John Prescott

Apr 032017
 

NATIONS

‘The nations and regions of the UK’ is a term used by the BBC and other organisations and it fascinates me for a number of reasons. Primarily I suppose because I can readily identify the former but I’m confused when I read about the latter, especially in a political context. Do you know where these mysterious ‘regions’ are? Let’s start with the relatively easy job of identifying the nations.

There are four nations in these islands. Apart from us Welsh there are the Scots and the English with the three of us making up Britain; and then there are the Irish, with the greater part of Ireland being independent. Northern Ireland is a part of the UK, but as the Troubles made clear, there are two communities there; one that shares its cultural background with the citizens of the Republic of Ireland, and can be called Irish, with the other identifying with Britain, or more particularly Scotland, and insisting it is British.

Which is confusing, because there is no British nation. There is certainly a British state, but that’s a constitutional arrangement. To confuse matters further ‘British’ is a term that was used for centuries by English writers to describe us Welsh and our language, in recognition of the fact that we were the original inhabitants of this island, before the post-Roman Germanic and Irish settlements. (Though this connection is less likely to be made nowadays, for the same English nationalist reasons that ‘Iron Age Britain’ has replaced ‘Celtic Britain’.) So are these people in the northern part of Ireland who claim to British some lost Welsh tribe?

Despite this division into two mutually hostile camps it serves British interests to regard Northern Ireland as one of the nations, on a par with Wales, England and Scotland. Is it not, it is simply a devolved administration, and at some point in the near future it will re-unite with the rest of the island.

I think that settles – for the time being, at least – the nations element of this little piece. Let’s move on.

REGIONS

It seems obvious that if we are looking for the BBC’s regions, then we’ll have to look for them in England. But these regions are arbitrary geographical units, most of which seem to be named after compass points, I see nothing closer to a nation, a geographical area of England where people say – preferably in a distinctive accent – ‘This is my region, I am a native of ————-‘.

At this point you might be tempted to put down your porcelain cup of Darjeeling and wonder aloud, ‘What the fuck is he is on about, why is he writing about the regions of England?’ but please bear with me, for I shall now explain how I believe this is relevant to Wales.

Last Wednesday saw a ‘taskforce’ meet in Cardiff, a gathering of great Labour minds hoping to give the impression that their party has a cunning plan for a new constitutional arrangement post-Brexit.

In attendance were our own Carwyn Jones, former PM Gordon Brown, leader of ‘Scottish’ Labour Kezia Dugdale, ex-deputy PM John Prescott, some bloke named Jon Trickett (described as a strategist’), and among the spear carriers were Christina Rees MP and Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle council. While in the chorus we find the Labour candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester, his counterpart for the Liverpool City Region, etc.

Clearly, ‘handing more powers down’ is an attempt to cut off the SNP at the pass, by giving Scotland more powers so that people there will say, ‘See you, Jimmy, we dinnae need independence the noo’. (I bet you read that and thought, ‘Bloody hell! Some Scotsman has taken over Jac’s blog’.)

And in the hope of disguising that this is all about preventing Scottish independence Labour must come up with what looks like a more general plan for all “the nations and regions that make up the UK”.

Which is a bit tricky when we can’t locate these regions, which brings us back to the original problem.

THE LESSONS OF HISTORY

Clearly, England does not have established and distinct regions like France, let alone Germany, where many of today’s länder were independent states well into the nineteenth century. It was a similar situation in Italy, though few today mourn the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

By comparison, England was unified by the middle of the tenth century, with London the capital and major city. When William of Normandy invaded in 1066 he only needed to win one battle, kill Harold, and march on London to be ruler of all England. I can think of no other European country of the time that would have fallen so completely, so quickly.

Consequently, what passes for regions in England today are nothing more than broadcasters’ shorthand – the West Country, East Anglia, etc. And yet, there was a time, a brief window, when England was organised into separate kingdoms, or at least, those parts of England that weren’t still under Welsh control.

It was known as the Heptarchy, or Seven Kingdoms, and those of you of a Time Team disposition will go all a-quiver at the mention of the term. It was that period from (roughly) the early seventh century to the early tenth century, and is illustrated in the map. The western areas, coloured in darker green, were the areas still ruled by our ancestors.

Southern Britain C AD 650

That was then, and since then the problem of delineating England’s regions has taxed many great minds, but there was always resistance to formal regions on the grounds that there was something foreign about them, foreign and divisive. Perhaps because her imperial history had taught England how to exploit divisions. So if – God forbid! – some foreign Johnny ever invaded let him find himself faced with a united country. (Though as we’ve learnt, that was England’s weakness in 1066.)

And this resistance to regions persists, so you’d think Labour would have known better after the abject failure of the party’s Regional Assemblies (Preparation) Act 2003. (What do you mean, you ‘don’t remember it’!) This was intended to pave the way, through referendums, for assemblies in northern England. Just one referendum was held, in the north east, in 2004; but the Geordies, Mackems, Smoggies and the rest rejected the offer by 78% to 22%. The whole project was then abandoned.

As I mentioned, one of those attending the taskforce meeting was former deputy prime minister John Prescott, and the northern assemblies project was his brainchild. So this is either a case of some people never learn, or, a good idea is worth persisting with. Take your pick.

WHY IT WILL NEVER WORK

The idea of regions and regional governments is unattractive to most English people; they will probably have an affection for their town or city, the wider locality, maybe their county, but after that it’s England, or Britain. A region is an odd and unnecessary layer to insert.

And yet, if English politicians, and their Unionist allies in Scotland and Wales are to save Britain then they must pretend to believe in devolution, or even federalism, but the problem remains England, it’s just too big. Federalism works in the USA or Germany because no matter how big and rich California and Bavaria might they’re still out-gunned by the rest.

BBC Regions, used by many politicians as a template

So the only way to sell federalism to Scotland is to suggest breaking England up into regions . . . that the English don’t want. But even if you could get enough English to buy into regions that would still leave the problem of London, infinitely richer than any of the other ‘regions’, and it would almost certainly be the seat of the federal government.

And look at the North West region. Liverpool, Manchester and wealthy Cheshire in the south, and in the north . . . lakes and holiday homes? Come to think of it – where’s Cornwall? Will our Cornish cousins accept being subsumed into a South West region run from Bristol?

The Scots would be foolish to listen to Labour’s overtures, or any promise of more devolution. Ask yourself what would happen in the unlikely event of the Scottish Parliament accepting federalism but the English refusing to accept regions – will the UK government force regions on the English? No.

The second reason for rejecting Labour’s proposals is that we’ve been here before, very recently, in fact, just before the independence referendum in September 2014. Remember ‘The Vow’? In the closing stages of the referendum campaign Cameron, Miliband and Clegg, the leaders of the three main Unionist parties ganged together to promise Scotland something within a whisker of independence. This promise may have guaranteed the No vote, and it was then reneged on.

Thirdly, this taskforce is drawn from the Labour Party, which is unlikely to be in any position to offer anybody anything until around 2025. And just look at who’s in the taskforce; Brown, Prescott, Jones, Dugdale – would you trust any of that lot?

I have faith in the SNP. They know that England and England’s Unionist allies in Scotland are not to be trusted. It must be independence; no more crumbs, no more half measures, no more lies.

It would be nice to report that Wales is on the same path. But she’s not. I fear we’re headed in the opposite direction.

end

Sep 152014
 

The other night I watched Dewi Prysor on S4C, tracking down the Men of the North, telling us of Taliesin’s poetry, visiting the natural fortress of Dumbarton Rock, and trying to establish the relationship between the Picts and the Welsh (or, if you prefer, Brythons / Britons) of southern Scotland and north west England. Worth watching because a Welsh person who knows the history of our people (rather than the history of an area called ‘Wales’) will never regard Scotland as a totally foreign country, and nothing that happens as a result of the referendum will change that.

I’ve tried to explore a little of this history on my recent vists to Scotland. For example, after becoming aware of the separate Scottish version(s) of Merlin / Myrddin I made up my mind to take a detour to the village of Stobo, near Peebles, long associated with the legend. This Merlin is not the advisor and mentor to Arthur but bard to a local ruler named Gwenddoleu, and he was driven insane after witnessing the slaughter at the battle of Arfderydd in 573, becoming the wild man of the woods (Merlin Sylvestris). It’s conceivable of course that this ‘Scottish’ Merlin is the original for the later Welsh or Norman / Breton Merlins.

CLICK TO ENLARGE ANY OF THE STOBO KIRK IMAGES BELOW

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As I say, on one of my trips I promised myself a visit to Stobo, but I missed the turning (the wife was probably nattering). So we drove on and arrived at our destination where, after booking in, I wandered about a bit and found, on land not far from the ruins of the abbey, old headstones, and the first one I read was dedicated to a woman with the surname Stobo. I don’t normally believe in ‘things like that’, but the coincidence did make me pause. And promise myself that I would definitely make the trip to Stobo.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Which is a rather out-of-the-way place, but well worth a detour. Stobo Kirk has some remarkable old stones and a little window showing Myrddin being baptised by Saint Kentigern. Though in Scotland Kentigern is more usually known as Mungo, patron saint and founder of the city of Glasgow. In Welsh he is Cyndeyrn, the founder of Llanelwy (St. Asaph). Not far from Stobo, along the B712, you can find the ‘Altar Stone’ opposite the entrance to Altarstone farm. This, it is said, is where the unbaptised Merlin would practice sacrificial rites and / or where he was baptised by Kentigern. (The rest of the stone may be in Stobo Kirk.) Despite the stories of this Scottish Merlin being confusing, and from a cultural context that has been lost, details were retained that probably meant nothing to those repeating them, especially following the adoption of Christianity. Such as the legend telling of Merlin’s triple death, which is pure Celtic, ritualistic and sacrificial. It was the death suffered by Lindow Man and many others whose remains have been found in peat bogs in Ireland and on the continent.

I’m telling you this to explain the affinity I feel for Scotland, particularly the south. Obviously I am supporting a Yes vote in Thursday’s referendum because as a Welsh nationalist I believe the referendum will have major implications for Wales; but there is another, perhaps atavistic, reason for wishing to see these old Welsh territories free of English rule.

Rosamund Angharad Lloyd headstoneUPDATE 20.09.2014: Something I left out of the original piece (because I didn’t have a photograph to show you) was the intriguing headstone in the graveyard behind the kirk. Having visited Stobo again on my visit to Scotland this week, I can now show you the headstone and explain – as well as I can – who the lady was it commemorates. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Rosamund Angharad Lloyd was of course Welsh; the daughter of an Edward Lloyd of Rhyl, though she appears to have been born at Aberpergwm, near Neath, in 1860. Her mother was (and here I quote): ” . . . Matilda Susannah, only dau. and heiress of Lieut.-Colonel Edward Smyth of Castella, co. Glamorgan, by his wife, Rosamond Matilda Bushe of Burcot, co. Oxford; born 17 February 1818; marr. at St. George’s, Hanover Square, London (by the Rev. Francis Llewelyn Lloyd, B. D., Senior Fellow of St. John’s CollOwain E W Greaves headstoneege, Cambridge), on Thursday, 17 September 1857; marr. 1stly William Williams of Aberpergwm, co. Glamorgan, who died, aged 67, 17 March, and was buried at Aberpergwm 21 March 1855″.

Rosamund Angharad Lloyd was married on St. David’s Day 1881 to Edward Seymour Greaves, who himself had been born in 1849 at Tremadog, one of the Greaves family of Blaenau Ffestiniog slate fame. (You’ll see that Rosamund married twice, the second husband being Lord Henry Grosvenor. The Dukes of Westminster, perhaps the richest landowners in this island, are Grosvenors.) I’m not sure how many children Rosamund and her first husband produced but one was Owain E W Greaves, whose stone is next to that of his mother.

But I still couldn’t understand why mother and son were buried in Stobo kirkyard, for neither of Rosamund’s husbands had any obvious connection with Stobo Castle. Then I ran across this, which told me that, “In 1939 Stobo Castle was bought by Wenefryde Agatha Scott, 10th Countess of Dysart”, obviously the Wenefryde referred to on Owain’s headstone, and presumably buried with him. Since 1978 Stobo Castle has been a luxury health spa.

As I mentioned earlier, the Stobo area is associated with Kentigern / Mungo / Cyndeyrn, who is credited with founding the religious settlement that became the cathedral at Llanelwy / St. Asaph. (See the picture above of the window in Stobo kirk.) When Edward Lloyd died in December 1882 Letters of Administration were granted to his daughter Rosamund by the authorities at St. Asaph cathedral. Small world.

*

I say “English rule”, because this referendum has exploded the myth of ‘Britishness’, and if Scotland votes Yes then the very term becomes obsolete. We have, as former Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason has observed, seen the BBC placed on a war footing, casting off all pretence at impartiality and switching to propaganda mode, as if Scotland was Iraq, and Alex Salmond Saddam Hussein. We have heard big banks forecast plagues of locusts, and supermarket chains warn of frogs . . . the oil is running out . . . a nuclear-free Scotland could never join NATO (most members are nuclear free!) . . . Scotland will be offered Devo-max if she says No to independence (the same Devo-max No 10 wouldn’t allow on the ballot paper?) . . . lie after threat after lie. With humour provided by John Prescott, arguing that if Scotland says Yes we’ll never have Team GB to beat the Germans!

Perhaps it’s possible to be even more specific than simply saying ‘English rule’, for what’s really being protected is the interests and prestige of an English elite, one overwhelmingly concentrated in the south. As this report tells us. Judged on wealth, housing, health, crime levels, etc., the 50 most desirable places to live in Britain are all in southern England. Or to put it another way: Of the 50 most desirable places to live in the UK not one is in Wales, Scotland, northern England or Northern Ireland. What an indictment of a state in which we are all supposed to be equal beneficiaries of what it has to offerNigel Dix. Yet as I write this, London politicians and their local lackeys are telling the Scots they would be mad to leave this wonderful UK! They would be mad to stay.

It’s no different in Wales. Our Glorious Leader, Carwyn ‘the veto’ Jones, embarrasses himself every time he opens his mouth. Fortunately, few people in Wales pay him any heed, and none outside Wales. Moving lower down the Labour totem pole, I was struck by a letter in this morning’s Wasting Mule from Councillor Nigel Dix of Caerffili. (Click to enlarge.) Right-on socialist, our Nige; yet he sees no contradiction in lining up with bankers and big business to oppose what he sees as “nationalism”. It seems that Dix is not only unable to recognise propaganda of a very unsubtle kind, but also believes that the only thing driving the Yes campaign is Alex Salmond, the SNP, and ‘nationalism’. Pay attention, Dix! you might learn something. If there is a Yes vote on Thursday it will have been achieved due to Labour voters in Scotland wanting to escape the corruption and inequalities of the UK. Even if the Yes vote falls short of the 50.1% needed, hundreds of thousands of Scottish Labour voters will have defied the Labour leadership, and the party may never see them again. Think about that.

Tomorrow I shall head north; not to campaign or canvass, just to be there and savour the atmosphere of a nation’s re-birth; for make no mistake, nothing will ever be the same again, whatever the outcome of the referendum. Rest assured that I shall have more to say when I return.

AS I SHALL BE AWAY AND UNABLE TO ACCESS MY BLOG I MAY BE SLOW TO APPROVE COMMENTS. AND IF THERE’S A YES VOTE, WELL . . . I COULD TAKE WEEKS TO SOBER UP.