A New Tradition

It can be tremendous fun to take part in a tradition but it is even more exciting to start one.

The French will today celebrate Bastille Day, and it is possible that on March 3,2111 children will ride on hoverboards around the Senedd (by now one of the oldest buildings in Cardiff) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the day Wales voted for full legislative competence in 20 strictly defined areas of responsibility.

Of course, it is conceivable that scientific breakthroughs will ensure key players in the referendum saga are still around on this date to regale the youngsters with the legend of the No campaign’s floating pig, but it is more likely that this particular trip to the ballot box will be outshone in the popular memory by far more dramatic events which will shape our self-identity.

Wales has grand moments of tragedy and glory in its past which define today’s political culture and episodes of just as great glory and cataclysm await.

Politicians, particularly on the left of the spectrum, still feel the reverberations of the Chartist Uprising, the Tonypandy Riots and the miners’ strikes.

Similarly, the memory of the Aberfan disaster informs every Welsh politician and may be one reason why public safety – whether in the promotion of the smoking ban or school bus standards – has been such a priority for the Assembly.

But just as ministers in the first years of the Assembly’s life didn’t expect to be tested by the foot and mouth outbreak and the worldwide adjustment to life after the September 2011 attacks, only the most foolhardy pundit would try and name the defining themes of the next decades with any swagger of certainty.

One of the most striking poems of recent times is For the Anniversary of My Death by MS Merwin. In it, he acknowledges that “without knowing it I have passed the day” on which, at some point in the future, he will leave behind this life.

It is chilling to think of the catastrophes which could test this country in the years ahead, but Wales also has the chance to create anniversaries worthy of the most ebullient celebrations and forge traditions that will energise and inspire.

Without knowing it, we may be passing the anniversary of the day when a Welsh person perfects the hydrogen fuel cell, harnesses nuclear fusion, negotiates peace in the Middle East or reintroduces the unicorn to Montgomeryshire.

The bruises of post-war industrial decline have created bastilles which need to be stormed but if today’s leaders can nurture a modern Welsh tradition as audacious as it is creative and generous then revolution awaits.

A Thursday column

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