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    21 May, 2008

    Bevan Assembly Art

    Normal Mouth argues that it is Aneurin Bevan's sculpture that should not be present in the Assembly. I reproduce below the comment I have left on his site.

    No-one could exactly call Aneurin Bevan a fan of devolution. But, as I have argued before in Cambria magazine, his support for Wales, the Welsh language, Welsh culture and Welsh identity is often under-stated. Bevan’s father was a Welsh-speaker and gave his son the name of the poet. As Dai Smith points out in his essay on Bevan, ‘The Ashes onto the wind’, Bevan joined a committee established to consider the question of a Secretary of State for Wales in 1943. He supported the concept in 1959. He said in the first Welsh day debate during the war ‘there may be an argument – I think there is an argument – for considerable devolution of government’. No-one would argue that at this stage in his career Bevan was a supporter of devolution as we know it. However, Richard Weight outlines in his marvellous book Patriots much more detail of Bevan’s views on devolution based on Cabinet committee discussions on Wales in October 1945. Bevan raised questions that went beyond the creation of a Secretary of State, saying that if Ministerial functions were transferred there would have to be some devolution from Parliament to ‘a separate Welsh body’, and suggesting that administrative devolution for Wales could only be justified if local government was regrouped on a regional basis. His views, as Dai Smith has suggested, were much more complex than is normally claimed.

    Robert Griffiths in Planet (41) rescued Bevan’s Welshness. In the annual Welsh day debate in 1953 Bevan said:

    Although those of us who have been brought up in Monmouth and in Glamorgan are not Welsh-speaking, Welsh-writing Welshmen, nevertheless we are all aware of the fact that there exists in Wales, and especially in the rural areas, a culture which is unique in the world. And we are not prepared to see it die. (my italics)

    Bevan believed that Welsh culture did not depend on speaking Welsh: he defended the culture of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. He told Tribune readers that Wales was different because ‘she has a language of her own, an art and a culture’. In 1958 he welcomed the Eisteddfod, which he called ‘a monument to civilization’, to Ebbw Vale, telling the Western Mail, that though ‘We in Monmouthshire…speak English and no Welsh we are essentially a part of Wales’. Monmouthshire’s ‘characteristics are Welsh, its legends are Welsh’. Indeed, Y Cymro was full of his attendance at the Ebbw Vale Eisteddfod in 1958.


    Normal Mouth said...

    An excellent argument, and one not wholly at odds with my own. Bevan's attitude towards Welshness were certainly more complex and nuanced than he is given credit for, as you rightly point out.

    I haven't received this comment, but I'll add a postscript to my post.

    Anonymous said...

    What is interesting is that the complex idea of what Wales and Welshness was about was not and is not the sole preserve of Labour and Plaid in Wales. Conservatives and Liberals in Wales have distinct identities from their counterparts elsewhere in the UK; indeed when Vivian Lewis became (as Lord Brecon) the first Minister of Sate for Welsh Affairs in 1957, he insisted on citing his office in Cardiff ... and having a distinct Welsh identity to the office that he was creating.

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

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