An Independent Wales
Yes Cymru, the grassroots organisation campaigning for Welsh independence, has had a good couple of weeks. In fact, they’ve had an exceptional couple of weeks. Having started this year with little more than two thousand members, they were up to 6,000 by the time I joined in August. On Sunday evening they hit their 10,000 target, and by Tuesday their numbers had already passed 13,000. To put this in context, if spread proportionately across the UK it would almost equate to the memberships of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties combined.
The problem is, the reason for this surge is that Wales hasn’t had a good couple of weeks. And what’s worse, these weeks haven’t been exceptional, either.
Many new members have credited the Tory Westminster government and their contemptuous treatment of Wales for their motivation to join. In recent weeks it’s been nakedly obvious how little they think of us, but this isn’t new — and it isn’t just Wales.
Aside from their gross mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, resulting in countless unnecessary deaths, Westminster has gone out of its way to undermine both the Welsh Government and the concept of devolution. They began the crisis by effectively stealing testing kits destined for Wales, because they hadn’t been organised enough themselves. When Wales’ Prif Weinidog, Mark Drakeford, wrote to the Prime minister requesting they prevent people from heavily hit areas of England from travelling to Wales, he refused — via the media. But things have come to a head over the last week.
After spending weeks attacking the Welsh Government for their latest ‘draconian’ and ‘authoritarian’ national lockdown, Boris Johnson performed a characteristic U-turn and followed suit. When Wales had requested the Job Support Scheme be brought forward, it wasn’t possible — Welsh businesses, workers and families would simply have to suffer, and this was the fault of the Welsh Government. However, as soon as the south east of England were thrust back into lockdown, suddenly they found a way and the rhetoric returns to ‘we’re all in this together’.
This history of Wales is peppered with too many injustices to list. From the Treachery of the Blue Books and the Chartists at the Westgate Hotel, to the drowning of Capel Celyn and the horrendous indifference and dishonesty surrounding the Aberfan disaster, Wales has never been equal in the eyes of Westminster. This is why Yes Cymru exists.
But ‘Welshness’ has never been the primary motivating factor behind the mistreatment and neglect of a nation. Ultimately, it boils down to class. The ‘ruling class’ of Westminster holds nothing but contempt for those beneath them.
The UK as an institution has always been one in which class matters, and Wales has always been largely working class. Even ignoring differences in culture, language or accent, we’ve never been rich enough to matter. Only our coal, our slate, our steel, our water or our cannon fodder has ever held importance.
In this respect, the working class of England gets treated no better. Their poor are as neglected as ours, with Londoners living through some of the worst inequality in the developed world. When Greater Manchester was forced into lockdown, their requests for extra funding were treated with no more respect than our own.
The Conservatives’ handling of COVID-19 has had devastating effects right across the UK. Of course, there has been significant incompetence. But primarily the causes stem from their commitment to neoliberal dogma, believing the markets are the solution to everything, and good old-fashioned corruption and greed. Our minorities and working class have, as always, suffered disproportionately. This is fundamentally a class issue — so why independence?
As Yes Cymru like to point out, more than 50 countries have opted out of Westminster rule — none have asked to return. But for such a move to gain popular consensus throughout a nation, it will take more than mere flag-waving patriotism; there needs to be some material gain for its citizens.
Retaining our language and culture is an incredibly important factor for my support. But if, on gaining independence, we were also to retain our obscene levels of poverty, homelessness and inequality, it wouldn’t be enough. The most urgent issues facing Wales today can only be addressed by a break from the neoliberalism that has dominated global politics for the last forty years. And I see no path on the map of the UK that doesn’t lead back to where we are now. This is the material reason for independence.
Along with Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative party were among the architects of neoliberalism. The UK was always primed to embrace any system that exacerbates inequalities, and continues to facilitate the growth in wealth of the already wealthy, at the expense of the rest of us. We only need to look at how well the global billionaires have done out of a pandemic to see how effective a system it is.
Jeremy Corbyn was the closest the UK was ever likely to come to a socialist Prime minister, and he never even really led his own party. In Starmer, we have a leader of the opposition enthusiastic to return to the ‘centrism’ of Tony Blair and New Labour, the emergence of which Thatcher declared to be her greatest accomplishment.
The Iron Lady also famously declared, ‘There is No Alternative’. In the UK, under the current settlement, I’m ready to concede she was right. But the answer isn’t to give up. The answer is to break up.
Last week I listened to an online debate on ‘Socialism and the National Question — Are They Compatible?’, organised by Valleys Underground, a group from the south of Wales committed to direct community action. During the debate, the majority of participants agreed that independence could be the most effective way to improve the lives of Welsh citizens.
Of independence, Sam Parry of The Centre of Communist Studies asked, ‘to what end?’ For him, it’s important the movement doesn’t fall into the notion that nationhood is good in and of itself. The goal, for all of us, should not be to replicate the structural inequalities of the UK by simply replace the butchers apron with little red dragons.
Connor Beaton of The Radical Independence Campaign, Dundee, dismissed the prospect of federalism as a way forward. It is only now gaining tactical support, he said, in order to dampen support for more radical movements. Because of this, no radical outcome would be likely. He spoke about how intersectionality should be centred in the push for socialism.
For Ben Gwalchmai, socialism means putting ‘people and planet first’. It means creating a fairer future, an actual future. None of this can be achieved within the UK as things stand. But there is no reason to assume an independent Wales would be inherently any better unless that is the aim from the outset. To describe the current Welsh Labour Government as having neoliberal tendencies would be an understatement . But Ben, founder of Labour for Indy Wales, has recently been selected on the Mid and West Wales region Labour list. There is hope, and it lies in independence.
The concepts of equality and fairness are not on the fringes of the movement. In my experience, those involved with Indy Wales are overwhelmingly inclusive and progressive in their values. What’s important now is that our ambitions for Wales match.
Before I joined Yes Cymru, I joined Undod Cymru. They are a ‘democratic, non-hierarchical, republican movement established to secure independence for Wales.’ I strongly recommend anyone interested in joining Yes Cymru to consider joining Undod, too (it’s free).
On signing off from the debate, Sam left us with a few lines by Eduardo Galeano:
“Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance.”
An independent Wales will be no utopia. But it can be the first step. And if it allows us to edge forward, two steps then ten, always advancing, then all of Wales will benefit.