(Title Image: Yes Cymru)
As part of the October 2017 update, in the post Five Big Challenges Facing the IndyWales Movement I said:
“A quest for ideological purity will do more self-inflicted damage to the independence movement than anything else I can think of because it starts arguments within the group.
Yes Cymru has rightly set their stall out from the start to not be tied to any one party or ideology, but there’s always a risk that the movement will get dragged one way….when it has to stay above everyday politics to prevent getting boxed into a corner. The movement as a whole is going to have to become the ‘broad church’ that Plaid Cymru isn’t, but needs to be aware of entryism.”
The need to balance ideology and constitutional goals was brought into sharper focus following an article published on Nation.Cymru by Gareth Leaman in June, which argued that the independence movement has to “address the crisis in late capitalism”.
As I said it would, this started arguments though mostly confined to social media.
The thrust of Graham’s argument was fundamentally correct and a particular piece I agree with was:
“If all an independent Wales achieves is the same structural inequalities as the United Kingdom, but with Y Ddraig Goch flying above every public building instead of The Union Jack, what’s the point? What, exactly, has been achieved? What improvements will we have made to people’s lives?”
The Chicken & The Egg
Does independence need to be secured before applying party politics and ideology? Or does it have to be political to get people on board with the idea of independence in the first place?
I’m going to hazard a guess that the majority of people who already support Welsh independence are going to be on the left anyway and are either active members of Plaid Cymru or Plaid voters.
There are notable exceptions to this, some of which are significant and important voices in the (still small) IndyWales movement including:
- Labour’s Ben Gwalchmai (@Labour4IndWales) and Neville Southall.
- A small Liberal/centrist grouping (@LiberalsCymru).
- The leader of the Green Party in Wales (Grenville Ham) is a Yes Cymru member.
- A populist grouping around Neil McEvoy (Propel and, as of 2020, the Welsh National Party).
- The soon-to-be-launched syncretic (neither left-or-right) nationalist party, Gwlad.
Independence won’t be achieved by relying on Plaid Cymru alone because to date they’ve failed to become the “Welsh SNP”; there has to be a broader base that includes Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, socialists, libertarians and right-wing civic nationalists.
There are some viewpoints which, by natural justice, don’t belong anywhere near the IndyWales debate including fascists, Neo-Nazis, “völkisch” ethnic nationalists and “Tankies” because tolerating them would lead to a mix of intolerance against others, centralisation of economic and political power (the very thing we’re supposed to be trying to get away from) and the crushing of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Whenever writing or thinking about independence, the primary consideration is “what works” and trying put my ideological beliefs (broadly libertarian left) to one side – though it’s not always possible.
I see independence as a means to an end; Wales needs independence and the powers and responsibilities that come with it before we can do some of the more so-called radical/experimental ideas and policies many of us would like to see.
That doesn’t mean none of us should talk about what we would want to do with independence – we have to and should be doing that more often.
Some issues will need to be decided and discussed beforehand, the big ones being defence, currency, energy security, having a rough idea of what our tax, public spending and borrowing requirements would be and the Constitution (which would include setting out the guiding values/principles of the new nation as well as our civil rights).
Everything else is open season. They’re matters for individual political parties to debate and put to the vote in elections to the Senedd post-independence.
Independence is ultimately a black and white choice on whether Wales should make all decisions affecting Wales. It rejects the notion of being ruled by governments we never vote for and making fundamental decisions for us based purely on a fact that we share a Union with a country that has 20 times more people than we do.
What is a “radical independence”?
- Either no referendum, or some element of a unilateral declaration.
- Preceded by civil disobedience, armed or unarmed rebellion and/or mass protest.
- Ideologically-driven as much as (if not more so) constitutionally-driven, whether that’s republican (in a state with a monarchy), socialist, emancipatory, demanding liberty from active oppression or any combination of those.
Movements which have been historically held up as “radical” have a less than stellar success rate, even if radical movements played a massive part in laying the groundwork for independence.
Simon Bolivar was a nationalist in the romantic sense. Karl Marx loathed him. He admired America and would probably laugh at Hugo Chavez’s interpretation of “Bolivarianism” (anti-imperialism aside).
Ireland never became the socialist republic James Connolly envisaged. They negotiated a treaty with the UK, endured a civil war, retained the monarchy for a significant period of time and for a long time was effectively a Catholic theocracy under Eamon de Valera. Its economic policies during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s would make the Welsh left wince. The dominant parties in Irish politics since independence – Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – are both centre-right; one populist, the other German-style Christian Democrats. Sinn Fein has done bugger all south of the border since the 1920s.
The Mau-Mau rebellion was a failure. The radicalism it fostered at the start didn’t last, with one of the supposed leaders (and first President of newly-independent Kenya), Jomo Kenyatta, being rather conservative, authoritarian and implementing free-market policies.
Cuba was independent – despite long-standing interference by the Americans – long before Fidel and Che, while Batista attained power as a big tent populist who enjoyed support from Communists. The collapse of both the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia created more independent states than existed prior to them, none of which are now recognisably socialist or radical.
India became independent after polite negotiation and an Act of Parliament (ditto Canada, Australia, New Zealand).
I can’t think of many “radical” independence movements that:
- Achieved constitutional independence peacefully by themselves and without the support of foreign powers during the Cold War (where applicable).
- Maintained pre-independence “radical ideas” for a good period of time after independence.
- Avoided either becoming a one-party state/dictatorship, a civil war or a coup d’etat within the first few years of achieving independence.
Among the few candidates are Nigeria (and that would be stretching the definition of “radical”) and possibly Barbados (which achieved independence from the UK under a socialist party).
Will Wales buck the trend? I doubt it.
Accommodating All Voices
Radical supporters of independence deserve a voice and have as much a stake in the future of the country as more constitutionalist/pic-n-mix sorts like myself. However, it has to be as one voice amongst many.
Yes Cymru is going about things the right way. By not tying themselves to one particular party or ideology, they can set out their stall as an umbrella campaign focused on a single statement of intent: Wales should be responsible for making all decisions affecting Wales.
That said, none of us should start thinking that an independent Wales will be a utopia, but it does genuinely have to be “better” than what we have now.
The problem is that those of us on the left will have to accept that the people at large will have different ideas about what “better” means. They may very well want controlled immigration, don’t like the idea of living in eco-communes, like their holidays to Spain and satellite TV packages, don’t fancy working in a syndicalist economy, might need some convincing over a republic and are sceptical about green technology and automation.
If we’re going to have a democracy and proportional electoral system, the people will vote for governments and policies some of us don’t like – but we’ll always get the government and policies we collectively choose for Wales. It would be interesting thought experiment to see how domestic politics would change in Wales if the apron strings with London were cut (I’m going to look at this in January).
Wales is likely to be a mixed market Nordic-style social democracy, with maybe a half dozen unique, radical ideas added to it or explored further (which I’m going to start doing from next year, though I’ve argued for drug legalisation before) – because one of the benefits of being a small, independent nation is that you’re nimble enough to experiment without causing long-term damage.
And you never know, some policies and constitutional principles that could be written off as being “too radical” now, may become our most cherished core policies and ideals after independence.