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Tuesday, April 6, 1999 Published at 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK


Home rule and disestablishment

Plaid Cymru won its first seat at Westminster in the 1960s

After years of dormancy Welsh nationalism began to re-emerge in the nineteenth century.

Its aims were fairly modest. Equality within the union - not separation from England - was the goal.

Ironically Cymru Fydd - Young Wales - was born in England not Wales.

It was set up by a Welsh community in Liverpool and London in the mid-1880s.


[ image: Lloyd George (right) was an early advocate of home rule]
Lloyd George (right) was an early advocate of home rule
Cymru Fydd merged with the North Wales Liberal Federation in 1895. But the movement collapsed in 1896 despite having the backing of the Welsh Liberal and later prime minister, David Lloyd George.

After the First World War another and more successful political party emerged determined to bring greater independence to Wales.

Although it began life as little more than a pressure group, Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, was set up in 1925. It took over 40 years for the party to win its first seat in Parliament.

During the period after the Second World War steady progress was made towards giving Welsh people a greater say in their own affairs.

In the 1950s the Conservative government brought in a minister for Welsh affairs. In 1964 Harold Wilson's Labour government set up the Welsh Office and gave the Secretary of State for Wales a place in the Cabinet.

Nationalism on the rise

Plaid won its first seat at Westminster in 1966.

By the 1970s Plaid was contesting every seat in Wales and returning MPs to Westminster at almost every election.

Welsh devolution was beginning to make its presence felt on the rest of UK politics.

Royal Commissions began looking into devolution in the 1960s as both Labour and the Tories became rattled by sensational electoral victories for nationalists in Scotland and the principality.

When the Tories were returned to power with Edward Heath at the helm in 1970 the case for devolution was given another unexpected push.

Wales, as ever, had returned a majority of Labour MPs, many now saw the government in London as having no mandate to rule in Wales.

Heath was eventually forced out of office in February 1974 by the electoral consequences of industrial unrest coupled with a failing economy.

Labour set up a minority administration and prepared to fight a second election in October. But the party's Westminster majority of three seats was wafer-thin.

With such a small mandate Labour had little choice but to rely not just the Liberals for help but also on Plaid Cymru's three MPs and the 11 returned by the Scottish nationalists.

For the Labour government, devolution had become a matter of survival.

Next page: Two referendums



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