Welsh women are attracted to Scottish men

In the first Welsh regional election campaign, Labor and the nationalists come out on top. Val Feld is running in Swansea's traditional working-class neighborhood Halfod ■ Ralf Sotscheck from Swansea

The election campaign didn't start well for Val Feld that evening: when she threw her brochure through the letter slot, you can hear a dog pounding on the paper and tearing it up. An Indian immigrant lives in the neighboring house who has not yet heard of the upcoming elections. Only in the third house is Val Feld, whose full name is Valerie Anne Feld, more lucky. A friendly, no longer very young man picks up her election leaflet and assures her that he has voted for Labor all his life and that he intends to do so next Thursday too.

Feld's constituency in Swansea, the second largest city in Welsh, is a Labor stronghold, and in fact, you are sure to have a seat in the first Welsh assembly to be elected on Thursday. “But that's also a danger,” she says, “because that makes people apathetic. Labor has never looked after young people here, my election workers are all old men who at first didn't understand why we should campaign at all. It was like an old tractor that you take out of the garage, clean and oil and then push. But if he runs first, then he can hardly be stopped. "

Feld, in his forties, is from North Wales, Snowdonia. When the last slate quarries closed twenty years ago, there was hardly any work left in the region and her family moved to Swansea. Now she's a bit plump, she dyed her hair blonde. Once she wanted to go to the House of Commons, but her party preferred to send a man into the race. "Only four Welsh women had ever made it to the House of Commons," she says. “In 1997, four more women were elected.” The Labor Party elected as many women as men for the Welsh Assembly elections. "It was a shock for the men in the party," she laughs, "because many had ambitions of their own."

On the other hand, there are no black or Asian candidates, neither in Labor nor in the other parties. Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote, an organization that campaigns against party discrimination against blacks, says: “In no other part of the UK has racist attacks increased more than in South Wales in the 1990s. We want to go to parliaments and town halls so that we can make the decisions for our people ourselves - in Great Britain, in London and in Edinburgh, in Cardiff and in Swansea. "

The poet Dylan Thomas, whom the American singer Robert Zimmermann admired so much that he renamed himself Bob Dylan, wrote about his hometown: “I was born at the beginning of the First World War in a great industrial town in Welsh: an ugly, lovable town . “That still applies today.

In Welsh it is called Abertawe, the mouth of the Tawe, a river that for centuries served as a sewer for the metalworking industry and is only slowly recovering from it. First came the coppersmiths, then other metalworking industries followed. Swansea was one of the metal centers in the world in the previous century and attracted many immigrants. In 1918 Britain's first oil refinery was built in Swansea.

“This coastal town was my world,” wrote Dylan Thomas, for whom a memorial, a thater and a museum had been built in Swansea. “Outside, a strange Wales with its coal pits, mountains, rivers and, as far as I knew, choirs and sheep and hats went about their business as if out of picture books that had nothing to do with me; behind that unknown Wales lay England, and that was London, as well as a country called 'the front' from which many of our neighbors never returned. "

Swansea fared particularly badly during the war. In three nights in 1941, the German Air Force dropped more than 30,000 bombs over Swansea, leaving nothing of the city center. When it was rebuilt, it was a soulless concrete city with skyscrapers and factory buildings that stretch up the mountains along the steep streets from the coast.

Halfod is in the north of the city, it's a neighborhood of small row houses built a hundred years ago by the Vivian family. The Vivians had made their money with copper; they put their workers in their houses. Val Feld has put on an ankle-length brown coat and is walking from door to door. It is a home game: If Halfod were lost to Labor, then the television stations would interrupt their programs, says one of their election officials.

There is still criticism. “Why is the meeting not coming to Swansea,” asks an old woman in a black and white checked skirt and a fine white ruffled blouse, “but to Cardiff? It annoys people here. ”There has always been rivalry between Cardiff, the capital, and Swansea. "The location is the most worrying aspect of the new congregation," said John Lovering, professor of town planning at Cardiff University. "It is meeting in a building that was built by the favorite architect of world capitalism of the nineties, and that in a part of the country that has always been given preferential treatment."

Val Feld expects a voter turnout of only 50 percent nationwide. Many see the new meeting as a "chat room", as one Halfoderin disparagingly says. Unlike Scotland, where they elect a parliament on Thursday, the Welsh Assembly cannot collect taxes or pass laws. It can promote Welsh culture, it can meet in Welsh, and when it comes to Welsh issues such as health, the environment, transport, fisheries and education, it can make decisions, if the London Government allows it.

Why are Scotland and Wales treated so differently? "Because the nationalists in Scotland are much stronger than in Wales," says Val Feld. “The Scottish National Party, the SNP, is hot on the heels of Labor, but Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, has its supporters especially in the valleys and the northwest, where Welsh is the most widely spoken. Wales is a collection of communities, some speak English, others Welsh, some are industrialized, some are rural, but all share a common identity. But the people are more closely connected to their community than to the country, the national feeling is rather weak. Most know that an independent Wales cannot survive. "

In 1979, when the Welsh people were allowed to vote for the first time whether they wanted more autonomy, only ten percent were in favor. Last year the proposal just went through, but in Scotland the result was clear. Still, David Lloyd, whom his friends call Dai, sees the Welsh Congregation only as an intermediate step towards independence. He is running for Plaid Cymru in Swansea West.

"If the union with England were good for us, I would say: Great, it should stay that way," he says, and his voice is full of cynicism. "But Wales is the poorest region in the UK, wages are only 83 percent of the national average, more than 13 percent of the houses are actually uninhabitable, and therefore the health of the Welsh is worse than in the rest of the kingdom."

Lloyd, 42, is his party's health spokesperson and has been a doctor in Swansea for 15 years. “In the Act of Union of 1536, when Wales was united with England, the Welsh language and culture were banned. The law has not officially been repealed to this day. ”Lloyd wishes the meeting to be successful:“ Otherwise they might be taken away from us again. ”

He relies on the second votes for his party - 40 candidates are elected directly, the remaining 20 from an electoral list. "Many Labor voters will give us their second vote because they are outraged about the appointment of the Welsh Labor leader," he hopes. The Labor members voted for Rhodri Morgan with a clear majority, but with the help of the unions, Tony Blair's candidate Alun Michael prevailed.

Blair and New Labor are not welcome in Wales, and neither are they in Scotland. So the Londoners stay away, so as not to torpedo the efforts of the Welsh Labor Party for its own Welsh identity. In Scotland, too, Labor is happy when the London party leaders fail to show up, because people are left-wing because the Scots, unlike the English, like to vote on the left.

The SNP is stronger than Plaid Cymru, Lloyd believes, because the Scots are doing a little better than the Welsh. “There is also the language barrier,” he says. “There are only 76,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, but 500,000 people speak Welsh in Wales, for a population of just under three million. Many who do not speak Welsh fear that they would be second class citizens in an independent Wales, with 55 percent of our own members speaking no Welsh at all. "

The other parties are afraid of the nationalist dwarf. Plaid Cymru had achieved its best election result to date with a good eleven percent in 1970, but has since always lagged behind the three big parties. But other laws apply to a Welsh election. According to polls, Plaid Cymru is in second place behind Labor due to the new list election. The Social Democrats have also targeted the nationalists. Labor warns that independence would cost six billion pounds. But this is not even up for debate.

“In the long term, however, we want an independent Wales in Europe, because it can't get any worse,” says Lloyd. "Poverty in Wales has nothing to do with class, it is a Celtic phenomenon: the Irish, Scots and Welsh have always been marginalized by London."

If Halfod was lost to Labor, the television stations would cut their programming.

Labor warns that independence would cost six billion pounds. But that is not even an issue.