Swansea is a very different place to what I thought it was. Last year, there was a Conservative victory in the Labour stronghold and my home constituency of Gower – albeit by 27 votes – and in the last 24 hours, the county that I have such strong faith in and am so proud of voted to leave the EU.
Professionally, I understand. Personally, I’m confused. So much of the recent developments seen and promised for Swansea have come thanks to funding, at least in part, from the European Union. These projects are helping to shake off that persistent, despairing portrayal of this so-called “pretty shitty city”. EU funds have helped our cultural heritage, job prospects, charities, transport, energy, education, and revived what to me is a beautiful place full of potential but so lacking in support. Despite what Dylan Thomas is often wrongly quoted as saying, Swansea has never been a graveyard of ambition in my eyes.
Everyone has their reasons for voting Leave or Remain, and it’s very easy for me, with just 28 years of experience, living comfortably middle class with a liberal attitude under my belt, to say what I think is best for a place I surely only have a limited view of. But truth be told, I am now scared about what will happen to Swansea, and the rest of Wales.
Can the UK government alone sustain Wales? What will happen to our farmers, our small businesses, our schools, building developments, and glorious land left untouched by man?
During his resignation speech this morning, David Cameron said:
“We must now prepare for a negotiation with the European Union.
“This will need to involve the full engagement of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments to ensure that the interests of all parts of our United Kingdom are protected and advanced.”
But for now these are just words.
Echoing Cameron’s sentiment, first minister of the National Assembly for Wales Carwyn Jones also set out a number of points that must now happen*:
- Jobs and economic confidence must be protected;
- The Welsh government needs to play a full part on timing and terms of leaving the EU;
- Access to the European single market must be retained;
- The common agricultural policy and structural funds should continue up to 2020;
- Immediate revision of the Barnett formula;
- Honouring of the Vote Leave pledge that Wales won’t lose any money;
- The relationship between the nations and the UK government must now be placed on an “entirely different footing”.
However, the first minister also conceded that these are “unchartered waters” and has already warned that it is “now more difficult to attract investment into Wales and keep jobs in Wales”.
What is clear in these murky times is that right now, as the first day of Brexit comes to a close in Wales, whether you voted to leave the EU or remain, we all need to start standing up for the land of our fathers – for Swansea, Cardiff, Wrexham or wherever you may be. Very soon we are going to be without our kindly grandparent, dishing out pocket money to make sure we can have the same things as our pals. It’s not certain whether we will actually get the same benefits and recognition that we have had from the EU (we all know promises to voters don’t necessarily come true), or whether we will prosper in this new United Kingdom.
I read an article by Plaid Cymru AM Rhun ap Iorwerth last week which jogged my memory: Wales is the only nation with a parliament but with no full law making powers. Brexit is an opportunity: we have fierce leaders in the Senedd, willing to take Wales wherever it can go, and argue for the rights that they believe we should have.
It is too late to say yes or no to Brexit but it is not too late to ensure in Wales that we still have a say, that we’re still supported, valued and placed on an even footing with the rest of the UK nations – as long as we are willing to fight for it.
For more information on how the EU has funded Wales, I recommend the following links:
- Cardiff University research – Wales and the EU referendum: estimating Wales’ net contribution to the European Union
- EU funded projects in Wales – a Google Map
- Welsh government resources on some of the major projects that received EU funding
- Fullfact.org: Is Wales getting the best deal out of the EU?