Tuesday, 28 February 2017

For Wales, don't see Scotland

Wales isn’t Scotland, and there are always dangers in trying to extrapolate the situation in one country into conclusions for the other.  The differences go back a long way, well before the advent of devolution; the difference in the devolution settlements is in large part the result of the starting point being so different.  Scotland, for instance, already had its own legal system.  And here in Wales, the national cause has long been complicated by the overlap between the political and the linguistic battles.
But we shouldn’t allow the stress on the differences to blind us to some similarities either.  Plaid Cymru and the SNP both have their roots in the same period of history, and their record of electoral success (or lack thereof) over the long term shows a number of parallels.  Even as recently as the first elections to the devolved bodies in 1999, the electoral pattern was broadly similar – the SNP took 35 seats out of 129 whilst Plaid took 17 out of 60.  It is only since then that the paths have diverged so significantly.
There are many reasons for that electoral divergence, but they’re not particularly relevant here.  The important thing is that the degree of divergence in electoral history between the two countries since 1999 leaves the two countries in very different circumstances.  
Whilst support for independence in Scotland has varied over the years, it has been consistently higher than support for Welsh independence.  Again, there are a number of possible reasons for that, but I cannot help but conclude that one of those reasons is that, in Scotland, the case has been regularly debated and promoted.  There has been a political party in Scotland prepared to make the case, through thick and thin, whilst in Wales the advent of devolution and the need for nation-building (which, by the way, I don’t question per se) was used as a substitute for, rather than an adjunct to, making the case for the aim of independence.  I don’t believe that any argument is ever won by not being made, and waiting for the people of Wales to come around to support for independence of their own accord – which is where much of the ‘national’ movement currently seems to be – looks like a recipe for never making it.
The result is that the future looks very different for the two nations, particularly in the light of Brexit.  For all the optimism of independentistas, it is far from certain that Scotland will make the break and choose a European future rather than an isolationist British one.  For their sakes, I hope that they do, even if such a move would leave Wales even more vulnerable to domination from our very much larger eastern neighbour.  But we cannot be certain, and should not take the outcome for granted.  We can, though, at least consider the impact on Wales of such an outcome.
I fear that, to return to my starting point, too many independentistas in Wales are reading across from Scotland to Wales, and hoping (or even assuming) that Scottish independence (and, with that, continued Scottish membership of the EU) will make Welsh independence more attractive and more likely.  I can see why that might be the case in the context of continued UK membership of the EU, particularly if other European nations such as Catalunya follow a similar path.  The parallel, particularly if those other nations (as seems likely) make a success of their choice, is clear enough.  But the parallel in the case of a Wales which would have to face a significant transitional period outside the UK whilst seeking to negotiate entry to the EU as a new member is a great deal less obvious.  I’d go so far as to say that it isn’t really a parallel at all; it would be, rather, a unique situation.  As a result, people would naturally see it as being a great deal more risky.
The assumption that a Scottish exit from the UK before Brexit happens will lead to a demand for the same thing in Wales is a lazy one.  The danger is that, by making such an assumption, and through continued failure to make the case for Wales to take control of her own affairs, the likelier future for Wales in a UK shorn of Scotland and outside the EU is greater integration into England, especially in economic terms.  Oh, I’m sure that we’ll be allowed to keep our little Assembly down in Cardiff, but our voice will be heard even less than it is now.  The timescale for any change in direction to avert that outcome is short, and the clock is ticking.


Anonymous said...

It should be clear to all but the most loyal supporters that the current Plaid Cymru leadership has no interest in independence because if they did, the only thing they'd be talking about and planning for since last June’s referendum is independence.

Last month UKIP launched a new welsh think tank to consolidate their support base in Wales, what has Plaid done since last June?

The answer is they’ve rallied to Labour’s side to protect devolution and give the Welsh Government all of their good ideas on Bexit deals. Devolution is a distraction at best and it’s sad to see so many welsh indy supporters cheering Scotland on while failing to understand Scotland leaving the UK and a fudge compromise over the north of Ireland would be equally as bad for Wales as Brexit.

Anonymous said...

You keep trying to suggest that Scotland will one day vote for independence and that that independence will, in turn, lead to 'continued' EU membership. It's patent nonsense and the voters in Scotland and England know full well that it is. Are we here in Wales really too stupid to understand the consequences?

If Scotland wants to remain within the EU it will have to give up Sterling in favour of the Euro. Sterling deposits at the time of leaving the UK and 're-joining' the EU will have to be converted into Euro's. That means locking-in or crystallising any and all further Sterling devaluation that is bound to occur during the break up of the UK. What Scot of any political persuasion will be prepared to accept such a wanton destruction of hard-earned wealth?

Scottish independence is off the table for a generation or two. The fight to keep the UK in the EU has only just begun!

John Dixon said...

Anon 17:26,

Did you actually read the post before submitting your comment?

"You keep trying to suggest that Scotland will one day vote for independence...". I hope and think that it will, but the post actually said that it's far from certain.

"...independence will ... lead to 'continued' EU membership". I'll accept that that one's more arguable - neither you nor I can be certain about that. If (and it's a big if, but it's part of the context for this post), that decision is made prior to the UK leaving the EU, then I think that there is every prospect that the EU would take a very pragmatic approach to a country whose citizens are already EU citizens and which already complies with all the relevant treaty obligations. For those who are committed to European unity as a goal, it would seem very strange for them to do otherwise. Which means that it is not, as you suggest, "patent nonsense"; it's an entirely credible scenario. I accept that my post was based on my interpretation of the likely response; yours is equally based on your interpretation of the likely response. But your interpretation is no more certain fact than is mine.

"If Scotland wants to remain within the EU it will have to give up Sterling in favour of the Euro". This is a hopelessly over-simplistic statement. What we can say is "true" is that any "new" member of the EU has to commit to adopting the Euro at some future date. They do not however, have to commit to any firm timescale for doing so, and a number of countries which have made that "commitment" are showing no signs of any movement towards doing so. And given that Scotland is already in the EU, there is a big question mark over whether the EU will treat it as a "new" member, as a "continuing" member, or even devise an entirely new category to deal with an entirely new situation. On past form, the last of those looks to me to be the likeliest. The rest of this paragraph in your comments depends entirely on accepting your premises, i.e: that it would be a new country; that it would have to accept the Euro as its currency; and that it would have to do so immediately. But if the premises are not true, then neither are any of the conclusions predicated upon them.

"Scottish independence is off the table for a generation or two." That looks like an assertion based on nothing more than wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

An excellent post.

Too many here in Wales feel that the 2 nations are very alike but they really are not and have not been on a parallel path over the last 700yrs. Working for YES in Indy 1 in 2014 I was asked by the local SNP MP what I thought would happen in Wales if the Referendum was won by YES. All I could say was that the attitude of the rump UK government would change significantly towards Wales. I doubted there would be a mass sudden rise of support for independence but just that an important precedent would have been set.

Relatively few Welsh Nationalists went up to Scotland to "join in" despite what you would have thought was a golden opportunity to study for a similar opportunity here. Difficult to describe the experience of the last 100 days but the reaction of the YES supporters to looming overall defeat was to look forward to the next time - and if you were in the SNP to finish the mass canvass of Scotland with a view to nailing the 2015 general election while recruiting the most promising YES activists into your party. Although the vote was not won, it was clear that the Scottish Labour Party was in desperate trouble and many of its pro YES activists would be soon welcomed into the SNP and the best fast tracked to become SNP MPs/MSPs in 2015/16. Would we do that?

The actual SNP membership was quite a small fraction of the YES campaign but a dynamic one poised to take full advantage, either way, of the referendum. I do wonder sometimes whether PLaid would welcome working with all comers of whatever political background if we had a similar opportunity. It certainly worked for the Scots.

Indy 2 is certainly very much on the Table and since 2014 the support for independence in Scotland has climbed to 50% on average, and sometimes higher. A much higher base than the 30% before the first referendum and although Indy 2 was originally pencilled in for 2020/21 it could happen in 2019 and be won. What happens in Wales is entirely up to us.

Anonymous said...

I think the greater appetite for independence in Scotland may have as much to do with the fact that there are more fora for promoting and debating the issue as it is to do with the willingness of the SNP to campaign on it. Even if Plaid decided to campaign wholly and solely on the issue, the message would hardly reach a significant proportion of the Welsh electorate because of the way they receive their news. In this respect, the situation in Scotland is much more advantageous to the nationalist cause.

Anonymous said...

The SNP has long used the matter of independence to advance the cause of civic nationalism. Plaid has only just staring to do this. And the task is made all the more difficult because of the language issue and the very 'Welsh for Welsh sake' make-up of the Plaid leadership.

What's often forgotten is that once independence looks like being achieved a new 'love-in' with England and the English will commence. I suspect a Welsh Wales would find it much harder to make and keep our neighbours sweet.

Spirit of BME said...

I conquer with your post, but I might differ on the emphasis on some of your points.
The state Plaid is in is self-inflicted, as over three decades ago they voted on a strategic decision to capture the South Wales valleys; which was flawed from the beginning and has turned it from an all-encompassing broad range of political opinion in Wales to a party stuck in an ideological cul-de-sac. With that decision, the business base people who supported the party left – with their know-how and over the years the membership has been hollowed out from where it was.
Let me paint a picture to illustrate my point. This weekend Plaid hold a Conference, I can assure you the lights will not be burning late the offices of the mighty, in Cardiff, London, Brussels of Washington, waiting to hear the outcome in order to file a response.
Gone are the days, when Gwynfor sent telegrams to President Carter objecting to the neutron bomb and other world leaders on various other subject, all of which was accepted as Plaid was a force in the land and the SNP where nowhere.
Today, Plaid is suffering the worst political fate that a political party can experience and that is nobody is listening- and that is usually terminal.

John Dixon said...


Whilst I accept that, for some members, adopting a socialist stance was a 'strategy', for many of us (whether we were right or wrong is another question!), it wasn't simply a strategy, but a case of adopting a set of policies which we believed were right for Wales, not least because it was probable that the party would be exercising power at some level prior to independence, and needed a coherent policy position to do that. It's a question on which you and I have long disagreed (and I'm sure will continue to do so), but it wasn't the cynical move as which you paint it.