This article was published in Nation.Cymru on 18 June 2017 as “We should aim for Home Rule, not independence.”
The Crisis is upon us
No one can argue in good faith that Brexit will be good for Wales.
The fact, moreover, that this historical catastrophe will be orchestrated by a deluded Tory-DUP regressive alliance only adds insult to injury. The breathing room won by Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the EU will be no more.
Indeed, Wales will be one of the biggest losers in the implementation of the “will of the people” – hundreds of millions in EU funding and a withdrawal from the single market which constitutes 67% of our exports.
Let me be clear: we are being locked in the cage of the British single market, one dominated by London, during a period moreover in which there will be disruption of international trade. Over the next decade, over 750 trade agreements will have to be negotiated by the Westminster establishment through the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
In this extreme terrain, the Welsh economy is clearly under tangible threat.
Agriculture may undergo massive dislocation due to increased international competition and the removal of EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies. These pressures – in the absence of any UK commitment to support agriculture beyond 2020 – would lead to mass foreclosures of farming properties and disruption of local communities. Wales will become a vassal of the impersonal power of the WTO.
Indeed, the WTO frowns upon agricultural subsidies as undermining competition – and, like the failed TTIP treaty, will penalise and allow law suits by multi-national corporations against countries which violate competition rules. The EU CAP subsidies remain only due the fact that it is the world’s largest market and therefore has quite considerable clout in international trade negotiations. Without the protection of the EU, Wales truly faces an existential crisis.
What is to be done?
In that the crisis is upon us, we can ask, with Dr Huw Williams, “What is to be done?” (27 March 2017, Nation) Since the general election, many have offered their thoughts on the situation for Wales and what our response as a nation should be to the threat. Williams, for his part, remarks on a recent poll which indicated a rise in support for independence among Welsh voters, his focus being upon Labour Party members. Nevertheless, his real intention, while celebrating open debate in our nascent public sphere, is to position Labour at the “centre” of the debate on the future of Welsh democracy. Williams defines the centre through his reference to FM Carwyn Jones’ alleged “radical vision for devolution.”
Iwan Morgan and Jason Morgan, on the contrary, are among those in recent Nation articles calling for an intensification of focus upon Welsh independence – and specifically by Plaid Cyrmu – the Party of Wales. While the former outlines the positive case for independence in regards to enhanced powers of self-government, the latter has called for Leanne Wood to resign for failing to achieve an electoral breakthrough and not adequately promoting the cause of independence.
I would like to argue that Williams and the two Morgan’s represent two sides of the same coin, neither willing to confront a simple fact: Welsh devolution is incomplete, it is a construction site in which we are building Welsh democracy. For his part, Williams is hardly forthright when he speaks of Carwyn Jones’ (or the Labour Party’s) commitment to a “radical vision of devolution” for Wales. Indeed, Jones and his Westminster Welsh Labour MPs have utterly failed to enact a robust devolutionary settlement either by blocking Plaid Cymru initiatives or simply abstaining on key legislation which would have given additional powers to Wales. Indeed, it can be argued that every advance of Welsh democracy – including devolution itself – has been pushed primarily by Plaid Cymru. The One Wales coalition, for instance, gave us the 2011 referendum, and the competency to enact primary legislation. The first piece of legislation was the Welsh Language Act.
Neither have the advocates of instant independence confronted the fact that devolution is the process by which we are literally building the Welsh state. Iwan Morgan speaks of all the positive aspects of independence – but all the powers he mentions would already be possible through an expansion of powers and competencies of the National Assembly. The idea of independence (one with which does not sit well with most Welsh people) is no substitute for the hard work of building Welsh democracy in the form of Home Rule.
In the wake of the recent election results, I would like to play the role of devil’s advocate.
First of all, no one was expecting a big surge for Plaid Cymru in the general election. Most people were hoping for one or two seats. Indeed, Jason Morgan demanded in “The bottom line: Plaid Cymru must make gains” (1 June 2017, Nation) that one additional seat was necessary. It is strange therefore that he would call for Leanne Wood’s resignation when she fulfilled his basic requirement. He also complains in “It is time for Leanne to go” (15 June 2017, Nation) about the progressive politics of Plaid Cymru, feminism and the lack of focus on independence. He seems not to grasp where he is and who the voters are: Wales is a progressive country – otherwise Labour would not gain 75% of the parliamentary seats. Jeremy Corbyn, moreover, would not even have been possible without the anti-austerity alliance of Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon and Caroline Lucas in the 2015 general election.
While it is interesting moreover that Labour would be ready (if necessary) to colonise the independence movement, it is clear that they will not go that route any time soon. In this light, would a party which does emphasise independence do any better, as Iwan Morgan suggests in “It’s time for Plaid to make the case for independence?” (16 June 2017, Nation) I would argue, against both Morgan’s, that independence clearly harms Plaid Cymru’s voting share at the polls. Indeed, while a solid case can be made for independence in abstracto, the pathway to independence is rarely discussed in detail. That is because it relies upon the hard work of building Welsh democracy in the form of Home Rule.
Home rule has long been the goal of Plaid Cymru – although its precise meaning has not been clearly and consistently conveyed to the voters. What is important here is that Home Rule or Devo-max seeks to build Welsh democracy initially within the context of the United Kingdom, our beloved “Family of Nations.” This has yet to be fully attempted. Moreover, building Home Rule creates the conditions of possibility for independence through a process of political, economic, social and cultural development.
My argument surrounding independence is based upon the simple principle:
If the constitutional design and political economy of the United Kingdom cannot accommodate our aspirations for a robust Welsh democracy, then the question of independence becomes inescapable.
At this point in a long history, there is much reason to doubt that the British state would ever allow Welsh democracy to come to fruition. Yet, what is the British state – or better, who is the British state? Much is possible in the context of Parliamentary sovereignty and Labour did in fact deliver devolution in 1999. Yet, since this time, it has only been Plaid Cymru which has pushed the process further: and this has been Plaid Cymru’s longstanding policy.
The Tories and Labour have maintained Wales in a state of arrested development. Only a Plaid Cymru government in the National Assembly can begin to liberate Welsh democracy.
After Brexit, in order to avoid the homogeneity of a London-dominated unipolar UK, it will be necessary to create a multipolar UK. Home rule in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will allow the emergence of countervailing poles to re-balance the UK political economy. This is possible in the context of current devolutionary tendencies: much has been achieved by Scotland, for instance. It is important to remember that devolution is a constitutional project to ameliorate democratic deficiencies with regards to minority nations. The same project can be harnessed to transform the political economic structure of the UK after Brexit.
This is why, for the next elections to what will then be called the Welsh Parliament, Plaid Cymru must emphasise a renewed and consistent focus on building Home Rule. In this context, independence would be the stick to the carrot of authentic devolution. Plaid Cymru, over the next few years, must educate the Welsh populace on how devolution can allow us to “take back control.” Indeed, home rule is a much more tangible offering for a population where the vast majority are still wary of the spectre of independence.
I feel that proponents of independence, in their enthusiasm, often forget that we still need to build the Welsh state – and that much of this work can be done prior to independence. This work is done by building home rule and the establishment of a true Welsh social democracy. Home rule is something people can grasp and understand, and thankfully, it is 90% of the way to independence (if that is the path Welsh citizens decide to travel.)