Monday, 24 October 2011

Trailing Scotland

The momentum behind the SNP’s drive towards Scottish independence shows no sign of flagging any time soon.  Quite the reverse, it seems to be growing.  And the gulf between what is happening in Scotland and what is happening in Wales is large and increasing.
Wales isn’t Scotland of course.  At times in the 60s and 70s it seemed that the progress of the two nations was on parallel paths, but the reality was that Scotland always started ahead, because of the different nature of the relationship with the rest of the UK, and the continued existence of national institutions north of the border where the equivalent institutions in Wales were organised on an EnglandandWales basis.
And whilst it’s important not to overstate the influence of individual personalities on politics, having a leader who not only believes in the aims of his party but also has the confidence and ability to articulate them with conviction has given the SNP a huge advantage over the other parties in Scottish elections.
I don’t know whether the Scots will actually vote for independence at the end of it, although I have a feeling that it will be a two-stage process – devo-max now, and independence at some point down the line.  The drive towards independence is being ably assisted by a divided opposition, which seems unable to put together any coherent positive argument for the union.  And doesn’t even seem to want to try – but believing that your case is so obvious and overwhelming that it doesn’t even need to be put looks to me like a losing strategy.
In that respect – the lack of a coherent argument for continuing the union – there is still a parallel in Wales.  With support for the independence option languishing at a low level, and the case for independence rarely being made, one could excuse the unionists here for thinking that there is no urgency to fill the gap.  That would be a mistake though; although the support for Scottish independence is now in the ascendant, it’s not that long ago that it, too, was at quite a low level.
Today’s letter in the Western Mail (available by scrolling down here) from David Melding shows that one defender of the union, at least, recognises the danger.  Not for the first time, he proposes a formal federal constitution as a means of preserving the idea of a United Kingdom whilst also strengthening the devolved bodies within the union.  I think he’s probably right; if I wanted to put forward the option most likely to preserve the union at this point, federalism is what I’d push, too.
He also, at least – and unusually for a Conservative – recognises that sovereignty belongs to the people, and if they decide to exercise it, then that is their right.  It puts him ahead of some others, who seem to believe that the people of England and Wales have some sort of a right to a veto on what Scotland decides.
But his plan will only work, as he identifies, if those in favour of the union come together and unite around it.  And that’s where his argument falls down.  His letter was in response to an article last week by Mick Antoniw, which Melding describes as ‘thoughtful’.  That wasn’t exactly my take on it.  I thought that it started out with too much stereotyping, more of an attempt to bash political opponents than engage in the more mature type of political discourse which is typical of Melding himself.  And it was more of a rallying call to the Labour Party than anything else.
The idea that the unionist parties can ever come together to agree a common response to developments seems to me to be unlikely for as long as they believe that they can individually gain more electorally by simply being negative.  David Melding seems to be one of the few who believe that politics ought actually to debate substance rather than merely score points and pursue power.  That makes him something of a lone voice on the unionist side; and the fact that he is so unusual hands the potential to the nationalist side to win the argument.
What Alex Salmond and the SNP have shown is that a political movement which seeks and exercises power can still, if it has the will, the ability, the imagination, and the confidence, articulate a wider vision and win people over to supporting that vision.  Vision and pragmatism don’t have to be alternatives; they can co-exist.  It's a lesson we need to relearn in Wales.


Britnot said...

Scotland and Wales are at different stages of their march towards independence of that there is no doubt. But it is also true that the SNP have never compromised on their "end-game" message. There should be no ambiguity about what our end-game is and we should be consistent in the way that argument is articulated.

As you have eloquently argued in the past we can either behave like the unionist parties and just tell people what we think they want to hear or stick to long held principles we believe in and seek to convince the electorate as to the validity of those beliefs.

It is a lot easier to be like Labour and jettison long held beliefs than to convince a apathetic electorate of the validity of your beliefs. But lets not forget how quickly attitudes towards independence have changed in Scotland. In this instance for "Wales see Scotland" may not be out of the realms of possibility.

Spirit of BME said...

This word Union is a funny thing. We have tonight these ghastly Tories who want nothing to do with European Union and are seeking Independence, but will defend to the death the British Union and will deny Scotland and Wales their Independence.
They make their case that they do not like being run by body that is outside their country – I feel their pain, as it’s been our curse for centuries.

Anonymous said...

does Wales have a border with Scotland? I hadn't noticed. It must be somewhere around Amlwch for Scotland to be "north of the border" or do you mean "north of the border with England"

kind of a bit like Snowdon being in both England and Wales at the same time!

John Dixon said...


It's a fair cop. Sloppy use of language by me.

Jeff Jones said...

I read the Antoniw article and came to the same conclusion as you John. It really didn't say very much and posed more questions than answers. His idea that there should be another Royal Commission again reflects the fact that the Labour Party never really thought through the consequences of devolution even though of all the UK political parties it had probably the most to lose. Labour's poblem in Scotland is not that most Scotish voters want independence. It is basically that they don't see the difference between the SNP and Labour in terms of policies. The main issue in May therefore revolved around competence and who should run Scotland. Labour at the moment just doesn't have the personality to match Salmond. In fact it would have been interested to see what sort of result there would have been if Swinney had been leading the SNP. The trick for Labour as some in Scotland are now realising is to go for devo max. Giving the devolved administrations tax raising powers and cutting the grant from the UK Treasury might lead to a crisis in the public sector in the short term but it will also lead to the idea of the excuses culture and a more mature approach to politics. I was ,however , amused by Antoniw's praise for the majority Kilbrandon recommendations which included a Senate of 100 members elcted by PR for Wales and a reduction in the number of Welsh MPs to 31!

Anonymous said...

"In fact it would have been interested to see what sort of result there would have been if Swinney had been leading the SNP."

Good point from Jeff Jones. When Swinney led the SNP they lost about 100,000 votes, mostly to Labour, the Greens and the SSP. Salmond returning and the timely collapse of the SNP changed the game, although crucially Salmond didn't squander any of the work Swinney had done. Swinney himself now looks alot more comfortable as well.

Wales is not awaiting independence. But a proportional parliament of 100 AMs, with fair fiscal powers, would be a significant step forward and would probably mark an equal relationship between England and Wales in the remaining UK.

At that moment we might then see post-nationalism really kicking in in Plaid Cymru, particularly if Labour in Wales took up cultural demands in earnest. There would then probably be a broad Welsh social democratic post-nationalist party or convergence- Dafydd El would easily be at home in a genuinely Welsh version of Labour as long as it was green and cultural, and then there would be a much smaller grouping ploughing the independence furrow from a strange mixture of far-left and traditionalist/y fro Cymraeg positions.

This story or a variation of it has happened in some other regions/nations in Europe.

Where that would leave Labour on the Westminster stage is less clear.