Opinion: Thinking Too Hard About Plaid

This election has shaken up many people’s conception of politics. For the time being, we as Lib Dems have succeeded in what we’ve always attempted to create – a political triangle of us, Labour and the Conservatives.

As my first election – and indeed my first opportunity to experience politics as an adult – it’s been an interesting campaign. But I’m not in my home territory of Accrington. I’m in western Wales, on the fringes of our island. I’m not fighting Red or Blue, because I’m fighting Green, or to put it another way, I’m fighting the Welsh Nationalists. And my experience from this campaign won’t be of Cleggmania sweeping the land; it’ll be of an ideological struggle to personally define my values as a Lib Dem and of my values more generally.

Here is the confusing thing about Plaid – something after several weeks of thinking and debating I am still not sure about. They are a party of the centre-left, sharing our platform on a wide range of issues. They are a party that proposes a stronger Welsh government. I do not disagree with that. So instead of that sort of ideology, it is a debate of scale and values. Not on macro-economics, but the concept of what the voter considers their values to be. And that’s why it’s been such a nerve-wracking campaign, because you cannot change people’s core values.

It is of the scale of the smallest issues – of individual casework and tiny rural schools – to the biggest, namely what the role of the Welsh is going to be in the future. And it’s so odd – so mind-numbingly odd – for that reason alone. We have to appeal to these voters as well as the vast student population.

And as someone only with loose ties to Wales – as someone who associates his own personality with pies, puddings, fish and chip dinners, rain that you enjoy more than the sunshine and so many of the hallmarks that makes Lancashire so unique – I struggle to empathise with Plaid voters, because I cannot, and I suspect I will never be able to truly understand, what drives someone to consider themselves so much of a Welsh patriot as to scupper their county’s relevancy at Westminister.

I have at times been tempted to – as one of my lecturers here at Aberystwyth University has often been wont to do – link the problem to economics. The Plaid rally in Aberystwyth town centre attracted a crowd of people that struck me as being of the rural middle-class variety – nice houses overlooking the coast, a good few acres of land for the purpose of growing sheep, that sort of thing – and that for a time was my solution. Plaid’s voter base was of a class that had ended up living the good life and so could devote their cause to the simplest political lot to associate with – their local nationalists. Now, I am not of that opinion. However, that aforementioned Plaid rally has given me the clue I needed to really get to the core of what I wanted to understand.

It was heard several times – the phrase “London parties”. I had to get a good deal of what they were saying translated – as you might expect from a nationalist rally they all spoke at length in Welsh – but that was the common phrase. Plaid sat on their manifesto and simply condemned all their opponents for being too English. Plaid cast themselves as simply not being so. And slowly it began to dawn on me what was going on.

It began with me questioning my Lancastrianess. If I considered myself Lancastrian, surely that must be a similar – although lesser – feeling to what it must be if one considers themselves to be Welsh. So, I asked myself, what is that feeling representing?

1) A somewhat jokey rivalry with Yorkshire.

2) Imagery – the aforementioned food and produce.

3) A sense of pride, represented by the sort of phenomenon that hit Boris Johnson, that results in anger when what I consider to be my home is insulted.

If I was a Lancastrian Nationalist, I reasoned, what would I do to best represent that feeling? How would I convert that feeling into electoral success?

1) Link myself to symbols of Lancashire. I would have something like a red rose as my symbol (which would work if Labour hadn’t stolen it for their own nefarious purposes!) and adorn my pamphlets with images of the countryside to ground myself in the region. Mix this in with a link to local politics.

2) Make big issues of anything that could be seen to harm the Lancastrianess of Lancashire. Make sure French cuisine is always balanced with steak pies in restaurants, campaign for local fish merchants versus big supermarkets…

3) Try and worm this concept of militant nationalism into the minds of people. It has to “matter” to people that they’re Lancastrian. Make sure to get the children early as well.

4) The goal would be to make sure that the Lanc Nats would be seen as the “us” in the “us vs them” debate that we would create. The ultimate goal will be to create such a strong Lancastrian sentiment that it would become impossible to ignore, securing seats in the process. Then in power, and Lancastrianness fully ensuring we’ll never get voted out, we can do whatever we like, relying on the populist nationalism we’ve created to create a mandate for whatever we like.

Plaid began from a stronger platform than pies and pastries. Thatcher flooding valleys tends to sharpen people’s minds. But the above is, largely speaking, what they have done. A political party has created a debate, exploiting the easiest aspect of people’s minds – their identity. Students of Eastern European nationalism will recognise the signs. The party begins as a defence of identity – it ends with the creation of a block vote.

This is Plaid’s true platform. An artificial division between “London” – though I maintain there is no such thing as a unified English identity – and “Us”. To “fit in” in Wales is to follow Plaid’s prescriptive agenda, most notably by forcing people to learn Welsh but also by prescribing a healthy dislike of the opposition, the “English”. They believe they are in the moral right because they have their identity’s best interests at heart.

But this is where their argument comes apart at the seams.

I never pretend that my concept of Lancastrianess fits everyone. Plaid think opposite. Plaid deny people the ability to be themselves – it is more important in their minds to be “Plaid Welsh” than be unique. This argument simply does not hold water. And this reveals a nasty truth about what Plaid voters vote into Westminister – a party that hides its political irrelevancy behind the creation of an illusion of “Plaid’s Wales” that is both rhetoric and nostalgic, just to ensure that they keep their jobs.

Plaid’s slogan is “Think Different. Think Plaid.” But in reality, Plaid would rather you not really think – like I’ve been doing – at all.

* Huw Dawson is a student at Aberystwyth University, and is involved in the campaign to re-elect Mark Williams in Ceredigion.

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20 Comments

  • @Jae – But that’s precisely it; it’s not really nationalism. Nationalism in the best of times is a movement of an oppressed people against a majority which is seeking to sublimate their identity. But that’s not the case in Wales. That’s not the case in Scotland. If there were a mass public outcry for an independence referendum there would be one. Instead Plaid and the SNP run candidates on slogans like ‘elect a local champion’ promising things they know they can’t remember in Westminster and trusting that fear and mistrust and blunt scepticism will see them elected and see them returned because they have replaced political ideology with the identity politics of victim-hood. Check out the SNP record in Scotland since taking power in Holyrood – http://andrewrunning.blogspot.com/2009/12/what-was-point-of-snps-2007-election.html – and then consider that their manifesto claims they will scrap the common fisheries policy, unilaterally abolish trident, get the funds from the London Olympics as a Barnet consequential and somehow prevent budget cuts in a time of record deficit: this is a platform of total dishonesty and absolute cynicism which they have run on firm in the knowledge they can blame future failures to carry out these promises upon ‘the English parties.

    Good luck tomorrow everyone. Fired up! Ready to go!

  • There’s a counter-view to the above from George Monbiot here:

    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/04/21/the-welsh-revolution/

  • And exactly how many valleys did Thatcher flood?

    Your analysis would be more useful if it didn’t contain such errors.

    And speaking in Welsh is hardly evidence of Nationalism – it’s their ****** language!! It’s a trait shared by some Liberal Democrats – Geraint Howells, Roger Roberts, Ruth Parry … and me!

  • No, you don’t have to speak Welsh to be Welsh.

    And yes, there is an anti-English element present in some of Plaid Cymru’s membership/support.

    Let me return the question.

    Do you have to speak English to be English? Or, indeed, a Lancastrian?

  • what a terribly patronising and ill-informed piece.

    there’s only one party who played ‘us and them’ politics in Ceredigion and that’s the Lib Dems. The old divide and rule!

    Please tell me exactly where people are forced to learn Welsh, and how?

    “Plaid sat on their manifesto and simply condemned all their opponents for being too English” – I think you may have had these rallies wrongly translated… Plaid campaigns for further devolution to the Senedd in Cardiff. Tht’s a constitutional aim. The divide is London / Cardiff – where are decisions to be made? – rather than English / Welsh, which the Lib Dems have cynically, and successfully plundered during this campaign.

    I do hope Huw stays in Aber for a good period of time and comes to understand the town and the county a little better than this before the next election – maybe he’ll learn not to make such patronisingly simple, yet electorally effective divisions.

  • Cristian Davies 11th May '10 - 1:50pm

    Afraid to say this is a poorly written piece, full of misleading and inaccurate generalisations about Plaid supporters and Welsh speakers. The Welsh language should not be used as a political stick to beat Plaid with as you are doing with this blog, that sort of thing stopped 20 years ago, time has moves on, language just as race or religion shouldn’t be used for petty political point scoring.To liken the county of Lancs to Wales is silly, Wales is a nation. Full stop.

    Plaid are not a pressure group or debating club, it is the party of Wales, the only party that puts Wales and the people of Wales first, always first above all else. And that unity of purpouse is what makes the party so strong. It’s the party of progress and renewal, that is what Wales desperately wants. Plaid are anti-English? really, tell that to my AM Janet Ryder who is from Sunderland and the previous Plaid UK parliment candidate Mark Jones, from Stoke, who didn’t speak Welsh just like AM Leanne Wood. I neither hate or dislike our neigbours in the slightest. More to the point, hatred is an ugly and debilitating emotion, best left to you in the Libdem party. To liken the county of Lancs to Wales is silly, Wales is a nation. Full stop.

  • Huw, you’ve written a very insightful post about how much you know about where you’re from, and how little you know about where you are. Mark Williams would be aghast to see the contempt and complete lack of understanding you’ve shown towards the local people of Ceredigion who you so easily dismiss. To be a good politician you have to earn the respect of the electorate, and this means listening to them, and not talking about yourself. You would have made an excellent new Labour Westminster candidate, but alas that ship has sailed. In the meantime, why don’t you read up about the history of Wales and take an evening class in humility.

  • What a load of rubbish!

  • Rhodri ap Dyfrig 11th May '10 - 5:09pm

    This article is a complete joke. Maybe he should do his homework before spouting off his dodgy views on the Wales and the Welsh language.

    Wales is a country. Lancashire is not. How difficult is that to understand?

    Plaid Cymru was founded to fight for the interests of Wales, and to strive for autonomy from a British system which has repeatedly failed us over history. Plaid Cymru is a party for everybody in Wales. Your ideas about Welsh politics are way out. Your ideas about the Welsh language are just weird.

    This ridiculous analysis, comes across as both offensive and uninformed, and shows to me how little some of those that are involved in political campaigning in Ceredigion know about the place in which they live and the political arena in which they are campaigning.

    I’d advise Huw to read some of Plaid Cymru and Wales’s history before giving his words of wisdom again.
    He may be able to give a slightly more coherent argument the next time.

  • Rhodri ap Dyfrig 11th May '10 - 5:32pm

    Re: the nature of the comments

    Ah, you were expecting applause!

    I think you’ll find that you’ll receive this kind of reaction to this kind of post, from people from all political backgrounds in Wales. Your fellow Lib Dem has even done so above. And as somebody else has said, I don’t think Mark Williams would particularly like to be associated with this kind of viewpoint.

    It’s not your political allegiance that’s questionable. Far from it. It’s what you think of Ceredigion, Wales, Welsh people and the Welsh language.

    Did you canvass for the Lib Dems? If so, it worries me what kind of ‘information’ you were giving people.

  • The assumptions and stereotyping in this statement are unbelievable! I’ll read through and try and pick a few out for you.

    “I’m fighting Green, or to put it another way, I’m fighting the Welsh Nationalists.”

    You’ve made a blanket statement here which is correct to a degree, that Plaid Cymru is a nationalist party, but it is in no way representative of all nationalists or an umbrella for all variations of Welsh nationalism. Your use of a capital N for nationalism, would infer the existence of the party to only represent nationalistic view. This party only chooses to represent people who happen to live within the political boundaries of Wales. Most of their causes would in fact appeal to a large number of the wider UK population, such as the Work Compensation Act 1979 which applied and still is in effect today for all of the UK. Hardly a nationalism issue, although they do represent others that would account as such.

    “It is of the scale of the smallest issues – of individual casework and tiny rural schools – to the biggest, namely what the role of the Welsh is going to be in the future. And it’s so odd – so mind-numbingly odd – for that reason alone. We have to appeal to these voters as well as the vast student population.”

    Are you referring to the Welsh people or language here? If people, how is it so mind-numbingly odd how people care to see themselves in the future? Why does it matter how people care to see themselves in the future; it’s their prerogative. You make it seem like a chore that the Liberal Democrats should have to appeal and, shock-horror, represent these people, these people who see themselves as Welsh. Aren’t these locals, these Welsh, tax-payers the ones who by right can demand proper representation much more than any transient student? The way you’ve structured the last sentence of the above quoted paragraph, make the local people seem like an after thought following the importance of the concerns of ‘the vast student population’. It is they, who should be considered first by any Ceredigion prospective candidate. If this doesn’t suit you or your friends, then by all means have your own mock elections at University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

    “And as someone only with loose ties to Wales – as someone who associates his own personality with pies, puddings, fish and chip dinners, rain that you enjoy more than the sunshine and so many of the hallmarks that makes Lancashire so unique – I struggle to empathise with Plaid voters, because I cannot, and I suspect I will never be able to truly understand, what drives someone to consider themselves so much of a Welsh patriot as to scupper their county’s relevancy at Westminster.”

    You have exposed yourself to not understanding the words nationalism or patriotism as you use them interchangeably. What you have described with your references of pies and puddings can only be referred to as patriotism, something to which you can relate, something your fellow Lancastrians do. It would be natural to find yourself threatened if someone dared to turn up, tell you that it’s all a load of rubbish and tried to take it away from you. Many Liverpudlians consider themselves Scouse first, before identifying themselves as English. Remind me which nation Liverpool’s in? You might then be able to see that patriotism and nationalism are not the same thing.

    The fact that Welsh people feel threatened, their language, their way of life, their habits, brings out a defense which is totally just. Much in the same way that a member of a family might be ready to attack an intruder in their home. Patriotism can apply at any level, friends, family, town, society, organisation, county or country; it’s simply what you consider to be akin with yourself. Nationalism on the other hand, is only considered with nation building which can be better defined politically. Until not so long ago, Welsh was still spoken by many in Herefordshire, the patriotism on anyone would be a call to arms to protect their way of life, their tongue, their culture. Nationalism on the other hand would completely ignore it, unless it had any part in the building of any political entity that Wales could be.

    Bringing out the patriot in someone is totally irrelevant in scuppering your country’s relevancy at Westminster. It would seem obvious that anyone would want to defend who they are and what they do as a matter of highest priority, high above any political dealings which could in relative terms consider such frugal issues as public transport structures or local education authorities.

    “It was heard several times – the phrase “London parties”. I had to get a good deal of what they were saying translated – as you might expect from a nationalist rally they all spoke at length in Welsh – but that was the common phrase. Plaid sat on their manifesto and simply condemned all their opponents for being too English. Plaid cast themselves as simply not being so. And slowly it began to dawn on me what was going on.”

    They spoke Welsh because it was a nationalist rally? I speak Welsh and only Welsh at home because it’s what I do and it’s how I communicate with my family and my kind. I don’t hold a ‘nationalist’ rally every waking hour! Enoch Powell was a Welsh speaker, but he was an obvious British nationalist and imperialist. Lord Roberts speaks Welsh, however I’ve never seen him hold a Welsh nationalism rally. In the middle ages there was a large Welsh speaking contingency in the Royal court. To have any sympathies toward Welsh nationalism would be rallying against the monarch. I recall Prince Charles Windsor attending University of Wales, Aberystwyth for Welsh lessons. I also remember him making a speech or two – hardly a call to arms over Welsh nationalism?

    The reference to London parties and being ‘too English’ refer to attitudes. If you had any inclination to study the history of Wales, you might notice statements such as a liberal and radical tradition of politics, or a classless society. Wales has traditionally been liberal and classless. What goes on in the palaces and houses of London, a city built and funded by an empire, aristocracy, monarchy and democracy of multitudes of tiers, statuses and classes is completely foreign to what the Welsh have ever known. This has never been exported until very recently to Wales. Those who wanted it, went looking for it and ended up in London. Keep reading up on the history of Wales and you might even find nobility being ten-a-penny and not even any different from the other peasants. Quite a contrast to middle England.

    “A sense of pride, represented by the sort of phenomenon that hit Boris Johnson, that results in anger when what I consider to be my home is insulted.”

    This is the ‘patriotism’ I’ve been talking about. It’s a defense of who you are, what you do and what you hold dear.

    “If I was a Lancastrian Nationalist, I reasoned, what would I do to best represent that feeling? How would I convert that feeling into electoral success?”

    Well since you’re concerned in nation building, whatever you feel represents the feeling best, should be your choice. After all politics are being involved and will results in someone making decisions for others, making definitions, inventing traditions and making other things up.

    “The goal would be to make sure that the Lanc Nats would be seen as the “us” in the “us vs them” debate that we would create. The ultimate goal will be to create such a strong Lancastrian sentiment that it would become impossible to ignore, securing seats in the process. Then in power, and Lancastrianness fully ensuring we’ll never get voted out, we can do whatever we like, relying on the populist nationalism we’ve created to create a mandate for whatever we like.”

    What you fail to see is that this ‘us’ and ‘them’ which you talk about hasn’t been defined by nationalism. It has been defined in the nationalistic sense, when someone such as I consider myself Welsh and at the same time someone like Charlotte Church does, even though I speak Welsh, she doesn’t, she’s a professional singer, I’m not, she’s a Cardiffian, I’m not. We will both wave wear a Wales rugby top on match day.

    The other ‘us’ and ‘them’ which you’re more likely to come across in Aberystwyth, is not defined by anyone, it just is. You will get a Welsh speaker and then you will get an English speaker. Your statement about ‘us’ and ‘them’ can be seen as an attack on the Welsh speaker. That he or she is deliberately being different, a rebel, and should give up that ridiculous thing and fit in with the rest of us. It is you who has created this ‘us’ and ‘them’ to alienate those who don’t fit in with your viewpoint. It is a creation so that you may categorise and attack these people who, among them you are an uninvited guest who is quickly outstaying his welcome!

    “Plaid began from a stronger platform than pies and pastries. Thatcher flooding valleys tends to sharpen people’s minds. But the above is, largely speaking, what they have done. A political party has created a debate, exploiting the easiest aspect of people’s minds – their identity. Students of Eastern European nationalism will recognise the signs. The party begins as a defence of identity – it ends with the creation of a block vote.”

    Thatcher flooding valleys? It was a Labour controlled Liverpool council who pushed Tryweryn forward. The fact that all Welsh MPs bar one voted against and one abstained, was the kind of call Welsh nationalism needed to appeal to the masses. What better reason do you need than the need to stop your home from being drowned? In a patriotic sense, this might have only appealed to Welsh speakers, but it appealed to anyone whose home happened to be in a valley, which happens to be almost everyone in Wales. This was an act that everyone in Wales feared and quickly turned from patriotic sympathy, to calls of Welsh autonomy who would have the power to stop such things. Plaid didn’t come into existence to exploit the Welsh population. It came into existence to represent the issues which other parties failed to do and continue to do so.

    “This is Plaid’s true platform. An artificial division between “London” – though I maintain there is no such thing as a unified English identity – and “Us”. To “fit in” in Wales is to follow Plaid’s prescriptive agenda, most notably by forcing people to learn Welsh but also by prescribing a healthy dislike of the opposition, the “English”. They believe they are in the moral right because they have their identity’s best interests at heart.”

    The divide is between attitudes. There is also no such thing as a unified Welsh identity. What people do in Swansea , e.g. eat laverbread, speak with their accent, go to the Labour club are not traits I follow.

    Well there you go. People forced to learn Welsh? Please show me some evidence of this happening. Are you referring to people suggesting you integrate into their community? A community of which you have chosen to join? Is this really forcing anyone to speak Welsh, or does it just happen to that it is Welsh that these people to speak? You fail to realise that you’ve turned up into someone’s community and have the cheek to criticise them for speaking Welsh, being nationalistic and telling them what to think because they dare feel threatened by your obstinacy? You have turned up and make no effort to get along, and you fail to see how these people might see you as a thorn in their potentially harmonious community?

    “I never pretend that my concept of Lancastrianess fits everyone. Plaid think opposite. Plaid deny people the ability to be themselves – it is more important in their minds to be “Plaid Welsh” than be unique. This argument simply does not hold water. And this reveals a nasty truth about what Plaid voters vote into Westminister – a party that hides its political irrelevancy behind the creation of an illusion of “Plaid’s Wales” that is both rhetoric and nostalgic, just to ensure that they keep their jobs.”

    I’m not sure how Plaid Cymru could ever deny people from being themselves – they’re a political party influenced by how individuals wish to be represented. You seem to have a problem in accepting that people wish to be represented in that way and by Plaid Cymru. Plaid’s Wales as opposed to Liberal Democrat’s Wales? What’s clear to me is that your blog post is just like any other attack from one political party to another, and that you are not whiter than white. You just seem to have a different approach which I find quite odd, when the people whose votes your after, are ridiculed for being who they want to be.

    “Plaid’s slogan is “Think Different. Think Plaid.” But in reality, Plaid would rather you not really think – like I’ve been doing – at all.”

    I recall Nick Clegg promising a change of politics. Seems to me that hasn’t happened.

    You may have noticed me referring to the Univeristy of Wales, Aberystwyth. I wonder how the past Welsh speaking people of the area, who generously gave their own money for establishing the University of Wales, would feel knowing that the fruits of their labour was to attract people with attitudes such as yourself.

    P.S. I have no affiliation with Plaid Cymru and never have. It would have ignored this post if it had solely discussed Plaid Cymru, but felt compelled to respond realising it was a wider attack on the peoples of Wales.

  • Jake Roebuck 17th May '10 - 11:17am

    Huw Waters has done a pretty good job there of ripping this to pieces, nice one mate. I’m not Welsh but moved here a couple of years ago. People like Huw Dawson just embarrass themselves, and though many idiots will agree with him, intellectuals and open-minded people who love the world and all its peculiarities will not. Your piece seems to equate a few Plaid Cymru supporters with everything Welsh. I come across such ignorance on an almost daily basis.

    I decided to start learning Welsh and get on with my Welsh brethren, you know why? Because it’s fun. Give it a try, lighten up a bit, you miserable old bigot – the Welsh are great fun and North Walians in particular have some hilarious slang that they’ve been teaching me. I believe in no borders, but that doesn’t mean I view regional languages and cultural differences with disregard, as you obviously do from the self-righteous neo-colonial undertones of your pseudo-throught-provoking “piece”. No politics involved here, this isn’t about Plaid, it’s just about a basic ability to respect people.

    And there we have it, in your responses, the “us and them” thing. Anyone who disagrees with Huw Dawson’s almighty intellect must be a raving Plaid supporter. Well I’m actually a Green party supporter, born and raised in Colchester, but out of the two I’d certainly choose Plaid over Lib Dem. Your precious “intellect” seems to have failed you, my friend, as you are campaigning for an unwieldy institution of free-marketers and corporate apologists. Read the Liberal Democrat ‘Orange Book’ to learn about their subservience to abstract market forces in detail, and please read up on the Nigerian delta murders of the 90s. Your cuddly-faced darling Vince Cable has a few secrets up his sleeve – he worked for Shell petrol THROUGHOUT the 90s while they were busy collaborating in the execution of civil rights activists such as Ken Saro Wiwa. He was the corporation’s chief economist. It was no secret that Shell were doing this in Nigeria. And you think he has the moral authority to govern a country? And you spent your time wafting fart-like complaints around the internet concerning a few Welsh speakers who have irritated you?

    “Plaid would rather you not really think – like I’ve been doing – at all.” Nice pretentious ending there, mate. Your writings are trite, but nothing I write will change you I’m sure. P.s. Nice voting, we now have a Tory government.

  • Ah yes. Yet another frustrated, impressionable youth sucked into the Ceredigion Lib Dem student world of gross misinformation and underhand tactics. Sigh.

    I won’t depress myself by even attempting to address the inacurracies which litter this piece.

    (And I will gladly eat my hat if you’re not in the Interpol department.)

  • Huw, some of the comments you have received might appear unkind, but I advise you to try and read and understand them nonetheless.

    I am a Plaid activist in Clwyd South: our candidate, Chris Allen, is an Englishman born and bred in the West Midlands. He still has the accent.

    Wales is his adopted home and it has adopted him in turn. He was chosen unanimously as the party’s candidate and has received unwavering support from both Welsh speakers from the eastern extremities of Y Fro Gymraeg and English-only speakers from the post-industrial parts of the constituency. He is also committed to the idea of Welsh Independence.

    There is nothing anti-English about Plaid. I advise you to learn more about the motivations of your opponents and avoid monstering them.

  • Dafydd Williams 8th Jun '17 - 3:30pm

    I am sorry to read such misconception of the nature of Plaid Cymru. Plaid Cymru does all in its power to welcome people from all over the world.

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