Contemporary Wales
Contemporary Wales

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Contemporary Wales

5.3 Audio activities

Listen to the audio below and then complete the activity.

Audio 2 (Round table discussion)

In this audio, four authors (Graham Day, Sandra Betts, Neil Evans and Andrew Edwards) discuss difference in contemporary Wales with Hugh Mackay.

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Transcript: Audio 2 (Round table discussion)

Hugh Mackay
I’m Hugh Mackay and I’m Chair of the Course Team.
Graham Day
I’m Graham Day and I’ve written the chapter on place and belonging.
Sandra Betts
My name is Sandra Betts and I’m partly responsible for the chapter on ‘race’ and gender and also for the study guide.
Neil Evans
I’m Neil Evans and I wrote the chapter on class.
Andrew Edwards
My name’s Andrew Edwards. I wrote the chapter on the Labour tradition.
Hugh Mackay
Okay. Now would someone like to have a go at starting off saying something about the chapters and difference in Wales?
Sandra Betts
There are a number of chapters in the first part of the book, which are emphasising difference in Wales. So, for example, the chapters on place, and on class, and on work, and on gender and ‘race’ are all chapters that are drawing our attention to issues of difference: different places that characterise Wales, different work experiences, differences of class, of gender and of ‘race’. So in that sense the first part of the book you’re being asked to look very much at difference.
Neil Evans
In some ways it’s important to look at the connections across those differences, I think. An individual can be at once a member of the working class, a woman, and black or from some other minority ethnic experience. So while we are looking at the differences separately to analyse them, an individual’s experiences they can converge or diverge. These are some of the things which cross-cut in Welsh society.
Graham Day
I think one of the other connections, then, is whether these differences actually divide Wales – so whether they’re things that people live with comfortably or actually set people up in opposition to one another and you could argue certainly that class has been thought about in the past as something that divides people – maybe divisions between ethnic minorities and the majority. Even place sometimes can be seen as dividing parts of Wales that have different interests – so that people in north Wales might take a different attitude, say, to the Assembly located in Cardiff to people in south Wales, because they see it as reflecting a different range of interest to their own.
Andrew Edwards
I think my chapter, which is more to do with connections than with difference, clearly highlights the differences within a Labour tradition in Wales in Welsh politics generally. And to understand those different traditions we need to understand connections, but we also need to appreciate the subtle differences that exist between political traditions in Welsh-speaking Wales and non-Welsh-speaking Wales, between north and south Wales, and so on and so forth.
Sandra Betts
I think one of the other things that we need to point out here is that we are using the word ‘difference’ in at least two senses – one, difference over time. So in many of the chapters you’re getting an account of how things have changed: how they are different now in contemporary Wales to perhaps how they were in the middle of the twentieth century. Certainly that’s the case with the chapter talking about gender, for example, and also the chapter on work and others of them. So there is that sense of difference. But then there’s also the sense of difference in which we’re stressing the different experiences of different groups within contemporary Wales today.
Neil Evans
And I think the differences aren’t necessarily within Wales. One of the things which makes Wales distinctive is a Labour tradition and the extent of support for the Labour Party, at least historically. What will happen in the future is perhaps another matter. But if that Labour tradition makes Wales different from England, even if it’s a connecting factor within Wales, to understand Wales we need to look outside it as well.
Graham Day
I think there is an implicit discussion going on through a lot of the work about the difference between Wales and the outside world. I think one of the aspects, say, of the class structure in Wales is that in some ways the top layers aren’t there. They’re somewhere else. So if you look for the really powerful or the really rich, they’re in London or maybe Tokyo or New York, but they’re not living in Wales, and that sort of influences the way people within Wales think about class, I think; that they’re looking at a kind of a limited span of the spectrum and have to refer elsewhere if they want to think about where the other classes are.
Neil Evans
I think that’s the great difference from the past in the in the coal industry and its bitter industrial conflicts in the past. You at least knew the manager lived on the site and the owner within twenty miles or so. Class could be much more visible in people’s lives. But now the employer – as Graham says – can live at a great distance and it can be hard to see just what the connections between difference classes are within Wales. They exist almost in parallel universes and not necessarily involved in conflicts with each other apart from competition over resources and space.
Sandra Betts
In fact that point is made quite strongly in the chapter on work, I believe, where the point is made that people in one group within society can live out their lives without ever coming in contact with or seeing or knowing anything at all about people who economically and socially belong to another group.
Neil Evans
That can be a great geographical factor, really, in lots of parts of Wales. If you come from the south Wales valleys, as I do, you’re unlikely to know all the parts of the valleys. In fact you might know a very tiny stretch and never been into an adjacent valley or … The geography is such that it still divides people despite modern communications. It makes differences, you know, there are a lot of hostility say between Aberdare and the Rhonnda and, you know, rude names used for inhabitants of one place as compared with another in the past.
Graham Day
I think that is an interesting feature of Wales that the kind of very basic geographical differences still have such an effect so modern forms of transport still struggle really to overcome the north/south divide in Wales because they’ve got mountains and hills in the middle.
Andrew Edwards
I think that the issue of a north/south divide in Wales is interesting in its own right. That, you know, there’s lots of literature on the north/south divide in England and people sort of relate to that, but in Wales I think we’ve got an equally kind of powerful north/south divide which is fuelled by lots of myth and lots of assumption about difference. But as we … as the kind of twenty-first century progresses maybe those differences become more apparent than real: we’re actually closer together maybe than we were a hundred years ago because of the nature of industrial development and those kind of things.
Neil Evans
I think one way that comes out really is with the decline of the heartland of the Welsh language, you know, one of the divides that we used to see in Wales between north and south was Welsh in the north and English in the south. But actually the population balance is changing. In much of north Wales there’s not really that sense of Welsh language heartland and you’ve got the development of strong Welsh-speaking communities and interests in south Wales. So you could see in the future that one important difference you know being much less significant and the Welsh language spread much more evenly but not as concentrated a way across Wales.
Andrew Edwards
Yes it’s the same with industrial Wales as well that we had at one time a very clearly sort of defined industrial Welsh area in south Wales and that now has all but sort of disappeared really and if you look at industry in Wales it looks pretty similar in north and south really. The developments are pretty much the same, I guess.
Neil Evans
Do we think the north/south divide is sharper in Wales than in England? I’m sometimes quite staggered when I see the language that people use in England about north/south divide; it often seems to me that it’s much more bitter than in Wales.
Hugh Mackay
There’s certainly an argument that there’s a growing gulf between Cardiff and the rest of Wales with the growth of a set of national institutions – very expensive infrastructure, which seems to be arriving in Cardiff in a way that it isn’t elsewhere despite some efforts on the part of the Assembly to de-centralise its offices, to fund a museum or swimming-pool in Swansea and so forth.
Graham Day
I think one of the things is that you get local sort of animosities or quarrels going on, so that in some ways Swansea might resent Cardiff even more than north Wales resents Cardiff. So there are layer upon layer of differences between places and ways in which people might draw themselves up into defending particular positions or seeing an enemy or someone benefiting elsewhere at their expense. And so I think you have to think about how that works. So what is happening in terms of the Welsh language, I think, is in a way you could say the tension between Welsh-speakers and non-Welsh-speakers perhaps has been diffused by the change in the population distribution, plus a lot of effort being put into making Wales a bilingual society very visibly, road signs and so on declaring it’s a bilingual society. But at the local level sometimes in north Wales you still get very strong tensions around the language because it’s felt people are moving into a Welsh-speaking place where they really don’t belong. At a general level things may be smoothing out but you still get these local hot-spots occurring.
Neil Evans
And perhaps significant regional tensions expressed through some sport. The most bitter divide in Wales in some respects is the Cardiff/Swansea soccer match a couple of times a year. In the course we really focus on rugby as a way of expressing Welsh identity, but those local identities or the really urban identities of Cardiff and Swansea still very much expressed in football teams. They after all represent Cardiff City and SwanseaCity and not much love lost between them in many ways
Hugh Mackay
There’s another dimension of difference that we haven’t talked about at all yet which is raised very briefly in the conclusion, which is the different policies that are now made in Wales. So a key thing that’s happened in recent years obviously is the establishment of the National Assembly and that means that Wales has a new set of ways of demonstrating its difference from its powerful neighbour, from the British government and from policies in England. Now, I wonder if you’ve got anything to say about the different policies that are made in Wales – and what these show us about how Wales is different.
Andrew Edwards
I guess that the whole point of having a Welsh Assembly was that, you know, we could formulate policies that were different. I mean, if you don’t do that it seems to be pointless having a Welsh Assembly in the first place and the whole idea surely is that we are different or we can do things differently and it’s been, I guess, encouraging over the last decade that all the political parties in Wales to some shape or form have, you know, tried to develop policies or put policies on the table that do look distinctly different from what’s being offered in England. I mean, quite famously, of course, Labour’s Rhodri Morgan with the idea of clear red water that separated Cardiff from London. But I think you know the other parties have done that as well. The Conservative Party has done that through the work of some of its AMs, you know, really clearly trying to show difference. So one of the most encouraging aspects, I guess, of the political debate in Wales has been this sort of focus, this determination to try and deliver policies that look different.
Sandra Betts
Certainly and maybe if one just tries to sit and think of what are the key policy differences between England and Wales, hopefully most people come up with prescriptions and policies towards children, transport policies and so on, all of which appear to be suggesting that one of the major differences between England and Wales is greater emphasis at any rate on state provision for people and that maybe is one dimension of difference.
Graham Day
I think one of the issues that was in the background to the development of devolution and the formation of the Assembly was the idea that Wales didn’t yet have a clear voice and it needed to have a way of expressing itself more clearly to overcome some of the divisions and differences I think that had been handicapping its development in the past. So in a way the Assembly can be seen as constructing Wales, creating an idea of a unified Wales where everyone has got things in common and does this in areas like education, for example, and the way higher education has been funded to be more accessible to Welsh students is an interest in all Welsh people. So in a way it is developing and trying to establish the connections more clearly I think than divisions and has had some degree of success in that.
Neil Evans
I think it’s also significant that the gender balance of the Assembly should propel it in different directions in policy and of course that has established a very different image of Wales. In the past it used to be an area associated with heavy industry, with a particularly macho and masculine approach to gender, and now we have an assembly in which women are frequently the majority of the AMs and sometimes of the Ministers and surely this must make an impact on policy.
Sandra Betts
Indeed, indeed – I’m sure that’s true.
Andrew Edwards
I think it’s interesting within that debate that several female AMs have commented that the gender issues are sometimes far more important than the party political issues and that they sort of work together to achieve aims in that direction. That can only be positive. I’m sure that doesn’t happen all the time, but if it does happen sometimes that’s a positive development as well, that they put issues on the agenda that they feel need to be addressed which are over and above partisan concerns.
Sandra Betts
And this is carried over into like the way of behaving and acting, the atmosphere of the Senate, which lacks the sort of confrontational dimensions of Westminster.
Graham Day
One area where the Assembly is said not to have done so well is representing ethnic minorities and it’s not clear how much of a division that is in Wales. I think there’s only been one AM or Assembly Member that’s been drawn from the ethnic minorities so far. The distribution of ethnic minorities means that they are a very small minority in most of Wales but nevertheless it’s a voice that needs to be represented somewhere in the positions of power and it isn’t yet.
Neil Evans
One of the problems there, of course, is the small size of the Assembly with only sixty AMs. It’s almost impossible to have many minority ethnic representatives in the Assembly and also because of the diversity of minority ethnic populations in Wales, can you see that someone of one minority ethnic group can represent somebody of another? I think there is a huge problem about those differences and the way they are represented in Wales, especially given the small size of the Assembly. If it were twice as large, you could envisage a better outcome for that.
Andrew Edwards
How important do people in Wales see the Welsh Assembly? I think that if you look at the turn out in general elections compared to Welsh Assembly elections and you look at some constituencies, I think a constituency like Alyn and Deeside in north-east Wales, where the turn out at general elections is around double what it is in the Welsh Assembly election. You know, we need to find ways of understanding why that happens and why people still feel more engaged in London politics, Westminster politics, than they do in Cardiff politics. That seems to be an important issue for me.
Graham Day
And there is a link there. People in north-east Wales generally were said in the past to turn their television aerials away from receiving Welsh channels so they could watch Granada. And it does raise the question about the difference between Wales and its neighbour because to some extent people commute across the boundary in and out of England and Wales to work, so, you know, the issues the Assembly might be dealing with aren’t necessarily closest to the hearts of people in that area. That might explain why there is a smaller turn-out at elections and also presents a problem for the Assembly because there are real divisions there to be overcome, so the more the Assembly addresses what are clearly Welsh issues, maybe the issues in north-west Wales, the less it may be seen addressing the interests of people in north-east Wales.
Hugh Mackay
So what you’ve raised there is the importance of the mass media for connecting people across Wales and particularly in relation to communicating the messages of the Assembly.
Graham Day
The way, say, the media outside Wales reports what goes on inside Wales, well there is very limited coverage, even of what the Assembly does, so you have to watch as it were dedicated Welsh channels on television or listen to Welsh radio to know much about it at all and a lot of people don’t. So there is a real gap in knowledge and understanding.
Sandra Betts
And the Assembly has a very real problem in trying to spread its ‘message’, as it were, throughout Wales because what mechanisms has it got? If there’s no one media coverage and there’s no one newspaper coverage, there are real problems there in uniting Wales around the Assembly.
Neil Evans
I think that is why BBC Wales is particularly important. It has the greatest lead in news coverage over ITV in any British region. It also seems to me on my limited exposure to English regional broadcasting to be a lot better than the average English region. I’m fairly familiar with the news coverage in the north-east of England and the Welsh one is much better. So that has an important role in drawing people together and I think the BBC seems almost to have decided that was one of its roles. It seems to use rugby coverage particularly as a way of thinking about what Wales is and one division I might put in light-heartedly is some of us are more interested in football.
Voice
Absolutely!
End transcript: Audio 2 (Round table discussion)
Audio 2 (Round table discussion)
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Activity 14

Listen to the audio all the way through once, then listen to it again and note the areas of difference that are discussed. When you have done this, compare your notes with the discussion below.

Discussion

Areas discussed include:

  • differences from England (including different government policies that offer more state provision in Wales)
  • north–south differences
  • differences between Cardiff and the rest of Wales
  • very local differences, e.g. rivalries between different valleys and even different villages in the same valley
  • differences in the same geographical space
  • differences (rather than similarities) in patterns of mass-media consumption.
  • differences over time, e.g. use of Welsh language or employment patterns
  • differences that we are comfortable with versus those that mean opposition or conflict.
D172_1

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