The 5 C’s on the road to independence

Picture by: Richard T (CC BY 2.0)

 

Aled Gwyn Job

It goes without saying that Wales is a diverse nation.

This does not mean that independence is not possible, as some unionists seek to claim.

After all, all the diversity within Wales is within the UK too. And if countries as diverse as India, the United States, and China can be independent, there’s no reason why we can’t.

Wales seems positively homogeneous in comparison!

But there are different camps within Wales with their own wants and needs.

Bilingual and English-only, rural and urban, faith-based and secularist, left and right, citizens of somewhere, and citizens of the world.

And following last year’s Euro Referendum, we can now add Leave and Remain to these categories.

A new Independence campaign for Wales needs to speak to all of these different groups if it is to have any success over the next few years.

Such a campaign has to be able to reach out to people in a completely new way, over and above the old tribal party politics.

Independence has for too long mainly been the preserve of Welsh-speakers on the left of the political spectrum. That’s a niche within a niche and too narrow to serve as a foundation for a serious independence movement.

And there’s no real reason why that should be the case – there’s something in the independence movement for everyone.

We need build a coalition of support for independence. So here are five C’s- five specific categories of people that could coalesce around an Independence campaign here in Wales.

1 – Cutural Identifiers

In many ways these would form the bulwark of the independence campaign: those people who strongly identify as being culturally Welsh.

Dennis Balsom’s old “Three Wales Model” serves as a foundation for this category.

These are:

  • Y Fro Gymraeg (the Welsh-speaking areas in West Wales)
  • Welsh Wales (the Valley Communities).
  • British Wales (the east of Wales and south Pembrokeshire)

We can expect support for independence to be at its highest in y Fro Gymraeg. They just returned four Plaid Cymru MPs at Westminster.

Although that was under First Pat the Post – there would be work to be done even here on a straight Yes or No question.

The Valley Communities, meanwhile, has the highest percentage of people born in Wales in the whole of the country, and as such can also be included in this category.

A massive 45% of the population of Wales live in these communities, so they’re absolutely essential to any independence campaign.

The trouble perhaps is that ‘Welsh culture’ has for too long been associated with the culture of west Wales. The Valleys needs to realise that it means their culture too.

An independence movement would have to be home grown and have a distinctive Valleys feel to it.

Yes Cymru needs to set up autonomous groups in the valleys that can build an independence campaign from the grassroots up.

It won’t be easy. One has to acknowledge of course that these communities have also been die-hard Labour supporting areas for generations.

And apart from groups such as Labour for Independence, the bulk of Welsh Labour seems to have little or no appetite for Independence at present.

But it’s not like a concerted effort has been made to sell independence in in this area.

The Valleys voted heavily to Leave the EU which suggests that this area, which includes some of the poorest communities within 1000 miles, is unhappy with the status quo and will vote for radical change.

The Britain-first element within Labour has taken these communities’ votes for granted and allowed them to stagnate.

There is a big political vacuum to be filled here, as the Yes campaign managed to Glasgow.

2 – Collectivists

This group, which tend to be Labour supporters, can be found across Wales.

They believe that society is best served by a government which values the public sector and ordinary workers.

This remains an extremely strong sentiment in Wales as could be seen when Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party won 49% of the vote here.

In order to get this cohort on board, they need to be convinced that having a collectivist government in an independent Wales all of the time is better than having to stomach a Tory government at Westminster most of the time.

That the Labour party will always need to shift to the right in order to scoop up seats in middle England.

They need to be persuaded that some of Corbyn’s most appealing policies (e.g publically run railways) have a much better chance of being implemented in an Independent Wales.

These are all common-sense arguments but ones that have not been effectively communicated in the past.

3 – Conservatives

I should point out that’s it’s small ‘c’ conservatives I have in mind here, not the British nationalists that put any consideration of what is best for Wales last on the agenda at every opportunity.

There is a small “c” Conservatism in Wales, which has its own dynamic and rationale, quite apart from UK Conservatism.

It is quite the opposite of the neoliberal ideology espoused by Margaret Thatcher which declared that there’s ‘no such thing as society’.

This type of small “c” Conservatism can be seen throughout rural Wales. It means valuing family and community, tradition and stability, self-reliance and enterprise.

It means belonging to an area and having a responsibility to that area.

At the moment this vote is split between the different parties. It sometimes goes to the Conservatives. In mid-Wales it has a long history of going to the Lib Dems.

In Gwynedd and Carmarthenshire it has tended to go to Plaid Cymru; in the valleys it had a brief flirtation with UKIP.

Because it doesn’t belong to any one party it tends to be discounted at elections but appealing to this group would be an important part of any independence campaign.

One way of doing so is by arguing that the UK is an over-centralised state and that an independent Wales could decentralise power from Cardiff.

Radical small ‘c’ conservatism has a long tradition in Wales, going back to the end of the second World War, and it needs to be revived as part of the independence movement.

4 – Conservationists

Environmental concerns will become much more of a hot topic over the next few decades, as the effects of global warming become harder and harder to deny.

Independence would mean breaking away from the wasteful policies of Westminster and using our national resources in a responsible way.

We have always felt closely connected to the land here in Wales and that would be a large part of any independence campaign, as it has been in Scotland.

The irony of new technology is that it connects us with a global community but also leaves us feeling isolated, cut off from our community and our landscape.

A renewed identification with nature, land, and community should be at the very heart of the independence campaign.

As would returning our land in Wales to the people themselves – the bulk of it, at has always been the case, is owned by a small, wealthy elite.

5 – Cosmopolitans

As British Nationalism becomes more insular in the wake of Brexit, a Welsh Independence movement can offer itself as the internationalist option.

Welsh cosmopolitans are likely to be keen to ensure that while they continue to identity with their community and country, they have the freedom to move around and enjoy what others cultures can offer as well.

The Independence for Wales campaign need to emphasize that a free Wales would be an inclusive country, open to influences from across Europe and beyond.

With England seemingly hell-bent on reverting to an isolationist mentality, based on a sense of superiority over all and sundry, Walsh cosmopolitanism can become an attractive feature of the Welsh independence movement.

A sense of open-ness could also serve to neutralise the usual Unionist propaganda that seeks to brand Welsh nationalism as insular and inward-looking.

Wales’ history has been one of treasuring and building on its connections with Europe.

As the Independence campaign develops over the next few years there is so much we can learn from similar small European nations who have got the t-shirt.

Conclusion

An independence movement isn’t about being all things to all people – about promising one group one thing, and something else to another.

We can create a consistent message that appeals to every one of these groups.

But we also need to realise that within a national community there are different communities with different wants and needs.

The last thing a Welsh independence movement should seek to achieve is to attempt to force sameness on the population, or accumulate power and wealth in the hands of one group or geographical region.

After all, that’s what many are attempting to flee the UK to avoid, and it has, so far, been one of the major failings of devolution.

We can be a nation that preserves difference and is at ease with it.

It’s time for the five C’s to come together to build a better Wales.

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2 Comments

  1. I welcome your implication that Independence be separated from any particular political programme. It is certainly the case that we need to distance ourselves from the idea of the Westminster Duopoly being the only possible model for political action.

    Do we want austerity? No! The why suffer it?
    Do we want privatised railways? No! Then why endure it?
    Do we want an equitable public realm? Yes! Then why can’t we have it?
    Etc. Etc.

    We know the answers. It is a matter of confidence. In the end its not about ‘them’, its about ‘us’. The current national emergency (leaving the EU) has emboldened at least a few in the Bay to see that it is not beyond contempt to stand up for your country’s interest. Its a good start, but its going to need a bit more than these tentative steps.

    These 5 C’s provide a powerful suggestion as to how that confidence might be boosted.

  2. I was talking to a chap yesterday who voted to leave the EU on the basis that it was the 1st step to stop anyone coming into Wales who did not already live here. He saw English, Irish, Scottish, Indian, Syrian and Polish as the same, people who are killing his culture. He was well aware and did not care that EU exit would make Wales much poorer. For him it was his language and culture was all that mattered and he saw his culture being destroyed each time a new person comes to live in Wales.

    While I don’t agree with his solution, these concerns need to come out into the open and be debated. They are far from Welsh concerns alone, but like elsewhere I believe his analysis is flawed and EU exit will make
    his concerns worse rather than better.

    blaming messenger > /dev/null

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