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.

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