My politics are very much left wing. In a time when the threat from fascism is increasing both globally and exponentially, the left need to be uniting against the divisive nature of nationalism. Whatever your position on Brexit, it’s plain to see the ugly nature of Farage’s brand of British exceptionalism. Not only do I find nationalistic obsessions with borders an obstacle to the international cooperation required to save the planet from climate disaster, I believe the only position the left can justifiably take on borders is that they are dangerous, inherently racist and unjust.
So how can someone like me make the case for Welsh independence?
Firstly, it needs to be acknowledged that 'nationalism' is a word so broad its definitions are contradictory. When UKIP scare white, 'indigenous' voters with images of dark skinned 'hordes’, that’s nationalism. So is Trump’s wall. To take it to its extreme (and to get Godwin’s Law out of the way), Hitler was a nationalist. When Einstein called it an 'infantile disease’ this is what he referred to, and he was right.
But every community should have as much control over the lives of its people as possible. When those communities are colonies hundreds or thousands of miles from the centre of an empire, their desire for self-determination can also be labelled nationalism. Small island nations from the Caribbean to the South Seas have taken it upon themselves to escape imperial exploitation and run their own affairs, without interference from Westminster; so too have much larger nations like Kenya, in the wake of atrocities in the 50s. From West Paupa to Tibet and the Chagos Islanders, such fights continue today. Gandhi and Mandela have been referred to as nationalists.
The desire of proud, downtrodden peoples to right the injustices of foreign rule cannot in anyway be equated with a desire to control global resources or exterminate foreign populations, and only a failure of language lumps them together.
Wales is not oppressed in the way the people of Syria or Tibet are, and any attempted comparison only serves to belittle the cause. But the movement steadily rising in Cymru is not without merit. It is a progressive nationalism of the civic variety. While Nicola Sturgeon is not without flaws, the vision and ambition she has for Scotland is incomparable to what the likes of Farage might envisage for these islands.
In what ways, then, does the union hold us back?
Since I can remember, the word ‘Britain’ has invoked a sense of something being taken from Wales, of something being concealed. It seems to me that certain injustices would be apparent to most people, given a moment’s thought, but it’s simply part of conventional wisdom that independence is a crazy idea; saying such things aloud would result in mockery. It took me years to realised conventional wisdom is actually manufactured, often carefully, and in our case from afar. It was with this realisation I gave myself permission to properly explore the concept.
Eugenicists aside, no one can really believe that we are somehow a lesser people than our neighbours, that we are capable of achieving less. Yet while our communities live perpetually among the poorest of the United Kingdom, the belief still persists that the union is the only reason we do not lag further behind. We are where we are because of the union, and will never reach our potential within it. We have to confront this if we want the lives of our citizens to improve.
In the developed world, the UK is behind only the US and Singapore in rankings for inequality, and leads the rest of the pack by some considerable distance. Wales is a peripheral part of the UK; west Wales and the Valleys continually appear in lists of the poorest regions in western Europe, while London sits permanently atop the list of richest regions.
No anti-Welsh sentiment is required to see wealth and opportunity flow from the periphery to the centre, just a lack of concern by those with power for those without. The neoliberal ball set rolling by Thatcher has insured the institutionalised inequalities of the status quo can only worsen; money will continue to concentrate in the south east of England for as long as those with power want to keep it. We cannot wait for this to change organically.
Voting within the union is not the way to fix this; a majority of Welsh citizens has never voted Tory yet we endure the worst of their policies. Our devolved parliament has no teeth, and allows the Welsh Labour government to do little and blame Westminster, while avoiding calls for greater powers.
Without full independence there will be no ambition, and we’ll continue to do little more than toy around with policies like seeking the right to cut Air Passenger Duty, worrying over how it may affect Bristol.
We dont have the ability to make basic decisions ourselves on issues like criminal law (like Scotland) or policing (like Manchester). We have no say in whether or not we take part in illegal wars. We are net exporters of energy, yet the system that allows customers in England to pay less for Welsh water is devised in Westminster. We may urge each other to ‘cofiwch dryweryn’, but there is nothing in place to stop it happening again, legally.
When you allow yourself to examine them, the arguments against independence long taken for granted start to crumble. The most persistent is its affordability, despite the obvious existence of smaller counties with fewer natural resources, often outperforming Wales. Much of the information on our economy has been hard to come by or bound up with the rest of the UK (see ‘England and Wales’, the England only expenditure like HS2 or palace renovations that are considered beneficial to the whole of the UK, and our ‘share’ of things like Trident that would be unnecessary post-independence). Fortunately these days many myths have been debunked and far more information is readily available, including the YesCymru movement’s Independence in Your Pocket booklet. Simply put, the situation is nowhere near as dire as claimed, even with the unrealistic assumption that no policies would be put in place to improve on our current situation.
Compare the GDP of Wales to Ireland; why are the achievements of our Celtic neighbours considered pie-in-the-sky for us? Of course, GDP is an awful tool for measuring success, but is Westminster likely to change such ingrained ideals or could we feasibly become world leaders by focusing on a better, sustainable way?
One of the key ways in which governments enable themselves to avoid truly working for the people is a lack of transparency. Westminster is up there with the least transparent governments in the developed world. This way we rarely know exactly what the government is doing and never why. There is always an excuse to keep things secret, refuse Freedom of Information Requests, but seldom are they justifiable.
In Independence in Your Pocket, YesCymru make the following comparison:
The UK tax code is currently 17,000 pages long, while Hong Kong’s is under 300 pages. Some countries, such as Norway, publish all tax returns, so that the system is totally transparent. None of these things are possible under devolution, but they’d all be on the table if Wales was independent.
No system is completely immune to change, but it’s no use waiting when all the signs point to the increasing boldness of the Tories ensuring injustice is further entrenched.
Imagine a Wales with a fully transparent government. Imagine the development of a proper constitution (which the UK lacks) that genuinely puts the people first.
Imagine, if you want, a Wales bold enough to explore the big ideas of our age, from UBI and Land Value Tax to the truly revolutionary ones. Imagine a Wales mature enough to recognise its responsibilities, a Wales prepared to properly confront the global challenges we must face together as a species.
I’m comfortable with the scope of my imagination, yet I struggle to see these things happening within the union. Increasingly, however, I can imagine the real possibility of an independent Wales.