arts Council of Wales in the key November 2000 report A Culture in Common and the subsequent ‘restructuring of the Arts Council itself, on the basis of proposals made by a consultant, Anthony Everitt, a former Secretary General of the Arts Council of Great Britain’ (p. 251) as well as a ‘planned 35% increase in budget of the Arts Council of Wales for the period 2000/01 to 2003/04’ (p. 251). Crucially, it cites the words of A Culture in Common which signalled a key commitment to the arts and culture: ‘the Committee wanted to send out a clear signal that the arts and culture in Wales are of great significance and importance to “Project Wales” and that an in-depth consideration was overdue’ (quoted on p. 249). Notably, the analysis here keys in quite explicitly to notions of Welsh identity, declaring that whilst the early Assembly had little chance of making a ‘difference to outcomes […] in relation to the economy and health and, to a lesser extent […] education’, the situation was potentially very different ‘In the cultural field’. Thus, the authors observe that ‘In the cultural field, however, there was a potential to transform the existing situation for sums of money that seemed tiny in relation to the total Assembly Government budget. Moreover, expenditures and policies in this field could underpin any burgeoning sense of Welsh identity and, therefore, be a unifying factor’ (p. 249). In other words, these remarks suggest that there are interesting grounds for considering the way in which the production and funding of literature, in a devolved Welsh context, can be seen precisely as an identity-directed project.

Chapter 20 (‘No Going Back’), by Denis Balsom, contains some useful summary notions – from the splendidly articulated sense that ‘The term “devolution” in Wales has always been articulated to rhyme with evolution; in contrast to Scotland where they tended to favour a pronunciation closer to revolution’ (p. 305) to the assertion that ‘Unlike its fellow partners in the United Kingdom, Scotland and Ireland, Wales was never an historic nation with a developed Court, distinct legal system or institutions of state’ (p. 307). Over pp. 307-8, Balsom provides a useful two-page sketch of historic developments to do with Welsh identity – and makes the striking suggestion that ‘Against the longevity of the legal entity “England and Wales” and the weakness of its own internal structures, it is remarkable that the individual character of Wales remained intact and distinct within the modern United Kingdom’ (p. 307). Summarising the political context, he suggests that ‘The local, almost parochial, remains important, more so perhaps than in many other parts of Britain. Yet Wales also remains part of, and engaged in the wider British and European economic and political system’. On p. 310 he suggests that whilst ‘a sense of being part of Britain remains an important ingredient of the identity of modern Wales’ post-devolution Wales has seen its political ‘infrastructure […] totally transformed’: ‘The National Assembly has provided a democratic focus and its further evolution as an institution will inevitably create a more distinctive history and collective memory. Irrespective of the future development of the Welsh economy or society, Wales now has a political identity that will define the country and project it to the wider world’’. Balsom’s assertion following on from this that ‘In all likelihood, the distinctiveness of Wales, especially in the cultural field, will become more pronounced as more support and endorsement is secured from the National Assembly’ (pp. 310-11) is one that literary scholars would do well to test. Finally, it is worth noting the title of Balsom’s closing section: ‘Uncharted Territory’. This is a keynote that should be taken seriously in all our analysis – the sense that the fundamental infrastructural context in which the cultural production with which we are concerned is taking place is one of uncertain outcomes and fluidity of process.

 

Robbins, Keith, ‘Cultural Independence and Political Devolution in Wales’, in H. T. Dickinson and Michael Lynch, eds, The Challenge to Westminster: Sovereignty, Devolution and Independence (East Linton: Tuckwell, 2000), pp. 81-90

The focus of this piece is almost entirely historical, reaching back to the Statue of Rhuddlan in 1284, and noting the ways in which the devolutionary journey can be understood to have begun. For Robbins, this latter was with the achievement of the Welsh Liberals in ‘establishing […] that Wales was different and that in certain respects it required separate legislative provision’ (p. 86), a notion that he exemplifies in the ‘campaign in Wales for the disestablishment of the Church of England [which] achieved success in parliament in 1914’ (p. 87). Alongside this, significantly, he also notes that ‘The church issue […] was only one of a number of matters where distinctive Welsh needs were pressed – concerning land tenure, secondary education and other matters – and were substantially satisfied’ (p. 87). Nonetheless, as a counter to such notions, and in his discussion of potential tendencies towards Home Rule, Robbins follows Kenneth Morgan by declaring that ‘at this juncture Wales was much more divided by sectional, regional, or class antagonisms than unified by the appeal of autonomy’ (p. 89). Indeed, Robbins re-emphasizes this point in his concluding sentences by suggesting that the 1979 referendum result ‘revealed that Wales remained a community of communities, each to some extent apprehensive of the other, a picture disguised by an electoral system which had created an illusion, at different times, that Wales was solidly Liberal or solidly Labour’ (p. 90). However, the great value of this piece for post-1997 studies is its twinned assessment that the Welsh Assembly ‘which has now been set up in Cardiff cannot be meaningfully said to have had a predecessor’ (p. 81) and the corresponding notion that Wales’s incorporation into the English state, through the Acts of 1536 and 1543, ‘occurred before Wales had achieved what we might call the scaffolding of statehood’ (p. 82). This two-fold sense of the sheer newness of a national institution of ‘statehood’ for Wales crucially suggests the way in which, whatever excitements devolution may have brought with it, it was emphatically a movement into uncharted territory within a Welsh context. The surrounding context for the literature with which we are concerned, in other words, is significantly one of uncertainty – even if the motif of newness must also be acknowledged as potentially being, from a literary and broader cultural perspective, both exciting and invigorating.

 

Royles, Elin, Revitalizing Democracy? Devolution and Civil Society in Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007)

This volume is primarily concerned with presenting detailed case-studies of ‘civil society organisations and initiatives’ (p. vii) in post-1999 Wales. However, its more general introductory and concluding chapters present material that is likely to be of relevance to our own work.

Page 2, for example, sets out the principle of the ‘democratic deficit’ as well as the ‘lack of accountability under the Conservative governments in Wales from 1979 to 1997’ – both of which are seen as contributing to the return of devolution to the political agenda ‘in the late 1980s and early 1990s’: ‘As a result of the relative weakness of Conservative support in Wales and their method of governance, Wales was characterized as being “subjected to government without ballot and power without scrutiny”’ (Royles is quoting at this point from Ron Davies’s pamphlet Devolution: A Process not an Event). Page 3 emphasizes that the Welsh Assembly was framed, by contrast, as a move towards ‘participatory democracy’ – fundamentally reversing the ‘democratic deficit’ which Wales had suffered between 1979 and 1997. Royles is one of a number of commentators within this list of texts to emphasize the ‘complexities of the [initial] devolution settlement’ (p. 7), while she also sets herself the important question of asking whether ‘the supposed “inclusiveness” of the Assembly was realized in practice” (p. 9) – the latter answered with equivocation over pp. 148-52. Indeed, even the complexity of the devolution settlement seems to have had a varied effect on civil society engagement with the Assembly, with those bodies that ‘were predominantly involved in non-devolved issues’ being able to use the Assembly ‘as an important political voice’ (p. 154). However, Royles concludes that, as her research indicates that civil society has indeed had a ‘role in legitimizing and deepening devolution’, then ‘devolution has been a force of empowerment and revitalization’ (p. 155). Furthermore, the impact of devolution on ‘the relationship between civil society and identity’ was ‘significant’: ‘Changes in the Welsh institutional context promoted greater recognition of Wales and involvement with its political institutions, thus increasing a Welsh outlook amongst the organizations of civil society’ (p. 156).

Whilst expressing caution about drawing conclusions regarding ‘the impact of devolution on Welsh identity’ – which Royles suggests was, at least at the point when her book was written, ‘an under-researched area’ – the tentative conclusions here are that ‘civil society has taken initial advances towards promoting a greater civic sense of Welsh identity’ (p. 158). Royles cites figures which suggested a shift towards ‘an increased sense of Welsh identity’ between 1997 and 2003 – although the later research in Jones and Scully, Wales Says Yes, would suggest that such trends were either short-lived or were not long-term significant changes. However, of greater importance is the data which suggest what Royles describes as the ‘increased sense of allegiance to some form of political institution in Wales post-devolution’ and, thus, ‘a strengthened sense of civic nationhood in post-devolution Wales’ – with her findings further indicating that ‘civil society played its part in this growth by ‘encourag[ing] allegiance to political institutions [i.e. the Assembly]’ (p. 160) through their engagement with it. (For a useful description of ‘civic nationhood’ by one ‘Oxfam Cymru interviewee’, see pp. 160-1.) Royles’ emphasis on the notion of civic nationhood continues in her assertion that devolution has had the effect of making ‘organizations and institutions more “Welsh”, defined not in terms of language or geography but in terms of interaction with Welsh political institutions and a recognition that Wales was distinct’ (p. 161). This is all part and parcel of her sense that ‘While it seems premature to contend that devolution definitively and irrevocably established a strong civic sense of Welsh identity, it seems that steps in this direction have been taken’ (p. 162). Nonetheless, Royles sounds a note of caution by suggesting that a move towards a more ‘inclusive’ style of politics under devolution – ‘a more pluralist and less elitist political culture’ – was not yet ‘fully achieved’ (p. 165). In this context, Royles quotes Rawlings to suggest the concern that, at least in its initial years, ‘devolution essentially remained “an affair of the elite”’ (p. 165). It is, I think, the notion of a growing sense of Welsh civic nationhood since devolution which is the single most valuable idea for literary criticism here, in the following sense: in terms of the context for post-1997 literature, this suggests that a sharpening of identity – in the sense of a growing Welsh distinctiveness – can still be part of our thinking, even if that notion cannot necessarily be based in a sense of people feeling more Welsh in terms of ‘ethnic’ national identity. Obviously, this requires a careful distinction to be made (between the growing ‘civic’ sense of Welshness and the relatively static ‘ethnic’ sense), and the implications of making an argument based on one sort of identity-identification rather than another will manifestly require detailed working-through.

 

Shipton, Martin, Poor Man’s Parliament (Bridgend: Seren, 2011)

This lively, personal and very readable volume gives a striking sense of the developing struggles and shifting nature of the Assembly over ten years (1999-2009, but with a brief Afterword which takes the volume towards the 2011 referendum). It stands as a most helpful complement to the more academic approach of the majority of the books on this list. Again, however, there is a strong emphasis on the complexities and struggles of the post-1997 era, which echoes many of the other texts on this bibliography. Thus, for example, Shipton quotes Dafydd Wigley’s damning 2005 observation that ‘I am extremely concerned at the lack of impact of the National Assembly on the life of Wales in a positive manner’ (p. 160), whilst the book’s ‘Afterword’ notes the ‘snail’s pace’ of the post-2006, pre-2011 Legislative Competence Order (LCO) system by which legislation could be achieved. Indeed, the title of Shipton’s book suggests very pertinently his assessment of the limitations of the pre-2011 Assembly. Moreover, the book’s Afterword indicates a striking lack of in-depth effect of devolution on public consciousness. Responding to the Electoral Commission’s report on the initially proposed questions for the 2011 referendum, Shipton writes: ‘Only a minority [of people in the Commission’s focus groups] was aware that a referendum was due to take place – so much for the All Wales Convention’s penetration of Welsh communities. A member of one of the focus groups from Bridgend wasn’t actually aware that the Assembly existed. Even among those who knew what devolution is, there was a worrying lack of awareness of the facts of recent history. One indignant focus group member form Aberystwyth told the researchers: “We had a referendum on devolution before and voted against it. Now they want another one”’ (p. 270) – although he does go on to indicate that a ‘similar focus group’ in England revealed very similar problems of political disconnection and so this was unlikely to be a specifically Assembly-related problem. Elsewhere, Shipton is willing to concede concrete achievements for the Assembly (see, for example, p. 273 on university tuition fees) and consequent Welsh distinctiveness under devolution. As such, the complex mixture of socio-political tendencies, problems and achievements within the post-1997 period which other texts in this bibliography also note is echoed here: complexity, uncertainty, frustration, limitation – but also certain achievements which have contributed to a growing Welsh distinctiveness, albeit specifically on a civic-institutional level.

 

Taylor, Bridget and Katarina Thomson, eds, Scotland and Wales: Nations Again? (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1999)

This collection of essays contains much that is of use to literary researchers into post-devolution Wales. Although it was written very much in the aftermath of the 1997 vote itself, it gives extremely valuable social and political science assessments of socio-political conditions around the vote itself.

The ‘Preface’ by Ron Davies is, like his IWA pamphlet Devolution: A Process Not an Event, well worth reading – not least because of the twin assertions that ‘Devolution is not a response to dreams of national destiny, rather it is a recognition that in the complex modern world the notion of identity is an important one for people and their communities’ and that, as research in the bulk of the book also suggests, post-devolution Wales needs to pursue the notion of ‘national identity based on civic values and not ethnic criteria’ (p. xix).

The ‘Introduction and Conclusions’ section (by Bridget Taylor, John Curtice and Katarina Thomson) is partly to do with social science reflections on referendums as objects of scrutiny in their own right – something that is not particularly relevant to the Devolved Voices project. But it provides extremely readable summary narratives of ‘Why the 1997 referendums were held’, ‘The outcomes’ – the latter including the contention that the ‘geography of the result’ of the 1997 Welsh referendum exposed ‘a fault line at the heart of Welsh society’ (p. xxviii) – and ‘The devolution proposals’. There is an extremely useful section on the terminology of ‘nation’ and ‘state’ and how these terms can be appropriately used with clarity (p. xxxviii). Indeed, the understandings of ‘nation’ proposed here (1: ‘nation is not in the first instance a political entity. It is a social phenomenon that may be expressed in the establishment of institutions of civil society rather than institutions of a state’; 2: ‘national identities are not necessarily exclusive, but rather may overlap’) will certainly be influential in our work. Moreover, the observation that ‘we have not uncovered any clear evidence in this book that an exclusively Scottish or Welsh national identity is more commonplace now than it was twenty years ago’ (p. xxxix) is also key contextual information for understanding the state of national(ist) feeling in Wales at the start of the period with which the Devolved Voices project is concerned. The assertion which follows – that national feeling has, however, changed in its mode of expression (seeking such expression ‘through distinctive, if not necessarily independent, political institutions’), in part at least because of the post-1979 political climate of the UK as a whole – is equally significant, especially when placed alongside: (1) other analyses referred to in this bibliography which point towards the development of a distinctive Welsh politics in the period and (2) the later analysis of Jones and Scully, Wales Says Yes, which suggests that it is precisely a sense of the appropriateness of having ‘distinctive […] political institutions’ which lies at the root of the post-1997 increase in popularity of the idea of the Welsh Assembly. Growing Welsh distinctiveness, albeit primarily in terms of civic identity, is clearly an issue that literary criticism may wish to bring into its considerations.

Chapter 4, ‘The 1997 Welsh referendum vote’, by Richard Wyn Jones and Dafydd Trystan, contains a particularly valuable section rooted in ideas about national identity (pp. 73-82). Whilst this section is directed specifically to examining the relationship between notions of national identity and voting behaviour in the 1997 referendum, it also contains notes about the particular complexity of identity in modern Wales and ways of modelling identity itself (including the extremely useful Moreno scale) (pp. 73-4). The importance of speaking Welsh (either ‘fluent’ or ‘non-fluent’) to Moreno scale self-identification as ‘Welsh not British’ or ‘More Welsh than British’ is also made clear (p. 78). Drawing from its statistical analyses, the chapter’s conclusions – that ‘attitudes towards devolution appear to reflect patterns of partisan [i.e. party political] alignment and national identity’ – are taken to indicate that the greatest challenge to the new Assembly was to generate a sense of ‘national identity which can incorporate all those living in Wales’: ‘Given the heterogeneous nature of the Welsh population, this must inevitably be a civic identity based on identification with institutions and place, and the values that they represent, rather than ethnic markers such as place of birth and ancestry’ (p. 90). The notion of such ‘civic identity’ is significant to the project not least in terms of helping to define the poets which come into its scope.

Chapter 5, ‘Why was 1997 different?’, by Geoffrey Evans and Dafydd Trystan, provides useful background about the socio-cultural shifts that took place between the referendums of 1979 and 1997 and seeks to explain why the 1997 result was different from that of 1979. The analysis begins with a useful reminder of the ‘nationalist surges in Scotland and Wales during the mid 1960s’, as well as of the subsequent shift towards anti-devolution sentiment – crucially ‘among Welsh Labour backbenchers’ – in the latter half of the 1970s (p. 96). The statistical analysis of potential reasons for the difference in the two votes immediately discounts social changes or the suggestion of an ‘emerging national identity’ (p. 99), neither of which demonstrates sufficient statistical alteration to be significant. This is a pertinent warning to avoid simplistic literary critical appeals to any sense of burgeoning Welsh national identity in the run-up to 1997. However, the analysis that follows indicates that 1997 saw a pro-devolution shift in the attitudes of people who were ‘Welsh identifiers’ (p. 102) when compared with 1979, suggesting that Welsh national identity in 1997 equated more strongly to a pro-devolution position than was previously the case. In short, national identity played a part in the different result of 1997 – but only amongst a specific element of the population. Nonetheless, what the authors identify as the main cause of the shift to a pro-devolution vote in 1997 is a movement towards devolution amongst Labour voters, at least in part because of ‘party cue effect’ (p. 107) – i.e. the notion that voters respond to the cues from the party which they support. Analysis of turnout indicates that ‘Opponents of change were more likely not to vote in 1997 than in 1979’ (p. 109), and had this not been the case, the result in 1997 would have been reversed. In other words, the ‘yes’ vote of 1997 does not seem to have reflected the general view of the electorate – and this is another significant cause for caution in literary-critical appeals to any overriding sense of pro-devolutionary tendencies in relation to the broader socio-cultural context of 1997.

Chapter 6, ‘Is Scotland a nation and Wales not?’ by John Curtice, considers whether, in 1997, ‘Scotland vote[d] “yes” and Wales almost “no” because Scotland’s population has a shared sense of distinctive national identity which is lacking in Wales’ (p. 120). Effectively, the chapter seeks to address why the two referendum outcomes were so different. Curtice opens up with the proposal that ‘people living in Wales are less likely [than those living in Scotland] to share a common sense of national identity’, with Wales being ‘divided both by language and by national origin’. Thus he draws attention to the fact that the 1991 Census recorded one in five people as speaking Welsh in Wales but only around 1% in Scotland speaking Gaelic. He goes on: ‘Meanwhile nearly a quarter of people living in Wales were born outside the principality, whereas this is true of only just over one in ten people living in Scotland’ (p. 122). However, analysis quickly establishes that there is no precise correlation in Wales between particular manifestations of national identity and the simple yes/no distribution of the 1997 devolution vote (pp. 125-7). Also, it is clear that levels of national pride in 1997 were equal between Scotland and Wales – but that pride in being British was much higher in Wales than in Scotland. Moreover, whilst those identifying themselves as ‘exclusively or primarily Scottish/Welsh’ in their respective countries were more like to vote for devolution than those whose identification was ‘exclusively or primarily British’ (p. 128), those who felt exclusively/primarily Welsh were less likely to vote ‘yes’ than those who felt exclusively/primarily Scottish. In short, self-identification as exclusively or primarily Welsh was less likely to lead to a ‘yes’ vote in 1997 in Wales than self-identification as exclusively or primarily Scottish was in Scotland. Curtice’s research again emphasizes that non-voting was a key factor in Wales’s ‘yes’ vote: had non-voters turned out, the result would have been a clear ‘no’ (p. 131). Moreover, the data Curtice presents makes it clear that ‘the Welsh electorate in general were less engaged in their referendum [than the Scottish electorate], and not only those who feel a tie to Britain’ (p. 132). Analysis over pp. 134-5 indicates that Wales’s distinctive linguistic make-up is not sufficient to explain the difference in outcomes between the Welsh and Scottish referendums, nor are patterns of party identification (pp. 136-7). Thus, Curtice’s concluding statistical analysis suggests that the key distinction between Scotland and Wales in 1997 was the fact that ‘Scots clearly had higher expectations of devolution than did the Welsh’ (p. 139) – and not simply ‘the result of the distribution of national identity in the two countries’ (p. 142). However, the assertion that ‘Scots are indeed more likely than the Welsh to think of themselves as a nation that is distinct from the rest of the United Kingdom’ (p. 142) is clearly an important one – even if it remains ‘far from […] sufficient’ to explain the difference in the 1997 results themselves. Notes about the lukewarm expectations of devolution within Wales, at the outset of the devolutionary phase itself, are probably the most important aspect for literary criticism to take away from this analysis – and again are a suitable caution against reading poetry in Wales from this particular period against any assumed background of wide-spread or deep excitement about the devolutionary process.

‘Does civil society drive constitutional change?’ (Chapter 8, by Lindsay Paterson and Richard Wyn Jones) opens not only with an invaluable thumbnail sketch of various contested interpretations of the notion of civil society itself, but also with extremely useful historical analysis which leads the authors to contend that ‘civil society in Wales developed within a British context with no significant administrative structures or institutions surviving from a pre-conquest or pre-‘union’ era’ (p. 173). The essay goes on to suggest that the ‘relative weakness of Welsh civil society’ (p. 181) is bound up with the shallowness of Welsh engagements with ideas about devolution (pp. 182-3). Moreover, the post-1997 ‘attempt to involve civil society organisations as partners in the devolution process is happening only at the instigation of the government and is of very recent origin’ (p. 183). Nonetheless, the authors suggest that civil society may well be ‘among [the] progeny’ of devolution, even if it was not the ‘precursor’ of it – and, if it is, they argue that ‘civic characteristics’ will grow in importance in terms of Welsh identity, ‘in addition to – or in place of – ethnic markers’. One very clear observation made within this broad context is that the ‘establishment of an assembly is a further expression of civic nationhood’ (p. 185), which makes clear that the whole Devolved Voices project is fundamentally framed by just such notions of ‘civic nationhood’. However, whatever the foundations for Welsh identity construction, Paterson and Jones also note that ‘overlapping senses of national identity are prevalent in Wales’: the Welsh Referendum Study (1997) ‘found that while 17% identified themselves as having an exclusively Welsh identity and 12% exclusively British, fully 68% adopted a form of identity categorisation containing elements of both’ (p. 185). In short, when discussing poetry from Wales in the current era, such identity-overlapping and complexity cannot be ignored. Of just as much immediate concern to the project, particularly in terms of understanding the socio-cultural context in the run-up to 1997, is: (a) the assessment of the failure of civil society in Wales (essentially because of its inherent weakness) to articulate any clear alternative when ‘the excesses of Thatcherism and the “quango state” undermined the legitimacy of the status quo’ (p. 191) and (b) the notion that ‘beyond a narrow [socio-political] group’ prior to May 1997 ‘devolution simply had not been an issue’ (p. 192). Any sense that the few years immediately preceding the devolution vote of 1997 saw Wales engaged in a broad debate about devolution – or indeed in any debate at all, bar on the level of a small elite – clearly cannot stand. As such, assessments of literature from the immediately pre-devolutionary period must bear this in mind.