Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Learning the right lesson

In response to the Welsh results in the European elections, the UKIP lead candidate suggested that the result proves that Wales is as Euro-sceptic as England.  I’m not sure that it proves any such thing.  I don’t actually disagree with the assertion that the difference between England and Wales on the EU is very small (indeed, I’ve posted on that previously); I just don’t think that this particular election result tells us much about opinion on Europe.
It probably does tell us something which I find much more worrying than people having a different opinion on the EU, and that is that people in Wales are as likely as people in England to vote for a party which sees immigration as the root of almost all evil; the EU is merely the instrument which they blame for immigration.  Immigration was the issue on which they actually led, not the EU.  And that similarity of opinion was being expressed across Wales, even though actual recent experience of immigration (from outside the UK at least) is minimal in much of Wales.  Indeed, previous waves of immigration into Wales (again, from outside the UK at least) have largely been well assimilated; yet still this hostility to more is visible across the nation.
It’s tempting to interpret the UKIP vote as being a result of English in-migration into Wales, and I’d be surprised if that isn’t at least a factor.  Dafydd Iwan got into hot water a few years ago by suggesting that there were English people who’d moved to Wales to escape multiculturalism in England.  His remarks were labelled unacceptable by the Labour Party, but he was just reporting what many doorstep canvassers will be well aware of.  I remember one English in-migrant telling me that he’d moved to Wales ‘to be amongst my own people’, without realising for one moment how that might sound to anyone who sees themselves as Welsh rather than English or British.
But an occasional piece of individual anecdotal evidence is not enough to blame the thousands collectively, and given the high level of support for UKIP in parts of Wales where it is hard to imagine that there has been a significant level of in-migration from England, I find it impossible to avoid the conclusion that this hostility to immigrants (which usually excludes those from elsewhere in the UK) is as prevalent amongst Welsh people as it is amongst English people.  Sometimes we see differences in opinion because we want to see them rather than because they are real.
And that is perhaps the more important lesson from UKIP’s success in Wales.  The assumptions we make about Welsh opinion are no longer valid, even if they were in the past.
Some of our political class have spent a lot of time and energy theorising over the potential constitutional crisis which might arise if Wales were to vote to stay in the EU whilst England voted to withdraw.  That time might have been better spent trying to persuade people in Wales to take that different view rather than merely assuming that they would follow the politicians’ lead.  Similarly, theorising about who voted for UKIP, or even worse, trying to attract those same voters by demonstrating a tough attitude to immigration, might be better replaced by countering the underlying prejudice.


G Horton-Jones said...

This was a well media led mid term protest vote. At the end of the day the anti Europeans in the Conservative Party will feel that they have won a victory In the event of an actual vote it is very doubtful that an out of Europe ticket will win. Lets not forget that this is about Anglophiles wanting to return to an England before the Common Market and before the
European Parliament It has been a way of diverting attention away from the Scottish vote in a few months time and the general move towards greater devolution and regionalisation within England

Anonymous said...

I agree, where is the leadership at a UK or welsh level coming from to take UKIP head on and win the argument.

David Cameron is trying to woo UKIP and its voters, Nick Clegg is a busted flush and the less said about Ed Milliband the better.

Carwyn Jones and Welsh labour are desperately trying to convince themselves this was nothing more than a few disgruntled Labour folk giving them a kicking and nothing to do with immigration, Leanne Wood attacked them as unwelsh which almost proved fatal for Plaid Cymru, Kristy Williams is losing credibility sticking up for Nick Clegg and Andrew RT Davies can't score in an open net against Carwyn Jones for Christ sake, yet we're relying on these people to stop the rise of the far right, it's truly depressing and frightening.