Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Who cares what Labour think?

There has been criticism of the Welsh Labour government by Plaid politicians over that government’s refusal to support the right of the Catalan government to hold a referendum.  But I’m not sure why anyone would ever expect the Welsh branch of the British Labour Party to support the Catalan government’s attempt to lead Catalunya out of Spain.  Labour may be – albeit reluctantly in many cases – a devolutionist party, but at heart it supports devolution as a means of retaining and strengthening the union, not as a means of undermining it.  And its equivalent party in Spain, the PSOE, takes a similar stance.  Expecting Labour to support the position of the Catalan independentistas rather than that of its sister party is wholly unrealistic.
Insofar as there is a supposed parallel with what’s happening in Catalunya and the situation in Wales, Labour is being challenged to support a devolved administration against a centralist takeover which is, to all intents and purposes, closing down that devolved administration and taking power back to the centre.  However, the parallel with Labour opposing the power grab by Westminster following Brexit is only superficial.  There is a danger of oversimplifying a complex situation in Catalunya, but a more realistic parallel would be if a Plaid government in Wales launched a referendum on independence without the permission of a Tory government in London, and against the wishes of the Labour/Tory opposition in the Assembly.  Labour’s natural instinct in such circumstances would be to support the Tory government – so why expect them to do anything different in respect of Catalunya?
It’s true that the Catalans have been left with no obvious alternative route forward.  The referendum is unquestionably illegal under the Spanish constitution, which declares that Spain is a single and indivisible entity.  They could try to change the constitution, but no matter how big a majority they obtained in Catalunya for doing that, they would still fail unless the other ‘regions’ of Spain also supported them.  The constitution included that clause largely because it was the only way of getting the military back into their barracks after the death of Franco, and it’s true that an overwhelming majority of the Catalans backed that constitution in a referendum as a result, but – and there’s a parallel with Brexit here – who decided that a decision taken in a referendum could never be revoked; that people never have a right to change their minds?  And there was also, of course, a second later referendum in Catalunya, on a Statute of Autonomy agreed with, but subsequently repudiated by, Madrid: why is the result of one inviolable, but not the other?
The background to the referendum on independence is contested and hotly debated, but there is no doubt that, in strictly legal terms, the law is the law and the referendum is illegal.  It’s the sort of legalistic position invariably supported by Labour; and we should not forget that it was a Labour politician – Jack Straw – who argued after the 2014 referendum in Scotland that UK law should be changed to, in effect, mirror the Spanish constitution by declaring the UK to be equally indivisible, effectively outlawing any argument for independence.
There was under Spanish law no way forward for the Catalans to express their wishes regarding independence other than by organising a referendum themselves, after all efforts to hold such a referendum with the consent of the central government in Madrid came to nothing.  They were left with the choice of defying the law or simply abandoning their aspirations.  For those who believe that sovereignty belongs to the people rather than stemming from some central source, the people of Catalunya – and whether one regards them, as I do, as a nation or as others do, as a region is really irrelevant here – have a right to determine by majority decision how they should be governed, but that right is being denied them by a repressive central government, run by a party which is essentially the heir to the former dictator.
The British Labour Party is instinctively unionist, and it is a party which accepts and supports the fiction that sovereignty was bestowed by god on the monarch of England, who ‘graciously’ invested it in the UK Parliament which has, as a result, the absolute power to decide, for the whole of eternity, the governing arrangements for the territories under its control.  It is as much a British nationalist party as the Tories; it is a party which sees the UK as the ‘natural’ state of affairs, in which brotherhood and co-operation extend only as far as the English Channel, a stretch of water which mere foreigners should only be allowed to cross under sufferance.  Why on earth would anyone expect such a party to support the right of the Catalans to decide for themselves?  For Labour, the right of self-determination extends only to very foreign people far away, and certainly not to those which they define as an indivisible part of a greater and immutable whole.  No party of independentistas would or should expect them to behave any differently, and why Plaid are exercising themselves about Labour’s response is a mystery to me.


Anonymous said...

Haven't you forgotten about all those Catalans that DON'T want to express their wishes regarding independence and all those Catalans that DON'T want independence come what may?

To try to draw parallels with Wales is laughable. In Catalonia the workforce is well educated, works damn hard and generates lots of tax money to spread around the rest of Spain. In Wales the reverse is true.


John Dixon said...

No, I haven't forgotten anyone. It's difficult to be certain how many don't want even to have the choice, but the best polling information suggests that around 70% want to have the choice, even if they then vote against independence. I'm not sure why you think that the 30% minority should be able to prevent everyone else from expressing a choice, other than an aversion to democracy. As for those who don't want independence under any circumstances, they have every right to express their opinion by voting against. They might even win, although the Spanish state's approach to matters seems almost designed to bring about the result that they don't want.

As for your second paragraph, all I can say is that you have made your low opinion of Wales and the Welsh in general clear many times; I really can't be bothered to respond to it again.

Anonymous said...

You seem to be suggesting that if the poll goes ahead we should expect a 70% turnout. I thought most were pundits were predicting not much more than 50% at best. Let's see.

As for your second point you are right, I have an inordinately low opinion of 'Welsh' politics and politicians, at each and every level. But there are some politicians in Wales I do have time for. Largely those that don't play politics with the language. And it's much the same when talking about 'the peoples of Wales'. I don't think I'm unique in this, indeed I think I'm in the overwhelming, albeit largely silent majority.


Jonathan said...

Two thoughts if you are a person who cares about Wales.
1. The Catalan Referendum is of fundamental significance for Wales for this reason. The Catalans are prepared to face up to Madrid. Like Wales, they face a particular unionist legal system. Like Wales they face political objections from Spanish Tories who are unionist. (Interestingly I write this from North Carolina, which faced EXACTLY this problem in the 1770s, including the use in America of the term "Tory".) The question does boil down to this "Are you willing to create, and stand your ground in, a face-off?" If you are you will probably win the battle of wills. If you are not, you will not. Which is it, Wales? Legality is peripheral, because you can always ratify/legalise your win when you get it. Its about raw will-power.
2. "Who cares what Labour think?". I do. We all have to. Their stance is key. I resent it, but I am dependent on the Labour party (led by Welsh Labour?) to make the stand against Brexit. It will do eventually, and I am totally in their hands.
I would be interested to know what you, Borthlas, think Plaid should do about Labour in Wales. This is knotty and contradictory, for me and no doubt for Plaid. Consider
- ally with them, unconditionally, over Brexit?
- form a socialist alliance to run Wales, as Dafydd El would and perhaps Leanne Wood?
- show Welsh Labour up for the corrupt incompetents they are - a la McEvoy?
- try to peel off and unite with those in Labour (and the Tories, and the Liberals) who will stand up for Wales enough to get "statehood" for Wales is a federal solution (like N.Carolina) which works very well, would be a fantastic advance, but which would not be pure independence? (By the way, the Welsh lawyers are such a cross-party bunch, they have the will and the ability to get the Statehood deal for Wales. Watch the Wales Justice Commission!)
- wind Plaid Cymru up, since it is going nowhere except downwards, and try something else?
Love to hear your view, really!

John Dixon said...


"You seem to be suggesting that if the poll goes ahead we should expect a 70% turnout." No, I am not. I have made no statement at all about the turnout - all I said was that Catalan opinion polls suggest that around 70% of the electorate want the right to vote on the issue. Actual turnout is quite another matter, particularly in the light of the attempts by the central authorities to disrupt the vote. Whether repression will boost or depress turnout is essentially unknowable at this stage.

"As for your second point you are right, I have an inordinately low opinion of 'Welsh' politics and politicians, at each and every level. But there are some politicians in Wales I do have time for. Largely those that don't play politics with the language. And it's much the same when talking about 'the peoples of Wales'. I don't think I'm unique in this, indeed I think I'm in the overwhelming, albeit largely silent majority." You repeat your customary unevidenced assertions once more; when people appeal to the 'silent majority' it's almost invariably an attempt to cover up for that lack of evidence. But this is not the subject of the blog post, so I'm not going to pursue this argument here.

John Dixon said...


It's not for me to tell Plaid what they should do, but I will make two general comments.

Firstly, the party seems completely unable to decide whether its aim is to be a critical friend of Labour and nudge that party in a particular direction, or whether it is trying to replace the Labour Party. And secondly, it seems equally unclear whether it is a campaign for independence or a vehicle for gaining power within existing structures to make comparatively minor changes, with independence as nothing more than a 'long term aspiration'. The result is that it can appear to be trying to do all four and ends up looking at best confused and at worst downright dishonest.

That confusion can only be addressed by the party's members and leaders, not me. What I will say is that Wales needs a campaign to persuade people of the value of independence, but depending on a confused political party doesn't strike me as the likeliest route to success.