Yesterday’s post about the EU and structural funding actually goes to the heart of one of the issues which I’ve always found hardest in terms of political philosophy. It also relates to one of the issues which Plaid Cymru has found difficult for decades, and never really got to grips with, as the recent report of the party’s review identified.
What exactly is decentralised socialism? It’s not that there aren’t definitions around, of course there are. It’s more that, in some ways, the two concepts (decentralism and socialism) don’t always mesh together very well. And the reason that I’ve found it difficult is that I consider myself to be both a socialist and a decentralist, and whilst it’s comparatively easy to support both positions in theory, it can be difficult when it comes to specifics.
As a result, to an extent, those of us who advocate decentralist socialism have got away with it for years without really having to put the flesh on the bones. Plaid’s review has recommended doing some work on that – I look forward to seeing it, but suspect that it will be easier to recommend than to achieve.
I remember Phil Williams once saying that decentralised socialism is an oxymoron – socialism requires by its nature a strong central authority to ensure redistribution and fairness. It doesn’t stop at European level either; how are we to achieve global fairness in access to the earth’s resources without strong global institutions?
That need for a strong central redistributive policy is really the reason for supporting the continuation of EU structural funding. It doesn’t make the EU a socialist organisation; far from it. But it’s hard to see how a fully decentralist model works to enable fairness without such supranational structures. And that creates a dichotomy.
The question thrown at myself and others over the years – how can you argue for both devolution and the EU; you’re just swapping one remote central government for an even more remote one – is far from being an unfair one. The answer depends less on what the institutions are than on what powers we cede to each of them.
The problem is that to get where I want to go, I wouldn’t really start from where we are, but if change isn’t going to be sudden and revolutionary, then it is going to be slow and evolutionary, based on where we are now.
In practice, support for devolution to and within a Wales which enjoys full membership of the EU is something of a compromise, and I recognise that. But it’s a compromise which represents progress from where we are now.