Leaving the Lowlands

It was on this day in 1985 that National Union of Mineworkers delegates voted by a margin of seven to abandon the strike that had brought scenes of strife and days of hardship to families across Wales and Britain.

Less than three decades on, the physical and mental scars from this time have not healed. There is still intense debate about the tactics of the strikers and the actions of the UK Government.

In an age of energy scarcity when corporations are rushing to develop “clean coal,” it is by no means certain Wales’ days of mining are gone for good. But the era of communities in which all men could be guaranteed skilled and well-paid employment in the same enterprise are finished.

Even when the mining equipment was removed and the sites were “landscaped,” the sense remained that these were battlefields where a war was lost. Regardless of whether the real fight was against a particular Government or the forces of globalisation, the casualties show up in economic, educational and health statistics.

The ache in post-industrial Wales mirrored the sense of loss in communities where the Welsh language seemed to melting away in the harsh light of modernity. Just as the absence of employment had robbed thousands of proud ironworkers and miners of a crucial aspect of their identity, the vanishing of Welsh as a language in which to live, love and work was a cause for fear and sorrow.

The creation of the Assembly did not bring instant healing – how could it? Its 60 members could not press a button in the debating chamber and give schoolchildren growing up in poverty the confidence they could gain the highest grades; nor could they provide their parents with the capital and the self-belief to start businesses that could out-smart Google.

We may live in an age which demands instant gratification but generational change takes, well, generations.

Today’s referendum to give the Assembly fuller law-making “powers” will not bestow AMs with the ability to make us all multilingual, nor will they be able to elevate our GDP with the turn of a dial.

But this is no longer a nation defined by the ruins of a vanished past. The sweeping landmarks of Cardiff Bay comprise one of the world’s most distinctive waterfront views and the rediscovery of Welsh democracy has raised up an army of men and women committed to striving to improve the health, education and prosperity of this nation.

The Welsh spirit is not broken and though the warriors are in the lowlands they can see the path which leads up the mountain. Above all, a love of country has charged once-grey skies with great flashes of hope.




A Thursday column