If you want a happier future, try Wales

Politically, it’s a different planet!
Mae Cymru yn wleidyddol yn blaned arall

Probably many of you reading this who live in the UK share my gloom about Whitehall politics, and the prospect of sensible, positive action on carbon emissions, food security, affordable housing, and more. Since early 2022, I’ve moved from vague impressions that things were better in Wales, to a moderately informed conviction this is true. And in August 2023, my wife and I are emigrating… to Hay-on-Wye, in Wales.

To substantiate my view, try this: in 2021, the ruling Labour Party in Wales signed a Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru, the next largest party. The aims of this are upliftingly sane, and concisely laid out: you can read them here. Highlights include:

  1. Accelerating the move to Net Zero carbon emissions from 2050 to 2035.
  2. Promoting community food production and energy companies.
  3. Stronger action on flood defences and cutting agricultural pollution.
  4. Several steps to improve affordable housing supply.

This is Welsh politics: parties co-operating!

Part of my weariness with Whitehall is the gesture politics, the empty promises cynically made, and the way that big business and wealthy landowners subvert everything for their own benefit. Maybe a bit of this happens in Wales but a lot less. I’ve already seen good evidence that these positive national intentions are turning into action on the ground.

After three years where food security has been a major focus of my work, much the most coherent, visionary and practical project I’ve found is in Wales: Our Food 1200 recognises how vulnerable our dependence on imported food is, and aims to get 1200 acres in its bioregion of south-east Wales devoted to growing vegetables for local consumption. It is financially supported by the Welsh Government and by Bannau Brycheiniog, formerly the Brecon Beacons Park Authority, which is a highly proactive body, mandated to be an exemplar on climate change action and community engagement.

To implement its climate action plan, the National Park is joining the world’s strongest climate coalition, Race to Zero, set up for local governments and coordinated from the United Nations. In line with its mandate to be a beacon for Wales, it has partnered with Oxfam Cymru and Climate Cymru, to form a national partnership, Race to Zero Cymru, to appeal to every local authority in Wales to join the global Race to Zero too. This initiative has caught the attention of the United Nations, which is now building a page about it on its own website.

Bannau Brycheiniog, an examplar on climate response

There seems to be fruitful synergy in Wales between government (national and local), progressive public bodies like Natural Resources Wales, Bannau Brycheiniog, etc., and smaller, informal, non-profit community groups who are able to access support and be partners in project structures.

You may be wondering, like me, why it should be so different out West, across the border. My guess is that Wales is not dominated by an Establishment of large businesses and wealthy landowners. Its history and culture have a long tradition of somehow maintaining identity and a degree of independence despite centuries of English domination. There’s a sense of positive possibility, of recovering some power.

Wales actually has legal frameworks which define and catalyse its progressive vision: such as the Future Generations Act, which requires all public bodes to consider the wellbeing of future generations, in the impact of their  activities and spending. Sustainability is defined and embodied within this. There is a Commissioner, a network of county Boards, and indicators to track progress.

It seems that one reason why things are different in Wales is scale: the whole population is only 3 million. Linked to this, it seems that political leaders, national and local, are a lot more accessible than in England. Responding to climate change and other issues may be like rolling a boulder uphill wherever you live, but at least in Wales you’re shoulder to shoulder with government, and there’s a bit of momentum.