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Posts Tagged ‘Plaid Cymru’

Last week, in this blog here, I shared a song “Dros Gymru’n Gwlad”, performed by Dafydd Iwan but written by the Reverend Lewis Valentine. I mentioned in that blog that Lewis Valentine held a special place in 20th century Welsh history, so today I am giving that history.

Lewis Valentine (1893-1986), together with Saunders Lewis (1893-1985) and D.J. (David John) Williams (1885-1970) were the three men who were involved in this particular event. Valentine was a Baptist minister in North Wales. Saunders Lewis was born and brought up in Liverpool in a Welsh-speaking family (his father was a minister in a Welsh-speaking chapel in Liverpool). He became a celebrated playwright and lecturer in English at Swansea University, and the founder in 1925 of Plaid Cymru, the ‘Party of Wales’. D.J. Williams (never known as David John!) was born in Rhydycymerau in rural Carmarthenshire, and in addition to writing short stories he was an English teacher at the Grammar School in Fishguard, West Wales (I went to that school in the 1970s but by that time it was a comprehensive school). In 1936, in protest to the

  • ‘English’ preparations for war
  • English imperialism in Wales (some 500,000 people had protested against the construction of the bombing school)
  • the destroying of an historical Welsh landmark (Penyberth had been used for centuries as a stopping point for pilgrims going to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island), which is at the end of the Llŷn peninsula)



the three of them set fire to an RAF bombing school on the Llŷn Peninsula, at a place called Penyberth. At the time the men were in their early forties, and deliberately chosen by Plaid Cymru as the three were all middle-aged and respectable pillars of their communities.



DJ Williams (left), Lewis Valentine (centre) and Saunders Lewis (right); taken in 1936, the year they set fire to the bombing school. In Welsh, they are often known as "y tri" (the three).

DJ Williams (left), Lewis Valentine (centre) and Saunders Lewis (right); taken in 1936, the year they set fire to the bombing school in Penyberth on the Llŷn peninsula. In Welsh, they are often known as “y tri” (the three).



Penyberth is often seen as the first act of Welsh nationalism (patriotism) of the 20th Century. After setting fire to the bombing school, the three men made their way to the local police station where they gave themselves up and told the confused police officer what they had done and why. In the subsequent court case in Caernarfon a largely sympathetic jury of their peers failed to find them guilty, and so the trial was sent to the Old Bailey in London, where the three were found guilty and sent to jail. They each served 9 months in prison in Wormwood Scrubs. Saunders Lewis was, controversially, dismissed from his job at Swansea University before he had been found guilty of the crime. He was subsequently hired as a lecturer of English at Cardiff University (strictly speaking “University of Wales, Swansea” and “University of Wales, Cardiff”, as they were known at the time).



A plaque at the site of the arson  of the bombing school in Penyberth.

A plaque at the site of the arson of the bombing school in Penyberth.



An interesting historical quirk of their trial in Caernarfon is that, at that time (and up until the “Welsh Language Act” of 1967), a Welsh person had no right to give their testimony in Welsh in a court in Wales. Ever since the “Laws in Wales” acts of 1535-1542, English had been made the only language of legal proceedings in Wales. The only exception allowed to this rule was if one could prove that one’s English was inadequate. All three wished to give their testimonies in Welsh, but Lewis Valentine was the only one allowed to do so, as no evidence could be provided that he was anything like fluent enough in English.

As for the other two, Saunders Lewis had a degree in English from Liverpool University (the city where he was born and brought up); and D.J. Williams also had a degree in English from Aberystwyth (University of Wales, Aberystwyth), and had done post-graduate studies at Jesus College, Oxford! Additionally, at the time of the trial, Saunders Lewis was lecturing in English, and D.J. Williams teaching English at Fishguard Grammar School. Not surprisingly, their English was deemed to be good enough, and they were not allowed to testify in their own language.

If you want to read more about this episode of Welsh history, I can recommend the excellent book by Dafydd Jenkins, my copy is shown below.



My copy of the book "Tân yn Llyn" by Dafydd Jenkins, which I bought in 1986.

My copy of the book “Tân yn Llŷn” by Dafydd Jenkins, which I bought in 1986.




Had you ever heard of Penyberth, or any of “y tri” before?

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On Tuesday I summarised the surprise results of the DUK’s general election, today I will look at the results in a little more detail. I will finish this series of blogs next week, when I discuss how the results would have looked if the DUK used a different form of voting to the current ‘first past the post’ system.

The results in England

Below is a summary of the results in England – of the 533 seats in England the Conservative won 319 (59.8%), Labour 206 (38.6%), Lib Dems 6 (1.1%), UKIP 1 (0.025%) and the Green Pary 1 (0.025%). In terms of percentages of the vote, the Conservative party won 41% of the vote, Labour 31.6%, the Lib-Dems 8.2%, UKIP 14.1% (more than the Lib-Dems, even though they only got 1 seat) and the Green Party 4.2%.



The electoral map for England. As can be seen, most of England is a sea of blue, with Labour confined mainly to the urban areas of London, greater Manchester, Merseyside and Tyneside in the north-east.

The electoral map for England. As can be seen, most of England is a sea of blue, with Labour confined mainly to the urban areas of London, greater Manchester, Merseyside and Tyneside in the north-east.



If we zoom in on London even more we can see how few Tory seats there are in the Greater London area. It is an island of red in a sea of Tory blue.



London is predominantly Labour, but is surrounded by a sea of blue Conservative seats

London is predominantly Labour, but is surrounded by a sea of blue Conservative seats



The biggest change since 2010 was the percentage of the vote which went to the Lib-Dems, their share of the vote dropped by 16%. Conversely, UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party, whose main policy is to withdraw the UK from the European Union) improved their share of the vote by 10.7% in England.



The percentage of the vote for each party in England.

The percentage of the vote for each party in England.



The results in Scotland

As I mentioned in my blog on Tuesday, the result in Scotland was, for me, the biggest surprise of the 2015 general election. Although, to be fair to the pollsters, many were predicting that the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) would win most of the seats in Scotland, I personally expected it to maybe around half of the 59 seats, not the 56 that they won. The three main UK parties have been reduced to just one seat each, with Labour being all but wiped out from Scotland. Their losses in Scotland are the main reason that Labour actually have fewer seats than they won in the 2010 election.



The electoral map for Scotland, where the SNP swept the board, all but wiping out three main UK parties who are left with one seat each

The electoral map for Scotland, where the SNP swept the board, all but wiping out the three main UK parties who are left with one seat each



With 50% of the vote, the SNP won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats (95%), Labour got 24.3% of the vote but won only 1 seat (1.7%), the Conservatives got 14.9% of the vote but also won only 1 seat (1.7%), and the Lib-Dems got 7.5% of the vote but got only 1 seat (1.7%). Although UKIP obtained 1.6% of the vote and the Greens 1.3% of the vote; neither won a seat in Scotland.



The percentage of the vote for each party in Scotland. The SNP got 50% of the vote, but because of the 'first past the post' system, won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland.

The percentage of the vote for each party in Scotland. The SNP got 50% of the vote, but because of the ‘first past the post’ system, won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland.



The surge in support for the SNP has been truly remarkable, up 30% from the 2010 general election. As I mentioned on Tuesday, this is particularly surprising given the ‘no’ vote in last September’s Scottish independence referendum. Rather than the SNP’s support going down since that ‘no’ vote, it has actually increased and they are now the dominant party in Scotland by some margin. It will be interesting to see how they get on in next May’s Scottish parliament elections, where they are already the majority party. Will they sweep the board there too? Well, in fact, they are highly unlikely to do so; because some of the seats in the Scottish Parliament are determined by proportional representation (in Wales, 30 of the 60 seats in the Welsh Assembly are determined by PR). Assuming half the seats in the Scottish Parliament are also determined by PR, the chances of their having 95% of the seats there are very small; but they may well increase their majority.

The results in Wales

In Wales, Labour remain the dominant party. They won 25 of the 40 seats, with the Conservatives winning 11 (3 more than in 2010). Plaid Cymru held on to their 3 seats, but the Lib Dems were reduced from 3 seats to now only 1.

The electoral map for Wales, which remains predominantly Labour. Plaid Cymru retained their three seats, but the Lib Dems lost two of their three seats to the Conservatives, who also won a seat from Labour in the north-east of Wales.

The electoral map for Wales, which remains predominantly Labour. Plaid Cymru retained their three seats, but the Lib Dems lost two of their three seats to the Conservatives, who also won a seat from Labour in the north-east of Wales to gain 3 seats overall.



Wales has been predominantly Labour ever since the Labour party was formed in the early 1900s. It has never voted for a large number of Conservative MPs, in fact the current 11 could be the highest it has held in Wales. Does anybody know? In contrast, after the 1997 General Election (when Tony Blair swept to power), the Tories had no seats at all in Wales.

A surprising result for me in Wales was that the Conservative percentage of the vote (27.2%) actually increased from the 2010 general election result, but clearly the big losers in Wales were the Lib-Dems, who lost two seats and are now left with only one seat in Wales. Their percentage of the vote dropped by -13.6%, and UKIP’s vote surged by 11.2%, although because of the first past the post system they did not win any seats. Plaid Cymru had targeted Ynys Môn (the island of Anglesey) as a seat they could win, but Labour held on to it, albeit with a small majority of only 229 (Plaid increased its vote and Labour’s share went down, but it was not quite enough for Plaid to take it).



The percentage of the votes in Wales. Despite UKIP winning 13.6% of the vote, they did not win any seats. This is the first time UKIP have obtained more votes than Plaid Cymru

The percentage of the votes in Wales. Despite UKIP winning 13.6% of the vote, they did not win any seats. This is the first time UKIP have obtained more votes than Plaid Cymru



Labour’s share of the vote in Wales was 36.9%, up slightly from the 2010 election, but they lost two of their seats to the Conservatives – including the seat of Gower in west Wales which is the first time this seat has not been Labour in over 100 years. The Lib-Dems lost two seats, including one in Cardiff, which they lost to Labour. The other two seats the Conservatives gained was a Lib-Dem seat in mid-Wales and a Labour seat in north-east Wales.

The results in Northern Ireland

Politics in Northern Ireland is very different to that in the rest of the Disunited Kingdom. Labour and the Lib-Dems do not stand for election in NI, and even the Conservative party are a tiny minority. Politics there is dominated by parties which are not found anywhere else, and are split between ‘unionist’ parties (parties which want NI to remain part of the United Kingdom), and ‘republican’ parties (parties which want to see NI leave the United Kingdom and re-unite with the rest of Irish). Sinn Fein, who won four seats (down one seat from 2010) do not take up their seats in Westminster as they refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen.



The electoral map in Northern Ireland. The only 'British' party which stands in Northern Ireland is the Conservative Party, so most of the parties in NI are not found in other countries of the DUK

The electoral map in Northern Ireland. The only ‘British’ parties which stand in Northern Ireland are the Conservative Party, UKIP and the Greens, so most of the parties dominant in NI are not found in other countries of the DUK



The main gains in NI were made by the Ulster Unionist Party, who won two seats and went from having zero MPs in the 2010 to now having two. Sinn Fein (the Irish Nationalist Party) lost one seat to go down to four seats.



The percentage of the votes for each party in Northern Ireland

The percentage of the votes for each party in Northern Ireland



Concluding remarks

Next week, I will discuss how different the House of Commons would be if the Disunited Kingdom were to use proportional representation rather than the current ‘first past the post’ system. It is clear from the details of the general election results above that the make-up would be quite different. I think the results of this election are amongst the most surprising of any general election I can remember, and I feel that they have created more interest in politics than there has been for a couple of decades. After saying that, the percentage of people who did not vote (33.9%) is larger than the percentage won by the Conservatives (24.4%), and this is clearly a worry. The Scottish referendum had a voter turnout of over 80%, so this general election’s turnout of 66.1% is not great. Should voting be compulsory, like it is in Australia?

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Last Thursday (7th of May) the (Dis)United Kingdom had a general election, and much to everyone’s surprise the Conservative Party won an overall majority in the House of Commons. Leading up to election day all of the opinion polls were putting the two main parties, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, equal on 33-34% of the vote each; and so all the predictions were of their being a hung-parliament with no party having an overall majority. This had been the case since the last General Election in 2010, with the Conservatives governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats; having failed then to secure an overall majority.

The first signs that the opinion polls had got it wrong was when the exit poll was released at 10pm, the moment that polls closed. The exit polls predicted an overall majority for the Conservatives, but many pundits refused to believe that the opinion polls could be so wrong. Former Lib-Dem leader Paddy Ashdown said he would “eat his hat” on TV if the exit polls proved to be correct.


The front page of the early edition of the Independent newspaper, reporting the exit poll's prediction of an unexpected majority for the Conservative Party

The front page of the early edition of the Independent newspaper, reporting the exit poll’s prediction of an unexpected majority for the Conservative Party


When all the results were finally in on the morning of Friday the 8th, the results were quite shocking. The fact that the Conservatives had won an overall majority was one of the shocks, but probably the biggest shock was the result from Scotland where the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) won 56 of the 59 seats. The new political map of the Disunited Kingdom is shown below.


The new political map of the (Dis)United Kingdom. Conservatives are blue, Labour red, SNP yellow, Liberal Democrats orange, Plaid Cymru green. I will discuss each country's results in more detail on Thursday.

The new political map of the (Dis)United Kingdom. Conservatives are blue, Labour red, SNP yellow, Liberal Democrats orange, Plaid Cymru green. I will discuss each country’s results in more detail on Thursday.


The number of seats held by each party is shown below.


The Conservatives won 331 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, Labour won 232 seats, the SNP won 56 seats, the Liberal Democrats 8 seats, the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland also won 8 seats, and the “others” are Plaid Cymru (3), UKIP (1), Green Party (1), Sinn Fein (4), Social Democratic and Labour Party (3), Ulster Unionist Party (2) and “Other” (1).


Because the United Kingdom general election uses the “first past the post” system (which I will explain more in a blog later this week), the percentages of the vote each party got is poorly related to how many seats each party won. Below is a graph of the percentage of the vote won by each party, and the change from the 2010 election.


The final results of the 2015 General Election; the Conservative party won 3xx seats, giving them a majority of xx seats in the 650-seat House of Commons

The percentage of the vote won by each party. Because of the “first past the post” system (which I will explain in more detail on Thursday), the percentages do not correlate well with the number of seats won in the House of Commons. Also, note that the percentage quoted here for the SNP is misleading, as they only stand in Scotland, where they actually obtained 50% of the vote.


The SNP sweeps the board in Scotland

For me, the biggest surprise of the election was the result in Scotland, of the 59 seats the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) won 56. Labour, who had been the dominant party there for most of the last hundred years, were all but wiped out; and this was the main reason that Labour’s number of seats in the House of Commons fell from the 2010 election. Each of the three main parties (Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems) now have only one seat each in Scotland.

Given that the referendum for Scottish independence last September returned a “no” vote (55% to 45%), the rise of the SNP since then is remarkable. I am sure most pundits would have expected the SNP’s fortunes to fall after they failed to win a “yes” vote on Scottish independence, but instead their popularity has soared. I am sure the post-referendum rise of the SNP will be the subject of many studies over the next several years.

Quite what this overwhelming SNP result in Scotland will mean for the cause of Scottish independence we shall have to wait and see. The SNP campaigned on a promise of stopping the ruling party in London from continuing with austerity, which both the Conservatives and Labour felt was necessary to reduce the deficit. But, with the Tories now having an overall majority, how much can the SNP actually do to influence David Cameron’s new government?

Is the majority really 12?

Various websites refer to the Conservatives as having a 12-seat majority. This is certainly the case if one simply takes their total number of seats (331) and subtracts the number of seats held by other parties (319). But, this simple calculation has always puzzled me for several reasons.

The first reason is that Sinn Fein, the Irish Nationalist Party, do not take their seats in the House of Commons as they do not recognise its right to rule Northern Ireland and they also refuse to swear allegiance to the Queen. In this election, Sinn Fein won 4 seats, but as they will never vote on anything in the House of Commons this reduces the number in the opposition ranks from 319 to 315. This would give the Conservatives an effective majority of 331-315=16.

The second reason is that the House of Commons has a speaker and three deputy speakers. By tradition, none of these four votes on any legislation, even though they are included in the total numbers mentioned above. The current speaker is John Bercow, who is a Conservative MP, and so is included in the 331 total number of seats the Conservatives have, but as he cannot vote this effectively reduces the Conservative seats to 330. I am not sure who the three deputies will be in the new Parliament, but they do not necessarily come from the majority party. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that one will come from each of the main parties. So, this would reduce the number of Tories to 329, and the number in opposition to 313, leaving a majority of 329-313=16, which is certainly a large enough majority for the Conservatives to be able to pass all the legislation they wish to do, unless of course they face back-bench revolts.

On Thursday I will discuss the results in each of the four countries in the DUK in more detail, and also how different the make-up of the Commons would have been if the DUK used proportional representation instead of the “first past the post” system.

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A week from today, on the 18th of September, Scotland will decide whether it wants to break away from the rest of the United Kingdom and become independent. It is certainly no exaggeration to say that the result of this referendum will have far reaching consequences for all of the countries in the Disunited Kingdom (as I prefer to call it), including for Wales.

Unlike Wales, which was conquered by England in the late 12th Century and was absorbed into England in the Act of Union of 1536, Scotland was never defeated by England. It was independent until 1707, when the Scottish Parliament voted to dissolve and to form a political union with its larger neighbour to the south, and for Westminster to become the Parliament for a new Great Britain.

Interestingly, despite this over 300-year union, Scotland has always retained a separate legal and educational system to England, although decisions about them have been made by the whole British Government in London. In 1999 Scotland and Wales were both given a limited amount of independence (devolution) from the Westminster Government, and for historical reasons the level of decision making afforded to the new Scottish Parliament was greater than that afforded to the new Welsh Assembly.

It may surprise some of my readers in e.g. the USA and Australia that the level of decision making which Scotland and Wales have is much less than the individual states do in the USA and Australia. Having lived in the United States for 9 years, and in 4 different states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine and Wisconsin), each of those states has the ability to raise their own taxes, make their own laws and control much of their affairs like health, education, roads. Far far more independence from Washington D.C, than Wales or Scotland have from London.

Over the last 15 years I think it is fair to say that most people living in Scotland and Wales feel that devolution has been a success. Here in Wales we now get a block-grant from London, but can decide on matters of health and education how that money is divided up. So, for example, in Wales medical prescriptions are free (which they are not in England), we are charged 5p for plastic bags in shops (to cut down on their usage), and university fees for students from Wales are £3,000 rather than the £9,000 which English students have to pay (the Welsh Government pay the difference as the universities in England and Wales mostly charge £9,000).

I am no expert on the level of devolved powers Scotland has, except that it is more than those Wales has, but in the eyes of some these levels of devolved powers have not been enough, and on the 18th the Scottish people will decide whether they wish to go several steps further and have full independence from the rest of the Disunited Kingdom. For most of the last several months the “no” campaign has had a comfortable lead in the opinion polls, but this last weekend the polls showed that the gap has narrowed considerably and one poll even showed the “yes” campaign to have a narrow lead. This led to most of the London newspapers having headline stories on Monday (8th) about the impending doom should Scotland vote to break away.

This is how the Daily Telegraph have reported the narrowing in the opinion poles.


The headline from Monday's Times newspaper

The headline from Monday’s Daily Telegraph newspaper



And, this is how The Times has covered it.


The headline from Monday's Telegraph newspaper.

The headline from Monday’s The Times newspaper.



This is how the Daily Mail covered the story. My apologies for posting a screen capture from this awful newspaper, which I find nothing better than a xenophobic hate-stirrer, but I thought I should include it as an example of how the more hysterical right-wing press are covering the story.



The headline from Monday's Daily Mail newspaper

The headline from Monday’s Daily Mail newspaper



It was also announced on Sunday (the 7th) by George Osborne, the Chancellor, that the Government would be laying out details of how Scotland will be given more independence from London should they vote “no” in the referendum. I think it is fair to say that the British (London) Government is in a bit of a panic, as the possibility of a “yes” vote now seems more likely than it did even just a few weeks ago. Just yesterday (Wednesday the 10th), the leaders of the three main “British” parties David Cameron, Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg all headed to Scotland in what some see as a last-ditched effort to “save the union”. The “three amigos”, as they have been dubbed, have stayed out of the debate thus far, and it may transpire that their going to Scotland will backfire on the “no” campaign and be perceived as English politicians meddling in Scottish affairs.



The headline from yesterday (Wednesday)'s Daily Mail

The headline from yesterday (Wednesday)’s Daily Mail



As a Welsh person who has always wanted Wales to be independent, I am watching what happens in Scotland with much interest. Realistically, I cannot see Wales even holding a referendum on full independence any time soon. Having been to Scotland several times I have certainly got the impression that they are far more confident about their ability to run their own affairs than Welsh people are. I have always put this down to the difference in mentality of a people who were never conquered by England compared to the Welsh, who were conquered.

But, whether Scotland votes “yes” or “no”, it is now clear that Scotland will have more independence from London than it currently has, and this can only mean that Wales will gain more independence too. Already, just in the last year, Wales has gained the right to create and vote on its own laws which fall within its devolved powers. How much longer before we can also raise our taxes, to allow us to raise more (or less) than the London Government does?

The outcome of the referendum next week will certainly be historic, and I await it with bated breath.

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