Wednesday 18 August 2010

Slippery slopes and scared horses

It's clear that one of the main arguments likely to be deployed by the 'no' camp in next year's referendum will be that any further devolutionary changes are another step down the "slippery slope" to Independence. It's nonsense of course; Independence will only come if and when the people of Wales vote for it. And whilst some slopes might well be slippery, that only makes things harder if you're trying to climb up them. From where I sit, the road to Independence looks like a long hard uphill slog; slippery is the last thing I need.

The 'slippery slope' argument always causes a particular problem to Plaid though, because if a party that openly says it wants to see an independent Wales supports further devolution of powers, it's easy for opponents to interpret that as meaning that we see it as a step towards Independence. Would that life were so simple; but the result is that we sometimes become afraid to say what we think for fear of scaring the horses. The real problem should be for the other parties, not Plaid.

The Lib Dems' official policy, as I understand it, is for a federal UK. It's not something that they talk about often, nor as far as I am aware have they done much to define what it actually means, but it's a credible and logical end-point for unionists to aim at. It isn't independence though.

The Conservatives at heart remain deeply sceptical about the whole process, and I suspect that most of them would like to roll back what has happened. Those who support further devolution seem to be reluctant converts - accepting that abolition is not an option, but that the current situation is inherently unstable and inefficient.

The end point from that perspective is probably best summed up as being the 'minimum that we can get away with', although apart from a few more thoughtful Tories like David Melding, they haven't really attempted to work out what that actually means. They are more interested in reaching a point which stems further movement than promotes it; and to suggest that they are supporting another step down that infamous slope is clearly a nonsense.

And then we come to the Labour Party. Hopelessly split between those who believe that a stable devolutionary settlement is the best way to prevent Wales choosing independence, and those who actually promulgate the slippery slope argument. With a dose of 'what's best for the Labour Party?' thrown in for good measure. The result is that their approach to any particular proposal often looks to be more opportunistic than principled. On both sides of the argument.

Against that background, it's easy to see why some think Plaid should be cautious. But I don't believe that Plaid should ever be afraid to say what we think, honestly and openly. And that is that we believe the best interests of Wales will be served by Wales becoming an independent member of the EU, that getting there will be a gradual process, and that we will in the interim support any and every proposal for further devolution of power. Not so much because it takes us towards our end position, but because we believe that it is right for Wales to take as many of her own decisions as possible.

The problem with the slippery slope argument is not that one party is absolutely clear about the end game it wants to see for Wales; it's more that the other three are utterly unclear. Devolution is not the same thing as Independence and one does not necessarily lead to the other, but if devolution is a process not an event, and most of the participants are unable or unwilling to say where that process leads, then they hand ammunition to the opponents of devolution.

It's time for the other parties to be as clear as Plaid has long been. Then we can put the slippery slope nonsense into its proper context.


Unknown said...

"But I don't believe that Plaid should ever be afraid to say what we think, honestly and openly. And that is that we believe the best interests of Wales will be served by Wales becoming an independent member of the EU"

Plaid should fearlessly strive for independence and make a firm stand, make its position clear and take every opportunity to promote the cause of independence in c0-ordination with the SNP.

Anonymous said...

Its not so much a slippery slope as a concrete path as far as I can see.
It's as you say, people even in Plaid seem afraid to say let Wales stand on its own two feet.Isnt that what being independant is
Why are the Welsh so afraid of that.
I smile when I see little Faro Island lobby for Independance and we here in Wales want to stay in our nest.
Time to fly may be would be a more paliatable phrase.

Plaid Panteg said...

A very perceptive post.

I have never understood why any of the unionist have not be forthcoming on this issue. My sense is that all three of them are largely settled on Scottish style devolution, if by consent or healthy amount of realpolitik and/or resignation.

Never underestimate the ability for AMs of all parties to want to feather their own nest with more power/responsibility.

My dissapointment is that Plaid have sometimes been less than willing to talk about independence. Hopefully that can be rectified in due course.

Soirit of BME said...

Being in Plaid ,devolution is not my bag. Government by kind permission of HMG in London is not what Plaid Cymru was created for, but it does give fat jobs to a few select Plaid members.
Plaid did in the 1930`s discuss Dominion status ,but that was when the English Empire was going full steam and the 1922 settlement in Ireland had just been put in place.As a Plaid member if the question was, should Wales get more powers (by kind permission of the English Parliament) my vote would be a very firm NO.- It`s time for Wales to move on from English rule.

John Dixon said...

Soirit (sic),

"is not what Plaid Cymru was created for"

And on that we can agree. But, in a phrase which originated in America, "when you're up to your waist in alligators, it's sometimes difficult to remember that your original objective was to drain the swamp".

We just need to do more to remember what it is that we're about.

Spirit of BME said...

On the swamp theme, can I just add words by Winston S.Churchill - dreadful man.

" an appeaser is a man who feeds a crocodile -hoping it will eat him last."

Anonymous said...

im afraid in taking such a fundamentalist position 'Soirit of BME' appears to be making the same mistake a few other 'purists' have made over the devolution question.

They are the sort of people who sat on the sidelines when wales was fighting for its life in 1997 because they didnt like what was being offered..and i presume some of them will sadly do so again because they do not like what is on offer when the referendum on primary lawmaking powers is staged next march?

The fact is if the yes side had lost the vote in 1997 no one would have come along and said "oh well the welsh have rejected an assembly what they really want is a lawmaking parliammnet along scottish lines"..a no vote in 97 would have killed off even the limited degree of devolution we currently have for probably 20 years.

Similarly if the vote on lawmaking powers is lost next march no one is going to come along and say "oh well what the welsh want is independence". If we cannot win a referendum on what is being offered next march it would likely be many years before any changes would be proposed to even the current devolution settlement.

So i very much hope Soirit of BME and anyone else who thinks as he does will vote yes in next years referendum...further it should be added that this vote is not taking place as the result of the "kind permission" of any english parliament as the request for the referendum on primary lawmaking powers came from democratically elected welsh politicians at our own assembly.

And if the referendum is won it will mean we will be able to make our own laws in wales for the first time in 600 years - i really cant think of any greater incentive for supporters of plaid cymru to both vote yes and to campaign for a yes vote in the referendum next year.

Leigh Richards

Unknown said...

I'm afraid I have a problem with the word INDEPENDENCE - it was appropriate at one time, but in these days of Global interdependence, only nations such as Burma and North Korea are in any real way independent. No wonder it frightens the horses if it appears to put us in that company!

Self determination - in effect the same thing as modern independence - is better, and more conciliatory language, without the negative connotations.

Personally, even though I am a staunc republican, I would accept the status of Crown Dependency - Equivalent to Mannaw and Jersey - as an interim step to a Welsh republic. It would be very difficult for the gainsayers to argue against that without questioning the legitimacy of the governance of those other parts of the British Isles!

My point is that the use of language is very important, and increasingly so in 'soundbite Britain' - so we should choose our words very carefully in order to achieve our aims even more quickly.

John Dixon said...


Fighting yesterday's battles, I'm afraid. Plaid spent many years trying to avoid the use of the word - for exactly the reasons you outline. It culminated in an unfortunate and pretty disastrous interview in which Dafydd Wigley ended up trying to say that Plaid had never called for Independence.

He was sort of right, of course; we'd always referred to self-government, or full national status, or whatever rather than independence. But it was a semantic argument rather than a substantive one.

"Independence" is the term currently recognised worldwide to describe the status of countries like Ireland, Denmark etc. We can argue that it's an inaccurate term (and I'd agree), but it's impossible to insist that the rest of the world agrees with, and uses, our definition of words. And, on that basis, we finally accepted the inevitable.

Unknown said...

John - I remember that period well, and in my oppion, we made a totall mess of it. Dafydd W, usually so sure footed, lost his balance, on that ocasion. And the party did lose soe credibility - I grant you.

I think my concern is that we in Plaid can be very hamfisted in our use of language when what we have is a very reasonable proposition that many people reject out of hand, exactly because we use language that alienates them before they have grasped the proposition!

John Dixon said...

"we in Plaid can be very hamfisted in our use of language"

Almost agree with you on that. Getting hung up on terminology is a problem to us. But being pedantic about the meaning of words can be just as bad.

What we really need to be doing is selling a concept.

Anonymous said...

My position is clear - I want Wales to be an independent sovereign state - if we choose to share some of that sovereignty with bodies such as EU, NATO etc then that is a decsion that we should be free to make.

I voted No in 1979 because what was on offer was a joke. In hindsight that was the wrong decision and I will not make the same mistake again. Every step forward towards independence is a positive step forward no matter how small. And as John says - every step is an uphill one and we need to make sure that we have a secure footing before pressing on.


Peter Freeman said...

Since living in America, some 20 years now, and following the news and commentaries, I'm constantly amazed at the same old arguments being resurrected and thrashed out.
The argument over Independence is a classic example. Trying to be pedantic and watering down what Plaid truly stands for at the grass roots level is not only dishonest, but self defeating. No one gets elected without the support of the canvassers and the supporters on the streets. The overwhelming majority of the "get out the vote" people are not led by academic reasoning, that's what we do on blogs and letters to the editor, academic reasoning and sound argument we have. What gets us up on our feet to work through a constituency is a vision, a dream. That dream is still "Cymru Rhydd, Cymru Cymraeg"
I'm not saying anything that wasn't said 30 years ago. In 1976 an SNP MP I don't remember his name, was giving a group of Americans a tour of the Houses of Parliament. It was the year of America's Bi-centennial. He said, as best as I remember, "So you are here to celebrate your countries 200 years of Devolution?" to which one of them replied, "Not devolution, Independence"
"That's the slogan I've been looking for" said the MP.