A Creative Manifesto For A Welsh Renaissance
Presented at the Laugharne Weekend, 30th March 2008
by Martin Davies of The Red Dragonhood,
the Welsh street fashion label.
I’ve managed to steer clear of politics for more than 30 years. A
year spent as the president of the student’s union at Hornsey
College of Art in the mid-seventies was enough to put me off
participation in politics for the rest of my life. The conflicting
ideologies of the Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialist League - later
known as the Militant Tendency, and the Broad Left - an anti-
Trotskyist alliance of just about everybody else of a red-hued
persuasion including a group calling itself ‘Operation Icepick’,
destroyed my independent socialist ideals as completely as the
Spanish Civil War did for those of George Orwell.
My personal war of conscience was also fought in a far off country,
on the streets of East London in fact, against the boot boys of the
National Front. While most of my NUS comrades were arguing over
the exact form of words to be used in letters expressing our
solidarity with political prisoners in Chile, I was charging around
Hackney exchanging blows with racist skinheads. In retrospect, my
direct action was as effective as their interminable points of order
yet several of my contemporaries are or have recently been cabinet
ministers while I am just an apolitical writer and designer of T-
shirts. (My label, The Red Dragonhood, produced the Laugharne
Weekend official T-shirts.)
I wouldn’t want you to think I haven’t voted in the last 30 years.
I’ve voted Labour at every election since I was 18, until the one
that swept Tony Blair to power in 1997. Unfortunately this doesn’t
excuse my share of responsibility for the damage Blair did to our
society because I would have voted for him had I not been working
in New York at the time. But since it became apparent that Blair’s
pragmatism amounted to selling out on any principle for a donation
to party funds, my only option has been to spoil my ballot paper or
vote for an independent, both choices having the same effect in our
excuse for a democracy – other than in Blaenau Gwent, of course.
I really just want to concentrate on my work, probably like most
other creative types, secure in the knowledge that people dedicated
to improving the lives of their fellow citizens are taking care of the
business of politics as best they can. I’d like to let them get on with
it. But the current crop of politicians at Westminster - the majority
of whom seem to consider a PPE degree (Politics, Philosophy and
Economics) as appropriate vocational training for managing the
welfare of 60 million human beings - seem more intent on milking
their positions of trust for personal gain and pursuing policies
designed primarily to perpetuate their privileges while obfuscating
issues that might damage their popularity. They are eager to
represent the interests of the businessmen who fund and
disseminate their deceitful propaganda while disenfranchising those
sections of society that market research suggests won’t bolster their
Supported by a vast, hugely expensive army of management
consultants, middle class people very much like themselves – Ian
Davis, the managing director of McKinsey & Co, for example, has a
PPE degree - they do politics in the easiest way possible; stupidly,
by numbers, not by the impact on quality of life. It’s easier to
privatise public services, handing responsibility to greedy
capitalists, than to manage them; it’s easier to control behaviour
through financial penalties than through education, and it is easier
to spin lies and half truths through a voracious media dominated by
Rupert Murdoch, who also has a PPE degree as it happens.
The economy is everything to this government and would be to the
Tories. Revenue from taxation is its holy grail yet the treasury is
scared to tax the rich appropriately for fear of disturbing the status
quo. Unbelievably, a ‘Labour’ government recently proposed to evict
people who claim incapacity benefit from council houses unless they
get a job within a certain time period. This is the same government
that is closing Remploy factories that provide work for skilled
disabled people on the basis that they are not profitable.
It’s entirely likely that Labour is targeting benefit claimants to make
political capital out of them before the Tories can. Last week’s
Wales on Sunday ran a front-page story helpfully provided by the
Conservatives, with the headline ‘Revealed: How Welsh live on
handouts’. Needless to say, the story failed to reveal evidence that
the Welsh live on handouts at all, although it did highlight parts of
Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff where the
majority are out of work and claiming benefits because a
Conservative government closed the mines and the steelworks, and
a Labour government has singularly failed to create any meaningful
alternative employment. The psychological damage done by the
state to people in these areas will not be resolved by using them as
a political football. And it is wicked to suggest that immigrants have
no problem finding work in places where the existing population
have been crushed and broken by the powers that be.
New Labour needs management consultants because after three
terms in government it has no original thinking left. Market
research and opinion polls guide its every move. Statistics are so
grotesquely manipulated that it is practically impossible to believe
anything you see or hear. For example, prisons are full to
overflowing when crime is supposedly down. One statistic is
employed to prove the need to build new super-prisons while the
opposite is used to show that Labour is doing a sound job.
For another example, the government insists on maintaining an
annual inflation target of 2% to dictate public sector pay
settlements, yet the rate of inflation for the basket of items typically
bought by people on an average public sector worker’s pay is
actually more like 15%. In the last year, electricity and gas prices
went up by around 20%. Fuel prices also went up by around 20%.
Food prices went up by about 13%, and this trend will be made
worse by the ludicrous policy of shifting land from food production
to bio fuels. But it’s not all bad news. Wide screen televisions went
down by 28% and helped reduce the overall inflation figure to a
point that makes the government look almost competent.
‘Where do they get their energy from?’ Well, EDF is an abbreviation
of Électricité de France, one of Europe’s largest electricity
generators, 70% owned by the French government. E:ON is an
even larger German company. So, other people’s governments now
run our utilities and they’re lining up to buy our sports clubs too.
Dubai, for example, a theme park in the Middle East owned by a
repressive potentate, is negotiating to buy Liverpool FC, North
Wales’s Barcelona, from a pair of American carpetbaggers whose
only strategy has been to bleed the fans dry to repay the loans they
took out to buy the club in the first place. Meanwhile, the mineral
wealth of Russia is being squandered on a penis extension known as
Chelsea Football Club and the toil of Russian miners and
steelworkers is being harnessed to buy Arsenal. Everything seems
to be for sale to anyone with the money, no matter where it came
Globalisation has caused a large part of our manufacturing industry
to move to China because multi-national businesses make more
money by exploiting poor Chinese people than they do by exploiting
poor Welsh people. Perhaps the most cynical Welsh political event
of last year was the exploitation by Welsh Labour politicians of the
plight of the Burberry workers in Treorchy to boost their Assembly
election campaign. This was while their party was encouraging
businesses like Burberry to embrace globalisation.
One of the advantages of this strategy, if ‘strategy’ is the right
word, is that it makes it easier for the government to get closer to
its ludicrously miscalculated emission reduction targets, greenhouse
gas emissions and pollution being of a similar priority to human
rights in the People’s Republic of China which, by ignoring such
niceties, will soon overtake America to become the world’s
Ridiculously high property prices are also adding to the decimation
of our society. The average price of a house in Britain is now
£222,000 - ten times the average annual household income of
£22,000. Some of the interest paid on mortgages by borrowers who
can barely afford the repayments finds its way to city bonuses,
which are often used to buy investment property. This restricts
housing supply still further and adds to inflationary pressures. The
government does nothing to prevent ordinary people having their
homes repossessed when they default on loans, but it bails out the
city institutions that speculated on lending money to people who
would not be able afford the repayments.
Spurred on by the magnificent example of Prince Charles, who
recently bought a hovel in Myddfai to convert into holiday lets, the
prettiest Welsh villages long ago turned into upmarket holiday
camps. Local schools, pubs, shops and post offices have all been
forced to close since these places now resemble ghost towns
outside a few weeks during the summer. An entire way of life has
died along with the communities.
Then there’s public transport; parcelled up for avaricious
corporations to milk our need to get to and from our places of work
ensuring, as far as Wales is concerned, ever higher prices with ever
lower standards of reliability, punctuality and comfort. Since fewer
people actually live in the countryside, there is no longer any
requirement to provide less profitable rural public transport. As a
result of this policy, it is impossible to have any kind of effective
national transport strategy and it is impossible to get people out of
their cars to reduce the emissions that are leading to runaway
Free public services of every kind have either gone or been replaced
by privatised schemes where there’s a profit to be made. Although
the provision is actually better in Wales than in England, the
disappearance of public toilets is a particularly noticeable example.
Yet the tax burden, especially for the poor, has increased. Labour in
Wales might have made prescriptions free but only people on above
average income can afford to get their teeth fixed.
Worse than any of this is the obscenity of sending poor young men
and women to kill poor Iraqis and Afghans because Tony Blair’s god
told him to do it. 2 million people marched through the streets of
London to protest against the war but the majority of Welsh Labour
MPs ignored them and voted for war anyway. Needless to say, their
children won’t be going to fight. That march was the point at which
the ethos of mass public protest finally collapsed in Britain. The
politicians then passed a law to stop the public lobbying parliament
on the grounds of a threat to national security.
I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but it seems to me
that we are being kept in a placid state by an Orwellian climate of
fear, albeit one that may have come about as much by government
ineptitude and lack of foresight as by design: fear of terrorism; fear
of losing our jobs; fear of crime; fear of paedophiles stalking our
children; fear of climate change; fear of identity theft; fear of not
being able to pay our mortgages; fear that someone might undercut
us or, even worse, cut us up.
We’re mollified by every imaginable retail opportunity and the
security of knowing our every move is being watched on CCTV.
Then there’s our government’s straight-faced assertion that, despite
building new runways at Heathrow and coal fired power stations and
running gas pipelines through our countryside to channel the vast
quantities of natural gas being shipped all the way from Qatar, it is
taking a ‘global leadership position’ in combating runaway climate
change. It’s a relief to know that, don’t you think?
This probably explains why our society seems increasingly
dysfunctional. I might even go as far as Derrick Jenson, the author
of End Game, and say that our society has become psychotic, out of
touch with reality, since it appears to be unsustainable. We seem to
be powerless as individuals. There appears to be little hope, as far
as ordinary people are concerned, of bringing about any meaningful
Yet we’re supposed to have a remedy. It’s called the ballot box. But
when the system is rigged to ensure that the status quo is
maintained, there is not much point in voting. Voter apathy suits
Labour and the Tories since they would prefer us not to vote unless
we intend to vote for them. Are the Tories likely to improve our
quality of life in Wales? The preponderance of Old Etonians and Old
Harrovians amongst their leadership suggests they’re are unlikely to
prove more compassionate and forward thinking than New Labour.
History certainly suggests otherwise.
While this is going on around me, I can’t concentrate. ‘If you
tolerate this, then your children will be next’, the Manic Street
Preachers once said prophetically. I have three children.
So, it’s come to this. I believe we need a radical overhaul of both
our political and economic systems. I think we need to approach the
problems we face in an entirely different way, measuring success
against quality of life targets as well as economic targets, and
making decisions free of commercial influence and political dogma.
Opinion polls suggest that if an election were to be held today,
there would be a Conservative government in power at Westminster
tomorrow, a government that would be unrepresentative of the
views of the majority of people in Wales. Setting aside the current
swing in sentiment, England, with it’s population of 50 million
people and large middle class, is divided upon lines that favour the
I’ll be positive in a minute, I promise, but first I want to mention a
pamphlet entitled ‘Re-balancing the Welsh Economy’ because it is
inversely apposite to my argument. The pamphlet was published
two weeks ago by a Labour pressure group called Wales 20:20 -
‘Welsh politics. Done differently’, an organisation committed to
‘winning the battle of ideas on Wales’s future’. It was written by a
backbench MP called… Peter Hain.
I’m not going to rake over the muck that Hain’s unfettered ambition
and lack of judgement have planted him in, other than to point out
that people might enter our political system with high ideals but
invariably end up grovelling to multi-millionaires. It is now alleged
that as well as accidentally not declaring donations made through a
non-functioning ‘think tank’ by unsavoury characters such as Isaac
Kaye, a former supporter of apartheid - the heinous South African
political system Hain made his name campaigning against - he has
also been paying his 80 year old mother a Commons salary of
£5,400 per year (just below the minimum tax threshold).
Hain was a junior minister in the Welsh Office between 1997 and
1999 before, as Secretary of State, he became the de facto
governor of Wales until his resignation earlier this year. He should
know his stuff.
Hain’s main solution is to increase the size of the private sector in
Wales although he does not spell out how this might be achieved.
He says we need to work harder although he makes a point of
stressing that we should not try to compete with the 60p per hour
labour costs of India and China. He says we must cut benefits and
get claimants out to work because work would do them good. He
says we must be cleverer and he mentions the supposed success of
the Techniums as an example. Unfortunately the Dragon
International Film Studios that he holds up as another success story
went bust last week, before the facility could be completed.
He says we need to develop a can do attitude. Above all, he says,
we must ‘compete’. He warns that competing is ‘vital to our
survival’ although he offers no specific plan for achieving his
Nevertheless, there are a number of points in this pamphlet with
which I agree, although the notion of trying to compete with China
and India, two nations that, as Hain points out himself, turn out
more than 5 million graduates per year - almost twice the entire
population of Wales - seems utterly pointless. Competition results in
losers and well as winners. Competition favours the rich and
enslaves the poor, lessons that Wales knows only too well. Hain
goes on to mention that 150 years ago Merthyr Tydfil was the most
technologically advanced town in the world. He says we need a new
Merthyr Tydfil. I bet the inhabitants of Merthyr Tydfil would
welcome a new Merthyr Tydfil but Labour is actually more
interested in building new eco towns.
I think we need to cooperate and collaborate more than we need to
compete, firstly amongst ourselves and then in an international
economic context. Hain proposes that we ‘play to our strengths’ but
he doesn’t seem to know what our strengths actually are.
I’d suggest that creativity is certainly one of our strengths, as
exemplified by our bardic traditions - by the eisteddfodau and ‘Cool
Cymru’ and, indeed, by this Laugharne Weekend. Given the nature
of this event, I’m going to restrict myself to aiming today’s message
at the creative community.
In creativity we punch well above our weight as a small country. Yet
we’ve been unable to develop our creative talent at home. With the
advent of the Internet, writers have found it easier to live and work
in Wales than they once did but it is still the case that designers
who want to work at the top of their game have to move to London
and Welsh bands still need to woo London A&R men etc, etc.
As I know from my time trying to whip up activists in an art college
student’s union, creative people generally have little interest in
politics. They tend not to seek power and, with a few exceptions, do
not have an overbearing interest in money either. It is for these
reasons that creative people might take a lead in regenerating the
Welsh economy, not by trying to become business people but by
building a society that thrives upon collaboration not competition,
that places culture at its heart and that operates on a radically
different economic model.
To stimulate a creative renaissance in Wales, I’d like to propose the
building of a number of institutions throughout the country; let’s
call them ‘Casgliad’, the Welsh word for ‘gathering’ (the plural,
therefore, being ‘Casgliadau’) where writers, artists, designers,
architects, photographers, craftspeople, inventors, engineers and
musicians would go to work. Ranged around the facility would be
publishers, web developers, IT specialists, printers, workshops,
model makers, foundries, template cutters, prototype makers etc.
The Casgliadau would function like the Techniums, which in theory
provide support to embryonic scientific businesses in Wales. They
would be places where creative people would have the time, space
and resources to develop their talents in a stimulating, collaborative
and rewarding environment. Each establishment would be like a
cross between a college, a light industrial unit and serviced offices.
Writers and designers would have workspaces while artists would
occupy studios. Photographers would have access to darkrooms and
engineers would have the use of fully equipped workshops. Potters
would have access to throwing studios, glazing booths and kilns.
Musicians would have access to recording studios and equipment
such as PA systems. (I do know that the Pop Factory was supposed
to provide this kind of service.) Musicians would be encouraged to
collaborate with designers, photographers and web developers to
help disseminate their work.
Admission would be based upon qualitative considerations and by
commitment to the aims of the creative community. The members
of the Casgliad would approve new members with representatives
elected to the management board, although the facility itself would
be professionally managed. Societies within the institution would
provide mutual support for individual disciplines with more
experienced practitioners helping to bring out the talents of the less
experienced. The result of building such establishments would be an
explosion of creativity throughout Wales.
Creative people generally have very low earnings potential,
especially at an early stage in their careers, and very often have to
forgo a creative career altogether in order to undertake more
immediately lucrative types of work. I must admit things have
improved since the establishment of the Welsh Assembly, especially
with the development of the film and television industry, but it is
still the case that Welsh creative people have to emigrate to find
employment. The Casgliadau would be a means to end this creative
drain and attract to Wales developing creative talent from around
the world. The Casgliadau would begin to reverse the
commercialisation of our culture by allowing ideas to flourish free of
commercial considerations within a supportive creative community.
Wales would very rapidly become one of the worlds leading centres
for creative thinking, for literature, art and design. Much of the
work produced here would have commercial applications that could
be brought to market very quickly although this should not be the
only consideration in judging the quality of output.
In return for attending a Casgliad, a creative person would receive
payment in what is known as a ‘complimentary currency’. Let’s call
this one, for the sake of simplicity, Y Punt Cymru (The Pound of
Wales). Complimentary currency, as its name suggests, is currency
that is designed to work alongside conventional money rather than
in place of it. Although you use the Punt Cymru to buy things, it has
features built into it that make it work differently to money. Firstly,
and most importantly, it is not subject to interest, which has the
effect of creating shortages in currency supply. Neither can it be
horded since it diminishes in value if it is not used within a short
period of receipt. It can’t be used in Asda or Tesco but it can be
used in local shops and businesses – the butchers, for example, the
local bakery, greengrocers, the market or the local pub.
The knock-on effect of a Casgliad to the local economy would be
dramatic. Local businesses that accept the Punt Cymru as well as
the Pound would begin to thrive again. Local producers of foodstuffs
and suppliers of services would enjoy a stable market ring fenced
from competition by major multiples, although supermarkets and
large chain stores would still have a role to play in the conventional
economy. This in turn would stimulate a significant increase in
employment in Wales. The switch in emphasis from global sourcing
to local sourcing for many products and services would have a
beneficial effect on greenhouse gas emissions, as would the
reduction in visits to out of town superstores.
Those attending a Casgliad would be required to enrol in a Time
Exchange Trading System and spend at least one day a week
providing services within the community to earn credits that may be
spent on local services. For example, someone might spend half a
day working in the local post office and half a day providing care for
the elderly for time credits that they exchange for childcare.
Another person might choose to do physical tasks such as
maintenance work or home repairs in exchange for Welsh language
lessons and time in the local health club. Such schemes are well
established throughout the world and should work naturally within
Finally, creative people working at a Casgliad who are able to
generate mainstream currency – money - by offering their services
commercially will not need further financial support from the state
but those who cannot generate conventional income will receive a
new class of ‘creative employment benefit’. Household bills, such as
those for rent, communications and energy, as well as mortgage
repayments will still be paid in mainstream currency in the short-
The model I propose would cost the state very little to implement
while the benefits could be immense. I have spoken today to
creative people but all of Welsh society could be reorganised along
lines that are complimentary with our history and heritage.
These ideas are not without precedence. Similar schemes are
working very successfully elsewhere in the world although perhaps
not in the combination I have suggested today. If the Assembly
Government were to actively champion these ideas there is no
reason why they should not be extended throughout our society.
Widespread acceptance of the complimentary currency and Time
Exchange Trading Scheme would reduce public expenditure and
lead to lower taxes for all. Local businesses and services would
become viable once again. The closure of local schools, shops, post
offices and pubs would be curtailed. Communities would be
strengthened and renewed. The elderly could be cared for in the
community rather than in institutions. Childcare would no longer
present a crippling financial burden to people who want to work.
Confidence and pride would be restored. Society would become
cohesive once again. New forms of employment would be created in
areas that have been declining, such as in agriculture. Indeed,
unemployment as we know it would be eradicated. Greenhouse gas
emissions would be dramatically reduced and Wales would be able
to contribute more than its fair share to combating runaway climate
change. Financial insecurity would eventually become a thing of the
past as we entered a period of what the economist Bernard Leitaer
in his book The Future of Money, calls ‘sustainable abundance’.
But with our political system mired in corruption and self-interest
we have little chance of achieving such an outcome. Our best hope
is for Wales to break away from the UK because it is only by
changing the status quo that we can have any hope of tackling the
real issues that affect our quality of life. I’m not suggesting we stop
working closely with England in many aspects of our lives. I’m not
suggesting – and I’ll get this in before BNP and UKIP members
accuse me of racism – that we seek to exclude anyone on the basis
of their origin. But I am suggesting that the dominance of England,
rather than English people, holds us back and causes us to be
exploited whenever we have something of value. Where is the
wealth that our coal created? Where is the money all the iron and
steel produced? Where is the wealth from the factories that set up
in the Valleys to claim development grants and exploit our low
labour costs during the last decade? Nothing of value remains.
I believe we need to be internationalist in outlook but we need to
organise ourselves on a local basis. Democracy really only exists in
the village and politicians are only answerable on a local level. We
should be able to remove them as easily as we can the coaches of
our national rugby team when they don’t deliver.
Small countries with small populations succeed. Look at Iceland,
Finland, Norway, Denmark and Luxembourg, small independent
countries that have a much higher standard of living than we do.
Countries where people express themselves to be happier, where
crime and corruption are far lower and where societies are
cohesive. Look at Ireland, just across the water.
Westminster is a level of government we don’t need because it is
hard to manage 60 million people other than by numbers. There is
no reason why power should be centralised. Responsibility for
communities should be devolved right down to a local assembly
level. A Welsh National Assembly of independent members that are
elected nationally and not drawn from individual constituencies, no
larger than the one we have now, supported by an expanded civil
service, handling health, education, transport, energy, foreign
policy and defence.
How will we get by without handouts from England? The truth is we
don’t get handouts from England, that’s just a myth that politicians
like Peter Hain trot out to keep us in our place, just like his dire
warnings of ‘Balkanisation’ should Wales ever break away from the
UK. What did he mean by that exactly? Was he suggesting we’d
start ethnic cleansing? Obviously he was just trying to frighten us.
Next time a politician speaks about handouts, ask to see the
figures. But not government figures, obviously!
Hain’s document touches on some interesting points though, one of
which being that Wales has an abundance of natural resources.
Wind and rain are nowadays very valuable commodities. The
proposed Severn barrier is believed capable of generating 5% of the
UK’s entire energy needs. Were half of that to be added to the
potential output that might be achieved by exploiting every off- and
on-shore wind, tidal and wave generating opportunity then Wales
might be capable of generating more than 15% of the UK’s energy
needs from renewable sources. The population of Wales is less than
5% of the total UK population.
So, if Wales was independent and its energy resources were
nationalised, free energy for all would be a realistic possibility with
the surplus sold to the foreign-own private utility companies that
The water supplied to private utilities in Birmingham and Liverpool
from the dammed valleys in North Wales could also generate a
huge amount of income, as could the transport of natural gas in
pipelines across our territory.
So much revenue could be generated that we could afford, for
example, to replace our entire housing stock, demolishing the poor
quality dwellings in the Valleys and replacing them with
architecturally uplifting, energy efficient, comfortable modern
housing. Using cooperative-build timber framed construction; this
could be achieved at a cost of around £10,000 for a three-bedroom
We could develop a free public transport network capable of
reaching both the urban conurbations in the south and the rural
settlements elsewhere. We could build a new capital in Machynlleth,
the proper place to unite the different cultures of North and South.
Such measures would create real employment for tens of thousands
In short, without England, Wales could be rich. With the
establishment of Casgliadau at least, Wales could become far richer
Thank you for listening.