Particularly alert readers will have noticed that this site isn’t called Wings Over Wales. Which is a shame in one sense, because “WOW” would be a great acronym to have.
But we’re going to make an exception to our normally all-Scottish, all the time agenda today, because of something that happened in the smaller of mainland UK’s sub-states about which we happen to have some personal experience, and which ties in to Labour peer Lord George Robertson’s extraordinary assertion in a debate last month that Scotland has “no language or culture or any of that”.
Back in December 2009, I wrote a piece for my old personal website about a trip to the South Wales town of Newport. (You’ll have to forgive some of the literary mannerisms, for such was the WoS style of the time.) Some of it centred around the Kingsway Centre, an expensive new shopping development opened only the year before, but which was almost entirely empty of shops.
Newport was a grim post-recession scene of boarded-up windows, charity and pound shops at the time, and had changed little by the last time I was there, earlier this summer. But one of the few relatively cheering aspects was a piece of culture just a stone’s throw from the main entrance to the Kingsway.
An underpass leading to the square the mall sits on hosted an intricate tile mosaic mural, around 40 yards long, depicting the Newport Rising of 1839, an event Wikipedia calls “the last large-scale armed rebellion against authority in mainland Britain”.
The Rising was in the name of the Chartists, a democratic movement which called (among other things) for votes for all men over 21, for an end to the requirement to own property to be an MP, and for MPs to be paid a salary – the last two being intended to open up political representation to the ordinary public, not just the wealthy.
The uprising was crushed in the short term and its leaders transported to Australia (originally being sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, which we must admit we’d thought had ceased to be a British judicial punishment long before that – as it turned out, the Chartists were the last recipients of the sentence), but attentive viewers will have noticed that almost all of the movement’s aims were eventually achieved.
But we digress. Because this story is about the mural commemorating the events, which we were absolutely staggered to learn this morning was recently smashed to pieces, by order of Newport’s Labour-controlled council, with no advance warning and just days before a planned protest demonstration.
The demolition, incredibly, was done to make way for another new shopping development, situated directly beside the existing empty one and streets full of derelict stores. Apparently the good burghers of the council believe that what’ll really put spending money back in the people of Newport’s pockets is hundreds of millions of pounds worth of additional unused retail space.
But whether Friar’s Walk is a good idea or not, the notion that the mural couldn’t have been saved, and either placed elsewhere in the city or incorporated into the fabric of the new development is an insult to the intelligence in a country that can find £50m (almost £12m of it provided by Lottery funding) to restore the Cutty Sark from ashes.
The Chartist Mural was in the keeping of Cadw (a heritage organisation under the auspices of the Labour-run devolved Welsh Government), which disgracefully failed to save it, and the demolition order was signed by the Labour council, perhaps – who knows? – because the memory of a popular movement that championed greater democracy is a little bit uncomfortable for them.
Either that or because there’s no place for “foreign” culture in One Nation, of course. It’s lucky Scotland doesn’t have any to lose, eh?
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