St David’s Day gives us time to think about who we are as a nation. Our identity comes first to mind. Identity isn’t a fixed status; it is a feeling. Personally, first and foremost, I feel Welsh; then British; then European. Being Welsh is always the overriding sense of who I am. I believe a reason for this is how comfortable we in Wales are of our own patriotism. We all have much to be proud over how much our country achieves. For a country over just 3 million, we really do punch well above our weight. Every year Wales reaches new impressive heights.
Only last year we had a variety of triumphs in the world of sport. We once again retained the Six Nations; our very own Gareth Bale become one of the world’s most valuable footballers; Cyclist Becky James won four medals at the World Track Cycling Championships; Paralympian Aled Sion Davies won two gold medals at the IPC Athletics World Championships; Triathlete Non Stanford was crowned ITU World Champion, the list goes on. In the arts, the Welsh-produced Doctor Who continues to be a primetime hit and with the construction of the Roath Lock Studios, the BBC’s largest drama production centre are employing hundreds of skilled programme makers in Wales. Wales is becoming a hub for high quality drama with productions such as Casualty, Wizards versus Aliens and Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which viewers across the UK enjoy. Additionally, the planned construction of a new world-class studio by Pinewood Studios in Wales will strengthen the nation’s influence on the arts even further. We cannot forget the impact that the Eisteddfod has on showcasing the music, dance and visual arts of Wales, welcoming up to 160,000 visitors over eight days every year.
However, there is one area where I feel we do not punch above our weight and that, sadly, is our economy. In that, Wales still lags behind the rest of the UK. It is time for Wales, and especially the Welsh Government, to be more ambitious. We need to follow the example of our artists and sports personalities and recognise that Wales has every right to be fighting to be up there with the best. We are competing in a crowded international marketplace and we must use this ambition to properly promote Wales.
Branding must play a key part in attracting inward investment and tourism. Wales’ Business Minister recently admitted the Welsh Labour government had “not got the branding of Wales right”; I agree.
I believe we are missing a trick with regards to promoting St David’s Day. It is a huge opportunity for Wales to sell its brand abroad. Of course it is a well-recognised day, but this recognition can still grow. For inspiration, we need look no further than Ireland’s St Patrick’s Day (after all, many scholars agree that St Patrick was a Welshman). St Patrick’s Day is estimated to be worth over £50m to Ireland’s economy and is an important part of the country’s financial well-being. Their government recognises this and utilises it in any way it can. We must start to do the same.
I also believe that St David’s Day is also a time to think about the Welsh language. We must address the decline in the language as it is crucial to retain the cultural identity of Wales and what makes us stand out as a nation. We cannot underestimate how vital the Welsh language is to Welsh history and culture. Indeed, it is one of the most significant factors that helped keep the Welsh identity alive when there was little recognition of our cultural and national institutions.
The census results from 2011 relating to the Welsh language are worrying. It shows that the total number of Welsh speakers has declined, especially in the heart of Wales. The response to this decline needs to span government departments and be related to language rights, community development and cultural investment. St David’s Day is day to remind ourselves that there still a lot more work to be done to protect our language.
Wales is an open nation, one of warm welcomes and inclusiveness. That is something we can all be proud of. Many people have come to Wales from the rest of the UK or abroad and instantly have a feeling of Welshness. It is almost contagious. We’re also a nation that celebrates diversity, and it’s this diversity which showcases a modern and cosmopolitan Wales.
Finally, I would like to wish everyone, both in Wales and beyond, a happy St. David’s Day, and that we hope and look forward to a healthy, strong and prosperous nation that stands front and centre on the World stage and does its citizens proud.
Note: This article has been cross-posted with the Endeavour Public Afairs Expert Opinion blog