Friday, 13 October 2017

Parties and politics in Wales

One aspect of the situation in Catalunya which has attracted a bit more attention in the light of recent events is that the independence movement there does not depend on only one political party.  Indeed, the main, arguably centrist, party of independentistas, led by Carles Puigdemont, had to be pushed into committing to, and then organising, the referendum by smaller, more left-leaning, coalition partners.  Catalunya is no exception in this regard; the normal situation in most countries seeking independence is that there are several pro-independence parties, occupying different positions on the traditional ‘left-right’ spectrum, and that whilst they might agree on the aim of independence they are usually at loggerheads on almost everything else.  Even in Scotland, there are now two pro-independence parties represented in the parliament, and another three such parties contested the last elections.  Compared with the European norm, Wales is very much the exception.
In that context, the proposal floated by Royston Jones on Jac o’ the North, to establish a new party in Wales, could be seen as an attempt to normalise the situation here, by having a political party seeking to make the case for independence from a different political perspective than that of Plaid Cymru.  And it is also, of course, a reaction to the failure of Plaid Cymru to advance outside its core Welsh-speaking heartland.
I don’t share much of Royston’s political perspective, but that will surprise no-one.  And I’ve never been a supporter of the idea that a political party can campaign for independence and have no policies on anything else - which is an argument that I’ve heard advanced over the years - unless it is an ‘abstentionist’ party, fighting to win seats but then not taking them.  Non-party campaign groups, such as Yes.Cymru can certainly avoid taking a stance on other issues, but a political party fighting elections with the intention of taking seats will inevitably get involved in voting for or against policies in the legislature to which its members are elected, even to the extent of deciding which other party forms or leads the government.  Those voting for them surely have a right to know what they’re voting for before casting their ballot.  I have no regrets whatever over the small role that I played in the 1970s in moving Plaid into a clearer political stance.
I do share some of Royston’s analysis about where we’ve got to as a result, though.  I can understand why some people who support independence but disagree with Plaid’s stance on certain issues find it difficult to vote for Plaid, and feel that their views are not being represented.  Having a party which does seek to represent that political stance might indeed help to increase the overall level of support for independence, or at least give political expression to a wider cross-section of it.
I also share the frustration at the existence of a political party in Wales which seems to want to claim the exclusive right to represent all independentistas whilst being unsure as to whether it really wants independence at all, and reluctant to campaign openly for that end.  Whilst not sharing the whole of his analysis, I can entirely understand his frustration at the sight of a party which fails to put the case, is making no progress politically, and seems more interested in forming alliances with a British ‘left’ which has little if any sympathy with the idea of an independent Wales.  No party has the right to claim exclusivity on a particular issue, especially if it isn't doing very much about that issue.
This is not the first attempt to form an alternative political party to promote independence for Wales, and it probably won’t be the last.  But the biggest single obstacle to any such attempt to normalise the political situation in Wales remains an electoral system which rewards political unity, and penalises fragmentation.  Without changing that, I wonder how much progress the new party will be able to make.


Jonathan said...

Oh to fall at the last hurdle, and blame the electoral system...we can't do that.
Lets get back to your valuable analysis.
I think it depends on the size of your heart. Here are some thoughts on being soft-left in Wales
You could be like Prof.Gwyn Alf Williams. He was a Marxist. But he had a big heart and guts and was a Prof and like open friendly discussion. I remember him telling me he just could not understand why Plaid was narrowing its appeal in the 1980s. He wanted Plaid to be big and open to all.
You could be like John Evans Clydach, who taught Welsh in Swansea in the 1980s. I remember debating nuclear deterrence with him. He was a unilateralist. I was not. He was right on a moral/Christian level. Though not a Thatcherite, I had to note that she and Reagan did crack the nuclear threat from the USSR. John Evans had that big heart.
But look how the left works now. So many lack big hearts. What they do have is a relentless intolerance of any view but their view. Sorry, but I brought up 3 daughters, and what the left do now reminds me of nothing so much as the constant reports of female-pattern bullying which came back from their school.
So you get the McEvoy situation. He is proposing a policy of selling Council Houses to tenants and also maintaining social housing, which he thinks is doable. Yet left-leaning Plaid want him out. Why. Never mind the merits of the policy. It reminds the left of another example of Thatcher, who may have understood the working class better than the left. Is Neil's idea left, right, or simply right for Wales? Plaid are not pausing to think. The present Plaid regime want him out. Really for the sin of rocking the boat.
Where is the greatness of heart in all this/
Yes we will need a Welsh Parliament (bicameral, like everyone else) to decide on all the policies. What we need now is a big tent. a Constitutional Convention to design the system, not the policies. This is (I think) what underlies Royston's desire for something simple. A political party will not be simple. But Convention can be - the only detail is stuff like going Bicameral, electing the First Minister/Governor, entrenching Welsh Courts, maybe decreeing PR or whatever voting system. Oh, and declaring Statehood!

John Dixon said...


I don't think that "blame" is quite the right word here; it was more a case of identifying what seems to me a key problem in developing a multi-party approach to the question of independence. And that sort of relates to what I see as a key difference between us here - should Wales be trying to be debating options for what sort of independence we want within one party or between different parties. Notwithstanding the difficulties which militate for the former, I actually favour the second, but much of what you say here seems to be predicated on an assumption that we should be doing the former.

Part of what I was trying to say here is that a single party can do the former - be the sort of big tent that you describe - only if (a) we can move directly from incorporation to independence, or (b) it adopts an abstentionist position. If the process is to be gradual, and a party takes part in the institutions, then at some point on most issues, it has to adopt a position. Once it does that, it can no longer be an entirely comfortable home for all shades of opinion on the detail, united only by one single objective. But alternative pro-independence viewpoints still need an outlet, and in most European countries, that outlet is provided by alternative parties. On the question of principle here, why shouldn't Wales be like those other countries? I wasn't really trying to blame the electoral system, merely highlight what I know, from experience, has kept some independentistas in a party with which they feel a decreasing level of affinity, namely the fear of taking a step backwards by fragmentation.

Leigh Richards said...

People with right of centre views like Jac who support independence for wales are of course perfectly entitled to set up their own party if they feel they arent represented at the ballot box. But judging from some of the comments i've seen from some of its would be supporters it seems like it could turn out to be a welsh equivalent of ukip - or worse. Indeed some of them put me in mind of the kinds of people who would have been attracted to Jimmy's 'secret army' in reggie perrin

Anonymous said...

I am not convinced it is just the electoral system which militates against the development of a multi-party independence movement - or full multi-party system more generally. It is the lack of engagement in politics by the the general public in Wales, their ignorance of political matters and the system of government, and the absence of a properly formed Welsh media that might help to overcome these deficiencies.

John Dixon said...


"I am not convinced it is just the electoral system..." I don't disagree with that, and didn't claim that the electoral system was the only factor. But I think it is the main factor. If you look at some of the reaction to Royston's proposal, it has been along the lines, of 'don't split the nationalist vote'. I suspect that the desire for one or more alternative voices for independentistas is rather broader than the 'usual suspects', but that there is a general fear that fragmentation would be a step backwards which holds some back. My point is simply that, even if I disagree with the detail of the policies being put forward, I would welcome the normalisation which a range of voices would provide.

Spirit of BME said...

To establish a new party in this sceptred isle, you only have to decide on one question- do you set it up to “play the game, for the games sake” or do you nail your principles to the mast and be prepared to sink or swim on the outcome.
By this I mean, when entering Westminster or Collaborator’s Cove in Cardiff will you attest or take the oath to the English Queen and by doing so, accept her and her successors legitimacy and sovereign right to govern Wales.
You also accept that the office of Head of State is, to be polite, somewhat deficient in its democratic legitimacy. Or, do you not stand for these bodies and just act out your grievances in local councils. Or, do you stand for Westminster and the Assembly and declare you will not entre unless there are changes as Sinn Fein did in the North of Ireland.
Plaid actually believes that it has found the answer to the question by putting across the story that they are in no way monarchists, but do it in order to “play the game”, however, to the ordinary Joe in the street by now, it can be interpreted as “I am prepared to lie in order to get the job and cash”, which holes them below the waterline, before leaving port when it comes to their honesty and integrity, as they set sail on their political voyage.
Lord knows Wales needs a party that will stand up for its rights, but having read Mr Jones excellent blog for some years, this question should give him sleepless nights.