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Scotland’s No Vote: the end, or the end of the beginning?

Nick Davies

‘Settled for a generation’ was the  confident, reassured assertion of the metropolitan commentariat after Scotland’s referendum resulted in a bigger than expected margin of defeat for independence. An independent Scotland may be off the agenda in the immediate term but we should remember  Zhou En-lai’s famous remark about the  effects of the French revolution: ‘too early to tell’.  The Scottish referendum campaign and the vote itself may in time be seen as a  fizzing, sparkling firework,  momentarily illuminating the United Kingdom’s gloomy, sterile political landscape, only to fizzle out,  or as the catalyst for a process of fundamental change to that  political entity. Time, and whether the opportunities for change presented by the campaign are taken or lost, will tell.

The campaign itself was fantastic: a brilliant burst of creative democratic energy in which the people of Scotland engaged with the issues and discussed animatedly the society and country they wanted to  for themselves and their fellow citizens. This was what democracy looks like when the decisions people make actually have consequences, when there is a choice, and when it is energised by the presence of 16 and 17 year olds. The politicians and journalists in the Westminster bubble, initially  irritated by what they saw as background noise while they got on with the serious business of politics, ended up scared to death. Politics, in the post Thatcher-Blair era wasn’t meant to be like this.  Credit goes not only to the Scottish National Party for the tone and content of the campaign  but to the Scottish left, such as Radical Independence and the Scottish peace and anti-nuclear movement. With most of the  Scottish-based media, let alone the blatantly  biased and increasingly bewildered London media,  against independence, the breach was filled by social media and blog-sites such as Bella Caledonia. Whatever the merits of the case for independence, the Yes supporters won the campaign even if they did not win the vote. Theirs’ were  the ideas and the vision of what Scotland could look like. Theirs’ were the  alternatives to  the  race-to-the-bottom, free market dystopia imposed by Westminster.

In response, the No campaign was Project Fear: what would  be the  currency and who would control it? Would the new state automatically gain  EU membership or would it have to apply? Wouldn’t that take years? Look what happened to Ireland, and Iceland? Would people in Scotland still be able to listen to the Archers? A drip-drip series of announcements and  leaks by banks and multinationals raised the prospect of  capital flight, price rises and a currency collapse. This was not a serious attempt to challenge the SNP’s economic  perspectives, not all of which would withstand  proper scrutiny, or a serious contribution to the national debate, but a purely negative: ‘Well, you haven’t thought of that, now  have you’, in order to try to close down discussion. ‘Vote No, it’s not worth the risk’ was the message, but, on surveying the, unequal, over-centralised political set-up that is the UK, one can legitimately reply, ‘the risk of what, exactly’?

The campaign and its aftermath poses problems for both the large Westminster parties. Cameron allowed a referendum without a devo-max option on the ballot paper, clearly assuming  that the result would be No. Some political conspiracy theorists say that  Cameron was happy to cast Scotland adrift. Tory rule in a rump UK would be assured without Scotland, with its one Tory MP, but this underestimates the prominence of unionism, or UK nationalism in Tory ideology. As the campaign reached its end and the No poll lead narrowed there was a palpable sense of panic in the UK ruling apparatus: would Cameron be the Tory leader who ‘lost’ Scotland? What would happen to Trident missiles? Might these weapons of mass destruction have to be housed nearer to London? Would the house of Windsor require  passports to visit the  vast tracts of the Highlands they use as a personal playground? The reaction was a commitment, ‘The Vow’, made largely on the hoof with Miliband and Clegg, for increased devolution. Faced with a backlash by Tory MPs against a promise of increased spending for Scotland, Cameron has since attempted to re-invent or re-interpret, for the sake of party advantage, the commitment to deeper devolution into a commitment to  restrict voting on England-only issues to English MPs, thus satisfying the bloodlust of the English nationalists of the Tories and, importantly, UKIP and threatening to sabotage a future Labour government  dependent on the votes in parliament of Scottish MPs. ‘The Vow’ was starting to unravel  by the weekend following the vote with the  Liberal Democrats and Labour both scenting a Tory trap.

Labour’s problems are probably deeper.  Its alignment to the unionist-nationalist, union-flag waving, Better Together campaign against independence, on top of its embrace of free-market neo-liberalism in the Blair-Brown years meant that Labour was never able to challenge  the SNP from the left. Terrified by the  movement of Labour voters into the Yes camp but, like every Tory leader  since Thatcher, despised in Scotland, Cameron was obliged to turn to Gordon Brown to  fight the unionist corner, and Brown duly obliged, his ‘barnstorming’ speech invoking a unionist past more than a  socialist future.

The SNP’s political tightrope walk  combining lower corporation tax with much of the  agenda which Labour should have made its own has left Scottish Labour  little more than a   defensive, unionist, Blairite husk, unable to understand the country it is in. The referendum campaign did little to rescue its image. A look at a map of the  Yes vote should bring the Labour leadership out in a cold sweat:  Glasgow, Dundee, North Lanarkshire.  These have been Labour strongholds for decades but, faced with New Labour’s complicity with the Tories in de-industrialisation and the destruction of  public services, the voters there saw the Yes vote as a means of escape; they need never live under a Tory government again. Of course, despite the panicky, last minute insertions into the No campaign of references to ‘social justice’ they took that chance, and why should they not?

Labour’s  response was merely to assert that a No vote corresponded with Labour’s ‘values’ and  to snipe  against ‘nationalism’. British nationalism, however, appears not to trouble these people; what kind of country do they think the UK is?  Extraordinarily, No campaigners also accused their opponents of ‘tribalism’. This is in a country where politics is still besmirched by  sectarianism; Orange lodges were marching in support of a No vote and the day after the vote, Unionist thugs attacked  Yes voters in Glasgow’s George Square. This was the ugly, snarling face of the British nationalism the No voters never mention.  It makes a nonsense of the accusations of ‘intimidation’ by ‘Yes’  supporters. Politics is ‘ugly’ when politicians ruin lives, not when the argument becomes raucous.  Of course many No voters are not sectarians and have a genuine loathing of Orangeism. However, to  rail against SNP’s ‘nationalism’ without acknowledging  the malign influence of  this form of British nationalism is at best hypocritical and at worst an apology for sectarianism. In the case of the  ‘Labour door steppers’ bussed north to support the No vote, they simply don’t know what they are talking about.

It is depressing that it has to be repeated, but this island contains three countries, England, Scotland and Wales which for several hundred years have been bound together, at different times, by conquest, war, empire, Protestantism, common law, the industrial revolution and the welfare state; when the importance of all of these is diminished, all that remains is geography and a common language.  Crucial in the development of the Scottish independence movement was been the Tories’ destruction of Scotland’s industrial base: coal, shipbuilding and steel, the use of a Scottish natural resource, North Sea oil, to featherbed the British economy through two recessions, the use of Scotland as the test bed for the hated poll tax and then finally, the refusal of New Labour to break from what were, fundamentally, Tory policies.  The people of Scotland were told firstly ‘You voted Labour but you got the Tories’ and then ‘It doesn’t matter which of the Westminster parties you vote for, nothing’s going to change’.  In this context the Yes vote in former Labour heartlands makes far more sense than Labour No supporters’ charge that the independence debate is somehow a distraction from ‘class’ politics.

Socialists  defend the right of a nation to self-determination. That is not the same, necessarily,  as advocating separation. However, in the case of Scotland, the  campaign for independence does not simply amount to a desire to exercise the right to re-establish Scotland as an independent state but a reaction not only against the inequality and centralisation  which has increased  dramatically over the last thirty  years,  as well as the sclerotic, pre-modern body politic exemplified by the House of Lords and the bizarre electoral system. It is a sign that on the island of Britain, there can be a different kind of society.

So what about Wales? Welsh Labour’s leadership  unsurprisingly supported a No vote, with Plaid  giving support and solidarity to the Yes campaign. Opinion polls revealed an opposition in Wales to Scottish independence, primarily, presumably, because of  fears that in a rump UK Wales would not be so much as dominated as smothered by England, doomed to an eternity of English Tory governments.

It is difficult to see anything positive for Wales in the post referendum new Union, let alone in the status quo. The normally ebullient Rhodri Morgan has been in almost Uriah Heep mode, asking that Wales be rewarded for not having  had a war, like Northern Ireland or an independence referendum and oil, like Scotland, by being given a more equitable political and financial settlement within the UK. In other words, he was asking the Tories to treat Wales more generously because it keeps its head down. Carwyn Jones, despite his innate caution and his position as the leader of a unionist party has been forced to come out in  opposition to Cameron’s manoeuverings and call  for a rebuilding of the union on an equal basis between Wales and Scotland.

Despite Cameron’s promise that Wales be at the ‘centre of the debate’, Tory back-benchers are in revolt about a promise of extra money for Scotland, yet Scotland does considerably better than  Wales out of the discredited and unfair Barnett formula. Neither the Tories nor Labour want to scrap the Barnett formula, under which Wales loses out by £300m per year (Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, despite prompting  on TV by Andrew Neil, of all people, seemed to have neither any clue that Wales was being short-changed in this way or feel that Labour should do anything about it).  There’s a well-founded suspicion that if additional powers for Wales are not forgotten about and subsumed into Cameron’s grubby obsession with appeasing English nationalists, they’ll be separated from any additional funding, leaving Welsh Labour or Labour-dominated governments with the consequences of having powers without the resources to use them effectively.

Dysfunctional and unsustainable as it is, the UK could, with some tweaking here and there, limp on for decades yet: dominated by England, with England in turn dominated and distorted by the  financial might of the City of London and the Home Counties. On the other hand, Labour in Wales and Scotland could  muster its electoral weight to move away from an instinctive pro-unionism towards in support  for a more  equal and equitable  relationship between the three countries based on whatever degree of separation or unity that the people of those countries want. On the present evidence, the prospects are not promising.

The Scottish Referendum: My kingdom for a house.

The Scots may have voted ‘No’ but the real loser is Labour in Scotland.

Introduction.

With the last few days of the referendum debates came an awareness that Scotland is awash with social and political enthusiasm, inclusion, participation, in pubs and clubs, community centres and front rooms, in literally hundreds of emergent groupings – Women for, Asians for, Labour for, allsorts for Independence.

As important, probably more so, Scottish cultural life is in bloom. You can’t miss it when you are there: comedy, film, music, literature, theatre, festivals; even the Commonwealth Games set Glasgow alight. In contrast to the prevailing misery and despair in our communities, battered with cuts, abuses, apparent isolation, absence of leadership, the Scots are getting on with it, doing their thing, making the best of life, fighting back. Do not underestimate this. The author, literary figure, Yes campaigner, and self-proclaimed lesbian, Val McDermid, has her name emblazoned across the front of the football strips of Raith Rovers, the Scottish Championship team, this year playing Glasgow Rangers and both Edinburgh sides. If that doesn’t convince you that something rich is going on in Scotland, nothing will.

If you didn’t get it, it is because you didn’t feel it, you haven’t smelt the coffee! Down south, our sensors pick up the rancid odour from London, perhaps tempered by a sniff of fresh air from Syriza, the Indignacios, the Occupy movement, Left Unity or the People’s Assembly. None of this compares with what has happened in Scotland -under  the radar, serviced in no small part by social media.

South of the border, the consensus was that we are internationalists, against nationalism and independence, for a united working class against the Tory offensive, although it is fair to say left leaning commentators began to peel off in significant numbers – John Harris, Billy Bragg, Russell Brand, Suzanne Moore, even Owen Jones all but converts from his hitherto ‘principled’ stance.

There is little point in running through the arguments again. Most formed their opinions after a long debate, impossible to miss north of the border, even if much ignored until the last minute, south.

A 45% vote for independence, with no blood on the streets, no riots or strikes, just popular engagement, is a truly extraordinary political event. The impact on Scottish politics, and very nearly on British politics over the past two years has been immense so, here, we will consider three aspects.

  1. Labour in Scotland, and probably in Britain as a whole, is in very serious trouble.
  2. ‘Tribalism’, a term reserved exclusively, it seems, not for our relations with the Tories, but for ‘the nationalists’, has allowed us to completely lose the plot. Get over it! Concentrate on the real enemy. The Yes campaign, like it or not, was based on a programme the broad left supports.
  3. The media’s, Westminster’s and particularly Labour’s inability to even recognise what was happening in Scotland, let alone consider how it might apply in the rest of Britain, is our best indicator yet that the British political system is at a very low ebb. Something has to change. How to do it is another matter; a question more easily answered in Scotland. Listen to the people, not the Westminster bubble and its media.

Yes! Labour is in Trouble

Members are asking, ‘Why still be in the Labour Party?’. In Scotland there are mass defections. Here in Wales the answer is probably

  1. There is nowhere else to go. Plaid at best has got a socialist current within but that would be even more of a struggle with its mishmash of politics than is Labour, where at least you know where you stand. Their leader, Leanne Wood, still one of the best, is clearly torn by disparate pressures on her;
  2. There are local reasons for being in Labour and perhaps many feel that the essential principles of Labour, at the roots of the Party, are still achievable; and
  3. Welsh Labour Grassroots is probably the most organised and coherent left current in Wales, still a tiny force.

In Wales, there is little alternative and perhaps still some hopes for ‘clear red water’; although less and less so it seems. All this may be in Wales. Now apply to Scotland.

There are certainly other places to go. The Yes campaign was a broad front with the SNP, Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party at its core and with former Labour MP Dennis Canavan as its chair. The SNP itself is no longer the bourgeois nationalist party we identified as being to the right of Plaid, even 10 years ago. For reasons we will no doubt discuss, the SNP is now in the mould of a social democratic party, a left social democratic party. The Scottish Greens have leapt to prominence with an excellent rounded programme fronted by their MSP Patrick Harvie, who, like Caroline Lucas in Westminster, has proved to be considerably better with socialist aspirations than most Labour MPs. Then there is the Radical Independence Conference (RIC) that, with the Reid Foundation’s ‘Common Weal’, brought together virtually the whole of the Scottish left from anarchists and the SWP through to Labour for Independence, and now surely bound to establish a united green/left party to succeed and embrace the Scottish Socialists, strangled in infancy. The RIC mobilised an impressive campaign, reaching into increasingly disenfranchised estates, bringing in unregistered, disaffected Labour voters, a whole new layer of young activists, and many not so young, for door to door canvassing and public meetings to fantastic effect. They helped raise the voter turnout to over 84% and engaged with the new layer of young voters. Their first conference two years ago assembled over 800 delegates, last year over 1200. This year, over 7000 have indicated they are going! Sheridan, with his Solidarity grouping, by the way, is now urging an independence vote for the SNP at the next election. There are clearly places for socialists to go.

Policy wise, Labour has lost its core electorate. The Yes vote took the industrial heartlands from Glasgow to Dundee. All 8 Glasgow constituencies voted Yes, to the tune of 53.5% to 46.5%. The politicos left in their droves; the Scottish working class has long since seen through Labour. The traditional party of the workers’ movement was further undermined , tragically, by fronting a campaign, a ‘popular front’, with the utterly discredited Tories and Liberals before a Scottish electorate that has ditched them for over 40 years now.

The No vote was clearly founded on that older, conservative 30% or so that will never vote Labour. One analysis claims that the 16-54 year olds voted YES 54%, NO 46%; aged 55+, YES 34%, NO 66%. (See Murray.) Any suggestion that the No campaign might in some way be deemed  progressive is further evidence that Labour is deluding itself. Or us.  Better Together campaigned with a neo-liberal economic attack on all fronts, led by Alistair Darling, arch neo-liberal, with CV to prove it, then by belated appearances from Gordon Brown, whose appeal is, at best, seriously tarnished in the public eye other than with die-hard Labour supporters.

BT wound up its campaign by falling over themselves with offers of devo-max, having refused it two years earlier in anticipation of a rout. The campaign and all its publicity was entirely neo-liberal. Even George Galloway, wheeled out to face 7000 Scottish school students at the BBC event in Glasgow’s Hydro as Labour, incredibly, appeared to bottle out; even Galloway drew on the neo liberal claptrap. That was all they had: the currency, pensions, the NHS, oil, even the utterly disingenuous attack on the SNP’s Corporation Tax, were all rooted in a neo-liberal financial back-cloth. Ed Miliband took the same approach at Labour’s September conference, promising a £2.5bn pledge for the NHS, only to be rebuffed by Tory claims that they have increased spending by more than that. Labour started their conference week by promising to cut Child Benefit and ended it by offering uncritical support for more middle east war.

The neo-liberal austerity debate cannot be won against the Tories’ well-honed propaganda machine. It is their game. It may well win the election for them, like scare-mongering and fear probably won them the referendum. The propaganda was fronted for them by Labour. The Scottish working class rejected these politics decades ago and are sick of Labour regurgitating it.

Labour had nothing to say about austerity, only pious words about ‘our NHS’, ‘our welfare state’, ‘we are the party for change’ as if the Blair years never happened. The attack was on the nationalists, nary a word about the common enemy, the Tories and their financial mentors.

The successes of the Yes campaign

The SNP took on the mantle of social democracy. A while ago, they were ‘bourgeois nationalists’, then centrists, wavering left and right, populists, nourished by the abject betrayals of Labour in Scotland and Britain, betrayals spotted early by the Scots, thanks to the Poll Tax campaign. They turned to alternatives – the Scottish Socialists with 6 MSPs before Sheridan and now The Greens, whose role in Yes Scotland, along with the SNP and SSP, has been exemplary.  This social movement has had a huge impact on the SNP, now overwhelmingly social democratic in nature and probably more so with its more than doubling in membership in the weeks since the poll. So how did they respond to neo-liberal charges?

I refer you to Alex Salmond’s  Arbroath speech 18th August 2014, which takes a wee while to get going but is well worth a listen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jAWgC6qgXs). Salmond nails the NHS line. An SNP proposal to a constitutional convention in Scotland will be a clause for ‘A public free health service at the point of need’,  ‘A right to a National Health Service will be enshrined in the constitution of Scotland’. That’s convincing. Discussing the role of Scotland in the world, Salmond argues for the removal of Trident as a fundamental policy of an independent Scotland. He then presents as sophisticated a line on pro-immigration as you are likely to hear from a mainstream politician. Their first focus for the anti-nuclear money is child-care and social care. This is not the left, this is ‘the nationalists’; better than anything ever heard from Labour.  Had Labour taken such stances since the Tories came to power, would the Yes campaign have had the traction it did?

They grapple with the economy but, truth be known, there is much flexibility in economics. What people want to hear is the answer to ‘where do you propose to go with our lives?’. Labour offers a continuation of Tory austerity for the foreseeable future. The Scots are on to them and their future, our future is in jeopardy.

In the course of the referendum campaign, Scots have considered, imagined both individually and in their collectives, a democratic government, a constitution, a set of values based, not least on their experience of Holyrood and decades of Westminster policies and governments they never voted for. That imagination, that culture, is not a million miles away from ours in Wales, once separated from Westminster by ‘clear red water’. In Scotland, imagination converted into an anti-austerity, anti-Tory enthusiasm that not even Plaid, being as tribal as Welsh Labour is, has sought to achieve. The Scottish Yes vote was overwhelmingly anti-austerity and a serious challenge to the ‘Wastemonster’ ways. They may have lost the battle but the war is being won. For a start, about one-third of Labour voters voted Yes. (See Welsh.) These are reasons why Scotland became ready for an independence vote (and why Wales isn’t ready).

Labour’s late entry into the campaign, via Gordon Brown, a hero only to die-hard Labour members, cited our national pride, appealing to history, Labour’s and Scotland’s great role in it – history, empire, sacrifice, the welfare state, the NHS. But just ask Scottish former shipworkers, miners, car-workers. British interest, pride, commitment has long since evaporated. Jobs and a good living in industry, shipbuilding, manufacturing, coal, steel, the industrial revolution, imperialism and the empire, from which we all once benefited, albeit at the expense of others, have all been lost or sacrificed. We don’t even build houses any more. The Welfare State, Pensions, Mail, Telephones, Water and the NHS s are sold, often at knock down prices, to global capitalism. British workers no longer have any practical or emotional ties to our social and economic foundations, many of which Scots gave to the world. What commitment do the Scots, indeed any workers, have to the British state any more?

A Democratic Upheaval and a Danger of Backlash

Without the significant devo-max concessions promised by the Westminster parties, it is inconceivable that independence will go away. Breaking of promises, failure to deliver anything or, worse, more budget cuts and other retribution, will ensure that independence is back on the agenda in very short shrift. Just one day after the referendum, the Tories lurched to the right with a focus on England’s needs, on their right wing, on the West Lothian question, on a democratic structure that can only further marginalise Scotland and Wales.

Coupled with this is seeming delight in offering more powers  to Scotland, Wales and the regions. Let them be responsible for ‘fully devolved powers’ over the crumbs the Bullingdon Boys deign to leave on our tables. Then we can be blamed for cuts, as was the charge laid on the SNP over the NHS, the same tactic as they seek to discredit our efforts in Wales. The real threat to we Celts is that the Westminster bubble does go right, and given Labour’s stances this is not an unrealistic possibility – another Tory government, perhaps with Ukip support, a vote to leave the EU and ditch the EU Convention on Human Rights. Where will that leave the Scots? And us?

The first signs of the very serious dangers of the English nationalist/ Ukip right wing trajectory were evident on the streets of Scotland’s two great cities on the last few referendum days. The No vote unleashed The Orange order, always a right wing force disguised with anti-catholic, anti-Irish rhetoric. For the first time in my experience, they took to the streets and revealed their truly fascist style, taking public space, burning the Saltire, attacking Yes voters, immigrants and women. A Yes vote would have stifled them; the No vote, coupled with Ukip and the English trend positively encouraged them.

Where do we go from here?

The spotlight is now on Labour, already being drawn into the Tory regional game and happy to commit to Tory austerity plans, when what is needed is a language of change, something different, a break from the political decadence of Westminster, increasingly mimicking the shameless, gun-toting, fundamentalist, undemocratic, exclusive, segregationist catastrophe that is US politics and media. Scots were seeking change – austerity, Trident, social care, childcare, NHS, democracy. These are the themes to be convincing about. Their instincts and mine are that nothing is going to change. If it doesn’t, Labour is finished in Scotland. The SNP offered change, much of it taken from Labour’s bottom drawer, yet Labour continues to be tribal against ‘the nationalists’, preferring uncritical deals with the Tories, LibDems and their neo-liberal economics. Recognition of this single fact is a first necessary step to Labour’s unlikely salvation.

Labour has been unable to handle the role of the ‘nationalists’ in Scotland or Wales. What chance have the English got? Paradoxically, in the present climate, a Yes vote was the best opportunity socialist voters in Scotland had of ever achieving a Labour Government they could believe in. These same voters now have the prospect of a Tory Ukip government seeking exit from Europe.

What have we learned? What should we be campaigning on? How’s this?

  1. A clear stance, with our allies, against Tory austerity, for alternatives.
  2. Stand up for our NHS, for National Insurance, for Social Security and a rights based welfare culture.
  3. Challenge the war-mongering culture, not least the ease with which vast funding is found for wars.
  4. Build Homes
  5. Promote a programme of child-care, social care and pensions.
  6. Make Wales a beacon of sustainability, a green investment bank, green energy and re-usables industries
  7. Rail and other public transport back into coordinated public ownership
  8. Instead of faffing about local government reorganisation and who goes where, first consider, with the people of Wales, the question, “How do we best deliver these policies?”
  9. Build, certainly with young people, our communications networks and social media.

The great success of the SNP is that they recognised the occasion for this great political cauldron, greater than they dreamed of. We hopefully now will engage with our true allies throughout Wales and beyond against austerity, and wars and … well, let us discuss that with others.  The difficulty is to recognise the occasion here in Wales, the event round which such unity can be formed. In the meantime, it will do no harm to promote an inclusive discussion on what sort of policies, a manifesto we aspire to in Wales.

Another Scotland, Another Wales, Another Britain, is Possible.

End

Gordon Gibson, September 2014

Here, a few references; the first two are bursting with lively debate.

Radical Independence Conference: http://radicalindependence.org/

Bella Caledonia: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/

Brett, Miriam. National Collective. Oh Scottish Labour What Have You Done? http://nationalcollective.com/2014/09/25/oh-scottish-labour-what-have-you-done/

Davies, Nick & Williams, Darren (2009). Clear Red Water: Welsh Devolution and Socialist Politics. Francis Boutle Publisher

Harris, John: Scotland has shown how the left can finally find its purpose http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/25/scotland-politics-left-purpose-snp-green-working-class-women

Jones, Owen. Whatever Scotland decides, the old order is dead and buried: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/07/scotland-decides-union-tories

Murray, Andy. FIFTY-FIVE per cent afflicted by Stockholm Syndrome. http://nicodemusscotticus.wordpress.com/

Welsh , Irvine. This glorious failure could yet be Scotland’s finest hour. 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/20/irvine-welsh-scottish-independence-glorious-failure

 

Independence and the Union

Some comments on Gordon Gibson’s article in Celyn (view here) and his talk to Swansea Labour Left

By Peter Rowlands

I found Gordon’s talk/article difficult, although he makes many good points. He attempts, rightly, to link the struggle for autonomy to that against austerity, but I believe exaggerates the extent to which that can be meaningfully done in Wales, for reasons I will elaborate on below.

It is perhaps worth restating the generally accepted left view of nationalism, which normally distinguishes between nation states that are independent or control areas that are potential nations, and the latter. The former is opposed, with nationalism promoting imperialism, imposing an artificial unity and hiding class barriers, but the latter is supported, partly because it thereby weakens the oppressor nations, but mainly because the realisation of national independence is seen as a stage that has to be resolved before the struggle for socialism can begin.

Although in Ireland the national struggle continued throughout the 19th century, and has still not been fully resolved,in Wales and Scotland it remained limited until its revival in the mid 1960s  since when it has been a significant force in both countries.

However, while in terms of history, culture and ethnicity there are all sorts of connections and parallels between Wales and Scotland, it is wrong in my view to accept that both countries can be defined as fully fledged  nations. The definition of a nation must surely be that an overwhelming majority consider themselves part of the nation and aspire to independence or some form of self government. According to these criteria Scotland is clearly a nation, but Wales barely so.

The 1997 referenda on devolution in Wales and Scotland clearly pinpointed the differences. There was a majority for devolution almost everywhere in Scotland, with 74% of the total vote, on a 62% turnout, whereas in Wales there was a wafer thin majority of 50.3%, on a 50% turnout, with the industrial north east, the northern resorts, the rural east and south east, Newport and the Vale of Glamorgan all voting decisively against.  At every election since 1970 the SNP have done significantly better than Plaid, except for the Parliament/Assembly elections of 1999 and 2003.

All of this indicates that a national consciousness is far more developed and widespread in Scotland than in Wales, to the extent that the question of independence can credibly be raised, although ‘devo – max’ is a more likely outcome. In Wales, although Plaid have returned to a clear independence perspective there is little support for this, with many Plaid supporters being more concerned with safeguarding the Welsh language, not an issue in Scotland.

Plaid might be in a better position in Wales had not Welsh Labour, under Rhodri Morgan, developed a position which was both to the left of New Labour and more pro devolution than had traditionally been Labour’s stance. This did much to satisfy those with a left and nationalist outlook who might otherwise have gone over to Plaid. By contrast Labour in Scotland have appeared much more New Labour and pro union, thus enhancing the SNP’s appeal, particularly when its leaders are contrasted to Alex Salmond.

It is often said that Wales can be divided into three, the Welsh speaking West, the ‘English’ East, South-east and Pembrokeshire, and the coal valleys. If Wales consisted only of the West then it would be a nation, although even here it can only win half the Westminster seats and does not currently have a majority on any council. Support remains limited in most of the East, including Cardiff and Newport, with significant interchange with adjacent urban areas in England ( Bristol, Shrewsbury, Chester). The proportion of Wales’s population born in Wales is much lower than it is in Scotland ( 75% to 87%), and particularly so in the East. However, Plaid have managed to build significant support in parts of the old coal valleys, particularly Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT), Caerphilly ( both of which they have controlled) and Neath Port Talbot, although much less so in Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen. However, this vote is not consistent and has varied considerably, with Labour voters in RCT and Caerphilly switching to Plaid in 99 and 08 but back to Labour in 04 and 12.

I do not know enough about the detailed politics of these areas to draw firm conclusions, but there is some evidence that economic decline and disillusionment with New Labour have made Plaid more attractive, although as I have said support is geographically patchy and inconsistent over time. Support for Plaid here is perhaps more to do with ‘Rugby patriotism’and a strong regional identification as in Yorkshire or Merseyside than with a  nationalism that seriously looks to independence.

Nor is it the case that it is possible to  realistically identify a separate Welsh bourgeoisie, although it is  in Scotland, a further reason for supporting nationalism there. Despite the SNP’s recent drift to the right over independence ( monarchy, currency, NATO) they still appear social democratic while Labour has failed to distinguish itself from New Labour in the way it has successfully managed to do in Wales, and, as Gordon points out, by supporting the’No’ campaign are likely to further alienate themselves from potential supporters.

It therefore seems to me that while there is a case for supporting nationalism in Scotland, (which many on the left did through the Scottish Socialist Party before its unfortunate implosion), there is no such case in Wales, simply because there is not, and is unlikely to be, sufficient support for it. ( Note that I am not saying that Wales is too small to be independent. There are six nations in the EU that are smaller than Wales with its three million people. Three of these have  populations of under a million.) However, there is growing support for devolution and Labour should continue to build on that and maintain a recognition of Plaid as a potential political partner, as it was for four years.

If Scotland votes for independence in 2014 this will provide a boost for Plaid, but that is unlikely in my view, although a ‘devo – max’ settlement could lead to further devolution for Wales, and perhaps a proper federal solution for the UK. The other possibility is a federal Europe within which there would be less of a problem about Wales and Scotland being  separate states, if there was sufficient support for it. Gordon calls for this, and I believe it to be the best solution, for Europe and for the different  nationalities it contains.It is effectively being called for at the moment by Germany and France, at least for the Euro area.

It might be considered to be irresponsible to be even contemplating a separate nation or nations in the light of the dreadful violence that has accompanied national struggles in Europe in recent years, both in the Balkans, Spain and in our own backyard in Northern Ireland. However, socialists cannot ignore these questions, as Gordon rightly says. I have indicated above that I think that the national question remains unresolved in both Scotland and Ireland, linked in both countries by the toxic brew of Orangeism. In Wales however, provided that due regard is paid to national and cultural devolution, there is in my view no need to see a national question as needing resolution, although the left should certainly support further autonomy for Wales either through a federal UK or a federal EU as outlined above.

Independence? What has ‘The Union’ ever done for us?(1)

by Gordon Gibson2

This paper was prepared as an introduction on the ‘national question’ for Swansea Labour Left, affiliate of Welsh Labour Grassroots. The indented text was not part of the initial verbal presentation.

Nation shall sing unto nation

Until nations cease to be

From ‘Unison in Harmony’, a song by Coope Boyes and Simpson,

These words are a fine encapsulation of ‘the national question’.

The ‘national question’ is a subject comfortably side-stepped by many socialists and Labour Party members, in both Wales and Scotland, often in the name of a supposed internationalism but more likely, although perhaps unconsciously, via promotion of a greater British chauvinism, favouring British nationalism. Meanwhile, rivals in Plaid or the SNP are brushed off as nationalists, who put patriotism above class unity.

With the electoral successes of the SNP in Scotland, the 2014 referendum, and reverberations here in Wales, not least Plaid Cymru’s new leadership revitalising their ‘independence’ profile, with a voice more publicly socialist than most of the voices we hear representing Labour,  we are being asked again, ‘should socialists support calls for independent nations?’.

In one sense, the political decision appears even easier these days. Is not the main cause to build unity in the fight against austerity, the protection of jobs, pensions, the NHS, the welfare state? ‘Nationalism’ is a dangerous diversion.

For some, this necessary unity excludes Plaid Cymru. For others, it excludes the Labour Party.

Austerity, we should be clear, is, of course, necessary to protect British ‘big nation’ nationalism and its capitalism.

We are not nationalists. I doubt if anyone here describes themselves as nationalist. I am an internationalist and a socialist. That is why I support self-determination.  Workers of the world unite! In fact it was, ‘Workers of all countries unite’, perhaps a closer articulation of what follows.

But let’s get things into perspective. First, Europe. The British left has traditionally had an anti-EU position, falling very closely towards the ‘sovereignty’, British nationalist, camp, albeit with lots of riders, most of which few people hear and fewer find meaningful. Personally, I’ve never been comfortable with the anti-EU argument for that very reason. At the level of ideas, I prefer that we promote unity with the workers of Europe, join with them in struggle against the rotten political cabal that is the EU, break the rules like the Greek Syriza left stood for yet, like the Greeks in opposition, be quite clear that we want to stay united with them. We are internationalists. We have no truck with petty nationalism. So there is a significant strand of a very British, perhaps English, nationalism in the anti-EU line.

And yet we are ‘patriotic’, are we not?

Even I, still with plenty Scottishness in me, find myself, after 40 years here, very ‘Welsh’ in the sense that ‘national fervour’, a national pride, passion and loyalty for one’s homeland impacts on us. What is that about? That rugby trip to Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris or Rome has a joy about it, amongst kindred spirits. ‘Patriotism’ is a mixed bag though, much exploited by bourgeois ideology, not least via Unionism in the north of Ireland. Scottish rugby has Princess Anne as its patron. The ever-popular song, ‘Scottish Soldier’, by stereotypical Scottish entertainer, Andy Stewart, lauds a soldier’s return home to die in the homeland after a lifetime in military defence of the empire.

The rugby ‘patriotism’ we enjoy with kindred spirits in Edinburgh, Dublin and even Paris and Rome is not matched by any fraternalism with the English. Twickenham has a different character about it. We unite in our – some even seriously overstate on these occasions – ‘hatred’ of the English. Why is that?

There is a strong element of ‘class’ about our disaffection with that perception of ‘Englishness’.  It is not English workers of course. We welcomed them into Wales, first from the copper mines of Cornwall and then to mine Welsh coal.

We happily give money and get out on the streets to support dock-workers, Grunwicks, miners, Stop the War, the occupy movement, all-sorts with whom we see common-cause. There will be a very large contingent of Welsh workers on the October 20th cuts and pensions demo in London.  Do you think that we would protest less against the London financiers and their government if we were more independent that we are?

We get pained by the English toffs and their media, the aloofness, superiority, their ignorance and disrespect of the Welsh, Scots or Irish; the lack of recognition of our history, our different (more ‘British’) history; the oppression or abuse of our culture and languages.

And that is reflected in our humour.

Did you hear about the Englishman with an inferiority complex? He thought he was the same as everyone else.

This humour is founded in the concept of oppressor versus oppressed nations; in the case of the English state and capitalist class, still founded on its feudal class trappings, via the monarchy, which absorbed Wales, Scotland and Ireland to form ‘The Union’ – an English led, fundamentally British Union, albeit with a Scottish king, brought down to consolidate the anti-catholic current that has since given a regressive religious structure to the British establishment and which, through the monarchy, still provides the constitutional and ‘philosophical’ underpinning of the British state, later to pull in European royals to maintain that primitive illusion of social superiority. [What an extraordinary hypocrisy that is in light of English xenophobia.] This oppressive, class history goes no small way to explaining why ‘independence’ and ‘republicanism’ have a significant resonance in Wales and Scotland.

Anti-Englishness scales up in proportion to the brutality of the oppression the British nation meted out. First, the Irish, whose brutal repression is reflected in the way British culture still makes them the brunt of ‘thick people’ humour. You beat them, impoverish them, starve them, then pillory them for being poor uneducated labourers. The Irish hate them the most but get them back with some subtlety.

Did you hear about the Irish, Evel Kneivel? [EK was an American motor-bike stunt-rider of the 60s and 70s.] He tried to jump over 50 Englishmen with a steam-road-roller!

The Scots still have the great battles in their collective memory and culture: Bannockburn, resisting the English in 1314, and Culloden Moor, 1746 – the last battle for independence, perhaps better described as a last gasp for control of the then British nation, when Charles Stuart led the French backed Jacobites against the House of Hanover, the British House of Hanover!

Scotland’s historic existence as a political state prior to 1707 provided ‘national’ institutional structures that do not exist in Wales. Wales has never existed as an independent political entity. Scotland has its own banking system and currency, it’s separate legal system with its own laws, it’s own education system and, re-established more recently, a rich, alternative and distinctive cultural life.

Scotland has won and uses a much greater degree of independence than Wales. And, as in Wales, more than in Wales, Scottish people will not go to the independence vote on some hypothetical prospect, like the EU was, or even the recent PR/AV referendum, both loaded with establishment propaganda. Scots will go to the referendum with a good taste of what ‘independence’ is offering.

Last year’s referendum on extending the powers of the Welsh government gave us a taste of the extent to which the people of Wales have recognised the value that increased independence has brought to Wales, with many, particularly social, benefits from children and childcare to student fees, bus and rail travel and prescriptions.

Welsh history and oppression are buried more deeply (by the English). We have the ancients in Owen Glyndwr and Hywyl Dda and, more relevant, a rich series of workers struggles like the Rebecca Riots, the Merthyr Rising, the Chartists in Newport, ‘The Miners’ Next Step’ not to mention Keir Hardie and the early Communist Party; all struggles against the English bourgeoisie of course.

Whilst our nations were oppressed, we have also been beneficiaries of the British Union.  Despite some overt ‘oppressions’, such as of the language in Wales (an oppression much exaggerated by the way), Wales and Scotland were assimilated into the British state and our workers have benefited enormously from the riches of the imperialist British Empire. So even the concept of ‘oppressed nation’ can cause difficulty.

The oppression of assimilation is exemplified in numerous ways. To take one example, the ‘traditional’ Scottish kilt was popularised not via William Wallace, Robert the Bruce or Mel Gibson.  That whole culture was fostered during the creation, in the 18th and 19th centuries, of Scottish regiments to send Scots workers to give their lives for the imperialist empire. It’s the same with the Welsh regiments, one of which was the first ‘nationalist’ regiment to be formed by the Westminster government. Similar arguments have been propounded about the emergence of the Eisteddfod and the druidic tradition.

The right to self-determination.

Self-determination is an inalienable right. But self-determination is not a synonym for independence or separation or national liberation. It is the right to form an independent state. That right arises only within an oppressor state that denies it.

This is the terrain we are on in Wales; the issue of ‘self-government’ has been raised. In talking of ‘independence’, this is really what we (socialists) mean – self-government. Some in Plaid will agree, others won’t but that is their contradiction, not ours.

Self-government is prominent in the current political climate in Britain. The existence of national sentiments, of the Senedd and of the Scottish Parliament, the distance, clear red water, that Welsh and Scots seek to establish between themselves and the Tories (not to mention Blair’s Labour) in Westminster all reflect, at least in part, the essence of the right of nations to self-determination.

The principle of ‘complete freedom of action’ for Welsh and Scots is being posed now. We want more powers to decide on an ability to determine for ourselves, of our own free will, questions of our inter-relations with other states.

Self determination is a right, a right to form a separate state. That and only that. It is not the right to ‘do what you want’; it is the right to form an independent state.

Does this apply to oppressor states like Britain, France, USA? No, they are already states. Self-determination does not arise.

When workers stand up, as they did in Ireland (or let’s say Wales) and say, ‘we are for socialism, we are breaking from our oppressor state’, it is false internationalism to reply ‘No, not independence. Workers of the World Unite’. In effect, this is to say, ‘We are for imperialism!’.

Self-determination is about the oppressed and the oppressor. Two principles apply – the inalienable right of the oppressed to self-determination, and the recognition of that right by the workers of the oppressor nation. It is the oppressed peoples that are to  decide how these rights are to be exercised; that is self-government. And, until oppressor nations recognise these rights, they will never themselves be free. This is not an easy matter for British workers, let alone where we Welsh and Scots stand.

Finally on this, from Lenin, who maintained and developed the importance of the national question and the need to struggle against all national inequality and national superiority right through to his death in 1923: nations may need to separate politically in order to grow closer at a later date. As the song says, ‘nation shall sing unto nation until nations cease to be’.

The Nation

Nations, being capitalist creations, following land grabs by monarchs and feudal barons, or states created and peoples divided by borders drawn by imperialist invaders, are rather amorphous phenomena, difficult, nay impossible, to define objectively. Language, culture, territory, economics are often used to inform a national consciousness but ‘nations’ cannot be reduced to such criteria. In real politics, they exist only in the minds of nationalist theoreticians, of course, but also in the consciousness of ordinary people.

Nations don’t really exist at all as objective entities; national consciousness does.

In the capitalist world, hugely international, global capitalism, the function of nations is to protect the narrow interests of national capitalists, one of the nearby examples being the Scottish bourgeoisie, with its own socio-economic infrastructure nonetheless deeply embedded in global capitalism as the RBS banking collapse demonstrates. That nation serves only to divide workers on a British and then a global scale. Socialism seeks to end capitalist domination and its political and democratic differentiation of people, to end their separation in a myriad of states.

Will national oppressions be relieved and national liberation be ensured? We don’t know;  we’ll see. We believe that national oppression is political oppression that can only, and increasingly ‘only’, be resolved by the establishment of regional, international, global equalities, by significant social changes, by socialism.

Many socialists and Marxists attempt to define nations by calling up language, culture, economy, and certain rights available only to citizens of dominant nations. But the denial of such rights and characteristics are only symptoms of national oppression. National oppression is the denial by one nation over another of the right to form an independent state.

Even for Wales, we get into serious trouble. The language is not universal (and probably never was), within boundaries that are largely arbitrary or of little substantive significance, under cultures that draw from very different traditions, in an economy that has never independently existed.

So is Wales a nation? Yes, of course it is. Back to Lenin, still the most authoritative voice on the national question: the ‘nation’ pertains ‘wholly and solely to the sphere of political democracy’. What is the historical consciousness of a people, their feelings, their impulses? What determines these sentiments is the current situation – attendant circumstances. And the history that led there.

People who think of themselves as Welsh think of Wales as a nation. That is the nearest we can get to an objective definition: that consciousness arises because of historical circumstances and it’s that consciousness that counts. Little else.

The ebb and flow of history has nurtured and flooded Wales with a social and cultural richness that some, but not all, of Wales welcomes and celebrates with open arms and hearts. The miners, many of them immigrants to Wales from other parts of British and Irish lands, not to mention Spanish, Italian and East European, are now part of the proud national heritage.

The only objective criteria we have are either from established nation-states, in which case there is no need for a right to self-determination, or from national movements, in which case we have to tread very carefully and respect that inalienable right.

In Scotland, where there has long been a sense of national identity, across classes, the present circumstances, not least since Thatcher’s Poll Tax, reinforce that national fervour to the point that independence, whatever it might mean, is seriously on the agenda.

And, by the way, Labour’s decision to use Alasdair Darling as a front man in unity with the Tories and LibDems to defend The Union and call for a NO vote in the referendum can only consolidate national consciousness and independence, and serve to further politically undermine Labour in Scotland. Labour, in the No campaign, has got just about everything wrong. Setting aside the execrable, and high public profile, alliance with the hated Tories and treacherous Liberals, the essential reason for the popular trend towards Scottish independence is to distance Scots from austerity, to follow or be tempted by the populist SNP’s optimistic, although not entirely unfounded, claims of economic viability. Scots have repeatedly made very clear that they want no part of Tory politics. As they say, there are more pandas in Edinburgh zoo (2) than there are Scottish Tory MPs in Westminster (1).

This is political ground onto which those who wish to oppose independence should be wary about treading. Aside from independence, we should wholly support the Scots in their stance against the Tories, not to mention their disaffection with such a Labour Party. Consider yourselves lucky to have had Rhodri and ‘Clear Red Water’.

Like workers in a factory, the first demand is to be recognised as a legitimate collective with identifiable common interests. We form unions and we fight for our rights. How the richness of these rights is achieved may well be best served by united struggle with other workers, even on a world scale. First we self-organise and make our own decisions.

Such debate is certainly extant for Wales and Scotland right now, under pressure to justify the feasibility of independent social and economic existence as if such an insular approach was being mooted by anyone other than die-hard nationalists, with whom we have no truck. Comrades may be reminded of the debate around the theme of ‘Socialism in one country’. The years gone by have only served to further justify and reinforce internationalist solutions.3

National self-determination is a chance to re-invigorate the class struggle against the British state.  As the then Cardiff councillor, Sue Essex, said at the Welsh Labour Conference in 1996, ‘the Assembly that we offer must be something genuinely new, which wakens and enlivens Welsh politics.’

[This does invoke discussion of how representative democratic structures work, of democratic organisation and accountability. Hence, even now, referenda on the nature of the voting system, the recall of AMs, the local democratic structures, the call for votes at 16 (recently adopted by the Welsh Government, although barely publicised), salaries, accountability, recallability,  frequency of elections and many such issues are very relevant to the democracy that one would wish to foster in a properly representative structure.]

How nations might function as independent states is a matter for their citizens to resolve when they have gained the right to make such decisions. As James Kelman puts it, “A people cannot be asked to settle in advance of independence how they shall act in hypothetical situations. We are being asked to provide a priori evidence of our fitness to determine our own existence before the freedom to do so is allowed.” 4

Autonomy – how close to Independence?

It is difficult to resist the call for independence in these circumstances, although the use of the term , ‘self-government’, provides a better, more instructive and less nationalist agitational slogan.  The problem is that when put on the scales with the substantive issues in the fight against austerity here in Wales, they tip heavily away from independence.  In Scotland, this is not so clear and independence is that much more seductive, not least as a tactic in the austerity battle.

In the current British context, it is not helpful to pursue the theoretical correctness of abstract positions on the national question or independence; the issue is entirely determined by our relationship with the British state and the demands and actions that will both strengthen the position and social-condition of Welsh workers and, in tandem, weaken, undermine, and directly challenge the hegemony of the class that dominates The Union. Right now, the determining issue is ‘austerity’ and we should do all in our power to resist, to unite with British and European workers to refute the fiscal parameters that deprive millions, the 99%, of their own earned rights and services in order to reimburse the rotten corrupt casino financiers who tell us what is best for us. Self-government assists us in this; it is neither an obstacle nor a diversion.

In reality, it is most unlikely that a truly independent state of Wales can have much meaning. Whilst the Welsh economy certainly needs to be re-generated and developed, following the demise of our traditional industries, future well-being is ineluctably and inextricably tied to the British and world economies. The M4 ‘corridor’ and the A55. ‘North Wales Expressway’ are built to service trade in England, only, at best, to throw crumbs at the Welsh economy.  A true Welsh transport strategy would establish east and west-side movement connections with north Wales, comparable with the rail and motorway connections between Glasgow and Edinburgh

The internationalisation of capital, global capitalism, clearly demands an international response. But this is pure rhetoric for day-to-day politics, frankly inconceivable in the present conditions.  So this begs the ‘national question’. When we get to ‘context’, there is a reality in the air.

The alternative is to remain ensnared within the carefully contrived limits of a constitution that for more than 300 years has successfully blocked all threats of radical change in order to preserve the stability of the oldest capitalist state form in the world. Socialists owe no kind of loyalty to that Britain.

The ending of the British warfare state, constitutional guarantees of civil liberties, republican citizenship, participatory democracy, genuinely popular control of public services, an economy run for the people rather than for profit – these and many other important areas of policy will be thrown into the melting pot from which people’s republics in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland will emerge.

Genuine popular control over state institutions and the economic levers of power cannot happen in a British state in which the people are designated as subjects of a political sovereignty resting with the Crown-in-Parliament.

Social change in Britain is much depressed by a hereditary monarchy and an unelected House of Lords keeping tight political rein on a Commons majority elected with less and less of a popular vote. The breakup of the authoritarian British state is now a significant element in securing progressive socialist change for the peoples of this island.

Many who argue against independence are still in favour of increasing powers for the Welsh government. Where might that stop? It goes to the point of independence from the centralist, anti-democratic, banker-run, British state. For self-government!

We are in favour of our independent right to reject Westminster austerity, to stand alongside Scots and other Europeans and to seek alliance with English workers under a unified banner to reject austerity. Nor is it just British austerity, it is global, unregulated, free-market neo-liberal capitalism and we are in favour of the Welsh Assembly coming out clearly against it. And against Trident! Are we really to abstain on Trident because such decisions are to be made in Westminster?5

We are for autonomy, for self-government, for decisions affecting Welsh workers to be made in Wales. This is not to argue for separation or independence. But it is to argue for our rights.

The national question is exactly that.

We are not in favour of isolation. We have no illusions about the Welsh economy but the Welsh economy does need to be regenerated.

This is the paradox with which we have to grapple. Independence may not be a helpful concept, yet we are in favour of what I have been calling ‘degrees of independence’ – more powers to the Assembly. Let the Assembly decide its own powers with no right of veto from London or Brussels. We are in favour of autonomous rights to Welsh people, rights to demur. This is what clear red water means. An autonomous nation within a British federation, a European federation of states – the united states of Europe.

And Plaid? Many Labour socialists are against the rival political party that is Plaid, and so are against independence. It was easy when the ‘language nationalists’ were in the driving seat. Serious political debate about the national question could be avoided under the veil of party tribalism.

Now, to keep it simple, given the rich socialist programme that Leanne Wood is espousing in Plaid, a platform, remember, that won majority support in her party, the only real difference is her promotion of independence, Raymond Williams’ ‘real independence’ as she puts it.

In my opinion, her emphasis on independence is too strong vis-a-vis building unity against the Tory onslaught, but she does have her party history and a strong ‘disaffected-with-Labour-in-Westminster cohort’ to contend with. If she brings Plaid into unity against austerity, they should be welcomed. They should be welcomed at face value and also because that is the real foundation of self-government, an interpretation of ‘independence’ to be supported.

And so we come to the problem for Labour. Wood is castigated for ‘opportunist’ approaches to the unions for the fight against austerity, for her disrespect for the queen, for her to go to church and shake the queen’s hand like Martin McGuinness,  for her failure to support ‘self-determination in the Malvinas’ (if ever there was a demonstration of a weak position on the national question, that’s it!), for her small-scale economic solutions, for her jumping on Carwyn’s blunder of weapons of mass destruction in Milford, for her opposition to the ‘job creation’ of a new Wylfa nuclear power station. This is not to mention some of her entirely justified attacks on Labour local authorities in the valleys. The problem is that party tribalism triumphs over political reason. That tribalism oft-times disguises a ‘greater British chauvinism’ that deters a political dialogue with socialists like Leanne Wood and others. The detritus only serves to weaken unified Welsh resistance to the Tories.

The ‘national question’ and ‘Independence’ are almost words in a game of semantics – independence versus ‘autonomous self-government’ – not unlike the ‘autonomous women’s movement’ that proved so difficult for many socialists. (Where would we be without the strength of the Women’s Movement in the 60s, 70s and 80s?)

Our aim is to unify round our collective interests, perhaps independently at first but always with a view to unity with others, nearby, in other countries, and in other continents.

The aim of self-government is greater unity, on an equal basis and on a clearer platform, between the working people of all countries. Boundaries are to be broken, but only on an equal basis. If ‘the national question’ serves that aim then we should be very careful about saying ‘No’. Indeed, why should we say ‘No’ when it relies on the defence of almost everything we oppose? In fact, what has ‘The Union’ ever done for us?

Notes.

  1. With acknowledgement to the highly recommended satirical posting on YouTube called ‘What have the unions ever done for us?’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=184NTV2CE_c  The heading here is not satirical.
  2. This paper has drawn heavily on the writings two left-wing socialists, the late Ceri Evans, and Ed George. Ed has been most helpful in the preparation of this paper, for which much thanks, although this version is for me only to answer for.
  3. In fact we should be sympathetic to small nation nationalism, (1) because they’re oppressed; and (2) their struggle has a progressive logic. It was Trotsky who said, with regard to black nationalism in discussion with CLR James that, although we’re not nationalists, the most consistent fighters for black nationalism will join the fight for socialism because of who and what they’re fighting against. The dialectic of that is seen in feminism, trade unionism, the whole raft of ‘partial’ struggles: if you’re oppressed and you fight consistently against your oppression you generalise. We saw that in the miners strike, with Ireland, LGBT struggles. This was Lenin’s mature position, that you can’t talk about nations in the abstract.
  4. James Kelman (2012) On self-determination is reproduced in Celyn at https://celynwales.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/on-self-determination/
  5. Mark Drakeford (2012) No to Trident. A speech to the Welsh Assembly Government, reprinted in Celyn at https://celynwales.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/no-to-trident/

Other notes and references

Lenin (1916): The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-determination in Lenin Selected Works Lawrence and Wishart 1969

Writings of Ceri Evans and Ed George can be found in Ceri’s archive at http://www.angelfire.com/alt/ceri_evans/ in both sections ‘Ceri’s writings’ and ‘Other material’. Ed George keeps his writings at http://www.oocities.org/edgeorge2001es/, his ‘Close reading of Marx’s Capital’ at http://readingmarx.wordpress.com/, and earlier writing on http://search.gmane.org/?query=&author=Ed+George&group=&sort=relevance&DEFAULTOP=and&query=

A relevant selection of these writings is

Evans (1994). Nationalism, Marxism and the Irish Question, http://www.angelfire.com/alt/ceri_evans/writings/ireland.htm

Evans  (1995) Ten draft points on the national question http://www.angelfire.com/alt/ceri_evans/writings/ten_draft_points.htm

Author? (1981) Notes on Welsh Nationalism and Plaid Cymru http://www.angelfire.com/alt/ceri_evans/other_material/notes_welsh_nationalism.htm

George (1999) On Marx, Engels and the national Question [Section IV is particularly relevant here.] http://www.oocities.org/edgeorge2001es/mywritings/menat.html

George (2001) The Secret of the Forest is the Trees http://www.oocities.org/edgeorge2001es/mywritings/Forest.html

George (2002) A Note on Welsh History and Politics http://www.angelfire.com/alt/ceri_evans/other_material/note_history_politics.htm

George (2002) Re Scottish independence and the SSP http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.politics.marxism.marxmail/3172

Venue and date confirmed for Scots ‘Radical Independence Conference’

Following the first organising meeting – held in early June in Glasgow and attended by around 100 people – the conference arrangements working group has been hard at work finalising a date and venue for the Radical Independence Conference. We’re now very happy to reveal that it will be taking place on Saturday 24 November, at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow city centre.

The conference was launched earlier this year with a statement signed by dozens of campaigners, trade unionists, cultural figures and politicians, calling for the creation of an extra-parliamentary independence campaign that puts forward a radical, progressive vision of an independent Scotland. The conference itself will see hundreds of people from across Scotland come together to start discussing and organising for this campaign, and building for a Yes vote in the autumn 2014 referendum.

In a bid to make the day as open as possible, the conference will be based around workshops. Organisations and individuals are invited to submit abstracts giving a summary of their proposed workshop or speaker – the forms for which are available below. Future organising meetings will then discuss these applications and decide on the order of events at the conference. There will also be space at the conference for stalls for different organisations and causes, applications for which are also now open.

The Radical Independence Conference looks set to be a significant step on the road to the 2014 referendum, giving the opportunity for those across Scotland who are on the left, involved with environmental and social justice movements, trade unionists and everyone who supports a progressive vision of independence,  to come together and discuss the launch of a mass, radical campaign.

But your participation is key! We need your ideas, enthusiasm and skills to make the conference a reality. Details of the next organising meeting will be posted up soon, and in the meantime feel welcome to submit your ideas and workshop and stall applications to radicalindependence@gmail.com

Wales and the Future of the United Kingdom

We reprint below the speech of Carwyn Jones, First Minister for Wales, to the ‘Changing Union’ conference, 30 March 2012

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.

This conference, and indeed the whole Wales in a Changing Union programme, is very timely. I welcome the work of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, the Welsh Governance Centre and Cymry Yfory in this area.

We are on the brink of some major constitutional changes in the UK. The impending independence referendum in Scotland, the review of devolution in Wales through the Silk Commission, and the possible reform of the House of Lords are only some of the constitutional challenges we face.

It is essential that we take every opportunity to discuss these challenges, their possible impact and to plan for how we – in Wales and elsewhere – will adapt to a new United Kingdom.

Some people may say that constitutional debates are only of academic value, but I disagree. The outcomes of these debates will impact directly on how we as a Government deliver our services to the people of Wales, and that is just one of the many reasons why I believe that we have a responsibility to discuss the future of the UK and Wales’ place in that changing Union.

The Silk Commission – constitutional reform

The establishment of the Commission for Devolution in Wales, or the Silk Commission as it has become known, has been welcomed by the Welsh Government.

The Commission is currently working on the Welsh financial settlement. This is essential to our future, and I will return to it in a moment.

The second aspect of the Commission’s work, on the constitutional settlement for Wales, will be of considerable interest. The breadth of the Silk Commission’s Terms of Reference should allow for a wide-ranging consideration of the issues, and I hope there will be extensive public participation in that debate – including, no doubt, views from some of you in this room. As a Government we are very keen to see a number of areas examined by the Commission.

Just this week the Counsel General launched a Green Paper to consult on a range of issues surrounding the legal status of Wales. For centuries law in Wales was subsumed into English law to form a common legal jurisdiction. Before devolution this was a perfectly rational position. Thirteen years after devolution began the existing arrangement has become, in my view, steadily less tenable. So far as I know, Wales and England is the only part of the world where there is a single legal jurisdiction but two separate legislatures. As the body of law only applicable in Wales accrues over time, surely this position is anomalous.

I hope Silk will look at these and related issues. Family justice is an area that could be devolved quickly and without much difficulty. We as a Government already have responsibilities for many aspects of family justice and the devolution of family justice in its entirety would be a short step.

Criminal justice is a larger issue and its devolution would represent a fundamental step. I would only contemplate this if the full budget for criminal justice administration came with it.

In the same way, there are issues about whether the Welsh Government should have responsibility for policing. There’s an interesting debate about whether policing can effectively be devolved without criminal justice, and vice versa. I imagine that the Commission will receive evidence on these kinds of issues.

There have been a number of debates in the Chamber of the Assembly about railways and the fact that the budget for rail infrastructure in Wales is not held in Wales. If it were, we would be much further ahead by now in refreshing vital infrastructure. We would like to see this considered by the Silk Commission.

I also believe that the Welsh Government is best placed to align Wales’ energy aspirations with the needs of our communities and to manage the interface with our environment.

I hope that the Silk Commission will consider these and many other issues during the second part of its work. The Welsh Government will submit evidence to the Commission, and I will be very interested to see the recommendations when the Commission reports in the Spring of 2014.

Financial Reform

Although constitutional reform is vital for the future of Wales and how we serve the people of Wales, it is fundamentally underpinned by the need for financial reform. Without financial reform we will not be able to address the people of Wales’ needs as effectively as they would expect us to.

At present the Silk Commission is looking at the case for the devolution of further fiscal powers to Wales. We have provided evidence on our position on financial reform to the Commission.

There is a strong case to be made for tax devolution in some areas. In particular there is an argument for tax devolution in areas where we already have policy responsibility. Namely, stamp duty land tax, aggregates levy, landfill tax and air passenger duty.

In principle I support the devolution of these taxes as part of a wider package of reform.

Further devolution of tax raising powers especially in relation to income tax and corporation tax are much more difficult issues. In my view we could not seek devolution of income tax varying powers without a referendum.

As for corporation tax, the Holtham Commission set out the pros and cons of devolving corporation tax to Wales. It could potentially provide a powerful tool to promote economic development, but equally it could be a substantial risk to the Welsh budget given the volatility of its receipts. And if the consequence of devolving corporation tax to each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be a competitive race to the bottom in the setting of tax rates, that would not be in the best interests of the UK.

More fundamentally, the Welsh Government will continue to press the UK Government for reform of the Barnett formula. We believe that Wales is underfunded, and that view is increasingly widely shared. Quite simply this must be rectified if we are to continue developing as a country and providing our citizens with the services they deserve.

The other area that we must look at outside the remit of the Silk Commission is that of borrowing powers. It is crucial that we have the ability to borrow for capital investment. The recent agreement between the UK and Scottish Governments about the Scotland Bill will result in the Scottish Government gaining extensive new borrowing powers.

Wales cannot be left behind in this respect. If we do not have parity on borrowing powers we run the risk of causing harm to our economic development and prosperity. We could end up in a situation where major projects cannot be undertaken simply because they are in Wales. That would be an unacceptable position.

So I have to emphasise that we will continue to push for fair funding and borrowing powers as a priority. Any new funding packages must include genuine progress in these two areas. We cannot go forward with fiscal devolution without fair funding.

Scotland, and the Future of the UK

Let me now turn to consider issues from a wider UK perspective. The future of the United Kingdom is crucially dependent on the outcome of the referendum on Scottish Independence.

The matter of Scottish independence is one for the people of Scotland. But I believe in the United Kingdom and I strongly believe that we, as a Union, are stronger together than apart.

If the people of Scotland vote in favour of independence the shape and constitutional make-up of the UK will be dramatically changed. We will not simply be able to wake up the day after and carry on as if nothing had happened when the top part of the state has been lopped off..!

Equally, if the vote is against independence there is still the prospect of substantive constitutional change in one part of the UK that potentially will impact on all other parts of the Union. Wales needs to keep ahead of this debate, not get left behind by the tide of change. We need to define our future in our own terms.

I have therefore called for a United Kingdom Constitutional Convention that would enable all four countries of the Union to discuss its future together, rather than piecemeal. I have written to the Prime Minister on this issue, and await his response.

I am particularly concerned that constitutional reforms are being proposed without reference to other constitutional developments. Take, for example, the forthcoming proposals for reform of the House of Lords. There is potential for reform of the Lords to be an important part of the overall review of constitutional arrangements in the UK, but this linkage simply does not appear to have been made.

I believe that the four nations of the UK should have equal membership of the House of Lords on a territorial basis. This would mirror arrangements for the Senate in the United States which ensures an equally weighted voice for each state of the Union regardless of population. The House of Commons, like the House of Representatives, would continue as the Chamber which reflects population share – so there could be no question of England’s voice being diminished within the wider constitutional settlement. I believe an arrangement along these lines could help bind together the four nations of the UK.

It is worth also mentioning Europe…we hear a lot about the West Lothian Question – about which the UK Government has also launched a Commission. No explanation of the West Lothian Question is required to this audience, but there’s a related question about Europe which I’m calling the Bridgend Question. Early in my ministerial career I spent many a long day and night, as Agriculture Minister, at the Council of Ministers. Now, there are 4 Agriculture Ministers in the UK and yet, at the Council of Ministers, the English Agriculture Minister casts a vote on behalf of all of us – whether the other 3 of us agree or not. Again, this seems increasingly unsatisfactory and unsustainable as time goes by…a revised way of dealing with EU business should also form part of our wider debate about the UK’s future.

In any event, we must ensure that, if Scotland leaves the Union, a strong voice is retained for Wales in a new partnership with Northern Ireland and England. And if Scotland is to stay in the Union but on different terms, then that too needs to be the subject of discussion among all the interested parties.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that we start discussing the future of the United Kingdom before the people of Scotland go to the polls. We cannot underestimate the substantive impact that constitutional change in Scotland will have on every part of the Union and we must start planning for the future.

On the brink of huge constitutional change in the UK

There is a strong case for reforming our central institutions to reflect the emerging reality of a looser UK. We should be moving forward towards a Union that reflects the 21st century, not the 19th.

I am whole-heartedly in favour of a written constitution for the UK. The incremental piecemeal approach to our constitution is destabilising and distracting. Far better, I believe, to have a comprehensive look at what kind of state we want the UK to be and then move towards a written constitution which commits and binds. Part of that constitution would define the relationship between the Devolved Administrations and UK Institutions. “Assymetric quasi-federalism” is not the snappiest slogan for a political campaign, but the UK has changed beyond recognition over the past 15 years and it is time that our constitution recognised this.

To summarise, I am calling for a Convention on the Future of the UK. I believe a reformed House of Lords could be, in effect, a territorial chamber. I have defined the Bridgend Question and believe arrangements for dealing with aspects of EU policy should form part of future deliberations. And I also believe we should move over time towards a settled written Constitution for the UK.

I am sure that today’s Conference, and the work you will be undertaking over the next three years, will make a significant contribution to that development. I will look forward with interest to hearing about your discussion today, and wish you well as you take the debate forward in coming months.

Thank you.

The speech was published on the website of the Institute of Welsh Affairs here, where comments can be made. Do please copy comments here too. Thanks.

The politics of the Scottish independence referendum

By Neil Davidson
[Celyn is anxious to promote broad debate on the burgeoning topic of independence. The left’s historic caution over the issue has been jolted by Leanne Wood’s election to the leadership of Plaid Cymru and this article from International Socialism, the journal of the Socialist Workers Party, no advocate of independence hitherto and written by an erstwhile sceptic, vividly reflects the strength of the social movement that is afoot. If anything, Davidson’s analysis of the SNP is even more applicable to Plaid, although Labour in Wales is certainly a more complex phenomenon than the Scottish version. Celyn Editors]

David Cameron chose to open 2012 with one of those tactical misjudgements increasingly typical of the overconfident, untested politicians of the coalition. On this occasion the subject was the timing and content of a future referendum on Scottish independence. Under the Scotland Act (1998) all constitutional issues relating to the 1707 Treaty of Union between England and Scotland are reserved to Westminster. If the Scottish National Party (SNP) government in Edinburgh held a consultative referendum on the question of independence it would certainly carry great moral and political weight, at least in Scotland, but in legal terms it would be little more than a gigantic opinion poll. Cameron presumably hoped to outmanoeuvre Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond by offering to transfer to the Scottish Parliament the power to hold a referendum, but only if the latter accepted that it be held within 18 months and that it consisted of a single question, for or against Scottish independence.

Within days of Cameron making this offer on 8 January the entire episode had backfired. For one thing, he had now conceded that there would definitely be a referendum (which the Tories had not previously accepted). And his blundering attempt to bully Salmond left the SNP leader with the moral advantage, leading to increased levels of support for independence and an influx of new members to the SNP (over 700 in the second week in January) in response. At the time of writing (mid-February) it looks as if Salmond will hold the referendum at the time of his choosing in autumn 2014, although the nature of the question or questions is still unresolved. Salmond is probably the most effective British bourgeois politician of his generation; Cameron, on the other hand, is not, but there is more at play here than their respective qualities. Why was Cameron so insistent on setting conditions for timing and content of the referendum and what attitude should revolutionary socialists take towards it?

The timing issue was a relatively trivial piece of political gamesmanship. The SNP’s 2011 manifesto for the Scottish parliamentary election said that a referendum would be held in the latter half of the parliamentary term (ie after May 2013). Salmond allegedly had plans to arrange it for 24 June 2014, the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, the battle which is usually, if inaccurately, supposed to have secured the independence of the feudal Scottish kingdom from England. Regardless of the truth of this (and it would be untypically crass of Salmond, who never indulges in vulgar anti-English posturing), imposing a deadline would have narrowed the range of dates in which a vote could be held while, if he refused to accept such a timescale, the coalition could pretend that the SNP were running scared of the referendum because they knew there was not a majority for independence.

The attempt to confine the choice to either the status quo or independence results from more fundamental considerations. Cameron has no desire to be responsible for the break-up of Britain: if Scotland seceded from the United Kingdom there would be a real threat that the state could unravel. One immediate consequence would be to place a question mark over the viability of Northern Ireland, since the union has always been with Britain, not England and—as Loyalists of all varieties are well aware—Sinn Fein would almost certainly begin agitation for an all-Irish referendum on reunification. British state managers would find their geopolitical position weakened by the loss of territory involved, leading, for example, to the removal of the rest of the UK (“Little Britain”) from permanent membership of the UN Security Council. There would also be difficulties if the SNP fulfilled its promise to remove nuclear weapons from the Clyde, since there are virtually no other deep water bases on the UK coastline where the submarines that carry them can be docked, and to construct them would involve massive expenditure.

It would be a mistake, however, to imagine that the political situation is simply reducible to SNP support for independence and Tory support for the status quo. In fact, the majority of the leadership of both parties would find a third option, so-called “maximum devolution” or “devo max”, preferable, although for different reasons neither can publicly admit it. Devo max is the option overwhelmingly supported by most Scots: it would leave the Scottish Parliament in control of all state functions (including taxation) with the exception of those controlled by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Bank of England (ie in relation to setting interest rates). Most of the SNP leadership recognise that there is not a majority for independence, or at least not one that would currently make the transition from opinion poll to voting booth. Devo max is what they hope to achieve—and more importantly, what they think they can achieve—in the short to medium term.

But although Salmond would prefer three options to be included in the referendum—status quo, devolution max and independence—he cannot openly argue for this without incurring the wrath of the fundamentalist-nationalist wing of his party, for whom anything less than independence is a betrayal. What he seems to want is for enough popular pressure to be expressed through “civil society” (ie the institutions of the Scottish professional and technical-managerial middle classes, plus the Scottish TUC and its constituent trade unions) to make it impossible for the devo max option to be excluded from the ballot paper, but without his direct intervention.

The situation is further complicated, however, by the fact that, in certain circumstances, devo max would probably be acceptable to a majority of Tories if it was politically necessary. Cameron certainly wants to win a vote against independence but, tactically inept though he is, he is also aware that even if this is achieved, the demand for further devolution will be unstoppable, and would probably result in pressure for a subsequent referendum asking Scottish voters to choose between the status quo and devo max. Cameron effectively conceded this in his speech in Edinburgh on 16 February, when he offered further measures of devolution if voters rejected independence. Salmond for tactical reasons affected to believe this was a ruse to lull the Scots into voting for the status quo, after which the promise would be quietly forgotten. It is usually wise to believe the worst about Tory intentions, but in this case Cameron is probably genuine.

If the essential integrity of the British state were maintained at the military-diplomatic level, the latter would be an acceptable outcome, particularly since it would place the responsibility for raising taxation and cutting expenditure on the Scottish government. Indeed, some Tory intellectuals, notably Tim Montgomerie, are arguing that Cameron should seize the opportunity to reconstruct the British constitution on a federal basis—a position which would bring the Tories into harmony with the Liberal Democrats, for whom this is a policy dating back to the days of the original Liberal Party.

Where is the Labour Party in all of this? The leadership has effectively entered a bloc with the Tories and Lib Dems against both independence and the inclusion of a devo max option on the ballot paper. As a demonstration of Labour’s apparently insatiable appetite for self-destruction this is almost on a par with Ed Balls’s recent declaration that a future Labour government would not reverse coalition spending cuts. Most party members, like most Scots, favour devo max, but they now have very limited mechanisms for influencing policy. There have, however, been initiatives by Labour-affiliated unions, above all Unite, to put pressure on the party hierarchy to shift position, and these provide an important forum for debate and intervention.

Although this retreat to outright Unionism will almost certainly be abandoned before the referendum, it is indicative of the sectarianism which Labour has always displayed towards the SNP, even its left, long after it became clear that the “tartan Tories” label had ceased to be applicable. The simple reason is that, of all the mainstream parliamentary parties, the SNP is the only one which has had the possibility of attracting a significant part of Labour’s working class electoral base, and is now beginning to do so—indeed, this was why it was able to form a majority administration in 2011. Labour’s greatest immediate concern in this respect is that the SNP will win Glasgow, the largest Scottish council and one of two which it still controls, in the May 2012 local elections.

The SNP stood a realistic chance of doing so even as things stood, but—in another manifestation of the suicidal tendency mentioned above—the Glasgow Labour Party has split. After voting against Labour proposals to cut services and jobs at a fractious council meeting on 9 February, an increasing number of Labour councillors (eight at the time of writing) have resigned and announced their intention to form a new party, provisionally called “Glasgow Labour”, to contest the May elections. Unfortunately, this split is not based on a principled opposition to budget cuts—their own proposals, like those of the SNP, merely rearranged them—but is a calculated opportunistic response by a group of councillors who had earlier been deselected and who hope to retain their seats by avoiding the opprobrium which will attach to the Labour group. The outcome is to make an SNP victory all the more likely.

Faced with the ongoing self-immolation of the Scottish Labour Party, it may seem redundant to ask why working class people are increasingly turning to the SNP, but there are also what Gramsci called “organic” as well as “contingent” reasons. Like similar social democratic organisations in Europe and Australasia, Labour has moved extraordinarily far to the right, although its attitude to devolution has never been comprehensible in left-right terms. Nevertheless, despite the rightward shift, Labour will remain a social democratic party so long as it at least retains a role in articulating the interests of the trade union bureaucracy, thus holding open the possibility that working class demands—in however mediated a form—might once again influence what it actually does. Since reformism remains the dominant form of consciousness
within the working class, it may appear that nothing much has changed and that this reformism will continue to find expression in the Labour Party as it has for the last hundred years or so. But there is no necessary connection between reformism in general and the specific form taken by Labourism.

A combination of Labour’s own behaviour in office and opposition—above all its acceptance of neoliberalism—together with structural changes in the nature of the working class and the current diminution of trade union membership and consciousness in the private sector, means that for many working class people, Labour does not appear to be fundamentally different from the other parties, but is simply “the least worst” of the choices on offer. In this connection it is important to remember that, although the “typical” member of the organised working class may be a public-sector employee who belongs to a Labour-affiliated union like Unite, the “typical” member of the working class as a whole is a private sector service worker in no union at all. In these circumstances, if a party other than Labour was to appear, offering reforms, sounding as if they actually believe in them, and invoking the social democratic tradition, workers, especially in the latter group, might well consider transferring their vote to it. In England no such party yet exists, and for several historical reasons one is unlikely to appear, but in Scotland it does, in the form of the SNP. It is worth noting that, even in the context of organised workers, over 40 percent of Unite members in Scotland voted for the SNP in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections

In general, the SNP accepts the neoliberal economic agenda—but the point is of limited importance since this is true of all the parties in the Scottish and UK parliaments, with the possible exception of the Greens. But the SNP has also positioned itself as the inheritor of the Scottish social democratic tradition and to make this credible it has adopted three tactics. First, it has retained all the reforms introduced by the previous Lib-Lab coalition, above all free care for the elderly. Second, it has legislated for its own reforms, such as free medical prescriptions. Third, and this is in many ways the most important, it has simply refused to carry through the counter-reforms of the previous Labour and current coalition governments in the areas where it has power: water privatisation, student fees and the fragmentation of the NHS. In many respects it is what the SNP has not done that has gained it support, rather than its relatively limited reform programme.

In these circumstances, revolutionary socialists have to argue four positions. First, only the Scottish people (ie people of whatever origin who actually live in Scotland) should have the right to vote in the referendum. Second, and quite independently of our attitude towards the SNP, the date of the referendum and questions on the ballot paper should be set without interference from the coalition at Westminster. Third, the devo max option should be included on the ballot paper. Fourth, working class people should nevertheless vote for independence. The first three are basic questions of democracy; the fourth perhaps requires further explanation.

Unless we put forward an argument for class politics within the referendum campaign, the alternatives will simply be between nationalist and unionist positions, with the rest of the left tail-ending the former, helping the SNP towards the hegemonic position it seeks in Scottish politics. This means active involvement in the campaign, including participation in bodies such as the cross-party Scottish Independence Convention. Among other things, we need absolute clarity that there is nothing intrinsically beneficial about Scottish independence; otherwise we face the danger of encouraging the popular but wholly false assumption that Scottish people are automatically more left wing than English people, which will in turn encourage dangerous illusions in a Scottish parliamentary road to socialism, or at least to a revived social democracy. The reasons for supporting independence lie elsewhere.

Britain is an imperial state at war. A referendum called while the occupation of Afghanistan is still ongoing, with the Iraqi and Libyan interventions a recent memory, would be inseparable from the arguments against these wars and the British state’s subordinate alliance with the American empire. Scottish secession would at the very least make it more difficult for Britain to play this role, if only by reducing its practical importance for the US. Britain has always been an imperialist state, but socialists have not always have called for support for independence and in other situations they were correct to oppose it, for example in the early 1920s. But devolution has changed the context in which we operate. The British state has already begun to fragment and so to call for its further fragmentation on an anti-war basis, in a situation where a majority opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, means that independence can be supported as a means to an anti-imperialist end, rather than as the political logic of Scottish nationalism.

A related reason is that the campaign for a “no” vote will effectively be asking voters to endorse a conception of Britishness which is built around racism and anti-migrant, anti-Islamic hysteria. No doubt some well-meaning but deluded members of the left will argue that the issue is the unity of the British working class, but we should be clear: for the anti-independence side, this will not be about the Chartists, the Suffragettes, anti-fascism or Saltley Gates; it will be about the virtues of white, Christian, imperial Britannia, at best alloyed with a little official multiculturalism. For socialists to give this “left colouration” to the pro-union cause would be politically fatal.

The unity of workers and the oppressed in the British Isles is not secured by the constitutional form of the state or by the bureaucratic structures of union organisation; but by the willingness to show solidarity and take joint collective action, across borders if necessary. Many workers in Southern Ireland belong to the same unions as workers in Britain; workers in Canada often belong to the same unions as workers in the US: there is no reason why workers in Scotland could not belong to the same unions as workers in the rest of the UK. To argue that this is a decisive reason for opposing independence is either scaremongering or a concealed defence of the British state. Part of the process of maintaining unity is for Scottish workers to support the struggles of English and Welsh workers, and for English and Welsh workers to support the right to self-determination of the Scots.1

What of the alternative? The meaning of devolution has changed over the decades, which is why, as I suggested earlier, the Tories could accept devo max if necessary. Previously, it was a way of meeting popular aspirations without threatening the economic order; now it is also potentially useful for further implanting social neoliberalism. The more politics is emptied of content, the more social neoliberal regimes need to prove that democracy is still meaningful—not, of course, by extending the areas of social life under democratic control, but by multiplying the opportunities for citizen-consumers
to take part in elections for local councillors, mayors, members of the Welsh and London Assemblies, and the Scottish, British and European parliaments.

It has not, of course, reversed the growing public withdrawal from official politics and in that sense has failed as a neoliberal strategy of legitimation. On the other hand, devolution is also part of a neoliberal strategy of delegation, and in this respect has been much more successful. Here responsibility for implementing anti-reforms is spread beyond governing parties and central state apparatuses to elected bodies whose policy options are severely restricted both by statute and—as in the case of local councils—reliance on the Treasury for most of their funding.

In the case of the devolved nations the assumption is that the people most likely to participate in local decision-making will be members of the middle class, who can be expected to behave, en masse, in ways which will impose restrictions on local taxation and public spending, and thus maintain the neoliberal order with a supposedly popular mandate. The distribution of responsibility for decision-making downward to the localities will continue
and gather further momentum following the onset of recession and still greater spending restraints. We too easily dismiss the “Big Society” as a joke, but what it ultimately means is atomised citizens voting for which services they want to close. If nothing else, in a separate state the responsibility could no longer be passed up the line to Westminster, by either the SNP or Labour.

Finally, participation in a campaign for independence will involve revolutionaries working alongside SNP members: what attitude should we take towards them? We approach the Tories and Lib Dems in one way (as open enemies) and Labour in another (as someone we expect to be a friend). Neither approach fits exactly in the case of the SNP, but it would seem more productive to tilt in the latter direction, partly because—unlike the Tories or Lib Dems—there are actual socialists in the SNP, but partly because it claims to be governing in a social democratic model.

In that case our demands should be for the SNP to prove it, in relation to refusing to implement the cuts, remaining opposed to student fees while reining in university principals, getting on with removing Trident from Scottish soil, etc. The contradictions for the SNP are already enormous, but as long as large sections of the working class regard them, however wrongly, as a viable reformist organisation, we should take that as our starting point. It should go without saying that none of this is meant to imply that we should stop working alongside Labour activists: our attitude towards them should continue to be one of fraternal engagement in the unions and campaigns.

All this is conditional upon class struggle—there are circumstances in which working class resistance could reach such a level that the question of independence would be irrelevant or even reactionary; we are far from that stage yet, although we may be at it by the time the referendum takes place, so the position set out here has to be kept under constant review. Nevertheless, we should beware of assuming that high levels of class struggle will result in “normal service being resumed”, with workers returning to Labour. There is no historical warrant for this: in 1974, after six years of the most intense class struggle since 1919, Labour limped into office at Westminster and the SNP received the biggest vote it had ever received (and bigger than it has ever received since) in a UK election. Nor will the Scottish national question simply disappear in a wave of strikes and demonstrations: workers—and the biggest increase in support for independence has been registered among young, unskilled workers—might understandably still see a logic in separating themselves from a Tory-led Westminster government, even when the class struggle is on the rise. Economics and politics are not autonomous from each other, but the mediations between them are deeply complex. Revolutionaries, not least in Scotland, ignore this at their peril.

Note

1: Contrary to what Lenin sometimes suggested, “the right of nations to self-determination” does not necessarily mean the right to separate, it means the right to decide whether or not to separate; if the Scots voted to remain part of the UK they would nevertheless have exercised their right to self-determination.

This article first appeared in the March issue (134) of International Socialism

Welsh Labour? Why?!!!

As the Welsh Labour Party gathers for its annual conference in Cardiff this weekend, the question is asked “Why, for goodness sake, does anyone support Labour?” Gordon Gibson reckons that the Welsh Party should top up its supplies of ‘clear red water’.

Visiting my mother in Scotland last week I was rather shaken by two events. Five years ago, Labour had 69 out of 79 seats on Glasgow council. Last week they wheeled out the infirm to secure a majority of 2 for their budget. With defections, deselections and disaffection galore, Scotland’s rock-solid bastion of Labour is now a hung council. On May 3rd, there is every likelihood that Glasgow will go SNP.

It came up in conversation when I met up with former flatmates and friends I hadn’t seen for decades, a not overtly political lot. Declaring my hand, I told them of Labour’s support in Wales. In disbelieving, unrehearsed unison they replied. “Why, for goodness sake?”

In Scotland, the drift away from Labour is frightening. The party appears hell-bent on retaining its New Labour character by, for example, raising Alastair Darling from the ashes to call for unity with Tories and LibDems to preserve the Union, and by having little political strategy other than to slag off the SNP. Unfortunately for Labour, the SNP, being the populist party it is and led by a very shrewd political operator in Alex Salmond, is saying all the things that people want to hear, things that Labour should be saying.

Scottish people, whose under-rated political traditions expressed themselves over the years with overwhelming social democratic and communist representation, don’t take kindly to Labour’s new leader, Johann Lamont, like her predecessor, shrugging off the dissent in her own back yard, and joining the tribalism. The Scots don’t have a problem with the SNP if it is standing up to the Tories. And it is. They, the Scots, will consider independence and its implications in due course. They know, as one wag said, that there are more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs, and that it is the Westminster Tories, jobs and cuts that are the issue for now. All they hear from Labour, both in Westminster and Holyrood, is, at best, a confusing message about the economy, debt and necessary cuts, wrapped up in anti-SNP rhetoric and tosh about ‘the Union’. As in Glasgow, the only outcome will be to drive voters into the haven of the SNP, and so towards independence.

In Scotland, during the Blair years and before the unforgivable Sheridan debacle, Scots had begun to see an alternative to New Labour in the likes of the Scottish Socialist Party. After the 2003 elections, the SSP had 6 MSPs – an extraordinary achievement for an avowedly left socialist party. Sheridan’s antics put paid to that, but the die was cast. Voters and, even more important, young people were looking for alternatives. Salmond and the SNP, never friends of socialism, were happy to provide the rhetoric and, wisely, no small gains and resistance to the Tories. Although always a home for disaffected Labourites, the SNP was, hitherto, not a party of left nationalism; it was always much messier. It’s another story now.

In Wales. Labour holds on to a fragile support, with a different back-cloth. The mainstream left divides itself into two camps: disaffected left socialists form a strong current in Plaid Cymru, finding expression in Leanne Wood, running as favourite to win next month’s leadership election. If she does, it is bound to shake up both Plaid and Labour. Plaid has matured from a traditionally ‘Welsh language nationalist’ party, with worrying pro-fascist elements in its history, currently being re-assessed by their leading left ideologue and former MP, Adam Price. Labour, on the other hand is tending to regress into a old-style male apparatus that finds ‘the national question’, not to mention ‘campaigning trade union resistance’, rather awkward.

Labour took its leftism into government after the devolution vote of 1997 and even drew Plaid into the ‘One Wales’ coalition from 2007-11. First Minister Rhodri Morgan, Welsh leader for most of 10 years from 2000, had described that leftism as ‘clear red water’ between Wales and Blair’s Westminster, as early as 2002.

Make no mistake, the achievements of devolution are not to be scoffed at. Morgan’s cabinet in 2000 was the first in the western world to have a majority of women ministers. Their constitution put sustainablity and equality above all else. Sure Start, focused on child poverty, was embraced, developed and is now protected in Wales. The Assembly was first with free travel for older and disabled people back in 2002, first with free prescriptions in 2007, first with a strategic planning policy in 2004; Scotland came first with subsidised student fees back in 2000, Wales came on board to underwrite against the Tory fee increases last year. And you can be sure that the NHS is a lot safer in Welsh and Scottish hands than it is in the Tories’.

Conference this weekend will test Welsh Labour’s mettle. New leader, Carwyn Jones, has no mean task on his hands. Ed Miliband’s trials and tribulations are analysed most generously as ‘biding his time’ while he endeavours to change the course of the entrenched, unaccountable apparatus and parliamentary party of Blair’s legacy. Carwyn dances, perhaps not quite with Rhodri’s aplomb, on tightropes of slashed budgets and Tory defiance, that still ambiguous leadership from London, and a burgeoning independence debate at odds, for Labour, with our experience of devolution – and all whilst onlooking Labour’s danse macabre, and the SNP’s jig, in Scotland.

The priorities remain to do all we can to protect jobs and services, seeking new and innovative ways to boost the Welsh economy, pursuing the green agenda, building resistance to the Tories. These themes form the core of Welsh Labour Grassroots conference fringe meeting on Saturday evening, 18th February, 6.00 pm at the Welsh Institute of Sport, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff CF11 9SW, with Lesley Griffiths AM (Welsh Health Minister); Mark Drakeford AM (Cardiff West); Siobhan Corria (Llandaff North council candidate); and Martin Mayer (Unite the Union and Labour party NECs).

That discussion is sharpened by the Plaid contest, where these same themes, laced with independence, are the essence of Leanne Wood’s bid for leadership. She is quite clear that she sees no circumstances for alliances with the Tories. That’s about jobs and cuts and a future for Wales, not just the Union. Labour take heed.

Labour implodes in Glasgow

By Jonathan Mackie

It’s a common – and often justified – complaint that Scotland’s mainstream media outlets focus disproportionately on Glasgow when deeming what’s worthy of ‘news’ status. This time, however, the goings-on over recent weeks at Hollywood’s favourite Kremlin substitute have been entirely worthy of the headline treatment. You’ll forgive me for treating the next sentence to a paragraph entirely to itself:

Labour is now a minority party on Glasgow City Council.

My first campaign as a bright-eyed newly paid-up SNP member was the 1995 Council Elections. That resulted in our having 1 councillor out of 79, versus a monolithic 71 for Labour (election anoraks may like to know it would likely have been 1 from 90, had the District/Region set-up been retained). The last time Labour were deprived of a majority in Glasgow, the Foreign Office were sending photos of dead bodies to Olympic athletes to dissuade them from competing in Moscow, and homosexuality was still a criminal offence. Other than a 3-year interregnum, Labour held total domination in the City Chambers for decades. Until 9th February 2012.

That night the late-night political discussion programmes were treated to the spectacle of Labour’s Stephen Curran protesting that the day’s Labour budget had went very well for the party – as a majority of Labour councillors had voted for it! You could almost hear Malcolm Tucker in the background, spontaneously adding to the Chambers Dictionary with a half-page of compound expletives. Speculation that council leader Gordon Matheson had requisitioned all the city’s supplies of smelling salts remained, alas, unconfirmed.

More serious were the images of a tearful Anne-Marie Millar, until Wednesday a Labour councillor, alleging that implied threats had been made against her son’s continued apprenticeship should she side with the Opposition. Given historical precedent (cf. Bob Gould’s almost accidental exposure of ‘Votes for Trips’), the incident was sadly all too believable. Millar’s leaving the party, taken with the resignations (de facto or deliberate) of five other councillors and Irfan Rabbani’s move to the SNP, leave what was once the citadel of Establishment dominance a hung council, Leader Matheson dependent on those outwith the Labour fold to maintain control between now and May’s elections. On a council that but five years ago contained 69 Labour councillors from the 79.

Such loss of control is the inevitable culmination of a culture where any notion of political innovation was buried long ago. A culture where what matters is the dynamic and powerplay within the group, not how best to move Glasgow forward. A brief example; Thursday’s combined Opposition budget contained a proposal to erect solar panels on city primary schools, taking advantage of the stay of execution on feed-in tariffs. The question then arises – why wasn’t this done years ago? A proliferation of municipal property, a generous scheme of (effective) subsidy, and a small role in reducing council expenditure and carbon emissions. A no-brainer, you may think; then think of the dead hand on the reins of power and reflect.

However the cards fall for myself and my fellow candidates of all parties on May 3rd, it seems desperately obvious that the things that have been contemptuously buried by decades of Labour rule – openness, accountability, a readiness to listen, an ability to consult, and the humility of power – are exactly those which should be celebrated as the way to start the process of harnessing the clout and talent within Glasgow City Council to make the case, rhetorically and practically, for progressive and inclusive politics alongside Glaswegians of all political colours and none.

The city deserves nothing less.

This article first appeared under the title ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’ in the Scottish blog Bella Caledonia.
Labour in Glasgow has suffered public humiliation this past week, struggling with enforced attendances and defections, to pass its budget by just two votes. These events are symptomatic of Labour’s plight in Scotland although the article is not clear that the defections are to the left and the beneficiaries are the SNP, increasingly likely to gain in the May elections. Not only will this be a shot in the arm for the independence movement but it may well be more than just a further nail in the coffin of ‘new’ Labour.

A new political direction: independence

by Leanne Wood
“Real independence is a time of new and active creation: people sure enough of themselves to discard their baggage; knowing the past is past, as shaping history, but with a new confident sense of the present and the future, where the decisive meanings and values will be made.”
Raymond Williams, 1975

In the space of three short years, the political context in Wales and the world has changed beyond recognition. The 2008 banking crisis should have undermined and resulted in the rejection of capitalism and many of its basic economic and political assumptions. Austerity programmes and high unemployment levels are putting great strain on people not just in Wales, but throughout other parts of the world as are the impacts of energy price shocks and climate change. All countries in the European Union face economic uncertainty, with many, large and small, in deep economic crisis. The future of the whole EU project is now under threatIf the tectonic plates of capitalism are showing signs of stress, then closer to home, the recent elections in Scotland caused a tremor in the British state. The aftershocks from events in the Eurozone and Britain’s response are likely to be felt for some time to come. Questions over whether Wales has the powers to make laws within a limited range of devolved policy areas have been decisively answered by the referendum last March. The next steps for a Wales that rejected the Tory/Lib Dem cuts programme that is now hitting us disproportionately, are yet to be determined.

As Plaid Cymru undertakes an internal review and starts the process of electing a new leader to take the party into its new phase, now is a good time to give some consideration as to how we respond to these new contexts. How can we ensure that the philosophy and values which underpin Plaid Cymru’s political outlook contribute to the building of an economically viable post-crash, post-Britain Wales? Keeping our heads down and continuing to speak the language of managerialism in a time of crisis is simply not an option.

For independence

It’s clear from discussions at the recent Plaid Cymru conference that developments in Scotland have spurred Plaid Cymru’s membership into thinking about the possibilities for Wales. What had seemed almost impossible before last May now seems possible, even tangible. The ‘what are we for?’ question that was asked following the successful ‘Yes’ vote last March has been answered: Plaid Cymru has never, and would never, accept a situation where we were deemed second rate to Scotland. The Welsh people know that our sense of national identity is equal to that of our Scottish and English sisters and brothers. Plaid Cymru is for Welsh independence.

However Wales is not Scotland. While there is much Plaid Cymru can learn from the SNP there are other parties within the European Free Alliance (EFA) group which whom we should learn and deepen links. The Bloque Nacionalista Galego (BNG) from Galicia or the PNC (Corsica) or UDB (Brittany) are more akin to Wales and to Plaid in terms of their socio-economic, linguistic and political statuses and ambitions as well as their economic outlook. All three are green and on the left end of the political spectrum – near to where Wales and Plaid are.

The ‘can we afford it’ question

Most of us who want independence for Wales would accept that the weak state of the Welsh economy means that we would struggle to afford the current Welsh welfare bill. A major contributor to this weakness is the high numbers of people dependent on state benefits. There are historic and political reasons for this. While Plaid Cymru would have no truck with blaming unemployed people for unemployment, neither would we seek to punish those who are dependent on state benefits, as the British unionist parties have. The high numbers of people dependent on welfare benefits has to be tackled in any serious attempt to turn around the Welsh economy. This could be done by providing support and incentives for people to form their own job-creating enterprises building Wales from the community up, using measures similar to those proposed in the ‘Greenprint’ document.’

Constitutional debates are unlikely to capture the popular imagination unless they are rooted in real-life politics. The biggest question facing most people in Wales today is that of their own and their family’s economic security. In a relatively short period of time, safe jobs have become unsafe. Public sector cuts will hit harder in Wales where the public sector makes up a larger proportion of the economy than other parts of the British state. The market has been failing to provide jobs in some parts of Wales since the 1980s and before, so the chances of the private sector filling the gaps left by the public sector during what in Wales is a deep recession, are slim. Social problems widely associated with a lack of or low-quality employment threaten to widen and deepen unless bold steps are taken to reverse the economic decline of our country. Plaid Cymru must give priority to strategies which can deliver full employment.

According to the sociologist Michael Hechter, Wales’s economic development is typical of other colonial/extractive economies like those in Latin America: economies that were built to facilitate the easy export out of any valuable natural resources. With an economic infrastructure built to ensure the transportation-out of the country’s major export product, coal, Wales remains hampered to this day by an internal transport system where all lines of communication lead to “the imperial capital or to the ports”. This infrastructure, as well as Wales’s ‘peripheral’ status, contributes to an inevitable in-built structural weakness in the Welsh economy. Leopold Kohr, that prophet of our current crisis, argued that the drain towards the centre cannot be “stopped by benevolently infusing into the periphery invigorating shots of new industry”. Kohr’s work explains the failure of EU convergence funds as well as other previous failed attempts to boost the Welsh economy. Wales’s economy has design faults that cannot be rectified by tinkering. Those design faults can only be corrected when the Welsh people, in all their diversity, are in a position to fundamentally reshape their economic infrastructure in a way that serves their needs and when they are no longer clinging on the peripheral edge of a vastly unequal British state. Welsh economic outcomes, as compared with those in other parts of the British state or the EU, whatever measure is used, can only be improved and equalised via independence. Independence is the vehicle for boosting an economy that has been stagnating for the best part of a century.

Jobs, jobs, jobs …

In the meantime, the deepening economic crisis demands solutions to combat unemployment now. A ‘Building Wales’ jobs plan which sought to provide everyone who can work with a job helping to re-build the Welsh economic infrastructure in a way which would benefit people living in Wales would be assisted if the Welsh government had the ability to vary the benefits as well as the tax rules, giving concrete reasons for the devolution of such powers.

Leopold Kohr in his book ‘Is Wales Viable’ (1971) advocates the development of an internal or ‘home’ market, where the money earned in Wales is spent in Wales, stimulating local economic activity which would in turn create jobs. A ‘small is beautiful’ approach, as advocated by Kohr, would support small local enterprises over multi-nationals. Financial and practical support to bring new markets to a multitude of small firms should aim for them to take on one or two trainees or new workers to build capacity so they could tender for local public goods or services contracts. The report by Adam Price and Kevin Morgan (The Collective Entrepreneur, 2011) on public procurement and social enterprise could help to inform this work.

Creatively marketed, a Welsh ‘brand’ of locally-produced,fair-trade/ co-operative products could become recognised around the world as being wholesome and natural. Food, the creative industries, green technology and end-product manufacturing for niche markets are sectors which, with support, could be expanded for both internal consumption and export.

Global battles over oil-control and predictions of soon-to-hit peak oil are not going away. If the Welsh economy is to be developed sustainably, in a way which measures up to our party’s commitment to contribute to world efforts to combat climate change, our economic plan has to place sustainable development at the centre of all policies and include measures that will ensure Wales’s natural resources are utilised for the transition to an economy not dependent on fossil fuels. As they have in Denmark, people in Wales must have full control and ownership of the natural resources if money leakage out of Wales is to be plugged. The work involved and the profits made, should, where possible, be kept local. Energy security must be considered, though the good news is that Wales is already self-sufficient in electricity – we export our surplus electricity and water so we have much to build on.

Investment in and the encouragement of worker-owned co-operatives, as promoted by DJ and Noelle Davies in the 1930s and 1940s, linked in with learning institutions could help to build the skills capacity to ensure the availability of local labour. Skilled workers in the public sector could be given the option of reduced working hours to contribute to such enterprises. A Davies/Kohr inspired economic plan to move away from a fossil fuel economy and develop an internal market to create demand for local work, could begin with a home insulation programme which prioritised areas of high fuel poverty thus reducing excess fuel-related winter deaths amongst older people, and supporting small local businesses and co-operatives to undertake that work. This would create jobs and help meet Wales’ commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 and to work towards One Planet Wales – living within our resource means, using only our fair share of the world’s global natural resources. It would also help to build up resilience to future food and energy price shocks.

Practical advice could be obtained by linking up with and learning lessons from the Danes and the Basques. The Danish island Samsø has become 100% self-sufficient in renewable electricity and the Mondragon manufacturing co-operative network in the Basque Country, which was set up in the 1950s as a co-operative training college, but expanded into manufacturing during the economic difficulties which caused high unemployment there during the 1980s, now employs thousands. Study visits to Samsø and Mondragon could inform and even inspire Plaid Cymru members to involve themselves in the setting up and running of such co-operatives. Such activity should be encouraged so that party members can in a very practical way contribute to the strengthening of the Welsh economy.

Equalising outcomes

Youth unemployment rates in some places are very high. Competition to get an education or training place, let alone a job, sees long-term youth unemployment threatening to add to the social problems that have been taking root over the decades since the end of mass Welsh heavy industry. Affordable housing is a growing problem for young people too. Any attempts to build the Welsh economy must provide alternative solutions for the people and places where the market has failed: Plaid Cymru’s vision for an independent Wales has to include an explicit aim to equalise economic outcomes for all parts of, as well as for the individuals living and working within Wales.

Despite eleven years of cash injections from the EU, the GDP of West Wales and the Valleys has declined from 76% of the EU average in 2000 to 71% now. Arguably, without those funds, the position would be worse. GDP is a blunt measure unable to take account of inequalities within a given area. Planning for continued economic growth on traditional measures is unsustainable, however, there are plenty of other measures which show that Welsh economic activity and incomes are in decline in relation to other EU countries and regions. Arguments for independence must address Wales’s relative economic position.

An economic plan which pays particular attention to disproportionately affected groups as well as geographic areas within Wales is vital if we are to avoid allowing the continuation of an economy which overheats at the centre to the detriment of the periphery. Unless steps are taken to rebalance the situation, we risk creating an economic structure in Wales which apes that of the British state: one which sees the economies in the peripheral land on which we live – Wales (as well as the other countries and regions) as unimportant in comparison to the overheating economy of London and the south east. Plaid Cymru’s vision has to include an explicit aim to equalise economic outcomes for all parts of, as well as for the individuals living and working within, Wales.

Recently unveiled plans to set up enterprise zones do not set out to equalise outcomes throughout Wales. ‘Real’ enterprise zones would decentralise, for example, promoting the specialisation of particular sectors in geographic ‘centres of excellence’, away from the economically successful M4 and A55 corridors, allowing for the development of new Welsh ‘capitals’. Our west coast is one of Wales’ greatest assets and it is under-utilised. Why not seek to explicity aim to stimulate Wales’ peripheral areas by developing ‘added value’ niche manufacturing sectors in the new ‘capitals’ – Aberystwyth, Swansea, Bangor, Newport, Wrecsam and in the valleys and using Holyhead, Fishguard and Milford Haven as centres for improving links with Ireland & beyond for export?

Progressive Wales

By prioritising the creation of a detailed job-creation programme designed to build a sustainable Wales in a way which aimed to equalise economic outcomes, Plaid Cymru could project a vision for a future which fits with the traditions and history of Wales and the long term thinking of Plaid Cymru.

To counter the hyper-competitive, imperial/militaristic, climate-change-ignoring and privatising government over the border, Plaid Cymru’s economic vision for Wales should be for a thriving decentralised economy where people’s participation in local economic decision making is maximised. Our vision for Wales includes active, resilient communities which are backed up by a solid public service and welfare infrastructure in a political culture that insists that no-one is left behind. Our jobs plan could project a future Wales which takes a more co-operative, anti-militaristic, anti-imperial, sustainable and pro-public services economic approach which would show how an independent Wales would be politically different and better for people in Wales, and for future generations, more progressive and in line with our politics than what middle-England keeps voting for, regardless of the rosette colour. The politics on show from all mainstream parties at the British state level does not exhibit the same values as those represented by the parties at a Welsh level, and devolution has provided a political space for these different, alternative political meanings and values to be aired and extended.

Conceding nothing to the right-wing propaganda which has conned many people into supporting measures which will ensure that the worst off in society pay the price for the 2008 crisis, Plaid Cymru should continue to oppose the British state’s austerity programme, designed by a group of self-serving millionaires, which is conducting an unprecedented attack on benefits, while providing no hope of jobs. Advocating a jobs programme aimed at reducing inequalities within Wales and between Wales and other comparable countries would demonstrate how these socialist values still exist here, and how they can be embodied into policies which can offer a concrete alternative to enforced austerity. Ed Miliband may dream of moving the centre ground to the left, but in Wales we’re already there. Tied to the apron strings of London, the Labour Party is unable to take advantage of the Welsh context. Plaid Cymru is the only party who can develop a truly alternative vision for Wales, based on our fundamental principles as a people, and ‘no mean people’ as Gwyn Alf reminded us.

Scotland is on the road to freedom because a strong SNP government is leading the way, providing assurances and projecting a confidence which has enabled people to believe that their country can stand on its’ own two feet economically. Scottish support for independence is growing. This has been achieved despite, or even arguably because of the vastly changed economic context. It must be the case that most people in Scotland now see that their country will be better off when it is released from the British union.

Winning trust

Like the SNP, Plaid must become the biggest party in the Senedd. To do that Plaid Cymru must win people’s trust with a clear and realistic plan to show how the Welsh economy can be a success, which a majority of people in a Welsh election are prepared to support. We will not get there unless we are able to confidently and competently answer the question, ‘can Wales afford independence?’

Plaid Cymru representatives at all levels including party activists at community council and street level all have a part to play in building the local coalitions needed to turn our jobs plan nto a reality. Such activity in our communities would concretely demonstrate that we are able to afford and achieve what Raymond Williams called ‘real’ independence, where our overall society and social relations would improve as inequalities reduced. The case for an independent Wales is a case for a participatory democracy of a kind which does not currently exist in the UK. The case for independence has been mapped out by writers and artists, some of whom have been mentioned here, but it is also a case that can only be won with economic arguments.

We must rise to that challenge.

Website: http://www.leannewood2012.com
Email: leanneplaid@gmail.com
Twitter: @leannewood
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=613235070

Contact Leanne through one of the above means to read more, support and contribute to the campaign.

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