Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Can we or can't we?

There was an article on Nation.Cymru last week by Hefin David, the Labour AM for Caerffili, which started off talking about the ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’ memorial and ended up giving us his thoughts on independence.  I have some sympathy with his views on ‘graffiti’; but from a rather different perspective, which is about the failure of some to recognise that other opinions exist.  One person’s ‘graffiti’ is another person’s expression of a deeply held sense of injustice, and whilst in this case, I’m on the side of the latter, I recognise that not everyone shares my view of the important moments in Welsh history.  There’s no such thing as ‘objective’ history, free of priors, and the important battle is to win hearts and minds.  Whether painting slogans on walls helps that process is a legitimate question for debate, not a cause for name-calling.
However, his comments on Welsh independence are the real issue for me.  David says that “the evidence to support an economic case for independence at this time is thin on the ground” and that “I’m still to be convinced that a Wales standing alone will result in our people quickly becoming better off, more secure and healthier”, and I tend to agree with both those statements.  What he doesn’t seem to recognise, though, is that they are double-edged swords.  I could equally write that ‘the evidence to support an economic case for continued union is thin on the ground’, and that ‘I’m still to be convinced that remaining in the UK will result in our people quickly becoming better off, more secure and healthier’.  The point is that we are comparing a ‘known’ current state with a hypothetical future state, and the act of imagining that hypothetical future requires the making of a whole series of assumptions about what might happen in that scenario.  I don’t doubt that David and I would make rather different assumptions, which would in turn lead to very different predictions about the likely economic outcomes, but each set of assumptions would be based on our own priors.  Arguing about economics avoids the debate about those priors, which is where the real question lies.
Expecting there to be a ‘killer economic argument’ for one view or the other is simply unrealistic (although one of the few things we know for certain is that countries which become independent don’t end up regretting it).  An argument against independence ‘because we can’t be certain it will be economically better’ is an argument for continuing with the status quo, in which we also can’t be certain it will be economically better, but can be reasonably certain (based on experience) that Wales will continue to be a relatively poor periphery, with economic policy concentrating on the needs of the ‘centre’. 
Ultimately, setting the expectation that independence should not be considered unless those of us supporting it can clearly demonstrate economic advantage is a one-sided trap which absolves those opposing independence from having even to attempt to demonstrate a clear economic advantage for the status quo.  It’s an essentially small-c conservatism in which the status quo is given the benefit of any doubt.  For me, the argument is more to do with accepting the responsibility for improving things ourselves rather than expecting someone else to do it for us (or even to us).  In terms of the economics of independence, I start from the belief that we can probably do things better ourselves; opponents, like David, are effectively starting from the assumption that we probably can’t.  It is that difference, rather than ‘economics’, which marks the real distinction between the two sides of the debate.

1 comment:

dafis said...

Thank you John for defining clearly the defects of arguments promoted by the likes of H David. He also fails to disclose that his predisposition is much driven by his utter dependency on the status quo relationship with the U.K. He is part of a flabby corrupt Labour machine which is slowly taking Wales down the drain by its lack of vision and volumes of dubious actions. Aggressive colonialism driven by a pseudo-socialist Labour party machine is no good at all for those of us on the receiving end of their malicious negligence.