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St David's Day celebrations give scope for optimistic politics in Wales
Change is manifest in this week's BBC Wales/ICM poll, which showed opposition to the devolved Welsh assembly government has fallen from 80% to 13%
Wednesday March 3 2010
Welsh politicians sometimes tease each other about belonging to the "miserablist" tendency in the national character, the unconfident side which says: "That's too ambitious for the likes of us." But Wales is changing like everywhere else (but slower) and Monday's St David's Day celebrations gave scope for the optimists too.
Paul Murphy, the former Welsh secretary, complains that roadworks at the Welsh end of the M4 has added an hour to his journey to Westminster compared with 20 years ago. It does not stop Plaid Cymru's Adam Price suggesting that Wales should offer to host the world trade expo ? Britain last did it in 1862 ? to help keep Welsh talent west of the Severn bridge.
At the St David's Day party in the Welsh Office, up the M4 in Whitehall, Murphy's successor, Peter Hain, gave a typical booster's speech which included a plug for Welsh whisky produced and sold from the Penderyn distillery at the foot of the Brecon Beacons.
Like Welsh hi-tech and the Institute of Advanced Broadcasting in Newport, the diversified economy of 2010 is a far cry from the heavy industry of the past when Cardiff's docks were Britain's chief export route and Wales rode a boom before slow decline began in the 1920s.
Change is manifest in this week's BBC Wales/ICM poll, which showed opposition to the devolved Welsh assembly government has fallen from 80% to 13%. Most Welsh voters think the legislation passed by the assembly in the form of "legislative competence orders" (LCOs), a kind of permission slip from Westminster granted by the 2006 Wales Act, are too slow and clunky.
They're right. So they favour greater legislative powers for Wales, comparable to Scotland's though less wide. That is why the 60-strong assembly voted 53-0 on 9 February for a referendum, not on independence but on expanded powers.
The Welsh secretary's consent is needed within 120 days. Hain is pro, some Labour MPs hostile, so the decision could fall to Cheryl Gillam, MP for very English Amersham and Conservative Wales spokesman. I will not stand in its way, she says.
All parties in Wales agree that the local economy is too dependent on the public sector. Unemployment is 8.6%, lower than France's 10%, higher than the UK's overall 7.6%.But even mixed achievement erodes Labour's old political/industrial base. In June's Euro elections the Tories won in Wales for the first time since "Welsh Wizard" Lloyd George's (no miserablist he) coupon election of 1918. Labour is braced to lose 3 to 5 of its 29 Welsh seats, half what it feared last year. Plaid, now in Cardiff coalition with Labour, may pick up a seat, the Lib Dems lose one. A hung Westminster parliament could make assorted nationalists powerful as they were in the hung 70s. But that is Westminster old-think. In Cardiff the Welsh-speaking lawyer, Carwyn Jones, has done moderately well as successor to Rhodri Morgan as first minister. There are rows over the housing LCO which the Tories fear might be used to end the right-to-buy, Welsh NHS overspending and the closure of rural post offices .
Near Wrexham a patriot wants to build a 64-metre tall (210 ft) Welsh red dragon. It would dwarf the Angel of the North and Nelson's column. That will show them.
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