My answer depends partly on whether one sees independence as an end in itself or as just a means to an end, and partly on the importance of process as well as outcomes. Those two factors together help to explain why I’ve sometimes referred to myself as an accidental nationalist.
There are certainly many nationalists who see independence as an end in itself, which simply involves transferring power from one set of institutions and politicians to another set of institutions and politicians, based on a different set of territorial boundaries. The basic processes remain the same; power is exercised at the centre by an elected government. Cardiff is Westminster writ small.
It’s a conventional and unimaginative approach, which simply replicates the same resistance and obstacles to change in a different place. And if that is all that there is to independence, then I’d find it impossible to argue that it should be any sort of priority over the bread-and-butter issues which I referred to above.
But some of us believe that the Westminster model is an irreparably broken system; it’s unamenable to reform, it works for the interests of the few rather than the many – economically, socially, and geographically – and is a barrier to the sort of change which would fully address those bread-and-butter issues. It’s also an inherent barrier to participation rather than a means of facilitating it. It’s part of a world order which sees big as being good, and power as theirs to exercise. In that context, independence isn’t just about institutions; it’s about establishing a process which can facilitate more fundamental change.
My purpose in advocating independence is not simply to replace one bunch of politicians with another, but to change the way things work much more fundamentally; to put power back in the hands of the people where it belongs and for people to be more directly involved in the process of running their society. Self-government means more than transferring power from one institution to another; it’s about ‘self’ government in a much wider sense for people and communities.
And that’s where my second emphasis comes into play. Process is important. The sort of independence that I want to see won’t come about by electing politicians to make laws; it will come about because people are convinced that it’s the right thing for their future. It will be achieved by people rather than done to them.
One of the most exhilarating aspects of the Scottish campaign leading up to September’s referendum was the increasing level of direct involvement of people who had never engaged in political activity before, largely outside the party political system. Whilst I’m delighted with the subsequent electoral success of the SNP, I know that I’m not alone in worrying about the danger that all that new energy ends up being channelled back into a more conventional type of party-based politics for the long term, rather than simply using conventional politics as a short term instrument.
In Wales, we can only dream about the sort of movement which built up so much steam in Scotland last year – seeing the Welsh equivalent being put back in the box is the least of our worries. And my underlying point in a series of recent posts has been that telling people that even the replacement of one institution with another – let alone changing the nature of the institution – is impossible for the foreseeable future is a remarkably ineffective way of laying the groundwork for that much wider programme of change.
The process of getting from where we are to where we want to be is not the property of any politician or party; it belongs to all of us. The mere election of people to an institution is an abdication, rather than an exercise, of people power. The job of any politician who really wants meaningful change is to lead and inspire the people to demand it, not just to seek election to office which they can use to impose rather more limited change by passing laws.
As we saw in Scotland last year, a real campaign for independence is as much about process as outcome – actually, maybe even more so. That point needs to be better understood in Wales.