Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Offering impossible options

Nation.Cymru reported on two related stories a few days apart, from different parts of the political spectrum: an interview by Mark Drakeford from Saturday, and an article penned by David Melding from yesterday. They make some very similar points. Mark Drakeford claims that “…the Labour Party’s message of a strong Wales in a United Kingdom still represents where people in Wales want to be”, whilst David Melding says, “… we can have the best of both worlds – a confident Wales in a strong UK”. Much as a long term independentista such as myself might prefer to believe otherwise, I suspect that they’re both right – the sentiment that they both express probably does represent current majority opinion in Wales. And I’m happy to accept that they both believe that a strong Wales in a strong UK is an outcome worth striving for, and that both of them are sincere in trying to promote that outcome.

The problem is, though, that they’re both hopelessly out of step with their own parties on the issue. Whilst Drakeford may be expressing the opinion of a majority of his party’s MSs, and possibly even grass roots members, Welsh Labour MPs are a different kettle of fish. And as for English Labour MPs – well, Lisa Nandy and her views on dealing with independence movements are probably closer to the majority Labour view than Drakeford. As for Melding, he doesn’t even have any significant elements of the Welsh branch of the English Conservative and Unionist Party on board with his views, let alone the central party leadership.

The consequence is that both are offering and promoting something in Wales which they know they cannot deliver. In the case of Labour, delivering Drakeford’s vision depends on firstly convincing the leadership of English Labour that it needs to embrace the concept, and then that Labour needs to win a majority in England to implement it. It’s a tough call as to which of those is the most improbable. As for the Tories, there’s simply no conceivable route towards anything remotely resembling Melding’s vision. Johnson’s response – which is clearly backed throughout his party, in Wales as in England – is to stamp union flags on everything, overrule Welsh and Scottish opinion as democratically expressed by elections, and tell the Welsh and Scots to shut up. Drakeford and Melding are both trying to swim against the tide in their own parties.

The fact that they are probably expressing majority opinion in Wales is neither here nor there: that opinion simply doesn’t count where it matters. As we saw with Brexit, voting for unicorns doesn’t magic them into existence. No matter how sincere this particular pair of unionists might be, and no matter how accurately they might be representing current opinion, they are offering an utterly false prospectus. As a result of the intransigence of their fellow unionists much more than the campaigning of independentistas, the reality is that there are only two choices actually open to Wales to day: independence or subsummation. Trying to tell the people of Wales that they don’t have to make that choice is doing us no favours.

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