Friday, 12 February 2010

Invictus Mosgito

For a few hours yesterday afternoon something quite special happened in Wales. S4C had asked me as an adult to say something about racism on the 20th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. It was on their young people's Mosgito programme. I did my bit but there were far more important contributions yesterday both off and on screen.

Off screen I watched a new Wales being forged before my very eyes. Two boys from Bala, one white and the other black, held conversation with two Welsh speaking Muslim girls from Cardiff. They are sisters. Yesterday, they were all different: they were all equally Welsh. They were all Welsh speaking.

They could have spoken about race, hijabs, or racism. What really bothered them was the relative sizes of their respective schools in Bala and Cardiff. The really important question was how long was the dinner queue in their school? Four young Welsh people filled me with hope. Wales' tomorrow is in safe hands.

Today I watched Invictus. I enjoyed the rugby scenes and the history (although some of it was not historical). What I enjoyed the most was the exploration of the words of William Ernest Henley's Invictus:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

I will go and see this film again and stand in awe of Nelson Mandela's forgiveness. I now have a new favourite film.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Lovely Girls

Last night was fun. I had a meal with Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies in Merthyr and spoke a lot about America and Obama. I could still remember bits of their book Will America Change? It all reminded me of times when I felt a little more positive about politics.

This, lets be honest, has not been a good week for Welsh public life or for Welsh politics.

This morning, having issued a two minute Dweud Eich Dweud meditation for BBC Radio Cymru, something a little strange happened. I was given a copy of the Daily Post by my interviewer. That was for a reason. On Monday morning I had given an interview with the same journalist on the new student visa application regulations announced by the Home Office.

I had conceded during that initial interviews that there had been much in the Government's migration policy of late that I heartily agreed with. Taking action against bogus colleges must surely be a good thing. I'm not sure of the extent to which the new regulations will do anything to combat English speaking single potential terrorists who complete their university courses and then leave for Dubai and Yemen before attempting to blow up planes. In fairness, I don't think it was claimed that they would.

The Daily Post contained an article discussing how an honest politician, Elfyn Llwyd MP from Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, had asked an honest question of a Government Minister, Phil Woolas. Llwyd's question related to the new English language requirement and the recent cases of two Patagonians who had applied for visas to visit Wales. The answer given, according to the Daily Post, was one of the most extraordinary comments I have ever heard on the floor of the House of Commons given in reply to a Member of Parliament: "I'm afraid to tell you that however lovely the two girls were, and they were, we can't waive the immigration rules just because you like them."

As one of those who worked with Elfyn Llwyd to successfully gain a visa for one of the 'lovely girls' on appeal, I was taken aback. None of us involved sought to waive the immigration rules. We also lent our support willingly without reflecting on the great unknown: how lovely the appellants were. The comment left me deeply troubled.

Personally, I believe that the answer to the immediate issue - granting Patagonians visas -rests with crafting a robust set of policy guidelines enabling the granting of ministerial discretion in the case of Patagonians of good standing who wish to visit Wales. I very much hope that the Home Office will reflect seriously on that possibility.

For me, as a Welsh speaker, the 'lovely' incident has left a much more significant question unanswered. In the face of a growing emphasis in UK politics on the English language, not so much as a reasonable means of communication, but more as an emblem of a certain sort of 'national uniformity', where does that leave those of us whose first British language isn't English? That's my distinctive within a modern nation: others will have different distinctives and emblems of identity. Such diverse blocks build modern nations.

Why, following today's vote in the Senedd, should the National Assembly acquire greater powers? The answer for me is clear. So that Welsh civic and political society can command the constitutional tools to create a Wales where all of us have a right to be different and distinctive but also have a right to belong - both in rights and obligations. A Wales where all who wish to claim a Welsh identity, should be enabled to do so.

Time will now tell if Wales' politicians have given the development of such a cultural narrative time to gain the apparel of a credible policy agenda that demands greater powers. Of that, I am unsure.

In the meantime, it's within the gift and the competence of the Home Office to allow Patagonians to revisit their cultural legacy in a dignified manner that honours a diverse,sophisticated and international Wales. Talking of those who belong to us, even in part, as being 'lovely' was for me, rather demeaning of a modern nation and those who serve it.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Pleased for Ireland

Now it's up the Celts. England did do well.....