Category: Guest Blogs

As a member of a minority – does your history matter?

 As part of our work to commemorate LGBT History Month, our guest blog comes from Norena Shopland (@NorenaShopland), the author of Forbidden Lives: LGBT Stories from Wales.

When my book Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales was published at the end of last year, one of the questions I was asked was, why did I write it?

The question wasn’t asked out of prejudice, but a genuine concern about the usefulness of a work that concentrated on a ‘minority within a minority’ with, they believed, a limited audience.

At first glance, they seemed to have a point – Wales is a small country, with just 4.8% of the UK population; and when it comes to history, is it even necessary to define every person or event as specifically English or Welsh? After all, the laws of the UK affect everyone, and everyone has more-or-less the same experiences under those laws.

The same question can be asked of other, larger minorities, who rarely exceed 20% of the population, such as black and Asian, at around 13%. Although we can relate diverse histories in themselves, is it necessary to talk about, for example, Welsh and English black and Asian people as separate entities?

Before answering, perhaps it is helpful to contemplate how you might go about finding individuals in the written record, which in itself can be a daunting task, and something I came across when writing Forbidden Lives. One of the reasons I became interested in my country’s history of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – about 6-10% of the population depending on whose statistics you accept) was because Welsh people were being used in UK history without any reference to their country of origin. This was particularly noticeable when celebrating LGBT History Month in February, when people like Ivor Novello, the Ladies of Llangollen, Leo Abse, and many others, were being included but within a UK, or more often, English concept.

LGBT history books rarely include an individual’s country of origin, or an index references to Wales or the Welsh – something that is also true of other countries. For example, many LGBT histories will include references to, say, work on sexology done in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century, but Germany per se will not appear in an index. If you wanted to construct a German history from general histories it could not be done.

The Welsh LGBT history conundrum

All this means is that to construct a Welsh LGBT history, it was necessary to search far and wide through many mediums. An added difficulty with regard to Wales, unlike other countries such as Germany, is that Welsh people for much of the nineteenth century and beyond, are often referred to as English.

Anyway, having surmounted various hurdles to put together the lives and events which appear in Forbidden Lives, what about the original question of ‘why go to all this trouble’? After all, some of the people I include already appear in UK histories and, whilst a number of my stories either highlight little known accounts, or are completely new, why can’t they simply be added to a UK history?

Well, they can. But there are far more reaching questions. The book has shown people from Wales have been very influential in shaping LGBT history, such as Wolfenden and the Sexual Offences Act – both of which changed society as a whole. What was it about these Welsh people that caused them to be so influential? In fact, the book has raised a whole series of questions that cannot be covered in detail here, but which concerns different types of experiences than that of England.

We also need to engage more museums, archives, schools and people in LGBT history and to do that we need to have local individuals – the more Welsh LGBT people we can identify the more engagement there will be. More engagement means more understanding of diversity and less discrimination.

So, in the end what was my answer?

Because history and politics aside, they’re rattling good stories – and after all, everyone loves a good story!

**********************************************************************************

The National Assembly for Wales is committed to promoting LGBT equality. We have been named by Stonewall as the Top Employer in the UK for LGBT people, a Top Trans Employer, and our workplace network has been Highly Commended for their work. If you would like to find out more about our work promoting LGBT equality, please contact our Diversity and Inclusion Team.

stonewall logo employer of the year stonewall logo top trans employer

stonewall logo star performer organisation        Stonewall logo highly commended network group

Celebrating 100 Years of the Representation of the People Act 1918

To commemorate 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918 received Royal Assent, Deputy Presiding Officer Ann Jones AM (@ann_jonesAM), discusses the importance of the  women’s suffrage movement in Wales.

February 6 2018 marks one hundred years since the Representation of the People Act 1918 received Royal Assent. This Act gave women the right to vote, provided that they were over 30 and that either they or their husband met a property qualification. The Act, which increased the electorate by over 8 million people, hardly represented equality, but it was a major step forward in the journey towards full suffrage for women, which was ultimately achieved in 1928. To mark the anniversary, there will be a programme of events, exhibitions and other activity taking place in Wales and across the United Kingdom.

Women, Wales and Politics

Championing the role of women in society is something that I am incredibly passionate about.  I have therefore established a Wales, Women and Politics working group of women Assembly Members. By working with key stakeholders in the sector, we will work towards delivering a programme of events and activities to explore the history of the women’s suffrage movement in Wales, and ensure that the role women play in civic society in Wales is under the spotlight.

The National Assembly for Wales has already achieved international recognition for promoting gender equality. In 2003, it was the first parliament worldwide to achieve gender parity.  Unfortunately, the Assembly has seen a gradual decline in the number of women Assembly Members, with currently only 26 of the chamber’s 60 seats being occupied by women. While the Assembly is still an international leader in gender representation, the decline in the number of women representing the people of Wales is a concern. I was, therefore, interested to hear that Prof Laura McAllister and her colleagues recommended integrating a gender quota into the electoral system in their recent “A Parliament that Works for Wales” report.

Celebrating the achievements of women this International Women’s Day

The focus of our activity in the short term will be around International Women’s Day (8 March), a global day which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. The Senedd will host an exhibition that tells the story of the suffrage movement in Wales and a lecture by Dr Ryland Wallace, the leading authority on the suffrage movement in Wales. We will also be working in partnership with the Welsh National Opera to launch of ‘Rhondda Rips it Up!’, a newly commissioned opera which profiles the life of Margaret Haig Thomas, one of Wales’s most prominent suffragettes.

Ann Jones AM

Deputy Presiding Officer, National Assembly for Wales

A Day in the Senedd with Urdd competition winner Lora Lewis

Lora Lewis joined the Assembly’s Translation and Reporting Service for a day after winning the Urdd translation competition. Here she talks about her experience behind the scenes…

As someone who has considered a career in the translation industry, competing in the Urdd competition was a natural step once I discovered that the prize was a day at the Assembly. This certainly appealed to me straight away and I set about translating the competition piece. Luckily, I got the news that I had won, and Aoife, a member of staff in the translation and reporting service at the Assembly, got in touch with me shortly afterwards and the preparations began. In no time at all, I was handing over all my possessions to go through the cameras as if I was in an airport before entering the building.

To start with, I met the Presiding Officer, Elin Jones, and had an opportunity to chat to her about the work that goes on in the Senedd, as well as introducing myself to her. The Presiding Officer was very welcoming and we even had time to take a quick photograph.

After that, it was time to start the work experience for real. I met Rhiannon and she gave me a detailed presentation of the work on the Record of Proceedings and the way they use appropriate software when transcribing and editing the official Record. I had an opportunity to do this myself using voice recognition software that could record what I said through a microphone. Without a doubt, this was great and showed me how important technology is in the workplace to facilitate these kinds of tasks.

urdd

I was most interested in simultaneous translation, and I was very lucky to get an introduction to this aspect in particular from Cai, a translator in the department. This aspect is definitely one that frightens many translators, and it’s an element of the work that certainly worried me – but Cai was ready to reassure me by offering lots of useful tips. I was introduced to simultaneous translation through a visit to the interpreting booths in the committee rooms and the Chamber. I also got to watch Plenary when the First Minister was speaking. The simultaneous translation there was very exciting and gave me an insight into how difficult this aspect of the work is, as well as what an incredible skill it is to develop.

Continue reading “A Day in the Senedd with Urdd competition winner Lora Lewis”

Opening up the Assembly….

In September, it will be twenty years since the people of Wales voted, by a small majority, to have their own National Assembly. It’s the only political institution the people of Wales have voted to have. Since it came into being in 1999, the Assembly has grown in power and responsibility. Six year ago, the people of Wales voted overwhelmingly to trust the Assembly with the power to make laws in Wales.

But how aware are people of the work done by the National Assembly as an institution, and its individual members as AMs? We know that sometimes people confuse the legislature, the National Assembly, with the executive, the Welsh Government. Late last year the Presiding Officer established a small group to look at how the Assembly can deliver engaging and accessible news and information about its work. That’s a big task, particularly at a time when news organisations are under increasing pressure and are focussing less on coverage of politics.

Our task force includes people with expertise in the media, open democracy projects like My Society, forward-thinking public institutions that have put digital communications at their heart, and specialists in digital learning and political communication. We’ve been asked to look at how best to increase levels of public understanding and engagement with audiences currently disengaged with politics and Welsh affairs.

The taskforce is considering how best to ensure that:

  • users of Assembly services, like the website, or Senedd TV, the live and recorded searchable ‘feed’ of Assembly proceedings, or the printed Record of Proceedings can more easily navigate around them, take and use data from them, adapt video and other content for their own purposes, and generally give a better user experience;
  • online services, including social media, can help the Assembly meet the needs of different audiences and customers;
  • how the Assembly’s committees communicate the work they are doing.

Interest in issues addressed by the Assembly, from health to housing, education to the environment, is high – but the Assembly doesn’t necessarily present itself in way that allows people to find things out simply and accessibly. Too often the Assembly seems institutional in its presentation, rather than being issue-led. People care about issues more these days than they care about institutions.

There may be other things which the Assembly needs to do to ensure it is communicating effectively with the people of Wales. People are now consuming information and news about politics in different and innovative ways, mainly through digital platforms. Most people now get their news online and increasingly from mobile, more and more frequently via news feeds such as Facebook’s. Young people overwhelmingly get their news in mobile form, often through social media such as Snapchat. How can the Assembly serve up its news in more digestible form using these platforms – or allow others to do this?

All media organisations are under pressure, and one of the newspapers previously covering the Assembly with a dedicated reporter has now cut that post. Most people will get their television and radio news from UK channels which rarely cover Wales and often rarely explain where policies in Wales differ from those in England, except in passing. The London newspapers, widely read in Wales, rarely mention Welsh politics or the Assembly. Does the Assembly, therefore, need to provide its own digital news platform with a small team of journalists providing news about the stories that are coming out of the Assembly? Such a platform could also provide material for the scores of local and hyperlocal news publications around Wales. This would not be a ‘government’ mouthpiece – quite the opposite. It would be the platform for what is happening in the place where the Welsh Government is scrutinised – the National Assembly – and headed by an impartial editor.

The Senedd’s physical design was intended to be symbolic of its role as a transparent public space for the people of Wales. It’s one of the most visited buildings in Wales, with more than 80,000 visitors every year. How can that visitor experience be improved, and how can people keep in touch with what is happening in the Assembly after their visit? Thousands of school students visit the Assembly every year: how should the Assembly link up with students, teachers and schools, possibly making use of the Welsh Government’s hugely successful Hwb+ bilingual learning platform hosting 580,000 teachers and learners? That’s something we’re asking the National Digital Learning Council to look at.

There are lots of ways the National Assembly seeks to read the pulse of the people of Wales – crowdsourcing responses to Brexit and other issues, polling people on inquiries and receiving thousands of responses. The taskforce’s work will complement this, seeking to ensure the Assembly behaves as an innovative democratic forum.

At the end of the day – it’s your Assembly. We want to hear your views on how the Assembly can best communicate with the people of Wales. Email us on digisenedd@assembly.wales with your views. We want to hear from you – after all, it’s a big year for the Assembly. In May, the Assembly celebrates its 18th birthday. That’s a milestone in any life.

Leighton Andrews is chairing the Presiding Officer’s Digital News Taskforce.

Guest Blog – Opening up committees is a step forward for stronger democracy in Wales

Dr Andy Williamson, October 2016

It’s great to see the fifth National Assembly starting off with a strong intention to increase public participation. The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee has already started, committee chair Bethan Jenkins asking the public to help shape what they talk about through a range of innovative and original channels.

This is the stamp of a modern legislature, one that is invested in strong democracy and the best interests of the people that it serves.

Senedd chamber

Open, transparent and accessible legislatures are the way of the future and we can see this happening around the world:

  • in Westminster the Petitions Committee is drawing in new audiences to watch what their parliament is doing and to get involved in debates;
  • in Brazil and Chile legislation is shared online with the public, who can comment, amend and vote on those changes before they are referred back to members;
  • legislatures as diverse as Georgia, Paraguay and France are implementing strategies to increase public involvement in what they do and to ensure that is transparent and accessible;
  • Scotland, Italy and the Czech Republic are examples of parliaments who are providing real-time, open access to their data, whilst the Dutch and New Zealand parliaments provide online, fully searchable archives of their parliamentary record; and
  • Serbia and Peru are amongst the legislatures around the world actively partnering with civil society organisations, finding new ways to open up, reach out, listen and to share.

This is disruptive practice and even positive disruption brings challenges. Members can feel that increased participation encroaches on, some say threatens, their role in a representative democracy. In reality, experience shows us, it does the opposite. And we have to put innovations like this in context; members still make the decisions, they still decide on the majority of committee business. But in the age of social media and constant news, it quickly becomes obvious that being more engaged and better connected significantly benefits members who want to feel the pulse of their communities. The world over, our representatives have to accept doing their job not only in the full gaze of increased public scrutiny but with greater public involvement. This is a good thing; democracy is not about a vote every five years but having a voice every day.

The world has changed, forcing us to reshape the work of legislatures as more and more varied channels of public participation and interaction open up. To understand why this matters we first have to accept the benefits of greater public engagement, and those benefits are many. There are logistical challenges too, knowing which tools to use and not trying to own or control them (or the discussion). We have to develop a willingness to go where the people are, to use the tools they use, to choose what’s best for the job at hand.

A more informed and engaged public makes for a stronger democracy.

Creating new ways to give people a voice and get more involved in what their representatives are doing starts to break down the barriers of mistrust that have calcified across too many of our public institutions. It’s not a panacea, there is no silver bullet and people are slow to trust, quick to push their own agendas, to express frustration when they don’t get their own way. We can’t expect a system that has been distrusted, has often been perceived as closed and controlling, to change overnight and nor should we expect public attitudes to shift immediately either, that would be naive. This is an ongoing process, we need to be cautious and tolerant but equally to press ahead with the confidence of knowing that being more open is better for all of us in the long run.

Opening up committees can feel hard because it is hard. But it is both the right thing to do and necessary. It’s a reflection on the ongoing societal shift in our attitudes and approach to democracy, which will be easier to embrace if we can talk openly and honestly about what it means, for elected representatives, staff and the public.

Opening up committees is about inclusion. It’s about stronger representation, making democracy more participatory and how this benefits members and the public. Open democracy leads to better legislation, legislation that is thoughtful and appropriate, that is based on a wider set of views, immersed in the experiences of real people. Legislation that better reflects who we are. The world is complex and finding new, reliable ways of solving problems will be easier when we can effectively harness that significant reservoir of talent, knowledge and ideas that has lain untapped for far too long. To get there, we need more education, more information and more partners to promote greater political maturity and effective engagement.

We need more people, different voices, to be heard and heard more often. Inviting people into committees, asking them to help shape the agenda and giving them more space to be heard are positive steps forward. This trajectory towards more effective engagement is what modern democracy is all about.

Dr Andy Williamson is the Founder of Democratise and a Governor of The Democratic Society. He recently wrote the World e-Parliament Report 2016 and is co-author of ‘From Arrogance to Intimacy – A Handbook for Active Democracies’.

World Architecture Day 2016: Professor Thomas Herzog visits the Senedd

By Lucy Hodson, Information Specialist, Assembly Library

The iconic Senedd building is famous as both the home of Welsh democracy and for being a beacon of sustainability. It has won a number of architectural prizes and has also received the highest ever rating awarded in Wales under the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).

Earlier this year the Senedd was visited by Professor Thomas Herzog, the world-renowned German architect known for his interest in contemporary technologies and the supply of energy from environmentally friendly sources. He has received a number of honours throughout his career for his work, including the PLEA 2013 Award for excellence in the field of passive and low energy architecture and the 2009 Global Award for Sustainable Architecture.

L-R Matthew Jones (Sustainability Manager), Thomas Herzog (Architect, Thomas Herzog Architects), Ester Coma Bassas (Architect, Welsh School of Architecture), Werner Lang (Architect, University of Munich), Richard Gwyn Jones (Visitor Tour Manager)
L-R  Matthew Jones (Sustainability Manager), Thomas Herzog (Architect, Thomas Herzog Architects), Ester Comma Bassas (Architect, Welsh School of Architecture), Werner Lang (Architect, University of Munich), Richard Gwyn Jones (Visitor Tour Manager)

Professor Herzog was given a tour of the Senedd by our Sustainability Manager Matthew Jones. After the visit he shared his thoughts:

“During the past decades I was rarely so moved and taken by a piece of modern architecture as the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff Bay.

A weather-protected place that uses the prominent surrounding panorama of the city at the port as a space-defining backdrop. An elevated public space-enlivened and used by citizens and politicians-stands in contrast to the plenary hall with its geometry, spatial order and exposure to light, Although the assembly room is the place of public inspection, it nevertheless ensures the appropriate distance, and is –in its effect determined by the central, concentrated exposure to natural light from above.

The building is a lesson-even in terms of a self-confident, citizen-oriented democracy – and is brilliant with its clear spatial concept and its attention to technical detail. The Senedd demonstrates how meaningful architecture can be for our modern life, an architecture that communicates though transparency in a differentiated grading between opening and concentration. A stroke of luck for the country and its people.”

Senedd

To celebrate World Architecture Day on 3 October the Senedd is hosting a special architectural tour which will showcase the building in all its glory. This new tour will explore in detail the concept and design of one of Richard Rogers’ most iconic buildings. You’ll discover the Senedd’s incredible features which make it one of the most sustainable buildings in Wales. The guide will take you to usually unseen parts of the Senedd to add to this ‘one-off’ experience.

As part of the visit, a free Senedd book will be given to all who attend, a real prize for those who are interested in architecture and the building.

If you’d like to attend one of our specially tailored tours, contact us on 0300 200 6565 or email contact@assembly.wales

For more information including opening times and how to get to us please visit the Assembly website.

More information about the Senedd including its history, concept drawings and environmental features.

“Listening to the interpreters showcase their talent was amazing. What a skill!”

Ffion at a translators desk

Ffion Pritchard joined the Assembly’s Translation and Reporting Service for the day last week after winning the Urdd translation competition. Here she talks about her experience behind the scenes and how the Assembly champions bilingualism.

I travelled by train to Cardiff Bay on Tuesday 12 July, a fine summer’s day, to spend the day on work experience with the Assembly’s Translation Unit—my reward for winning the Urdd translation competition.

A busy day had been planned for me. As part of the day, I met Mair, the head of the translation unit, and Mari Lisa, the competition adjudicator, and learnt about the business unit, transcribing the Record of Proceedings, translating legislation and the art of simultaneous interpretation. Thank you to Geth, Jodi, Llinos and Cai for all their help. I’m sure that the information they provided will be a great help to me in the future.

As well as meeting with, and working alongside, the translators and editors in the Translation Unit, I also attended meetings with two important people in the Senedd. In the morning, I had the opportunity to meet and have my photograph taken with the Presiding Officer; in the afternoon, Alun Davies, Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language, gave up his time to shake my hand and have a chat. Given that they are very busy people, I really appreciated this opportunity!

Ffion and the Presiding Officer, Elin Jones AM

Gruff’s introduction to machine translation was greatly beneficial. It is good to see major companies such as Microsoft investing in technology that benefits the Welsh translation industry. Used properly, this technology increases translators’ productivity and gives non-Welsh speakers the opportunity to understand the language. Of course, machine translation will never be an improvement on real-life translators, but it is good to know that there are resources available to support our work.

Ffion and Gruff

As someone who takes an interest in politics as well as translating, it was great to see First Minister’s Questions in the Chamber. It was nice to feel part of the political process and hear the Welsh language being spoken by Ministers. Listening to the interpreters showcase their talent was amazing. What a skill!

I would like to thank the Urdd, Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru (the association of Welsh translators and interpreters) and the Assembly for arranging the day. A heartfelt thanks goes to Iona and Sarah for being such wonderful guides! I would urge those of you who are between 19 and 25 years old and who have an interest in translation to enter the Urdd competition next year. If you are successful, I promise that spending the day with the Assembly’s translation unit will be an invaluable experience!