Saturday, 27 March 2021

Not playing the game


A Conservative candidate for the Senedd elections identified a serious problem with the way the Senedd works this week. Apparently, some of the people elected to the Senedd on a pro-independence platform have been using their elected position to promote the idea of independence. It’s easy to understand why this might be a strange concept for a Tory; decades of experience have made them entirely comfortable with the idea that Labour campaign as socialists and then fall into line with Conservative policy, with a few minor embellishments, once elected. This is the way UK politics is supposed to work – it’s not about choosing whether the country is run along Conservative lines, but about choosing which bunch of Conservatives should hold the reins at any particular time. Promoting manifesto policies after being elected, as some independentistas are doing, simply isn’t playing the game.

This particular Tory candidate has said that it hasn’t led him to demand the abolition of the Senedd, but whether that’s because he believes what he says or because he is simply afraid to say what he does believe (abolition doesn’t exactly sound like a vote-winning policy in Dwyfor Meirionnydd) is something only he knows. It is, though, part of the logic which leads many in his party – including the current PM – to wish that devolution had never happened.

The idea that ‘democracy’ can be tolerated only for as long as electors elect the ‘right’ people was taken a bit further by another Tory back in January, when he argued that the Senedd should be abolished because the Tories could never win a majority. That they think that way is no surprise, but it ought to be astonishing that anyone could argue so openly for the abolition of any element of democracy which might deprive them of power. It should serve to remind us that the ‘conservatives’ (in the widest sense of the term) have only ever allowed us to vote in elections in the UK’s semi-democracy on the assumption that ‘they’ would remain in power whatever the outcome. It’s one of the reasons for their keen support of an electoral system which gifts an absolute majority to a party on the basis of a minority of the votes. Devolution (particularly in Scotland) and any system of proportional representation threaten that assumption.

But a system of democracy which is only allowed to produce minor variations on a single outcome isn’t democracy at all, it’s a sham. And any system of devolution is part of the same charade. We can choose who we like but our choice will be over-ridden if we make the ‘wrong’ one, as Scotland is finding over the question of a second referendum. Ultimately, only independence gives us the right to choose the future for Wales. It would be naïve, though, to think – in the light of experience to date – that obtaining independence is as simple as electing a majority of independentistas to the Senedd and then holding a referendum. That involves an implicit and wholly erroneous assumption about the commitment of any currently conceivable UK government to honouring the democratic wishes of the voters. The shock of that one Tory candidate at the idea that independentistas might actually want independence is more of a warning than I suspect even he realised.

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