I really don’t understand why anyone in Welsh politics would be in the least surprised at the strength of the leave campaign. This particular writing has been on the wall for several years now. The European election of 2014; the UK general election of 2015; the Welsh general election of 2016 – three successive elections where the level of support for UKIP has been at a high level, and all the while we have also known that many of those voting Tory shared many of the same views.
It feels somehow as though the Welsh political establishment has been ignoring the facts; viewing Welsh politics not through the prism of what is actually happening, but through the prism of an attachment to the old idea of Welsh radicalism and internationalism. It would be true, of course, that not all of those voting for UKIP in three successive elections actually agree with UKIP on everything; and no doubt, there are even some who disagree with the idea of quitting the EU. But the growth in support for that party surely suggests a growth in support for its key aim as well – this isn’t a surprise which has somehow crept up on us.
In the same story, Chris Grayling claimed that he’d spoken to many people in the valleys of south Wales “who face the consequences of migration into this area”. Really? I don’t doubt that hostility to immigration is driving much of the leave campaign, but still, this looks like another made up sound bite – because immigration into that part of Wales is close to zero. And that highlights another interesting factor – some of the highest votes for UKIP in recent elections in Wales have come from the areas where the level of immigration is at its lowest. Whatever is driving opposition to immigration in those areas, it isn’t direct exposure to it or its effects.
There may be a general truth here – what people oppose and fear is precisely that with which they are unfamiliar; there seems to be more tolerance and acceptance of immigrants when they actually appear. How else can we try to explain why hostility is at its highest in areas where there is least to be hostile towards?Perhaps I’m being unduly pessimistic; perhaps come Thursday, the result won’t be as close as the polls suggest. Perhaps. But whatever the outcome, we all need to recognise that Welsh politics, like UK politics, has changed over the last few years, and not for the better. Dark forces have been unleashed, and we need to start addressing that, not pretending that Wales is somehow ‘different’ or immune to this type of change.