Wednesday 13 May 2015

The road to independence

When I first joined Plaid Cymru, back in 1971, the plan seemed to be fairly clear.  ‘All’ that we needed to do was win a majority of votes and seats in a General Election and Wales would become a self-governing nation (the word ‘independence’ being taboo back then, although ‘self-government’ effectively meant the same thing).  How the one would lead to the other was rather less well-defined; the more revolutionary elements talked of withdrawing from Westminster and setting up a Welsh parliament, whilst the more level-headed talked of a mandate for opening negotiations.
It wasn’t the most brilliant or well thought-through of plans (and there was no plan B).  But given how far away from the elusive majority the party was, it was as good as it needed to be.  And the core of it was that independence would come about by majority will of the Welsh people expressed through the ballot box by voting for a party which proposed self-government.  As we’ve seen this year in Scotland, even winning all, or nearly all, of the seats does not, in itself, give a mandate for independence, unless independence is a core element of the proposition put to the electors by the winning party; but the idea that independence – in whatever words were chosen to describe it – wasn’t core to the election appeal would have been a very strange one to most of us back in the 1970s.
The establishment of the Assembly in 1999 opened the possibility of there being a plan B.  Having a democratically elected all-Wales body meant that a more gradualist approach was possible through the accretion over time of more powers to an existing institution.  It was what Kinnock and others referred to as the slippery slope to independence, of course.  I’m not sure that I ever really disagreed with the idea that the slope was a slippery one; my disagreement was more about where on the slope we were standing and which way we were trying to move.  For them, we were at the top facing an easy slide downwards; for me we were close to the bottom, trying to push a heavy load up.  The slope was still just as slippery.
The point is that adding power to an existing body is easier to do, in principle, than establishing that body in the first place, but it still requires the consent of the people.  And, if my memory of history is broadly correct, as a general rule the route to independence of former colonies (where it wasn’t a violent one) was usually by the assumption of more power by a pre-existing body – either with or without the prior consent of the colonial power.
In Scotland, the SNP has fought Scottish parliamentary elections on a very clear platform of calling a referendum on independence.  They couldn’t call the referendum after the 2007 election because they were a minority government and there was a parliamentary majority against holding a referendum of the sort.  But given a clear overall parliamentary majority for a referendum following the 2011 election, the road was open for the vote which was held last year.  And the result was better than many would have anticipated at the time of the 2007 election.
What happens next is yet to be seen.  Nicola Sturgeon has been quite clear that a further referendum will happen if, and only if, the Scottish people vote into power a majority in the Scottish parliament committed to holding one.  And at this stage, it’s far from certain that the SNP manifesto for 2016 will include such a commitment.  Even if it does, it is likely to be predicated on a condition that there has to be some significant change first (such as an English vote to leave the EU whilst the Scots vote to stay).  I think she’s right to be cautious – rushing into, and potentially losing, a second referendum in such short order would be a bigger setback than waiting a little longer and winning.  But I remain convinced that it is now only a matter of timing.
Where does that leave Wales?  Plaid has had no such commitment to a referendum in its Assembly manifestos to date.  Even if the party had won a majority and formed the government after any election to the Assembly, it would have had no mandate to call for a referendum.  And it seems unlikely to me that the party will be including such a commitment in its manifesto for next year’s election either; indeed, the party’s current position, as I understand it, is that Wales is too poor even to consider the question at this stage, and that it should remain a distant aspiration.
The process by which we become sufficiently unpoor for that to change is as unclear as the criteria which are to be used to judge whether our degree of poorness has been sufficiently reduced.  The judgement as to when we will become sufficiently unpoor looks as arbitrary as the decision to announce that we are currently too poor.  I find it hard to escape the conclusion that the argument for independence will not be put unless it has already been won; we won’t be offered an independence referendum by any party until we’ve already declared through the ballot box that we want it.  It’s a bit of a Catch 22.
Coupled with the wholly foreseeable reluctance of the most unionist party of all (which is celebrating an increase in support in Wales in last week’s election), we seem to be condemned to an even more gradualist approach.  I don’t doubt that we will hear loud complaints in the months to come about Wales only being given the crumbs when it comes to new powers, but if all we ask for is crumbs why should we expect more?


Anonymous said...

Dadansoddiad meistrolgar. Tybiaf fod diffyg gweledigaeth a pholisi cyfansoddiadol clir wedi bod yn gamgymeriad mawr yn ymgyrch yr etholiad cyffredinol - roedd Plaid Cymru yn ymddangos fel 'Labour lite' ys dywedodd Nicola Sturgeon (er ei bod yn rhaid dweud nad cyfeirio at y Blaid yr oedd).

Hywelap said...

Gwych John

Anonymous said...

Is Plaid Cymru asking for crumbs though? I thought it asked for parity of powers with Scotland. Such a settlement would bestow upon Wales as an actual political nationhood and quasi-state. Not crumbs.

I'm under no illusion however that there is a strong demand for such powers. Support for them is latent and passive. Which might go some way to explaining some of the issues your post gets at.

Chris Paul said...

Hi John- I think one metric for Wales asking for independence is when its GDP per capita is close enough to public spending per capita to be managed with a deficit. It is way off right now- building that kind of prosperity within Plaid's constitutional framework of decentred socialism. To that extent Plaid would cease to be the party that wants wales to be independent- but the party that wants Wales to be strong enough to be independent if the Welsh people want it. 'Core message: we are 100% committed to making Wales as prosperous as the rest of the UK and Europe- and if you can't do that fairly, so the people don't get exploited, then it isn't worth doing at all.'

Draig said...

Of course it doesn't help when Plaid at least openly espouse Independence as a constitutional aim, and yet continue sending members to the House of the SNP do that?

Anonymous said...

It's too late. Wales has passed a tipping point as a nation.

Carwyn and Labour's feeble, appeasing to Westminster has damaged social democracy and devolution (in their broadest, non partisan forms) for ever.

People with associate that with Plaid.

The alternative for people will be right wing populism and conservatism.

The contrast with Scotland were a positive, confident social democracy which challenged Wm is stark. UKIP lost every deposit in Scotland.

I'm afraid we'll look pack at 1999 - 2015 as the period when Wales had a change to be a nation state and revive the Welsh language but, because of Labour control, lost it.

It will never come again. The idea o Welsh nationality has now been associated with failure as has devolution.

People are scared by independence because devolution hasn't been a great success - it hasn't even been a success for the Welsh language as we see today! So, that dream or vehicle for change has been sullied ... although the main advocates of it (Plaid Cymru) never had the opportunity to put it into practice.

The Scots will vote for independence in 2023. They will vote yes. But we'll be submerged into England.

It's over. We're wasting our time and lives fretting over Wales.


John Dixon said...

Draig - no they don't - but I'm not sure how that is relevant in this context.


"...when its GDP per capita is close enough to public spending per capita to be managed with a deficit." I suspect that you mean tax revenue rather than GDP here; otherwise, the implication is that the whole of GDP goes on public expenditure. It's certainly an option for a criterion, but it doesn't take us much further forward. "Close enough" is impossible to define objectively; it still boils down to subjective opinion. And whilst an increase in GDP may be the best way of increasing tax revenue, it isn't the only way.

I'm not sure that I understand what you're driving at when you say that "... if you can't do that fairly, so the people don't get exploited, then it isn't worth doing at all". It sounds like you're arguing against Wales becoming more prosperous at all if it can't be done fairly. Whilst I'd agree with you that it needs to be done fairly, I'm not sure that I'd reject absolutely an increase in prosperity on any other terms. After all, once the prosperity exists, it is at least theoretically possible to redistribute it at a later date.

John Dixon said...


And I thought that I was being gloomy! Your predictions may turn out to be right; only time will tell. But I don't believe that is the only possible future for us. The question isn't whether there are alternatives, but how we realise them. It won't be by carrying on in the same way and expecting a different outcome.

Draig said...

Plaid Cymru has two senior figures - Dafydd Wigley and Dafydd Elis Thomas - both in the House of Lords.

How can a political party argue for Independence from the British State - and yet send senior figures to a feudal relic like the House of Lords? It just goes to show that Plaid haven't thought it through and sends out totally contradictory signals.

Compare and contrast with the SNP's stance - they have attacked the Lords as part of the "crony culture" created by the Westminster Establishment.

John Dixon said...


As a point of fact, Plaid has sent only one person to the Lords - the other went of his own accord and has never (unless things have changed recently) claimed to be representing Plaid in that chamber.

"How can a political party argue for Independence from the British State - and yet send senior figures to a feudal relic like the House of Lords?" is an entirely valid debating point; but "How can a political party argue for Independence from the British State - and yet send senior figures to such an unrepresentative body as the House of Commons?" would also be a valid point. Parties seeking independence take decisions over whether (cf Sinn Fein) or to what extent (Plaid and the SNP) they are going to engage with the institutions of the state from which they wish to withdraw. It's a point on which there is plenty of scope for disagreement, but any engagement has the effect of legitimising, to an extent, those institutions.

But to return to my earlier point - I'm still not sure how that is relevant to the question under debate here which is about what we are, or are not, asking for as a nation.

Anonymous said...

John - I'm nit sure pushing or advocating indepdence would have worked in Wales.

In Scotland independence was essentially what the Welsh language is in Wales. Central to the SNP but also divisive. The SNP didn't have to think of the language issue but if it didn't have a clear aim then it ceased to exist.

For many, the revival of Welsh is a clear aim for Plaid without it it would cease to exist.

Wales (and Plaid) also spent decades building and creating a Welsh nationality where that was already in place in Scotland. As the language isn't an issue in Scotland you could argue that constitutional independence was the only thing 'missing' or rather, the constitution is to the Scots what the language is to Wales.

Advocating independence and the language in Wales (starting from such a low base unlike in the Basque Country) for Wales and Plaid would have meant promoting not one but 2 heretical (in banal British nationalist terms) agenda. I'm guessing that would have been too much pre Assembly.

Maybe with the Assembly in 1999 it would have been possible. But the Assembly has coincided with the hollowing out of the Welsh language (and with it the confidence and coherence of that community); a declining manufacturing base; and anglicisation o Welsh society and a pretty useless Labour party - matched by Plaid Cymru dumping Dafydd Wigley for Ieuan Wyn Jones.

One may ruse, that had Wigley stayed leader for 2007 (or Adam Price gone to the assemlby instead of Rhodri Glyn Thomas who's just been bed blocking) then Plaid may have been the biggest party in 2007. That would have given the national project an opportunity to prove itself and I'm confident it would have succeded and been in good place in 2011.

We may again ruse, that 2005 - 2010 offered a very rare (possibly unique) set of senarios for Plaid. An unpopular Labour Party a Tory Party not yet on its feat and no fear among the electorate of immediate independence.

That window of opportunity has gone.

The 2011 Carwyn Jones government has been a total missed opportunity. As I said, even in the Welsh language (which we're all told is the danger of the Assembly) the increase in kids at Welsh medium juniour schools has increased by less than 1% in 5 years!

With Carwyn'n weakness people see that devolution has not delivered, nor has social democracy.

By the time the tide turns again in 15 years time I don't think there will be a viable Welsh language community left - either geographically or coheseviley as a community of interest and the whole 'experiment' of devolution will have been seen as a feeble flop. Of course the Scots will be independent and Ireland will unite at about the year 2030.

So, yes it's very grim.

I'm totally and utterly disheartened.


Draig - I don't think people really care nor think of the HofL.

Anonymous said...

I'm worried that some of the predictions laid out by M. are true.

Scotland had a proper, assertive social democracy that swept all before it. Devolution there is equated with success, socially and economically. Independence is basically more devolution, for them.

In Wales we now can't say that, after a pretty appalling 2011 term under Carwyn Jones.

Crabb now claims that Home Rule lost the argument. Carwyn Jones was asking for crumbs and not that distinguishable from what Crabb offered; only issues like devolution of policing and Air passenger tax which while important, don't cut it as a grand vision. Even further devolution is now at risk.

Promoting an independent Wales is bound up in whether or not devolution has succeeded.

As M. also suggests, having a coherent Welsh language national community is central to sustaining nationhood. Devolution could never have had an impact on in-migration but it can do so on education. A perfectly good strategy simply hasn't been followed through with. Labour 2011 onwards have failed the task.

Anonymous said...

Wales needs a campaign for independence Now! Not at some vague time in the dim and distant future when the economy is right. The current Plaid policy is nonsense and convinces no one.
We need independence to put the economy right. Scotland was no more pro-independence than Wales fifteen years ago, but, the SNP have campaigned for independence for years and are where they are. All their political revival has been based on the independence campaign. Plaid needs a similar independence campaign based on a left of center agenda that eighty percent of people in Wales will support. The economy is poor at the moment and will not get better under London Government.
As in Scotland we have got to get rid of the Labour Party a by-word for incompetence and cronyism. As Borthlas said we had more idea of what Plaid should be doing in the 1970s.

Bill Chapman said...

One Anonymous wrote, "As in Scotland we have got to get rid of the Labour Party". He / she has written off the Labour Party far too early. I'm confident that we will continue to see strong Labour presence in Edinburgh and Westminster in the decades to comee. Today's Guardian reports that "The Labour party has ... reported 29,103 new members since polling day.". I imagine that those new members are in England, Walesa and Scotland. There are a couple of dozen brand new Labour Party members in my constituency (Aberconwy)and I'm sure the same is true throughout Wales. I'm confident that Welsh Labour will do well next May, and yet again be the only party arguing against UKIP on the doorstep.

Another anonymous (Why do people not give their names?) writes that "The Scots will vote for independence in 2023." I doubt it. I don't see or hear any enthusiasm for independence among SNP MPs or voters.

Anonymous said...

No it's a totally different and better party than it was in the 70s.

Anonymous said...

Bill - there will be a Labour presence but I honestly can't see Labour winning in Westminster in 2020 nor 2015.

Like you I didn't think the Scots would vote for independence but I since the Referndum they've swept the board and nobody expected that. I seriously can't see how they're not going to vote for independence now. Not now, but wait for the Tory win in 2010.

But it's Wales I'm most concerned about. The One Wales government of Lab-PC was a good one. Carwyn Jones's government since 2011 has been a disaster. Carwyn hasn't lead he's just managed. Compare that with Salmond.

He's been unable or unwilling to press ahead with increasing number of Welsh medium education - it needed not much more than a new WM school in the Glamorgan and Gwent and the numbers would have gone up. We're now in a situation where all the old anti Welsh bigotry against Welsh is coming out of the woodwork. Had Carwyn seen an increase in WM education then more people would have seen the benefit and it wouldn't be an issue. We're in a sitation where Labour councils - Cardiff to name one - within a mile of the Senedd - have stalled, made excuses, called people racist for wanting WM edu, and have succeeded in wasting 3 years in opening a new much needed school. What hope is there when your party does this.

In the Senedd y'day Carwyn wouldn't say if he would campaign for Wales to be exempt from Tory's bid to have UK leave DHR. Sturgeon has said Scotland will campaign against.

We could go on. But Carwyn Jones inability and unwillingness to lead has left a huge cap in Welsh politics - he's not made a case for devolution and the Welsh language (which I know you support) and that has benefitted those who are against devolution and the Welsh language.

Carwyn Jones could be the mad responsible for the beginning of the slow death of devolution in Wales and for hasting the death of Welsh as a viable language. All because he appeased Westminster and Labour's Wm MPs and was too weak or lazy or afraid to take a stand.

The only vague glimmer of hope is that in the 2016 election, the Labour vote will fall and Plaid hold enough so that we can again have a One Wales to keep out the Tories and UKIP.

If 'we' - pro Devo, pro Welsh people can't win the next election then I think Wales will piece by piece become a part of England with things like the NHS being transfered to London.

In the meantime Scotland will be indepdence and there's nothing your, me, the Labour party, Tories or Westminster can do to stop it.

Robin, the choice really isn't about the Labour party any longer it's about there being a Wales which is in any way a nation.

Labour can't win the next Assembly election on its own. It doesn't deserve to either. But, if the votes fall in a certain way, then, I'm afraid that a Plaid Labour coalition is the only hope. It's not ideal. It could cost Plaid in 2011 but it'll at least keep some semblance of Welshness alive. And, if it's important to you, maybe help Labour too.

But for me, Wales is more important than a political party - it's a pity Carwyn Jones doens't feel the same.


glynbeddau said...

Bill. LabLabour standing up to Ukip?. Have a look at No.4 on the infamous Edstone "controlling imitation". Was that standing up or running Farage's agenda?

Anonymous said...

M. is getting his/her dates mixed up but I absolutely share the concern about complete absorption into England.

Wales has been a part of England in the past. We risk a return there now, not by conquest but by democratic consent. Make no mistake, Tory votes are not some kind of devolutionist expression.

Labour has not used its governing role to protect Wales. I can't work out if its Carwyn Jones' fault or Owen Smith's. Probably both.

Anonymous said...

The next Welsh Government gets to decide whether Wales remains a political nation or not, and whether something radical is done for Y Gymraeg. Plaid Cymru has to be in that government. No ifs, no buts. In a country that is 20% English and growing (and no i'm not whinging or calling for deportations, stating a fact), the nationalist party has to think about what can be preserved and developed. Get Plaid Cymru in there and make sure good people serve as Ministers, who can actually implement nationalist policies, and also give Cymraeg a fighting change.

Labour ruling alone is an utter cul de sac.

Plaid Cymru sitting around as an extra opposition party, waiting for a Scottish style revolution in a country with the demographics of a Baltic state, is a waste of time.

Just some thoughts. Maybe things will change in the next 12 months.

Spirit of BME said...

Your definition of Self- government, does not address the basis of its philosophy. It starts with the Protestant belief that each individual is responsible for his soul while on this earth and no other power can intercede on their behalf. It also believes that no hierarchy can determine or interpret what they should think or do. So with the Church of Rome you could drop them a bung and your time in Purgatory will be shortened or a quick confession and you are in the clear, this is not on the cards in the non-conformist religion.
The political development from this means giving the individual responsibility , empowerment and freedom which in the 18 and 19th century took Wales by storm and as we saw all the chapels were self-governing and the founders of Plaid clearly had this as the basis of their thinking. Of course a large dollop of moral responsibility goes along with this deal, as we see in the works of the Blessed Adam Smith.
Where Plaid goes from this election failure, is plain and simple, we have to visit our “Nacba” (catastrophe) in the early eighties, from where we can measure our steady decline, in that Plaid positioned itself to take the huddled socialist masses of the valleys and are in a delusional state that these voters still exit.
Leanne Wood had a good election, but failed to sell the massage and failed to meet her target by 50%, this is not success as some of her running- dogs would want us to believe, as they must be in clinical denial of the facts. Time for Miss Wood to move on, but before she does that, she should issue an apology for her failure.