Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Remembering Carmarthen 1966

In my column in today’s Cornish Guardian, I have written about the fiftieth anniversary of the election of Plaid Cymru’s first MP. It is as follows:

At this time of ongoing political upheavals, I would like to use my column to look back at a political breakthrough of great significance to the Celtic parts of the UK.

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the victory of Plaid Cymru’s Gwynfor Evans in the famous Carmarthen by-election, which took place on 14th July 1966.

In the General Election of March 1966, he had polled 16% of the vote and came third out of four candidates. But in the July by-election he made history, polling over 16,000 votes, to become the first Welsh nationalist MP at Westminster.

The Daily Mail headline famously announced: “The Welsh unseat Labour,” and days later, hundreds of supporters travelled to London to see him enter Parliament for the first time – as the lone nationalist voice – a position often likened to that of Labour's first MP Keir Hardie. He promptly became known as the “MP for Wales” and took advantage of his new position to highlight Welsh problems and to promote his vision of a self-governing Wales.

It was a truly stunning victory, it was followed by Winnie Ewing’s win for the Scottish National Party in Hamilton, and this all heralded new phases in Welsh and Scottish politics.

One instant consequence of the by-elections was the decision of Harold Wilson’s Labour Government to set up the Royal Commission on the Constitution (Kilbrandon) to investigate the UK's constitutional structures. The Kilbrandon Commission reported in 1973 and recommended devolved assemblies for Scotland and Wales.

And though these proposals did not proceed at that time, Gwynfor Evan’s election as an MP clearly set his country on the journey to greater self-government, which led directly to the creation of the National Assembly of Wales in 1999, an institution which continues to grow in stature and authority.

Indeed, in leading tributes to Gwynfor upon his death in 2005, Plaid Cymru Party President Dafydd Wigley described him as the “greatest Welsh politician of the twentieth century,” adding that, without Gwynfor’s determination to win political recognition for Wales, the National Assembly would simply not exist and other progress, such as official status for the Welsh language, would also not have been achieved.

I believe this to be a fair assessment and I was privileged to meet Gwynfor Evans on a couple of occasions when I was a student in West Wales, and I have always taken great motivation from this truly inspirational man who dedicated his whole life to Wales.

And it is my view that everyone in Cornwall who seeks to win greater powers for our small nation can see what can be achieved through democratic politics if we are willing work hard enough.

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