This article was published by the European Movement on 14 January 2014.
Will the proposed UK EU exit make Welsh independence inevitable? Should Wales follow Scotland if it votes ‘Yes’?
The benefits of EU membership are universally acknowledged in Wales and nobody in the mainstream of politics, business and academia in Wales wants to leave the European Union – at least no one I know.
But, this mantra of the UK’s departure of the EU has become an inescapable talking point of politics, inciting unnecessary instability in a time of persistent and deepening insecurity.
Yet, the mantra may have unintended and ironic consequences, especially for Wales, if it begins to take seriously the possibility of a UK exit of the EU.
Such an exit could force Wales to assert its independence for practical (social, political, economic) and philosophical (political and ethical) reasons.
There are serious questions to be asked regarding the security of Welsh development – and Welsh priorities – outside of the protections of the European Charter of Human Rights and significant EU treaties and documents outlining social and employment protections, rights to healthcare, academic freedom, environmental regulations… and the list goes on…
The Welsh Assembly Government has fought courageously to protect health rights, such as free prescriptions, and has placed a redoubled focus upon the project of sustainability. It has protected Welsh university students, even those going to university in England and Scotland… and the list goes on…
The very reasons UKIP and Conservative Eurosceptics want out of the EU is their opposition to the type of priorities and policies of the Welsh Assembly Government, which has resisted the failed austerity policies. A UK outside of the EU would be a country of permanent austerity and universal privatisation. Devolution itself may begin to come into question.
Yet, would such resistance by the Welsh Assembly Government be possible outside of the EU context and its legal framework of rights – indeed, what would become of basic human, social, industrial, and environmental rights and protections?
No one should forget the children’s fable of the fox guarding the chicken coop.
Plaid Cymru already sets out its strategic vision of great devolved powers which would facilitate the nation building project which would allow for a fiscally, economically and politically sound move toward independence within a European context. Europe is the sine qua non of political and economic possibility for the vast majority of Wales.
Wales cannot exist merely by itself, and it cannot and has not truly existed in the United Kingdom.
There are clear social and political economic benefits to membership of the European Union, not to mention the as yet un-scaled heights of the philosophical and historical question of Welsh nationality. Membership of the EU is the first, best option for a nation in renaissance to explore itself and build a network of mature relationships with other nations.
As an agrarian nation with industrial sectors, the Welsh economy benefits not only from EU financial support and investment in agriculture, which would not be forthcoming from Westminster, but also from substantial trade of Welsh products with our Continental partners. Welsh lamb, for instance, is considered a delicacy in France, Germany and many other European countries. Such trade would be severely curtailed with a UK exit from the European Union. This would devastate entire communities, local farmers, feed suppliers, butchers, abattoir and meat processing workers, drivers – not to the mention the many parallel businesses, such as cafes, etc. which ultimately rely upon agricultural concerns.
Wales also benefits from cooperation with other nations and from the cultivation of a social web of protections and rights under the European Union. Wales would not benefit in an insular United Kingdom – especially if Scotland decides to exit next year. But, even if Scotland says no to independence, a possible ‘Brexit’ could bind them in the same way.
It is easy to sit back and let someone else make history, for good or ill. We let someone or something take from us the weight of responsibility. That which takes the weight is mercenary, and we should remember what Machiavelli said of them. We inevitably lose our freedom.
To sit in the driver’s seat is not as easy. But, that is exactly what Wales needs to do – with respect to the question of Wales in the EU.
Indeed, at the very least there should be the establishment of an adequate intellectual infrastructure for the study of the social, political economic and philosophical aspects of this question.
There must also be the cultivation of an adequate media infrastructure and film industry so as to facilitate Welsh self-expression and debate regarding the future of Wales.
The establishment of such overlapping and inter-related educational and media infrastructures will mark yet another landmark in the evolution of the Welsh nation.
Wales must not remain silent and docile while parts of the Coalition government, which will seek re-election next year, flirts with the disaster of an exit from the European Union.
Wales must instead ask the concrete and difficult questions concerning its actual relationship with Westminster, especially when it comes to EU membership, and whether or not a direct relationship with the EU, would, as Scotland is now contemplating, translate into a better life for the people of Wales in case membership of the EU is threatened as part of the UK.