Tuesday, 15 December 2015

What sort of future for Wales?

There were two stories in the media on Monday about Wales and the forthcoming EU referendum, both of which featured His Unroyal Hainness prominently.  I almost felt a little sorry for him after reading the first one, which said that he had been formally unveiled by Carwyn Jones, as though he were some sort of statue or commemorative plaque.  (Although, come to think of it, perhaps the comparison is not entirely without merit…)
The second was a reference to an article written by Hain and the Welsh Labour MEP, Derek Vaughan about the issues at stake in the referendum.  The headline was a little over the top, I thought.  “The very future of Wales is at stake” implies that somehow Wales might cease to exist if the vote goes the wrong way, as though we will somehow be wiped from the map.  But I suppose that a more realistic “Wales’ future outside the EU would not be the same as its future inside the EU” lacks in impact what it makes up for in truth.
Overall, the article was hugely disappointing.  Firstly, that was because so much of it concentrated on the argument that jobs depend on the EU.  I simply don’t accept that argument as being true – and I’m amongst those who want to stay in the EU.  It’s facile, and based on an assumption that the economy wouldn’t adapt to a new context.
The second issue that they spent many words discussing is the question of immigration.  Arguing that it’s easier to control immigration as a member than it would be outside is an obvious attempt to appeal to those who want out because of immigration, but the basis of their argument looks decidedly dodgy to me.  And even if they were right, the idea that the referendum on the EU is about the best way to control immigration is a long way short of putting a positive case for the EU.
Many of the advantages that they do mention – such as employee rights – don’t actually require the existence of the EU; they are things that any half-decent UK Government could have done anyway.  And there’s something very depressing about Labour politicians arguing that UK Governments, even of their own party, have only introduced such measures because the EU told them to.  That’s pretty close to conceding the case being put by opponents of membership that all these regulations have been ‘imposed’ on unwilling UK governments by ‘Brussels’.
We’re only having a referendum at all because of internal divisions within the Tory party.  A tactic adopted by Cameron to try and retain control of his own party has led to the electorate being asked to take a decision which looks increasingly likely to be made on the basis of a very shallow analysis with little thought about the sort of long term future we want to see.
To return to the lurid headline that I mentioned earlier, there actually is a sense in which the very future of Wales as a nation might depend on the outcome, although I don’t believe for a moment that it is what Hain and Vaughan – let alone the Western Mail’s headline writers – had in mind.  There is a huge difference between the sort of future we can have as a region of the EU (let alone if the aspirations of those of us who want to see Wales become a full member state come to pass) and the future we will have as a small periphery of an offshore island state.  It still doesn’t exactly challenge the continued existence of Wales, but it certainly makes a huge difference to what Wales actually is and can become.  The ‘national question’ is central to the debate, but is thus far hardly being mentioned.


Bored of Labour said...

If I was a betting man, I’d bet on a Brexit as the most likely outcome, Cameron's never had control of the arguments, anti establishment forces are in the ascendancy in the UK, the right wing press are in full attack mode against the EU and the BBC unsurprisingly is following the agenda blindly, add in UKIP gaining real strength in Wales with elected members to campaign across the UK and Wales like England will vote no.

Sadly Wales’s last chance for a semblance of autonomy was lost at the General Election, be prepared for full integration into England without so much as a squeak from Plaid Cymru.

PS the only person to make any coherent argument against a Berxit is Carwyn Jones saying Welsh Farming would collapse almost over night, but Labour would be happy enough about that as farmers vote Tory or Plaid Cymru anyway.

Anonymous said...

A gloomy but possibly accurate comment by Bored of Labour above. Only slightly spoiled by saying that there wouldn't be "as much as a squeak from Plaid Cymru" about Wales being integrated further into England. Plaid Cymru is obsessed with trying to make Wales not integrated politically into England. In my view it's one of the main reasons they aren't for Brexit, in order to be different to England. They would more than squeak about it, but the problem is that a bulk of people are still quite reluctant for Wales to act as a nation. People in my pub are completely relaxed about leaving the EU, don't get the arguments about farming, and don't really see that we should be different to England except for in sporting events. Plaid Cymru is seen as the most Welsh of all the political parties in my pub in Cardiff, for what it's worth.