Thursday, 26 May 2011

Independence or irrelevance?

Gareth Hughes posts some interesting comments on the post-election analysis being conducted by Plaid, and BlogMenai responds with some counter comments of his own.  I don’t entirely agree with either of them.
I think that Gareth is right to draw attention to the point that a nationalist party whose leadership seems to be afraid of articulating the party’s aims is in deep trouble in an environment where all the other parties have come to support the concept of a legislative parliament which will inevitably increase in power over the coming years and decades.  It’s a point which I’ve made many times before – it’s like taking away the unique proposition.
I’m not sure that I agree with the rest of his analysis though.  The impression that I had was that the SNP sold themselves in the recent election as being very much the best people to run Scotland, much the same as Plaid attempted to do in Wales. 
There were two key differences though.  The first is that the SNP has never been afraid of the I-word; the reason they don’t need to reiterate it all the time is because it’s taken as a given.  And the second is that they had Alex Salmond.  The comparison between Alex and the leaders of the other parties in Scotland worked in a way that a similar comparison in Wales was never going to work.
MH at Syniadau posted an interesting article a few days ago on the situation in the Basque country.  I don’t really like using terms such as left and right; they’re not very helpful on the whole.  In this case, though, it’s hard to avoid without a lot more verbiage.  It looks as though the pro-Independence ‘left’ has finally got its act together and formed an electoral alliance to fight the local and regional elections there.  The result has been that the elections largely became a contest between the pro-Independence ‘left’ and the pro-Independence ‘centre-right’, with the pro-Union ‘left’ and ‘right’ coming off badly as a result.
I’m always cautious about reading across from one country to another; circumstances are very different and there is a limit to the usefulness of any analogy.  But the underlying principle here – that the contest is no longer between unionists and nationalists, but between different flavours of nationalism – is one that has a certain resonance for me.  It’s related to the point I made in a recent article on ClickonWales – it’s a transition from politics based on the relationship between Euskadi and others to a politics which assumes an outcome to that question and starts to debate in more detail what sort of country Euskadi can become.
At one level, it’s a very long way from where we are in Wales; the level of autonomy already achieved, and the level of autonomy taken as read for the next stage of debate, are both very much more advanced than the position in Wales.  But at another level, in a very different political climate, there is a sort of parallel.  Although three of the parties represented in our Assembly are Welsh branches of UK parties, we did, nevertheless, have a Welsh election fought on Welsh manifestos by four parties all of which support the existence of a legislative Welsh parliament, and all of which, albeit with differing degrees of enthusiasm, support the transfer of further powers to that Assembly.
In that climate, I don’t think that BlogMenai is right to say that the choice is to advocate Independence or become irrelevant; I think it’s between advocating Independence and adopting a clear and unique position on the sort of Wales which will emerge from the devolution process.  The problem with the recent election was that Plaid attempted to avoid doing either of those things, and became indistinguishable from the rest as a result.
There’s nothing wrong with moving to a position where Welsh politics becomes more normalised in a ‘left-right’ debate about the sort of Wales which we want to see, based on an underlying assumption that gradual increases in the level of autonomy are now inevitable.  Indeed, that would be a maturing of Welsh national politics.  Personally, I think it’s a premature move, but it seems pretty much inevitable in the absence of a party campaigning strongly on the constitutional question. 
But if that is where we are going, the idea that one of the parties competing in that arena can somehow manage to contain views from across the whole political spectrum starts to look untenable.  The only possible outcome from that is a failure to offer a clear and coherent alternative narrative – and that absence of a clear and distinct political position is what would lead to irrelevance.


Anonymous said...

I'd guess too that there is a constuency of Bildu voters who weren't particularly 'socialist' but were glad to vote for a strong nationalist party.

There may have also been a vote by people who weren't particularly nationalist but were attracted by Bildu's stronger socialist fighting spirit.

Anonymous said...

Agree that Plaid must make it more clear the kind of country it wants Wales to become. Quite apart from the pool of talent among the representatives at various levels, there are some extremely bright people in the higher echelons of the party who are not elected to public office(people like Dafydd Trystan, Gwenllian Lansdowne, Myfanwy Davies etc.) Surely it should therefore be possible to develop a coherent and dynamic vision - or is it a problem primarily of presentation?

By the way, the suggestion that the Basque abertzale movement (leftist nationalist) has somehow 'finally got its act together' ignores the more pertinent fact that, in its current rather loose form (it was thrown together in a very short space of time as a reaction to the illegalization of Bildu a couple of months ago), it was finally allowed to actually stand after years of being repeatedly thwarted from doing so in its various guises by the Spanish legal system. The elections therefore took place in a climate not only of general hostility towards the PSOE central government in
Madrid but also a sense of outrage at the illegalization of Bildu and the systemsatic rolling back of the nationalist 'project' by the(second placed) Basque branch of the PSOE who run the Euskadi Parliament with the help of the right wing and extremely unionist PP.

It is also important to remember that for the abertzale movement, though not totally homogeneous, its leftist position is as integral to it as its nationalist, or more specifically (in a Spanish context)'independista' i.e. pro-independence credentials.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that should read "... the illegalization of SORTU a couple of months ago". It's confusing enough as it is without getting the names wrong!

SORTU was a new leftist-nationalist that was launched in the new year and promptly deemed illegal by the courts.

Angela EL said...

Economics Unmasked by Phillip B. Smith and Manfred Max-Neef new Book you will enjoy John

Cai Larsen said...

I think that the point I'm making is this John - if Plaid have independence as one of it's main policies, it must be articulated & a proper case should be made for it.

The present position of having independence as a policy that isn't mentioned in polite circles undermines our position.

It's of course possible to have a USP that doesn't involve independence, but if independence is a policy, it should be treated as any other policy.

John Dixon said...


I don't think that there's much difference between us on that at all.

Anonymous said...

If Plaid discuss independence, which it should, it should debate the whole thing, and that includes armed forces. Raising this issue in the past has brought people out in a rash, the assumption being, if you were to discuss it then you're a militaristic crazed meglomaniac.

It's not the main thing to discuss, but if Plaid are serious about an independent Wales then it must be discussed. If it's not then candidates like Bethan Jenkins get to look a bit soft when the press raise the issue.

Anonymous said...

The reluctance of the party to be straight on independence is verging on the pathological. Take the section on the Plaid website on "Our national future", under the "Our vision" tab:
No mention of the "i" word. There is a link under "Our vision" to Adam Price's "Independence initiative" site but it must be two years since anything was added to that and it was the work of Price rather than the party.

John Dixon said...

Anon 12:37,

"If Plaid discuss independence, which it should, it should debate the whole thing, and that includes armed forces."

Completely agree that anyone serious about arguing for Welsh Independence has to be prepared to discuss any and all issues, and that must include armed forces. The fear of such discussions is fairly recent; I can remember discussions on this in Plaid conferences in the 1970s.

Anonymous said...

The elephant in the room though is that independence is not popular. It could become popular if the arguments are made, if it is campaigned for/normalised, and if conditions inside the UK and Europe become favourable. But as a short-term electoral fix, independence would be more likely to lose votes than gain votes. Seeing as Plaid's review was triggered by an electoral reversal, it is surprising that their activists (as you can more or less tell from the internet) are clamouring for independence to be stressed- this will directly impact on elections in the short-term. I fully agree with pushing independence but it won't be an electoral fix in the short-term. Expectations would have to be managed more realistically.

The real electoral fix would be to publicly adopt a position of a strong Wales within a federal UK. Many would disagree, some would leave the party. But electorally it would be the most viable constitutional proposition of any party in Wales, and would be where Welsh public opinion is located according to most polls.

Plaid could easily moderate or change all kinds of their policies and views to try and win elections. The big decision is do they want to do that, or do they want to recognise that they are a party of national liberation rather than just a Welsh flavoured version of the existing British parties.

John Dixon said...


I think that your comments about independence as an 'electoral fix' are spot-on. It isn't a fix for the problems of a poor electoral performance, and can never be such a fix (unless, of course, the electorate are already convinced that Independence is the right answer).

Your final paragraph is key - it's about deciding what it is that Plaid is trying to achieve. And fundamental to that is to recognise that the aims which propelled most members to join the party are not the objectives being pursued by the party's leadership; but that mismatch has not been spelled out clearly.