But perhaps the key word in the above paragraph is ‘stated’; sadly, it’s not always the case that the purpose stated explicitly by a minister is actually the real reason for the action proposed. In what looked almost like a throwaway remark in response to the report – in the very last line of the Western Mail’s coverage of the news – was this sentence from a ‘Welsh Office spokeswoman’: “The Secretary of State has made clear that under no circumstances will he publish legislation that creates a pathway to independence”. It clearly suggests that the real motivation here has less to do with the effective working of the devolution arrangements than it is with the fear of longer term aspirations, and the need to prevent their realisation.
‘Preventing any move towards independence at all costs’ is, of course, an entirely valid position for a die-hard unionist like Stephen Crabb to take. And personally, I welcome the fact that he’s trying to achieve his aim in this fashion – not because I agree with his aim, but because I find it harder to think of a more cack-handed way of trying to achieve it. With unionists like this, who needs nationalists?
It confuses process and structure with aspiration, and assumes that aspiration can be killed off by simply ensuring that the process and structure are ‘right’ for maintaining the status quo, and ‘wrong’ for moving away from it. The parallel which immediately jumped into my mind was with Catalunya, where the Spanish government is trying to depend on laws made by the former dictator to prevent any move towards independence by simply closing all avenues that might lead to it, rather than engaging in an argument about its merits. The result is that they are indeed making the path difficult but they are increasing the determination of those who want to take it.
And that’s the point, or it would be if there was a serious movement for independence in Wales. Those who want to counter moves towards independence need to address the aspiration; they need to convince people that it’s the wrong thing for their country. Simply trying to ensure that it remains unachievable in practice is ultimately counter-productive; it’s the battle of ideas that needs to be won, not the battle of structures.
Following this approach is even worse from his standpoint – because he’s actually winning that battle of ideas at present (even if that’s largely because the case for the other side isn’t being made). He doesn’t need to keep banging on about preventing independence, because so few are arguing for it. Being driven by a need to prevent something that so few of us are asking for merely puts that thing on the agenda in a way that its alleged proponents are failing to do.
So – all power to his elbow. Let’s have more like him.