The Welsh economy - a view from London?

A disappointing piece about the Welsh economy and devolution in the Financial Times today, despite the positive title.

Yes, I would be the first to criticise some of the approaches taken to the Welsh economy, especially the dominance of the public sector.

However, there have also been successes by small firms and large firms in Wales, something which national papers such as the FT are always slow to note.

That, more than anything else, shows the national pride in the business sector and yet it something that is not even alluded to in the article

It is shame that this was not a more balanced piece and, unfortunately, it says more about the London papers' isolation from all matters related to Wales rather than the reality of the situation.

Wales - National pride in spite of a dependent economy
May 14th 2009

A decade of limited devolution has dispelled some of the self-doubt that still infects Welsh national identity. The Cardiff assembly, which lacks the legislative powers of the Scottish parliament, has used its spending discretion to create policies modestly more socialist than those emanating from Westminster. This gradualism is appropriate. The Scots have a more institutionalised sense of their separateness from England. Welsh identity is something of a work in progress.

Such souvenir shop signifiers of Welshness as red dragons, daffodils and love spoons cloak considerable ambivalence. R.S. Thomas excoriated Wales as a land of "mouldering quarries and mines" inhabited by "an impotent people sick with inbreeding". Dylan Thomas dismissed it as "the land of my fathers. My fathers can keep it." But both poets were passionately attached to their homeland.

Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales, neatly defines the historic difference in England's relations with Scotland and Wales: "Wales was the first colony. We signed nothing. We were defeated." In 1282 Edward I conquered Wales, made vulnerable by its long land border and proximity to English heartlands. Scotland joined the Union voluntarily in 1707, arguably because it suited Scottish business.

Defeat, even that long ago, has "generated a potent sense of victimhood", according to John Osmond, director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, a Cardiff think-tank. Vassal status meant Wales never developed separate legal, financial and academic institutions as Scotland did. "We have an ancient tradition of doffing our caps and thinking the English are the grown-ups," says Ms Clarke.

According to the poet, the assembly has made "a tremendous difference" to national identity. At first, many Welsh carped at the £67m ($102m, €75m) cost of "the beautiful Senedd building" but now the critics have fallen silent. "People do not feel cut off from the assembly [as they do from Westminster]. They have no problem tapping [first minister] Rhodri Morgan on the wrist at the Eisteddfod and asking him what he is going to do about this or that."

David Rosser, director of the CBI in Wales, agrees: "There is a much more positive sense of Welshness through having visible institutions and local politicians who can take decisions of consequence." Yet there is a price to pay, too, as political pressure mounts for companies to spend ever more on bilingual services.

The Welsh language returned from the brink of extinction, thanks largely to campaigning by the Welsh Language Society. Welsh is growing even as Gaelic retreats to strongholds in the west of Scotland. Paradoxically, Plaid Cymru, the party of Welsh nationalism, is relatively weak in the 60-seat assembly, while Scottish nationalists rule the roost in Holyrood. Plaid has 15 seats to Labour's 26.

A deeper sense of Welshness is all very well, but Wales has continued to lag behind England economically. Business people say the assembly has done little to change that. Professor James Foreman-Peck of Cardiff Business School has been dismayed by the way the recession has damaged Welsh manufacturing. "The country is dominated by state activity and state patronage via the Labour party," he says, adding sardonically, "as long as the English [taxpayers] keep paying for it, that is fine".

In reality, Geordies and the Cornish are similarly dependent on the tax revenues of south-east England. Devolution boosts national pride. But it can also highlight national weaknesses.

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