Thursday, 13 December 2012

A Welsh Honours System

Do you want to be in Betty's Gang?
It'll take a lot more than cleaning toilets for 50 years.
(Pic : via Zimbio)
"Honours" are awards given by the state to acknowledge achievement, bravery or extended periods of service in varying fields. It extends from old traditions where monarchs would grant favours or rewards to loyal followers. The difference between an "honour" and a "decoration" is that a decoration is given for a specific act, while an honour is more for general achievement.

So, what could Wales do?

The current system


The monarch sits at the top of the UK honours system, and is the only person who has the authority to confer honours on people. Anyone is (theoretically) able to nominate anyone for an honour – though it's supposed to remain secret. Recommendations go through an honours committee, then - via the UK Prime Minister - to the monarch to give final say.

Honours are usually given at particular times of the year - usually the monarch's birthday and the new year.

The Order of the Thistle is Scotland's
equivalent of the Order of the Garter.
Wales doesn't have one.
(Pic : BBC)

People who receive British honours are inducted into an "chivalric order". Some orders are restricted by profession – for example, only civil servants, diplomats or military officers may be inducted into certain orders. The orders themselves are stratified. The higher the order, the "closer" you are to the monarch. The order an inductee belongs to will also determine their post-nominal letters.

The highest order in EnglandandWales (there is no Welsh Order) is the Order of the Garter, in Scotland it's the Order of the Thistle. Further down you have the Order of Bath, Victorian Order, Order of Merit and the more familiar Order of the British Empire (which gives us the common or garden Knights/Dames, CBEs, OBEs and MBEs). The British Empire Medal – awarding "short-term, high-impact local achievements" – was re-instituted this year.

In terms of decorations, these are usually only given for acts of bravery/gallantry on military service. So much so, for the higher-ranked decorations like the Victoria Cross, you're unlikely to live to be awarded it. The Elizabeth Cross – introduced in 2009 – is awarded to the next-of-kin of military personnel killed in action since the Second World War.

Some titles, such as a peerage, are given for life (Baron/Lord). Hereditary peerages (Dukes, Earls etc.) are inherited and normally only given to members of the royal family.

What's wrong with current honours?

It's too complicated – There are a bewildering away of orders and decorations compared to – for arguments sake – the French. Maybe in one way it's a good thing, as specific deeds are easier to honour. But I think it's simply a result of more orders and honours being added over the centuries.

Judging by the calibre of some of the
people awarded a CBE in Wales, it's as
though "honour" has no meaning.
(Pic : BBC)

It isn't crystal clear what the requirements are – This doesn't really apply to military/gallantry honours, but does anyone really know what the requirements are to get an OBE as opposed to a CBE or a knighthood? Does anyone - other than those receiving honours or deciding them - really know the difference? Why's there a difference in the first place?

Political interference – It might not make that much of a difference, but having to go through a Prime Minister and civil service isn't dodgy at all, is it? What could possibly go wrong there. In this day and age, where any chump – including chief executives of appalling local authorities – can get a CBE for just turning up to work, surely it's no longer in the public interest to have even a passive political involvement.

Aristocratic and imperial relics "Order of the British Empire". Come on. There's no place for hereditary peerages – or peerages of any kind – in the twenty first century. The monarch and his/her immediate family might be an exception, but even then it's stretching it. The only inherited title I would recognise, personally, is the monarch and that's only as head of state. I'd only recognise any others out of politeness in formally addressing someone, but seriously - "knights", "lords", "dames". There's something to be said for tradition, but this isn't Dungeons and Dragons.

A Welsh Honours System


Creating a "Welsh Order"

Syniadau has suggested something similar to this before in passing. The obvious name for such an order, based on precedent – from which honours would be conferred - would be "Order of St David." I'm just going to call it National Order for now.

There should only be a single order though – no stratification like the British system – and everyone receiving an honour would be an equal within that order, though different honours would have different social status.

The Order wouldn't really be anything more than a ceremonial body. It shouldn't be an elitist "club", and its meetings – presumably a few times a year - would be purely to decide who to confer honours too. Receiving an honour should be about the state rewarding and acknowledging a deed, not elevating someone "above" the general public with certain rights and privileges.

Overall principles of an honours system

Do peerages have a place in the 21st century?
Would they have a place in an independent Wales?
(Pic : The Telegraph)

Off the top of my head:
  • An open nominations process, and a closed selection process.
  • Limits on how many honours are awarded at any calendar year.
  • Clearly understood "rules" and requirements to qualify for an honour.
  • A "service to Wales/Welsh people" requirement - but not residency or nationality.
  • Cannot be used to curry favour, promised to/by anyone, or granted as a "gift".
  • Can only be awarded - in any circumstances - for "exceptional individual achievement".

So, I'd picture it as absolutely anyone being able to nominate anyone else for an honour (outlined below), which is pretty much as is currently. It don't think it needs to - but should - be kept secret to spare anyones blushes.

Members of the Order would whittle down a shortlist, and (by secret ballot) vote whether or not to confer an honour by a simple majority. People knocked off a shortlist would still be eligible in following years. People will also have a right to refuse and honour and have the reasoning for their objections noted on record.

If someone's approved for an honour, they would be inducted into the order and would have voting rights the following year. They would also "get something" to acknowledge it and a title (ideas further down).

The Order would also have the power to strip someone of an honour – again by majority vote. The reasons could be made clearer, but would likely be the same reasons as currently : committing a serious crime, being struck off professional registers, bringing an honour into disrepute.

All hereditary and life peerages should be scrapped. Welsh citizens who already have British honours would transfer over to the Order, and be granted an equivalent honour. People/organisations would still be able to be awarded the freedom of a town/city/county too as a more specific, localised honour.

The Honours Themselves

Many "National Heroes" will already be recognised as such.
Would there be room to formalise that?
(Pic : Wikipedia)

Instead of post nominal letters, I'd prefer an honorific prefix, meaning people would take their honour before their name. It would be a bit like members of the Privy Council being called "The Right Honourable". It would also avoid confusion if they already have post nominal letters.

Tywysog/Tywysoges (Prince/Princess) or President
  • Frequency : 1 at any one time. Elected by universal suffrage at defined intervals.
  • Requirements : Meeting constitutionally defined citizenship and eligibility requirements.

This has nothing to do with an honours system, and would be outside the bounds of the Order, but if Wales were to have an elective monarchy post-independence (technically, this post is a sequel to A Welsh Monarchy), then this title - through election – should be seen the highest civil honour. All it would be, in practice, is an elected ceremonial president with the trappings of royalty - a republican monarch.

Honestly, I don't think it's as ridiculous as it sounds.

If Wales were to have a ceremonial or executive president (Llywydd), then the Assembly's Presiding Officer would probably need a title change to avoid confusion.

1. Arwr Cenedlaethol ("National Hero")
  • Frequency : Rare. 1-3 per year. Can be awarded posthumously.
  • Equivalent : Medal of Honour, Legion d'honneur, Victoria Cross, George Cross, Order of the Garter
  • Requirements : Extreme devotion, self-sacrifice, bravery, duty or application that has enriched Welsh society, culture or improved Wales' global standing.

It would be crass to name names, but if you've done something worthy of having a building, school or public institution named after you – or a statue - then you should have done enough to be eligible. Most are likely to be already dead, to be frank. In terms of the living, you're talking about "once in a generation" talents, Nobel Prize winners or people who perform acts worthy of a Victoria or George Cross. Inducting anyone into this should be the highlight of any honours ceremony, naturally.

2. Yr Anrhydeddus ("The Honourable")
  • Frequency : 10-20 per year.
  • Equivalent : Knighthood/KBE
  • Requirements : Meritorious public/professional service, bravery, gallantry or an extraordinary personal act that was above and beyond that expected of them.

This would be, in practical terms, the "top honour" granted most often. You would've had to have done something that really stood out in any year to be eligible, but short of being a widly celebrated "national hero". I suppose the acid test would be doing something people would remember you for once you've died. That could include : Oscar winners, sports stars who have won major championships, very successful businesspeople....and yes, politicians and civil servants who leave office having actually done a memorably good job.

3. Yr Ymroddedig ("The Dedicated/Committed")
  • Frequency : ~50 per year.
  • Equivalent : OBE, CBE, MBE, BEM
  • Requirements : Dedicated service to a community, public service, public body, business or institution.

Your "civil service gong". This would be more for consistently excellent or selfless public service than any particular one off act. As stated, an equivalent to CBE's, MBE's etc. It shouldn't be seen as lesser though, and that's why I said everyone would be an equal to one another within the Order. There would be no real "order of precedence".

When? How? & What?

Like an elected monarch, conferring honours would be
an opportunity for some national "pomp" but without British "pomposity".
(Pic : robwatkins.co.uk)


St David's Day would be the obvious choice to decorate people. Other candidates could include "Glyndwr Day" (16th September) or New Year's Day as currently. It could even become part of the Eisteddfod, and the "three tiers" I've suggested are a nod to the Gorsedd of Bards (ovates, bards, druids). I'd be in favour of keeping the Gorsedd and the Order separate entities, but I suppose, technically, the Gorsedd already acts as an "Order".

I imagine voting would take place a good 4-6 months before the ceremony date. Recipients would be formally announced publically a few weeks before the ceremony (and informed privately before hand) and would then be given time to accept the honour and sort out invitations for any formal ceremony.

If any ceremony were held as part of the Eisteddfod it would kill two birds with one stone, but I think it should be a separate occasion.

As for what they would get. I think medals should be for the military/police etc. only. I like the idea of something special and a bit different for each honour. For example:
  • Yr Ymroeddedig could get a professionally taken photograph, which would be displayed in a public place.
  • Yr Anrhydeddus could get a portrait by a Welsh artist, again displayed in a public place.
  • Arwr Cenedlaethol would probably already have statues, or buildings named after them. But post-independence you could include military vessels/bases, government buildings, schools, hospitals, railway stations etc.

Where that "public place" would be is the issue. The Pierhead Building? Somewhere outside Cardiff? Should we have a "national cemetery", to not only bury significant public figures – including people awarded honours - but military veterans?

Obviously, it's not the highest of priorities, but I'm sure there are plenty of other things to ponder in this area too.

7 comments:

  1. Fascinating issue for a good ponder. I like the ideas for honours names you've suggested, far better than the 'Order of the Daffodil/Dragon' that briefly passed through my mind before reading.

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  2. Thanks, David. Sorry about my late reply.

    I don't think the names matter too much. "Order of St David" was considered when the issue was raised years ago and I linked to that. The only thing that matters is having an honours system that's transparent and somewhat egalitarian. We already have something similar to that in Wales in the Gorsedd of Bards, to be fair.

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  3. To some degree the Gorsedd already, as you say, has an honours system. I would be very leery of duplicating what exists in England/the UK. It has to be egalitarian and it has to be transparent and not just a long service medal for civil servants. It has to be for exceptional service and it has to be open to all.

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  4. LOL published as I was typing....

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  5. Thank Cibwr.

    Well, unless we're going to count Tusker Rock, Flat Holm, Bardsey Island and Chubut as a "Welsh Empire" I don't think there's any danger in having an honours system as pompous as the British one. Even if I've been - admittedly - a little bit pompous here. :)

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  6. An excellent idea which would really help to foster a sense of Welsh identity. The Gorsedd is fine as far as it goes, but an Urdd Dewi Sant which honoured much-loved old teachers in Monmouthshire, cob breeders in Ceredigion and village post mistresses in Flintshire would mean a lot more to the people of Wales than the Ruritanian nonsense of MBEs and all the rest.

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  7. Agree 100% Cneifiwr. I think the Gorsedd is best left as an an integral part of the Eisteddfod, while an "Urdd Dewi Sant" could be a bit more "secular" in cultural terms.

    Perhaps illustrious recipients of CBEs down your way could be given a "special honour". They could be cannonised - fired from a cannon.

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