Wednesday 30 June 2021

Accidentally leading Wales to independence?


If any group of independentistas had produced anything remotely similar to Mark Drakeford’s 20 point plan, there can be little doubt that the Welsh branch office of the British Labour Party (to say nothing of their close friends in the Welsh branch office of the Conservative and Unionist Party) would have rushed to condemn it, claiming that by setting conditions which it would be impossible for the British state to concede, the plan was a deliberate attempt to create a situation where failure was inevitable and where independence was the only viable option. Asking Westminster to accept that they should irreversibly relinquish all right to legislate in devolved areas and that the Senedd and Scottish Parliament have their own sovereign democratic mandate in those areas is asking them to abandon some core tenets of the unwritten UK constitution. And demanding to be treated as some sort of ‘equal’ – the response might not be put in these terms, but would be based on the belief that these people just don’t understand their place.

It would be comforting to believe that this was really Drakeford’s master plan – setting out conditions for the continuation of the union which no UK government will ever accept and thus turning the debate towards independence. However, Drakeford is too much of a dyed-in-the-wool unionist to plan to go down that route. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that we must conclude that he really does believe that there are circumstances where the Westminster parliament will legislate along the lines he suggests. I don’t think that he’s naïve enough to believe that the Tories will ever do it, but I also struggle to understand that anyone who has been part of the British Labour Party for as long as he has believes that that party will do so either. Even if there were any currently conceivable possibility of that party getting anywhere near power in the next decade or so.

All of which can only suggest that it is little more than a tactic: an attempt to outline a possible future for the union in which Wales is not completely sidelined to try and stem the rise in support for independence and keep Labour in a leading position in Wales. Words, rather than action. There is, though, just a possibility that the unionist parties would have been right to condemn any such plan by independentistas as designed to fail. When it is shown clearly that his plan cannot and will not be implemented, could the leader of the Labour Party in Wales end up in a position where he has accidentally set up the conditions in which independence happens?

Monday 28 June 2021

To each according to need...


In the last few weeks, the Conservatives-in-Wales have turned their faux anger on the Welsh Government’s proposal to trial a Universal Basic Income in Wales, with their Finance spokesperson telling us that it would hand money to the wealthy and the MS for Aberconwy adding that it’s a step towards Wales becoming a communist state. They succeed only in demonstrating how utterly clueless they are. There’s nothing new about the idea of a UBI – in one form or another, the idea has been floating around for the last 4 or 5 centuries. And there’s nothing particularly left-wing about the idea either; there are some good right-wing arguments in favour as well.

It’s true, though, that in broad terns, the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ approach the idea from different perspectives. I can sort of see how Finch-Saunders almost has half a point about the relationship with communism. But only almost, and only half. Marx did indeed utter the phrase “…to each according to his needs”, implying that goods and services should be distributed on the basis of need rather than ability to pay, something which is anathema to modern-day Tories. It was, though, based on the questionable assumption that a developed economy could produce such an abundance of good and services that there would be no need to ration them on price (which is the basis on which capitalism works). And the first part of Marx’ phrase is omitted, because he also assumed that all in society would be making a contribution, or as he put it: “From each according to his ability”. It’s an important caveat.

From a more ‘left-leaning’ perspective, UBI is about ensuring that society provides at least the basics for all its members, and therefore inherently conveys a sense of what ‘society’ is or should be. Supporters of UBI who lean to the right tend to see it more in terms of simplicity and efficiency. A single fixed payment to everyone gets rid entirely of an overcomplicated benefits system and all the bureaucracy associated with it. (And if the same sum is also paid to pensioners, it removes another over-complicated system and the costs of administering it.) It’s true that it also involves the state paying money to millionaires, but that’s a complete red herring; a progressive tax system on all income over and above the level of UBI would mean that the wealthy simply pay more tax. And I very much doubt that the suggested target group for the Welsh trial – care leavers – contains a large number of millionaires.

Whether UBI discourages people from seeking work or not is an open question. Freed of the need to work in order to pay for food, shelter etc., there may well be some who will decide not to work at all, but then there are some who do that at present anyway. They’re more of an exception than the media would have us believe, though: most people living on benefits are either unable to work, or unable to find suitable work, rather than have taken a positive decision not to bother. It depends to a very large extent on how the level of UBI is set and how ‘basic needs’ are defined, but most people’s ‘wants’ go way beyond their ‘needs’. UBI could equally increase the incentive to find work for people freed of the daily worry about how to meet the basic costs of simply staying alive.

The bigger concerns with the proposed pilot in Wales are firstly its necessarily limited scope (given the lack of power of the Senedd) and secondly that it is being viewed as a way of simplifying the benefits system for the target group. Not only does that look more like a conservative argument for UBI, it is also likely to be of limited use in judging whether it should, indeed, become truly ‘universal’. It’s in danger of being a trial which contains the seeds of its own destruction, to adapt another of Marx’ sayings.

Thursday 24 June 2021

Madness and self-destruction


It was sometime during the 1970s that the late Harri Webb regaled a group of us with a tale of visiting a local newsagent to buy a felt pen. The newsagent told him that they didn’t have any Japanese-made pens, only “cheap British copies”. “And that,” said Harri, “was the day that I knew the British Empire was finished”. In more practical political terms, the Empire died slowly over a few decades between the end of the second world war and the early 1980s, with the bulk of former possessions disappearing during the 1960s and 70s. The attitudes underpinning imperialism have, though, taken a lot longer to die, but as the end approaches the death throes are moving from pathos to farce.

Clinging on to strange symbols such as medals of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire with its five different grades of membership of an institution which to all intents and purposes ceased to exist half a century ago could simply be chalked down as quaint, if a little eccentric. Building useless boats as part of a pretension to be the same global colossus which conquered so much of the world a few centuries ago is rather pathetic, although those same delusions of grandeur can turn positively dangerous when the world king decides to start threatening China with an aircraft-free aircraft carrier, or to deliberately provoke Russia by sailing a warship into disputed waters, complete with pre-installed BBC reporter to report on events.

But it’s hard to avoid the word farce when we turn to some of the more recent attempts to shore up the remaining parts of the English Empire loser to home. Plastering union flags on everything in sight, encouraging school children to sing songs extolling the virtues of a model of Britain which has rightly been consigned to history, and campaigning for the government to provide a portrait of Mrs Windsor to hang in every home – these are more signs of desperation than a serious attempt to encourage unity. It’s as if they seriously believe that the imposition of visible symbols will awaken some sort of innate Britishness, one much more monocultural and deferential, which lurks somewhere within us all and simply needs to be drawn out. Backing it up with repeated attempts to brush away any idea that there can be more than one nation in these islands looks more likely to have the opposite effect to that intended, accentuating division rather than unity by trying to impose one single view of what it means to be British.

The old saying is that “those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad”, and madness is an appropriate description of current government behaviour. But perhaps the earliest formulation of the same sentiment, by Sophocles (an ancient Greek who will certainly be familiar to Johnson), runs more like "evil appears as good in the minds of those whom god leads to destruction". Genuinely believing that what they are doing is a very good idea rather than a very bad one is certainly a possible explanation for their bizarre approach. It’s still a form of madness, though – and it doesn’t get them out of being led to their own destruction either.

Monday 21 June 2021

Undelivered promises are cost-free


Members of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet are apparently getting increasingly restless about his penchant for making costly announcements about things that they are going to do without telling them first, let alone consulting with them. According to this story in the Sunday Times (paywall), the Chancellor, in particular, is now starting to ask where the money is going to come from, and the Guardian reports, more generally, that Cabinet meetings have become a formality with no debate and that ministers are feeling sidelined.

However, like Thatcher’s vegetables, Ministers are failing to understand what is expected of them. World kings don’t need to consult with anyone, they have the absolute right to do as they wish; mere courtiers simply need to fall into line and do as they are told. They may not like the monstrous and narcissistic ego ignoring their views, but they helped to put him there, and under the UK’s semi-democracy, he could replace them at any time, if only it didn’t require him to take a decision first.

And that unwillingness to take decisions brings us to another thing that Ministers, to say nothing of the media, are not understanding. The nature of boosterism has nothing to do with taking decisions or actually spending money at all. It’s just about PR and making announcements. Announcing grand schemes and lots of spending earns headlines, often positive, as the words of Johnson are faithfully reported by a sycophantic media as though they contained some meaning. But for Johnson, the headline itself is the payoff. People adding up the cost of his announcements are missing the point: pledges which he has no intention of delivering cost nothing. There is no plan for social care, there will not be a tunnel between Great Britain and Ireland – let alone a giant roundabout under the Isle of Man – and there probably won’t be a new boat either. Just like there will be no ‘Boris Island’ in the Thames Estuary, or garden bridge in the centre of London. Levelling up is a slogan, not a plan, and neither health nor education will receive as much funding as they need to catch up after the pandemic. And his rejection of further austerity doesn’t mean that he isn’t planning cuts to public spending, merely that he’s going to call it something else.

The ratio of cost to truthfulness in any promise made by Johnson is 1:1 –  which means that zero truthfulness translates into zero cost. The real question is why anybody else – let alone the Ministers working most closely with him – takes anything he says at face value. He just wants us all to remember the headlines and forget the substance. Sadly, years of making up stories as a reporter give him reasonable cause to believe that many will do just that.

Thursday 17 June 2021

Fearing the truth or trying to ignore it?


The point about the exceptionalism of English nationalists is that it’s exceptionally exceptional, but it still takes a very, very exceptional kind of exceptionalism to spend months negotiating a deal in excruciating detail, declare it to be the best deal ever in the whole of human history, and then refuse to implement it because it’s such a rubbish deal. Even more exceptionalist is to then expect the partner with whom the deal had been so painstakingly negotiated to agree that actually implementing it is unnecessary because, well, because the UK is so very exceptional. And because sausages. Oh, and also because some of the more extreme loyalists, whose degree of loyalty can apparently be directly measured by their propensity for violence against the state to which they proclaim said loyalty, who were promised that the deal to put a trade border down the Irish Sea meant that there would be absolutely no border checks or controls whatsoever and were silly enough to believe that any utterance from the mouth of the exceptionalist PM could bear any relationship to truth, might vent their anger by further violent demonstrations of loyalty to the state.

It’s wrong, of course, to make light of a very serious situation, but the consequences of the deal signed by the UK Government were obvious from the outset, and signing a legally-binding deal with another party in the expectation that the UK could then wriggle out of it by firstly ignoring it, then refusing to implement it, and then seeking to use potential violence by groups whose views they deliberately ignored in the first place in an attempt to blackmail the other partner into dismantling its own regulatory regime is much, much worse. The phrase used yesterday by Cummings to describe the English Health Minister (“Totally f*****g hopeless”) looks like an understatement when applied to the government as a whole.

As ever, the Labour leader managed to ride to the rescue. Faced with a hopeless government, the last thing we need is a hopeless opposition, but Labour can generally be relied upon to provide that last thing. Starmer managed to say both that the deal signed by the UK Government – a deal which he and his party supported by voting for it in parliament – must be implemented and there is no scope for major renegotiation, but at the same time there should be no border checks either in the Irish Sea or across the island of Ireland. Whilst he’s critical of the government for signing the deal which he supported, he neither wants to change it nor implement it in full – it’s hard to see what the difference in substance is between him and Johnson. They have, though, arrived at the same position by different routes. Johnson doesn’t care about the truth, whilst Starmer actively fears it. Johnson lied about the deal to get himself out of a tight spot and never had any intention of implementing it; Starmer knows that avoiding borders ultimately involves re-entry into the single market or something very similar but fears telling his voters that simple truth. Both are left arguing for the impossible.

Wednesday 16 June 2021

Problems, diagnoses and budgies


It seems that hardly a week goes past without one or another member of the Welsh government issuing dire warnings about the future of the United Kingdom if Boris Johnson continues to ignore or over-ride the devolution settlement. Drakeford, Gething et al increasingly remind me of Harri Webb’s budgie – the one that squawks and squawks as it flies into a fearful rage – as they vent their anger. There’s not much wrong with their diagnosis of the problem; power devolved is power retained, and the problem with devolution from the outset has been that powers enjoyed by Wales were only ever on loan and could always be recalled.

There is a great deal wrong, however, with their prescription. In essence, it boils down to waiting for England to elect a Labour Government and then hoping (against all the evidence provided by decades of experience) that that government will set up a commission to examine constitutional options, come to an agreed position and then implement it. It’s an approach which depends on an English Labour Government being in power for at least two – and probably three – full five year terms, and being prepared to invest a substantial amount of time, effort, and political capital on matters constitutional over the whole of that period in order to deal with what will always look from a London perspective to be the concerns of a fringe minority (aka Wales and Scotland). There is simply no appetite in England for the sort of significant reform required and ‘England’, in this context, includes the English Labour Party. Given the unlikelihood of a Labour government being elected at the next election – and maybe not even the one after that, in the light of active attempts at voter suppression by the Tories – it’s a recipe for waiting 25 years for action, even if all the ducks, however many legs they possess, were to line up as required.

That’s a quarter of a century to wait for the off-chance that something might eventually change. It’s no wonder that the alternative scenario, which is that Wales follow Scotland out of the dysfunctional union, is gaining support. Those who expect that all this fulminating and complaining by Labour politicians in Cardiff will eventually lead them to support the obvious alternative should remember that budgie again. As Harri put it:  

But he won’t get out, he’ll never try it,

And a cloth on the cage will keep him quiet.

When push comes to shove, the Labour budgie is a remarkably well-behaved bird. And Westminster knows where to find plenty of suitable cloths.

Friday 11 June 2021

Understanding numbers


Following the opening salvos in the Great Sausage War of 2021, as it will surely come to be known, the PM told us yesterday, in relation to his belief that it should be possible to avoid barriers to trade either in the Irish Sea or on the island of Ireland, that he’s “very very optimistic about this” and that he thinks that it is “easily doable”. He’s right, of course. Conceptually, it’s extremely simple, just like crossbreeding a narwhal with a horse to produce a unicorn is conceptually very simple. The devil is in the detail of how to make it happen in practice. In fairness, he is at least being unusually consistent: what he’s calling for is what he’s always believed that the UK is entitled to – completely free trade with the EU whilst not following any of the EU’s rules. The problem, from the outset, has been that Europeans simply don’t understand how special and unique the UK is, and are making things unnecessarily difficult.

Achieving what he says he wants simply requires one of two things to happen. Either the UK agrees to align its controls on food quality with those in operation at the EU border, or the EU abandons its regulations and allows sausages to flow freely from anywhere in the world. Of the two, it is entirely obvious to everyone (well, everyone of any importance in the eyes of English exceptionalists) why it is the EU which should surrender. Not only are British Sausages inherently superior to all others (you can tell by the union flag on the packet), but more importantly the UK market of 66 million is bigger than the EU market of a mere 450 million, giving the UK the upper hand at all times.

Purist mathematicians may quibble slightly at that, but they need to get with the programme and understand the NewMath which is now the dominant strain within the government party. It’s far from the only example, and nor is it anything new. We were also told yesterday by a Welsh Conservative that 16 is bigger than 43, and the current Welsh Secretary is on record as believing that 1 is bigger than 7. And in relation to a comparison of votes received, they believe that winning 365 seats out of 650 in 2019 gives them an absolute right to rule, whereas the 71 seats out of 129 won by pro-Indy parties in Scotland in 2020 shows that independence has been resoundingly rejected.

One of the problems with NewMath is that, faced with two numbers, none of us can ever be certain which is the larger, or how to interpret them, until the Tories have explained it to us. Then the truth becomes obvious and inarguable. As obvious as the fact that there was never a time when the UK did not exist and that we have always been at war with the rest of Europe over sausages. What Orwell thought was a dystopian novel has become an instruction manual.

Thursday 10 June 2021

Jaws 5 - The Cornish Connection

At the last meeting of G7 leaders, in 2019, the UK’s Prime Minister swam out into the Atlantic and around a rocky outcrop in some sort of bizarre Brexit analogy. Whether he’ll repeat the gesture during this week’s summit which he is hosting in another Atlantic shoreline town, this time in Cornwall, has not yet been announced, but given his predilection for contorted stunts, it must surely be at least a possibility. Perhaps this time he’ll look for a Covid analogy. He has said, after all, that he wanted to be remembered as the mayor who kept the beaches open. Although, in the version of Jaws that I watched, I was sure that the mayor was the villain, not the hero – not the most obvious choice of role for a known narcissist.

By way of handy coincidence, there was a report less than two months ago that a great white shark called Nukumi was crossing the Atlantic and, according to CornwallLive, could even be making a beeline for Cornwall. There have never been any fully authenticated reports, as far as I am aware, of great whites off the shores of Cornwall, but it’s not an impossibility according to the experts and this has the potential to be a screenwriter’s dream come true. The outcome of the battle between BoJo and Nukumi would be tense, but inevitable; not even Disney could write a script in which the PM could defeat a 253 stone 17foot long shark. The mayor who kept the beaches open finds himself in an epic battle with the beast about which the hero of the piece had been warning him for months – that’s certainly a good Covid analogy – and is ultimately consumed by his very own Nemesis Nukumi. Only after the PM’s empty beanie hat is pictured floating tragically on the surface of the sea do the scientists come along and deal with Nukumi in the way that they had always said would be needed, so that the beaches can once again become safe.

It’s a fantasy, of course, but with just that necessary element of credibility. To whom should I offer the script?

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Fire, aim, ready


Over the past couple of decades, a whole new management approach has been built around the idea that businesses have traditionally spent too much time preparing and targeting rather than acting, and the slogan which sums it up is “Ready, Fire, Aim”, the assumption being that doing something is the most important part and that any errors or problems can be corrected later. As a mantra for business, it’s a little over-simplistic, but it has some merit in discouraging over-analysis and delay. As a mantra for governments, its value is rather less clear, but that hasn’t stopped the current UK government, which even seems to have taken it a bit further – the slogan is more like “Fire, Aim, Ready”. Act first, think about what you were trying to achieve next, and only then ‘prepare’ (or in this case seek to overcome the problems caused by taking the first step without even thinking about the second).

Brexit had to be ‘done’, even if they didn’t know what they were trying to achieve and were obviously unprepared either for the negotiations or the consequences. They signed up to a deal, over Northern Ireland in particular, the consequences of which they appear to have completely failed to understand or consider. And when the other party to the deal, the EU, seeks to implement – and demand that the UK implement – the deal that they have signed rather than agree to a complete renegotiation, this is portrayed as being utterly unreasonable.

Today it appears that, in his haste to sign up to a deal on tax in advance of the G7 meeting, the ex-banker in 11 Downing Street appears not to have noticed that the deal he has struck will hit banking profits. He, too, wants everyone else who is party to the agreement to agree to renegotiate the detail.

And then there was yesterday’s story in the FT about Britain’s new Boris Boat which is, according to the government, going to be built entirely in the UK to show the prowess and success of UK industry and skills. Except that the government signed an agreement with the WTO last year under which shipbuilding for non-military purposes (unless by promoting trade they mean something akin to the opium wars) is very clearly not excluded from the requirement to open up bidding to companies in other countries.

All this could just be down to utter incompetence or the adoption of a misunderstood and inappropriate management slogan. But the FT story may have hit the nail on the head, albeit unintentionally, with this quote from Dmitry Grozoubinski, a trade expert who is visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde: “The government can’t simultaneously present itself as a champion of the rules-based trading system and retain the freedom to ignore those rules whenever politically expedient.” With all due respect to the expert concerned, I rather suspect that that is exactly what the government thinks it can do – and is doing. Nobody can say that we weren’t warned. Johnson and others have said often enough that they want the UK to be ‘buccaneering’, and a key aspect of piracy (as it is otherwise known) is precisely a disregard of the rules which apply to everyone else. As the infamous letter from a teacher at Eton about Johnson makes clear, disregard for any obligations to others is, and always has been, a central character trait. Coupled with an unshakable belief in the truly exceptional nature of the English ruling class, it’s an infallible recipe for turning the UK into the rogue state which it is rapidly becoming. Time to depart.

Monday 7 June 2021

Narrowing the gap


Yesterday’s Sunday Times reported that the English royal family is worried that actions by politicians are going to lose Scotland from their realm, and is consequently deploying William and Kate to visit Scotland more often in an attempt to woo the Scots away from independence. The first part of that seems to be an eminently sensible conclusion to draw. Whilst the PM has announced that ‘the union’ is to be at the heart of everything the government does, the interpretation placed on that by some, which is that Johnson is looking for ways to persuade the Scots and the Welsh that they are better off in the union, is way off beam. In practice it just seems to mean looking at every policy to determine whether it offers another opportunity for undoing the devolution settlement and/or for plastering union flags around the place. Scottish and Welsh sentiments are not to be accommodated or assuaged, but overridden and rejected. The conclusion reached by the royals – that this is likely to be counter-productive – is an obvious one to just about everybody except the PM and his coterie.

The second part of their plan, however, is much more problematic. “I used to support independence because of the way the government treats Scotland, but now that our kids have been given more opportunities to wave little plastic union flags at some younger members of a posh English family” is a thought voiced by no-one, ever. And the mindset behind believing that more royal visits would have such an effect whilst the government continues to trash the devolution settlement is a very strange one indeed. Given that it is perfectly possible (and is the policy of Scottish independentistas for the initial phase of independence at least) to retain the union of crowns whilst ending the union of parliaments, the royal family associating itself with the overtly political aim of maintaining both unions is more akin to lashing themselves to the mast to make sure that they go down with the ship than avoiding the shipwreck.

Whilst opinion polls tell us that the Windsors are considerably more popular in Scotland than Johnson, that is a very low bar to set. It’s entirely possible that a royal charm offensive (which may or may not be an oxymoron) in support of the union will indeed reduce the popularity gap between the Windsors and the Tory leader. Just not necessarily in the way they expect.

Friday 4 June 2021

Are Welsh Tories demanding that more of us should die?


It’s a stark question, but a valid one, given yesterday’s call by the party for the whole of Wales to be moved into Alert Level 1 immediately. It’s in contrast with the continued caution being shown by Mark Drakeford, who is slowing down the unlocking process so that more people can be vaccinated, given the potential impact of the new variant. None of us knows with certainty what the impact of either strategy will be, but experience to date – and all the scientific evidence – indicates that the risk of hospitalisations and deaths will be lower the more people have been vaccinated before the lockdown restrictions are removed.

The underlying question is about how many hospitalisations, deaths, and instances of long Covid are considered ‘acceptable’. Very few people would argue that the whole economy should be shut down for a year to avoid a single death, but equally few would argue against a short shutdown if it would prevent millions of deaths. Neither of those extremes is realistic in the current scenario, but we don’t know exactly where we are in between the two. The best probability, according to the experts, is that an unchecked third wave involving a more infectious and more serious variant could result in a number of deaths in the thousands or tens of thousands, and the more restrictions in place and the greater the number of people who have been vaccinated when it happens, the lower the death toll will be. Governments and opposition politicians are faced with a very simple question – what number is considered ‘acceptable’ when balanced against the costs of maintaining restrictions.

There is no ‘right’ answer to that question, it’s all about making a judgement call. And I don’t envy those who have been placed in the position of having to make it. What’s missing, though is a degree of honesty about the fact that they are making such a call. Governments are taking decisions which literally mean the difference between life and death for thousands, even if they can’t identify who will die and who will live. Underlying those decisions is an opinion about how many deaths they are prepared to tolerate. It’s a number which they don’t actually know themselves, although they have a reasonable idea of the likely ranges associated with different courses of action and different scenarios. It follows that any politicians arguing for faster removal of restrictions are effectively stating that they are prepared to see a higher number of deaths than those arguing that restrictions should be eased more slowly.

So, to answer the headline question – yes, the Tories are indeed calling for more Welsh people to die of Covid. We don’t know how many more (it could be a handful, it could be thousands); we merely know that the number would be higher if the government implemented the Tory proposal. That doesn’t necessarily make the Tories ‘wrong’, however. If the difference in outcome between the policy being followed by Drakeford and that advocated by the Tories were to be provably small, the public (with the probable exception of those who end up dead or in hospital as a result) might even support their position. But presenting it as a case of giving people back their ‘freedom’ without spelling out the health consequences is simply dishonest. The public at large – i.e. those with whose lives they wish to take chances – surely deserve to be told the likely consequences with greater clarity. We deserve an adult conversation rather than populism.

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.