Thursday 21 October 2021

Predictable Commission outcomes


The Welsh Labour and Unionist Party must be truly delighted with the way that the two Welsh opposition parties, Plaid and the Tories, have responded to the setting up of a constitutional commission in Wales. They could hardly have hoped for more. Whilst we don’t yet know who all the members of the commission will be, we can be absolutely certain that it will not contain a majority of supporters of independence, whatever the more swivel-eyed faction of the Tory Party might say. A unionist government is simply not, ever, going to appoint a commission full of independentistas to advise it on the best constitutional future for Wales. However, the statement that it will be allowed to ‘consider’ independence as an option seems to have been enough to gain the support of Plaid as well as the entirely predictable condemnation of the Tories. Perfect. For Labour.

For some independentistas, the arguments for independence are so overwhelming that they have a tendency to believe that all they need to do is to present those arguments to impartial observers drawn from those whom the Labour and Unionist Party believe to be the great and the good of Wales, and the argument will have been won. Naïve is an inadequate word to describe that belief, not least because the panel will not be one of impartial observers who have no preconceived notions of the ‘correct’ answer. Whilst including a sprinkling of people who may* be independentistas as members of the panel lends its work a degree of credibility amongst independentistas, there is a danger in transferring that credibility to the entire membership of a panel whose collective conclusions could probably be written in advance, especially considering their remit to consult widely and ascertain Welsh opinion on the matter.

I predict that they will conclude that:

a)   There is only minority support for independence in Wales,

b)   Wales is, in any event, not strong enough economically to be an independent country,

c)    Most people in Wales want devolution to succeed,

d)   The devolution settlement should be tidied up with a few extra powers devolved,

e)   Existing powers should somehow be set into concrete so that they can’t be withdrawn by London on a whim,

f)     Federalism would be a really good way forward, and

g)   All Tories are evil.

OK, the last one won’t appear in the printed report; it will merely be an unstated sub-text. And maybe there will be a minority report distancing itself from the formal conclusions, although I would expect that, in appointing members, the government will be looking for people who will be able to come to a consensus. After its publication, the report will be ignored in London by both the Conservative and Unionist Party and the British Labour and Unionist Party, but the Welsh Labour and Unionist Party will use it to justify continuing to flog its dead federalist horse, and other unionists will join them in emphasising that part of the report’s conclusions which sets out why independence any time soon is a very bad idea.

The point is not that setting up a commission is an inherently bad idea, but that any ‘official’ commission will inevitably be set up by those in power at the time – and the membership will reflect that. A consultant, it is said, is a person you call in to borrow your watch to tell you the time, and that is what this commission will do. What independentistas need to remember is that there are no short-cuts to independence; the only route is by winning the support of the people of Wales. Weighty evidence given to commissions might help them to clarify things in their own minds but it does little in itself to win the support of the mass of the people. A pro-independence government could set up a similar commission composed of different members who would come to a very different set of conclusions, but that government does not yet exist, and more importantly neither does the majority opinion in Wales which would allow such a government to be formed. Until it does, independentistas should be very wary about placing their faith in a process designed from the outset to provide credibility and support for the unionist position, let alone one recommending an impractical and unimplementable form of federalism devised solely to sustain the position of the Labour Party.

*Or may not – whilst I know Laura McAllister, one of the co-chairs, and respect her academic knowledge and experience, it’s a few years since I last bumped into her, and I have no idea of her current stance on the issue of independence; having been a Plaid candidate in the fairly distant past by no means makes someone automatically a supporter of independence today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bang on the nail.