Rebirth of Reason


The Flooding of Tryweryn: An Exercise in Libertarian Historical Revision.
by Matthew Humphreys

While carrying out some research for another piece I hope to have published on SOLO shortly, it occurred to me that the tragic events surrounding the Welsh valley known as Tryweryn and the nearby village of Capel Celyn, cry out for a libertarian interpretation. While the incident is well known to most Welshmen, and is still justifiably a considerable point of grievance for many in the (unfortunately socialist- dominated) Welsh nationalist movement, most SOLOHQ readers will likely never have heard of the place. I will therefore begin by summarising precisely what happened.

In the late 1950s Liverpool City Council decided that the city would soon require an additional source of water. A scheme was conceived whereby a valley would be flooded with water and turned into a reservoir, with the water being piped underground to the city. It was decided that eight hundred acres of land that formed Tryweryn and Capel Celyn would be the ideal land on which to construct the reservoir, and on August 1st 1957, the utterly disgraceful Tryweryn Bill entered Parliament as a Private Members’s Bill, sponsored by Liverpool City Council and supported by Harold Macmillan’s Conservative administration (including the then- Minister Of Welsh Affairs), and passed despite the opposition of almost all Welsh MPs. The bill allowed the compulsory purchase of the required land, amounting to twelve entire farms, land from a further four, and the entire village of Capel Celyn, including the cemetery, displacing around seventy people.

The entire incident provided considerable impetus for the growth of Plaid Cymru (“the Party of Wales”), the left-leaning mainstream nationalist party in Wales. Indeed, Wales has long been heavily socialist oriented, the south until recently being regarded as a guaranteed strong Labour party voting area. The crucial point which is apparently lost on those Welsh leftists who profess anger over the fate of Tryweryn, but which I hope is not lost on readers of this website, is that the taking of private property in this way can only be justified by socialist principles. The comments of key figures involved in the incident are telling in this regard:

Bessie Braddock, Labour MP for part of Liverpool, apparently produced the following nugget of wisdom: “Some disturbance of the inhabitants is, of course, inevitable. Everyone deplores the fact that in the interests of progress some people must suffer, but that is progress.” Another Liverpool MP, Sir Victor Raikes, is quoted as saying, “I agree that whether the number is 70 or whether it be 700 the principle is the same. I do not disagree on that, but what I do say, and I say it with all the emphasis at my command, is that if it is decided that in the interests of a large number of people the rights of a very small number of people are affected, then, subject to proper safeguards for the minority, the right of the majority must prevail.” Presumably the right to own private property is not protected by these “proper safeguards”!

Of course, the opposition to the flooding preceded on largely socialist grounds also, this campaign poster for example features talk of the Welsh national heritage and the will of the Welsh people, making no mention whatsoever of the rights of the individual property owners. Gwynfor Evans, the then-Plaid Cymru leader, similarly argued that Tryweryn had to be saved “for Wales”. Collectivism cannot be fought with collectivism; only with a full understanding of individual rights can one understand what truly happened at Tryweryn, and how it might have been prevented.

I do not consider myself a “Welsh nationalist” - at least not in the sense that that phrase is commonly understood – not because I think there is no argument for an independent Wales (on the contrary, from a strictly constitutional  libertarian perspective, I think there are good arguments both for and against), but because the movement as it stands is mired in collectivist thinking, placing the (non-existent) rights of the nation above the (actual) rights of individuals, and advocating an economic agenda based on utterly discredited socialist premises.
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