NWR Issue 39

A home for the Welsh Assembly

Cardiff poet, the late John Tripp wrote the lines below a quarter of a century ago. In the light of Cardiff's unwillingness to turn over its City Hall at a reasonable price, for use as the home of the Welsh Assembly, they could have been written yesterday. But then Tripp, who was remembered at a special Welsh Academy event in October when he would have been 70, was familiar with the ambiguities of the relationship between Wales and
Cardiff's civic leaders.

This will be the last ditch to fall
to the swing of its country.
Significance blowing down the hills
dies on the wind. Here the puffed
clink in their chains of office,
and the hagglers squat like a junta.

It is still as seperate as an arm
lopped from its body: a strange sleeve
of territory spilled across the border.
What time has so carelessly mixed
clots here, where the ideals sag
and roots sprout only on the surface.


Tripp himself was old enough to recall the occasion when the 1950s Conservative Government invited MPs at Westminster to designate Cardiff as Wales's capital. One of the city's 4 MPs actually voted against, arguing it was bad for the city since it could stoke up nationalism.

Such muddled thinking ought to be a thing of the past, given the enormous benefits which Cardiff has reaped since its 1955 designation as Welsh capital. Whether in public administration (the Welsh Office and a plethora of Welsh quangos), regional headquarters (of banks, voluntary organisations), sport (national rugby stadium), urban regeneration (Cardiff Bay), higher education (two university colleges), or culture (Broadcasting organisations, Millennium Centre) the city has been able to secure comparably more resources than anywhere else in Wales thanks above all else to its capital status. Cardiff these days would be widely regarded as little more than a satellite of Bristol were it not for the Welsh dimension.

Cardiff's ambivalence has cultural roots. According to some sections of Cardiff's middle classes, Wales does not begin until you reach the northern fringes of the city at Tongwynlais (the subject of another John Tripp poem, "Eglwvs Newydd"), Hence Cardiff's referendum majority vote against a Welsh assembly and such aspects of Welsh life as University College of Cardiff's intermittent campaign to quit the University of Wales.

It is precisely because of this ambivalence that some argue Cardiff must be the location for the assembly - a prc-condition towards reconciling the city to its Welsh capital role. In other words, Wales needs Cardiff more than Cardiff needs Wales. But it is a poor argument. Cardiff will still retain most of the benefits of its status even if it loses the Assembly, And locating it in Swansea offers the opportunity to adopt a more imaginative approach, one which ensures the benefits of devolution arc spread more widely.

Swansea too can be very parochial - as anyone connected with its handling of the 1995 UK Year of Literature (the last time it played a "national" role) will recall. But it is important to recognise, as we enter the 21st century, that all national institutions, whether for prestigious, symbolic or practical reasons, do not have to be concentrated in one place.

By making Swansea the prime home of the Assembly and creating homes for its planned regional committees of members in Wrexham as well as Cardiff, the government would signal that political power in the new Wales is to be spread and not concentrated, and provide a decisive rebuff to those who warn that devolution will replicate in Wales the same excess concentration of economic and cultural activity in the south-east that mars society in Britain as a whole.


previous editorial: The market for Wales's literature
next editorial: Multiculturalism and national loyalties


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