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A Fate Worse than Brexit

A three-parter: 1. The December Election; 2. Where we are Now; 3. What Next.

A Fate Worse than Brexit – The December Election

Everyone – nearly everyone – got it wrong.

The opinion polls got it wrong. Their much-publicised glee at getting the exit poll right – not the most difficult exercise, papered over the lies and fraud of the whole election. They had told us it was increasingly a close-run thing, probably a Tory win but perhaps a hung parliament. Much of the left, including myself and Rebecca Long-Bailey tended towards this outcome.

The right of the LP got it more wrong and now disguise their own role by further denunciation of Corbyn. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and their allies in the media were the worst offenders. They hounded Corbyn; they force-fed the anti-Semitism filth; they called for a second referendum; they assumed that ‘Remain’ would be the winner; some of the worst of them resigned. They remain horribly wrong on all counts.

The ‘leftist’ post-election pundits are getting it wrong, mostly baying for some movement towards the mythical centre, despite that that centre also got wiped out or barely registered in the election. Paul Mason and Owen Jones, who both swung like a pendulum over the Corbyn years, now construct rightward critiques: Mason completely loses the plot with some fanciful call for a new centrist unity; Jones claims that we should have campaigned on a Norway-style Brexit and that we don’t have enough bureaucrats and organisers, negating the fantastic shift that young activists have brought towards social media and new campaigning. ‘Few experienced bureaucrats and organisers’ indeed! Jones should look again to Wales where the same bureaucrats have maintained a strangle-hold over the party, distanced themselves from Corbyn with their ‘Welsh Labour’ wrappings and are likely, as a result, to lead us to losing the leadership of the Welsh Assembly. John Harris was never on the side of the left despite the language he uses.  

The leave side was dismayed with the conference’s change of position on the second referendum – we should have accepted the result. They were right but, unfortunately, not in such simple terms. Nothing has been simple about the EU.

A Brexit Election    

Starmer’s six tests had provided a framework to manage the post-referendum rift: an ongoing relationship with the EU; the ‘exact same benefits’ from the Single Market and Customs Union as now; fair management of migration; defend rights and protections; protect national security; deliver for a regions and nations of the UK.

These conditions could never be met. The rabid Brexiteers leading negotiations on behalf of the May government got nowhere near, hardly leaving the starting line. They achieved virtually nothing in three years and, one after the other, resigned from their task.

Corbyn was more sceptical. He branded the EU as worth 7/10. Starmer’s six tests provided a useful foundation; Corbyn was more explicit – workers’ rights, protection of the NHS, defence of the public sector against EU privatisation options, the addition of the green agenda. This was a sound basis for the resistance to Brexit or, alternatively, to set an agenda for a leave deal.

From day one after the referendum, whilst respecting the result, it was the deal, the shocking implications of Leave, that both sides (of Labour) should have concentrated on. That was the mistake. The pro-EUer’s made it during the referendum and since, including in the December election. First there was complacency, led by Tory Cameron’s call for the referendum on the assumption that he would sort out his anti-EU right wing. Then a total lack of effort (on all sides) to counter the years of media propaganda – the square tomatoes and straight bananas, the ‘political correctness’, the bureaucrats, the ‘frogs’, the Germans and the war. It had been relentless.

The referendum campaign itself was vile, not least with Farage being forced on us from all directions. Yet it was assumed ‘remain’ would win. The shock was that towns like Ebbw Vale voted Leave, despite that their precarious survival before and after steel had been solely down to huge EU financial support. That’s alienation for you.

No-one saw it coming; not Cameron, not Labour (torn both ways already), not British capitalism, and certainly not the Remainers; all were devastated by the result. Many were devastated, disbelieving even more, by the December election result. How could it happen? How could working people, low income families, disabled, the working class of the mining communities, of the north, of north Wales; how could they desert Labour and vote Tory?

We should look at our disbelief for explanations, not ‘turkeys voting for xmas’, not our class inflicting untold damage on themselves. They will need us to stand by them in the weeks, months and years to come.     

In short, disbelief is rooted in the complacency of the Remainers. If we shout loud for ‘Remain’ and have a second referendum all will be resolved. History passed its verdict on that theory in December. That pressure, largely from within the PLP, did for Corbyn and for Labour’s election hopes.

Of course there were other factors – the sustained media hostility, the fraudulent anti-Semitism, weaknesses in Labour’s campaign strategy, etc., but the main factor was that Corbyn was the only one that was cautious on Europe; virtually everyone else knew better. Corbyn gave ground under that terrible pressure, and we will all pay the price.

Labour’s campaign assumed that if we presented a comprehensive socialist programme it would swamp what was and is the empty Brexit barrel – a slogan with no substantive content since day one.

Brexit alienation.

This analysis is relatively easy in hindsight.

The full impact of Brexit alienation is visible: how we failed to address it back then and continued to get it wrong into the election. Labour’s ‘muddled’ position: ‘Are you Leave or Remain?’. The party, influenced largely by the PLP and the anti-Corbyn Progress faction, wanted more and more ‘Remain’, a second referendum. Only Corbyn was concerned with our Leave voters. But by then, he and we were making the best of a bad job, a lost cause. On the other hand, the new Tories, the populist nationalist Tories, played on alienation – a very dangerous rebranding indeed.

Back in 2016 and the heady days of 2017, we had a chance. Tens of thousands, inspired by Corbyn, were joining the Labour Party. The 2017 manifesto began to address the real concerns of the class. That programme was developed further, with more thought, care and underpinning, in the run-in to the December election. In amongst that were the reasons to remain in Europe, or to protect if we leave: the defence of rights and regulations, of holidays and leave, of unions, of free-movement, of the environment, of investment in our post-industrial communities, of welfare. It all got lost in the Remain muddle. The Johnson-Cummings single issue campaign rode over the disarray, a disarray that had emerged in 2016. Alienation of the class is rooted decades before.

A second referendum could even have been defended. Accept the result; now it is about the deal.

Could we accept a deal? In truth, whatever the Tories put before us, or not put before us, will be thoroughly unacceptable. Had we argued the case from 2016 we might, only might, have had a chance. But we were served by a hungry media, dining on our Remain hotpot, the side dishes being provided by our own party.  

Everything should have been about the headlines and detail of the deal. That could appeal to both leave and remain and focus minds on the substance rather than the propaganda. What, in practical terms, is leaving the EU going to mean to most of us? Just to scratch that surface is a horror story.

Most of all, ‘What’s in the deal?’ could talk to the alienated class in the north and in Wales, those that have fallen victim to Labour’s woes. It may even have had some resonance in Scotland, but that is another kettle of cauliflowers.

For all the efforts to blame Corbyn and the campaign, there is no getting away from the fact that of 54 Labour seats lost, 52 were in Leave constituencies. Back in 2017, Labour had gained its biggest increase in vote share since 1945, and its biggest share since Blair in 1997.  Corbyn transformed the party, its politics, its support and its active base. That didn’t just disappear in two years. Yes, it was eroded and the long-discredited ‘first past the post’ electoral system didn’t help.

Back in the Blair years, we should have ditched the Tories for good and revealed the LibDems as their clones, the combined opposition. Heaven knows Clegg and Cable gave us every chance.

Now, after the Scottish debacle, it is Labour that is in danger, having learned little. A leftish social-democratic SNP, if tinged with nationalism, has wiped Labour off the page.

The Scots are fortunate. The danger south of the border is that Tory populism, variants on ‘progressive patriotism’, English nationalism, xenophobia, racism or even fascism will do the job for capitalism. The Labour leadership contest has much responsibility if it is to serve our people.     

To be continued…

Gordon Gibson is a Scot, a long-time resident in Wales. He is a Labour member and currently Chair of his local Constituency Party in South Wales.

January 2020

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

 

Question Time’s Welsh Problem

Nick Davies

If  fresh insight or stimulating discussion is what you’re after, BBC’s Question Time is likely to disappoint. The only relief from the stifling conformity of the Westminster consensus is the occasional non-politician (Owen Jones, Billy Bragg or Benjamin Zephaniah, for example). More recently, it has effectively become an almost-weekly audience with Nigel Farage. Many people who would normally be interested in political discussion refuse to watch it at all.

However, it also appears that Question Time has a ‘Welsh problem’. That is that that the panel membership fails to reflect the realities of modern Welsh political life, specifically that from 1999 we have had our own elected government which is responsible for a lot of what touches our everyday lives:  most notably  health and education.

This anomaly was exposed with brutal clarity in the programme from Newport screened on February 24th this year, when the issue of the NHS in Wales was raised. There followed a discussion between a hostile English Tory MP, a Labour MP from a London constituency, Rushanara Ali, who clearly hadn’t a clue what she was talking about, and a Plaid Westminster MP Elfyn Llwyd, who did know something about Wales, namely, of course, that health is devolved to the Welsh Assembly, none of whose members were on the panel. The remainder of the panel consisted of a food  writer and the right-wing London-based journalist Melanie Phillips. We learned nothing from this discussion except, of course, that the BBC, or at least the part of it which commissions Question Time panels, had been caught out in regarding, Wales, for these purposes, as a part of England.

If the BBC had  read the complaints that must have followed this farce, it took no notice. On June 5th when Question Time’was from Llandudno and the issue of the Welsh NHS  was unsurprisingly raised again, there was  no one from the Welsh government on the panel to answer the critics of that government’s record, or even any Assembly member from any party to provide an informed contribution. While  Labour‘s Liz Kendall (Leicester West!) at least attempted a defence of  the Welsh NHS (and, later, of Jobs Growth Wales) it should never have been left up to her. We were, however, treated to the buffoonish, sub-UKIP ruminations of the Call Centre’s Nev Wilshire, no doubt invited to give the ratings a boost and provide a ‘bit of fresh air’.

To add insult to injury, a later discussion concerned extra powers for the Welsh Assembly. A  call centre boss, a Spectator journalist and three Westminster MPs lazily kicked this topic around for a few minutes, but without a representative of the Assembly or it’s government, the discussion, if you can call it that, smacked of ‘make sure the children aren’t around while the grown-ups are talking’.

 Of course, Question Time goes out to a UK audience. However Question Time from  Dundee on January 23rd  2014 featured four panellists, all from Scotland including 3 from the Scottish parliament.  Question Time from  Falkirk (on November 28th 2013) featured six panellists, all from Scotland including 3 MSPs. When Question Time is in Wales, the audience is likely to be from Wales. They might just ask questions about, well, Wales, and in particular, Welsh health & education policies as well as the various other areas devolved to the Welsh Assembly. It would be useful, to say the least,  if someone from our legislative body, were invited. To do otherwise, especially in the context of the  regular attacks on the NHS in Wales from Cameron and his front bench, involves giving opponents of Welsh Labour policy in particular and Welsh devolution in general a free run and amounts to an appalling dereliction of the BBC’s duty, on it’s premier current affairs discussion programme, to discuss the affairs of Wales, properly, let alone impartially.

There are a number of possible reasons for this obvious lapse in broadcasting standards. (Since 2009, in thirteen editions that have come from Wales, only nine of the panelists in these programmes have been  AMs and  with three appearing on a single edition, in 2010, AMs are in fact  seen even less frequently  on Question Time than first appears). Obvious candidates are oversight, ignorance, metropolitan arrogance, a conscious anti-Welsh bias or the chasing after ratings either by aiming for fireworks at the expense of politics or,  as they might see it, scattering a little celebrity stardust onto the programme.

The BBC has  previously been criticised for its failure to deal with the reality of Scottish and Welsh devolution, failings which, to some extent, the organisation as a whole has attempted to remedy. However,  in general, ignorance of Wales and Welsh affairs, and indeed a lofty disdain for anywhere outside the M25 do not appear to have been cured by the move to Salford. Fear of the Tories over the licence fee and the possible  weakening of Ofcom (and resultant media deregulation) promised by Cameron in his election campaign, seems to have produced a move to the right, exemplified, to take two examples, by  a notable anti-Palestinian bias in the coverage of the Israeli attack of Gaza and John Humphries’ The Future of  the Welfare State, which broke the BBC’s own rules on impartiality. More recently, the BBC’s own Robert Peston has accused the BBC of  following an agenda set by  the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail.

The financial crash of 2008 demonstrated both the metaphorical and literal bankruptcy of the free-market model of  capitalism that has prevailed since the early 1980s. The elite pretend that this is not so, blaming everyone but themselves. Even the most modest, reforming half-measures proposed by Ed Miliband are met by inane charges of ‘Marxism’ suggestive of a certain desperation in the protestations that ‘there is no alternative’. In Wales, there is an alternative: community comprehensive schools, a publicly funded, publicly provided NHS, no PFI and a successful interventionist  youth employment scheme. In a marriage of metropolitan insularity and right-wing bias,  is this  an alternative that the BBC would prefer not to be seen to be promoting, because that alternative’s principles are too much of a challenge to the media’s mental laziness, because of the risk of accusations of bias, and because it is in a faraway country of which they know nothing?

End

This article previously appeared in the blog Left Futures.

Nick Davies is a Councillor in Swansea and Chair of Welsh Labour Grassroots

 

Navigating to Unity Against Austerity

The call was for ‘Plan B’ but unity was the dominant theme at Compass Wales’ panel debate in Cardiff this week. A fine array of speakers, led by Guardian columnist, John Harris, came together to debate Compass’s ‘Plan B’, their alternative to austerity.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, the Green Party’s Anthony Slaughter and John McInally, vice president of the PCS union all spoke convincingly but it was Mark Drakeford who made the first challenge to the Compass project by claiming there is no alternative. “We are locked into a period of austerity.” His bitter pill was sweetened by agreement that everything must be done to resist and minimise the pain. Devolution and the Welsh Assembly, he said, have qualitatively improved local government in Wales, have initiated an alternative approach to politics and have demonstrated unity over most of the life of the Assembly, first with the Liberals (long before their current treachery) and then with Plaid for the 4-year ‘One Wales’ coalition. Unity is a key element of Welsh politics.

Drakeford’s concluding plea to promote the unique ‘social, environmental and cultural character of Wales’ linked to his strong endorsement of the role of women in those invaluable early years of the Assembly could not have been a more direct pointer to a unity strategy.

Unity, at least in its top-down version, would be very well served by asking Wood and Drakeford to get together to map out an anti-austerity strategy along with new social and economic initiatives for Wales. And both know that ‘bottom-up’ is vital too. Leanne expressed these principles and opened her contribution with a call for unity against the Tories, whilst seeking to bring jobs back to Wales and regenerate the Welsh economy with green manufacturing, community led food production, green banks and credit unions.

But, to use a cliché of the moment, there was an elephant in the room: capitalism, and both Mark and Leanne know and addressed its presence, although perhaps rarely explicitly.

Ten years ago, the mention of ‘capitalism’ caused eyes to roll and withering criticisms of lefties. Now, even bourgeois commentators talk of its failings and weaknesses. The public has seen that capitalism is rotten to the core: a vicious class government led by elitist millionaire toffs launching an ideological offensive against the 99%; newspapers exposed as corrupt; senior police officers resigning for vile cover-ups (Hillsborough, the miners’ strike not to mention again and again during trials of Irish republicans; now it is Muslims); banking and financial systems out of control, gorging themselves on our bail-out money, now being extracted from pensions, the disabled, our health service. Our whole public sector system is destined, if the Tories get their way, to become the weakest in the western world.

The rot that is capitalism has entered popular consciousness: not just austerity and bonuses but the wars, oil, the climate, all sorts. To top it all, the abject squalor of the Savile affair is openly seen to reach into the BBC, the highest levels of government, the very heart of the establishment.

We see it all. And we yearn for a political leadership that says it like it is. John Harris pointed out that everyone, from the Greens to Welsh Labour, supports most of the 10 points of the Compass declaration. But not Labour in Westminster – zero support there. That’s why Wood and Drakeford stand out like beacons. Never, I repeat ‘never’, will there be an opportunity like now to bring together a united Welsh resistance and ambition like that presented by Plaid’s new leadership and clearly expressed at the Compass forum.

But there’s the elephant. Welsh Labour, taking its lead from the two Eds, tends towards tribalism rather than challenging the values of capitalism. A highlight of the last session of the Assembly was Mark Drakeford’s magnificent speech against Trident, when Labour members were whipped to stand by Carwyn Jones’ outrageous and tribal rejection of Plaid’s opposition to Trident in Wales. How easy (and inconsequential) would it have been to join in a clear statement of opposition to weapons of mass destruction in Wales?

There are worrying signs of a Welsh Labour drift away from Rhodri’s modest but nonetheless significant ‘clear red water’ between Wales and Westminster. Perhaps it is best considered by reference to Labour in Scotland, in suicide mode, allying with the Tories and LibDems before the Scottish public, to defend unionism and the austerity project. Labour’s Margaret Curran, on Question Time, patronises her young constituency questioner who fails to comprehend why young people in Glasgow’s tough Easterhouse estate are being charged £33 to play football. It’s the ‘harsh realities of life’, she said; ‘in a world of finite resources, it’s about what you prioritise’. And you young people are going to have to pay to underwrite the bankers, she should have added.

Perversely, this horrid Labour/ Tory cabal is likely to win the 2014 referendum, not because they will win the argument (they probably won’t) but because bourgeois elections and referenda are not won, they are lost. And the SNP is set to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by championing NATO, Trident, the monarchy, Scottish bankers and more, including austerity, to come. These are the issues, along with student fees, prescription charges and the like, that took Scots voters away from Labour.

The SNP is not Plaid, not a patch, and certainly not Leanne Wood’s Plaid. The SNP is an opportunist populist nationalist party given rein solely by Scottish Labour’s shocking betrayal of its socialist heritage. Thanks to Labour, the referendum is likely to further the Scottish electors’ disaffection with politicians and their politics. The bottom line is people want to hear the obvious home truths, not double-speak and spin. A bit of humility thrown in wouldn’t go amiss either. [For those who see a positive side to a Scottish break from the Union, the Scottish left is organising separately in support of the Yes vote. See Radical Independence Conference.]

So here in Wales we should start declaring our hand. Stand up like the PCS union, well represented by John McInally at the meeting. He began to elaborate a programme for unity: no to privatisation; strengthen social security; require childcare from employers. The meeting added pensions, disability and young people. Leanne and Anthony Slaughter for the Green Party had plenty to add about local economies and, not least, giving more public work and jobs to people and companies in Wales. That programme, linked to Mark Drakeford’s social, environmental and cultural Welsh branding are more than enough to forge the anti-austerity unity that the people of Wales and Scotland are crying out for. And the English will be pretty glad to hear it too.

Gordon Gibson

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

Labour reorganisation delayed in Wales. Time for autonomy?

By Jon Lansman.

Next week’s meeting of Labour’s executive is likely to agree to defer reorganising constituency Labour parties in Wales in what should be seen as an indication of the acceptance of greater autonomy for the Welsh party. Whereas all other constituency parties in Britain are to be reorganised from January 2013 in the light of proposals for new constituency boundaries, reorganisation in Wales is to be delayed until after a UK government consultation on changing the basis of constituencies for the National Assembly for Wales. This will also permit a subsequent decision on whether Welsh boundaries should be based on Westminster boundaries or Welsh Assembly boundaries (in line with what is to happen in Scotland) — should they end up being different. In Scotland the new CLPs will be based on the boundaries of the Scottish Parliament. This followed the decision to create the post of Leader of a largely autonomous Scottish Labour Party, a measure forced by the disastrous performance against the SNP in the Holyrood elections in 2011. Although Welsh Labour’s electoral performance was very different — a consequence of the political autonomy it had shown through the latter years of New Labour — many party members in Wales eagerly sought the same level of organisational autonomy.  Currently there are forty constituency seats in the National Assembly for Wales elected by first-past-the-post with a further twenty “top-up” seats elected in five regional groups under PR. The government is now consulting on whether that system should be changed, potentially to a new system based on 30 constituency seats and 30 “top-up” seats. If adopted, this would in all likelihood create coterminous assembly and Westminster boundaries. It would also make the assembly more proportionate (and, in consequence, make an overall majority more difficult for Labour to attain).  Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has already made clear his opposition to changing the electoral system:

We don’t want to see any change. Nobody has a mandate for change. Nobody thought we’d have a Green Paper such as this in this age of devolution, seeking to impose change on the people of Wales without their consent. We thought we were beyond those days and the Prime Minister has given me assurances there’d be no change. without the agreement of the Assembly.

However, Andrew Davies, Leader of the Tory group of AMs also opposes change:

I am in favour of the status quo and in favour of de-coupling. I will be feeding this into the consultation process over the next few weeks. The current 40:20 model has serve the Assembly well.

Although the Lib Dems support a “fully proportionate system” and Plaid Cymru support STV, it seems quite likely that “de-coupling” (i.e. adopting different boundaries for Westminster and assembly seats) will happen. Labour members in Wales are advised to consider the implications.

This article first appeared on the blog Left Futures, here, where comments should be added. Celyn requests that such comments are also copied to our site. Thanks 

Wales back in the Red

Darren Williams, Secretary of Welsh Labour Grassroots, analyses the election results in Wales and what they mean for Labour and the campaign against austerity.

Voters across Wales delivered an unequivocal rebuff to the Con-Dems’ austerity policies on 3rd May, with Labour the clear beneficiary. The party made gains – generally substantial – in nineteen of the twenty-one councils that went to the polls, holding its position in the other two. It now controls ten of Wales’ twenty-two unitary authorities: the three major cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, plus all the South Wales valleys councils.  The Tories have lost control of the two councils they previously controlled, Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan, with Labour now the largest party in the latter. As for the Lib Dems, they have lost almost half their seats in Wales. In Newport, where they previously ran the council in coalition with the Tories, they have only one councillor left.

The contrast with the last elections in 2008 could hardly be greater. On that occasion, Labour under Gordon Brown was in the depths of its unpopularity, with the long-term damage done by Blair exacerbated by the economic crisis and faux pas like the abolition of the 10p tax rate. The party lost most of its valleys strongholds and was left in overall control of only two councils. This time around, Labour’s strong showing is almost certainly more a vote against the Westminster coalition than a positive vote for Labour – although the widespread support enjoyed by Carwyn Jones’ Cardiff administration will have helped the party capitalise on the Con-Dems’ unpopularity. The new Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, has acknowledged that Labour turned the elections into a referendum on the UK government, thus squeezing support for her party.

The question for the left now is what newly-elected Labour councils will do with the power they have been given. The party’s record where it has remained in office since 2008 has not been encouraging. In both Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff (RCT), Labour administrations bullied their workforce with Section 188 notices, threatening mass redundancies if unions failed to accept inferior conditions. (RCT leader, Russell Roberts, has now lost his own seat, to the ‘gratification’ of Unite Wales regional secretary, Andy Richards, who commented at the Cardiff May Day Rally that ‘the wages of political treachery are political oblivion.’) 

There are grounds for optimism, however, in the election of a swathe of new left-wing Labour councillors, many of them members of Welsh Labour Grassroots. They will now have to work hard to ensure that Welsh Labour councils offer a real alternative to the cuts-and-privatisation agenda of the outgoing Con-Dem administrations. 

This article first appeared on the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) blog, where any comments can also be posted

‘Regional Pay’ will be Cameron’s Poll Tax moment

By Mick Antoniw

It is likely that Chancellor George Osborne will announce plans in the budget to introduce Regional Pay. This will mean workers in Wales will be paid less than their counterparts in parts of England for doing the same job.

Instructions have already been given to the NHS pay commission to pave the way for regional pay.
This forms part of a series of Tory policies which aim to introduce regional benefits and regional national minimum wage.

The changes are so fundamental and radical they could lead to major social unrest and contribute to the break up of the United Kingdom.

The Government has not thought out the social consequences of this policy. They may see it as a means to cut public spending but its consequences will run far deeper. It represents an attack and undermining of the United Kingdom’s social infrastructure. It will inevitably lead to the introduction of regional benefits and to regionalisation of the national minimum wage. This is inevitable if regional pay is introduced.

It will result in a downward spiral of wages and terms and conditions of employment. Already we see developments in Wales leading increasingly to a minimum wage economy with increasing reliance on parts of the economy on zero hour type contracts.

Since the Second World War there has been a UK hegemony which maintained a UK-wide social infrastructure based on UK-wide pay and terms and conditions as a consequence of national pay bargaining. This and the UK-wide benefits system and social legislation has ensured a consistent redistribution of wealth from richer to poorer areas of the United Kingdom. What the Tories and Lib Dems are doing is destroying this and unravelling the very social structure that has given purpose to the United Kingdom.

The impact of these policies will be disastrous on Wales and poorer parts of England. Once people fully understand what is happening and the impact of these policies begins to take effect on top of the public spending cuts, I believe we will see a growth of public and industrial protest and massive civil unrest. The Poll Tax riots will be nothing compared to the consequences of these policies. Industrial Action and Civil Disobedience is a potent combination.

Another consequence will be the increased constitutional fragmentation of the UK.

I don’t wish to scaremonger, but these policies frighten me. They are a direct assault on our social fabric and will lead to the institutionalisation of regional poverty. These policies exceed the fulfilment of Margaret Thatcher’s dream of a competitive UK economy based on low wages and minimal terms and conditions. Even she wasn’t prepared to consider policies which could lead to the break up of Britain.

Mick Antoniw is Labour Assembly Member for Pontypridd

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