John Osmond listens to Rhodri Morgan musing about what makes us Welsh
Rhodri Morgan demonstrated today why it is too early to erect a statue in his honour, a bizarre notion being promoted by Paul O’Shea, Unison’s Wales Secretary. Appearing on Andrew Marr’s Start the Week Radio 4 programme the former First Minister gave us a whistle stop tour of why Wales needed devolution, while the Scots wanted it, and why we are the ‘quiet Celts’ of the British Isles.
He was being quizzed on what constitutes Welsh identity and whether it stretches to anything more than a few blokes dressed up as druids at the National Eisteddfod (dubbed by retiring Pontypridd MP Kim Howells as “medieval brain surgeons”) speaking a funny language.
Rhodri responded by saying he was endlessly fascinated by Wales because it was so fractured and complex. He instanced an e-mail poll of some years ago on who was the most famous Welshmen of all time, which ended up as a contest between Owain Glyndŵr and Aneurin Bevan. People were immensely proud of Owain Glyndŵr whose rebellion between 1400 and 1410 had been the most important ten years in Welsh history before the first decade of the 21st Century which witnessed the birth of the National Assembly.
On the other hand Aneurin Bevan just pipped him to the post because he represented the impulses of 19th Century industrial Wales which inspired modern Welsh democracy, socialism and the National Health Service. However, there was a link between the two, and that was Bevan’s first name ‘Aneurin’. Bevan was so named in honour of Aneirin. A poet in Urien’s court, Aneirin was present at the battle of Cattraith, ca. 600 AD in Catterick, Yorkshire, on which he wrote his epic poem Y Gododdin, about the defeat of the Britons against the Saxons. It doesn’t get more complex than that.
And the quiet Celts? Rhodri illustrated this by recalling a time in the 1970s devolution debates when the Scottish MP Tam Dalyell had said that a Scottish Parliament would mean James Naughtie having to be repatriated from the Radio 4 Today programme. Rhodri had tapped him on the shoulder and added that may be it would also result in the programme’s other presenter John Humphreys being returned to Wales. Tam Dalyell looked nonplussed. He had no idea that Humphreys was Welsh.
The Welsh had “needed” devolution, said Rhodri to give them the confidence and self-belief to make their own decisions. Major arguments against the Assembly had been that it would simply result in scandals and ‘jobs for the boys’ with public appointments going to Labour Party hacks. None 0f this had happened, which he said was perhaps the greatest achievement of Welsh devolution so far.
So, a statue can wait, even a bronze one, as suggested in today’s Western Mail by Llantwit Major sculptor Roger Andrews. There’s life after Rhodri, which is simply more of the same.