Welshcakes in Westminster: Student Dissertation Research

Continuing our series of posts on current student dissertation projects, here, Nia Bevan, a 3rd Year BA Geography student, reflects on doing research with political elites in Wales & Westminster.

“This summer doing my dissertation research presented me with an exciting opportunity to better understand the intricacies of the UK’s constitutional system of divided competence. Welsh devolution has long been of interest to me as debates regarding independence and autonomy are certainly a hot topic within the Bevan household. Devolution in Wales presents a truly unique chance for political geography to be involved in helping shape and understand a political legacy through research into legislation, jurisdictions and constitutional reform. My dissertation research led me to interview Welsh Members of Parliament and Assembly Members in order to ascertain whether Wales is correctly represented within Westminster today.

Wales has always had a prominent place in Westminster. The presence of the statue of (Welsh) former prime minister David Lloyd George in the Members Lobby that is touched by MPs for luck each time they enter the House of Commons exemplifies this. It seems that we Welsh are a nation of high achievers within parliamentary history – as proved by the only MP to have served in the four great offices of state, James Callaghan. Decentralisation however has signified a questionable era for Welsh elected representatives. Contentions have been made by various (mostly English) MPs about the constitutional imbalance between the traditional nations which make up the UK. The current home rule system has long produced complex and contentious arguments about the fairness of the administrative system. From an academic point of view, these changes and disputes present an interesting case study to understand electoral politics and geopolitical dynamics within the United Kingdom.

Lloyd George and Churchill's statues in the Member's lobby of Parliament in Barack Obama's recent visit to the UK (Catherine Bebbington/Parliamentary copyright).

Lloyd George and Churchill’s statues in the Member’s lobby of Parliament in Barack Obama’s recent visit to the UK (Catherine Bebbington/Parliamentary copyright).

In order to obtain qualitative data on this topic I decided to interview various parliamentary figures within Welsh politics. Finding interviewees was a long and sometimes crushing experience. Rejection after rejection meant that at one point my ‘summer doing research’ looked like it was about to turn into a summer of trying to think of another research idea. Fortunately for me (and my grades), the months of emailing paid off and I managed to secure 10 interviews with Welsh MPs and 6 with AMs in Ty Hŷwel, a Welsh Assembly Building in Cardiff.

Over the course of the research work, interviewing certainly became a lot easier. Looking back at my first interview with the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Owen Smith, I cringe at the thought of the awkward and dense questions I asked. Interviewing incumbent members that have extensively contributed to the current parliamentary domain can be extremely nerve-wracking. Trying to madly work out political terms such as ‘asymmetrical devolution’ or ‘Barnett consequentials’ whilst also trying not to cry is definitely harder than it looks. However after a panicky few days of reading my sister’s law books, exhausting the use of www.thefreedictionary.com and asking my dad politics questions every two minutes, the interviews gradually become easier each time. The last interview (with Member of Parliament for Caerphilly, Wayne David) went far more smoothly. It highlighted how much I had learnt from the process both in understanding the constitutional organisation and processes of Westminster as well as helping me work out where Wales sat within national and international politics. Of course I have learnt a lot more than simply academic material; I have also learnt life-long skills that I’m sure will assist me in my future endeavours. Most notably, this summer has taught me how to dress. This may seem odd as outfit picking and Welsh devolution have little correlation to each other. Nevertheless, sitting in the waiting room of Portcullis House in jeans, T-shirt and scruffy boots whilst everyone around you looks like candidates for ‘The Apprentice’ definitely gives you the motivation to buy some tidy trousers.

1st attempt at an interview outfit...

1st attempt at an interview outfit…

On reflection, the overall experience of data collecting was great. It was an excellent opportunity to see first hand what our elective representatives do on a day-to-day level. Additionally my summer with various Welsh elected representatives reinforced my political views with regards to devolution and independence as well as general politics. Furthermore the data collection process led to some interesting work experience this summer. Having interviewed a range of MPs and AMs, I was fortunate to secure a few weeks of work experience with Leanne Wood (Leader of Plaid Cymru), and with the Welsh Conservative Party in Cardiff Bay, as well as a research opportunity with a local MP.

This summer has been a great summer of firsts for me having completed my first ever solo research collection project, bought my first ever ‘work outfit’, eaten my first ever welshcake in Westminster, met the First Minister of Wales and now completed my first ever blog. I can now sit and watch Welsh Questions, First Minister’s Questions or relevant political interview shows on TV and can say ‘I’ve met him / her’. But more than anything, this summer has finally given me a (vague) idea of what I can do after my student life comes to an end.

Many can relate to the horror that third year students associate with the word ‘dissertation’ but in my experience the dread and fear is definitely overrated. If anything it turned out to be a piece of (welsh)cake.”

Welshcakes

Welshcakes

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