NWR Issue 41

"Re-branding" Wales

Devolution and the creation of Wales's first National Assembly since Owain Glyndwr is giving rise to sudden concern about Wales's image in the world, Ron Davies, the Secretary of State for Wales, has talked of the need to "re-brand" Wales. The Institute of Welsh Affairs has just produced a pamphlet on The Welsh Image by John Smith MP for the Vale of Glamorgan (Gregynog Paper No 4. IWA £7.50) A group of companies has published a brochure, Wales: the Time is Now, to provide guidance to companies on how to present Wales to the world in the best possible light. Peter Hain, Minister of State at the Welsh Office, has been so brave - some would say foolhardy - as to suggest that Wales consider exchanging one of its longest-standing national symbol, the Red Dragon, for something more modern.

The problem as somewhat crudely expressed in John Smith MP's IWA report is that Wales is perceived as "remote, something of a dump, and unfortunately inhabited by Welsh people." It even blames one of Wales's most celebrated writers this century, Richard Llewellyn and his celebrated novel and film How Green Was My Valley, for the problem. It so powerfully branded Wales a land full of singing miners and stern chapels, the image has been impossible to shake off.

It is a bit unfair for Richard Llewellyn to have to carry the whole can. Arguably, Dylan Thomas and Caradoc Evans have also made key contributions to the way in which Wales and Welsh people are perceived elsewhere.

Those of us living in Wales obviously know better. Images are, in any case, always crude caricatures. The reality is far more complex and, in practice a great deal more interesting.

However, the concern of politicians and businessmen to re-brand Wales reflects not so much vanity as a recognition that in an increasingly interdependent world, negative images are damaging to Wales's economic interest. By European standards, Wales remains a relatively impoverished country. People in Wales have to earn a living and everything must be done to improve employment prospects. Hence the need for action.

But these same politicians and businessmen will be deluding themselves if they think that Wales's image can be altered by public relations manipulation, by finding the right advertising slogan or jingle. For better or for worse, prime responsibility for Wales's image remains with Wales's writers, artists and performers. They more than any group in Welsh society have the capacity to alter perceptions of Wales as enriching the lives of those who live here.

Glasgow's image was transformed in the 1980s by its enthusiastic embrace of arts and culture showing exactly what can be done. But the arts community in Wales, far from being cherished, is being squeezed for a third year running. A Welsh Office-imposed Arts Council of Wales budget standstill, local authority parsimony and the threat of further cuts are creating widespread demoralisation.

Will Wales's National Assembly make a difference? It seems unlikely. It will not have resources of its own and the arts in England are suffering comparably. ACW has published a consultation paper "Building a Creative Society" and wants public views on its future strategy for the arts by August 8. But new strategies alone are not enough. Commenting on England's opera crisis. Sir Peter Hall said that £100m. - peanuts in government spending terms - would transform the position of the arts. Wales's per capita share would be £5m. ACWs consultation is an opportunity to remind the powers that if they are serious about "re-branding" Wales then they must invest in
those really able to alter perceptions once and for all - Wales's creative writers, artists and performers.


previous editorial: Welsh writing and writers
next editorial: The market for Wales's literature


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