Thursday, 21 January 2021

Blackmailing Labour would be counter-productive


Before the last Senedd election, Plaid Cymru announced with great fanfare that they would hold a referendum on independence in their second term of office as the government of Wales. It was always an odd statement to come from a party which claimed to be committed to obtaining independence for Wales. The stated rationale was that that was what had happened in Scotland, but the comparison was a specious one. The only reason that the SNP didn’t call for a referendum in their first term of government was that they were a minority government; there was simply no majority in the Scottish Parliament for holding one. The determinant of whether a referendum on independence should be held is not how many times a majority has been elected on such a platform but the simple fact that such a majority exists. Plaid’s position looked more like an attempt to woo voters opposed to independence by promising not to do anything about it for the five years of a Senedd term than a means of advancing the cause. The announcement last month that Plaid would call such a referendum if it won a majority in the Senedd in the forthcoming election was a welcome correction to a strange stance.

However, the suggestion this week that Plaid would make the holding of a referendum part of any coalition discussions with Labour would be a step too soon and too far. I agree with Mark Drakeford that the route to holding a referendum is to secure a majority of members of the Senedd pledged to holding such a vote. Trying to blackmail those elected on a platform of opposing a referendum into supporting one in order to be able to form a government isn’t at all the same thing.  Drakeford’s agreement that if a majority of members of the Senedd are elected on a platform of holding a referendum then a referendum should be held strikes me as entirely reasonable.

It sometimes seems as though the aim of holding a referendum on independence is in danger of eclipsing the underlying aim of gaining that independence. I entirely accept that, whilst a referendum isn’t the only possible or legal route to independence, in the particular circumstances of Wales in the twenty-first century a legally recognised referendum is the best way of ensuring both a smooth transition and rapid international recognition for the new state. But such a referendum will work best if it is a means of expressing and legitimating an opinion already widely-held – the job of winning it has to be done before calling it, not after announcing the timetable. Holding a referendum under a coalition government, the larger party in which only allows it to be held in order to retain power and then proceeds to campaign for a ‘no’ vote, looks more like a way of setting the cause back than advancing it. If parties supporting the calling of a referendum cannot even win a majority of seats in the Senedd, then it is highly improbable that a year or so later they will find a majority of the whole electorate for the substance of independence.

I can see why Plaid would want to mobilise all supporters of independence behind one party. After all, polls suggest that a majority of Labour supporters are at least open to the idea, and there’s no doubt that the idea is gaining ground. To succeed in that objective, though, requires that all of those who support independence will see that as their main priority and the key issue in the Senedd election, and will therefore vote with that aim uppermost in their minds. ‘Optimistic’ is one possible word to apply to that (I can think of others); there’s a lot of groundwork to be done first. To date, independentistas haven’t even succeeded in normalising debate on the subject, although Yes.Cymru have done a good job of laying the groundwork. There are, though, no short cuts: winning hearts and minds comes first.


Anonymous said...

Nick Clegg insisted on the AV referendum as part of his deal with the Tories and that did not work out well. Worth remembering the No side introduced the lie of £250m for voting machines which was pushed hard in the regional press. Almost sounds like a dry run for the Brexit referendum!

Spirit of BME said...

Good post, I hope that Plaid Cymru will read and digest your views.
They would be in a far better and stronger place if they did that as a matter of routine.