We should aim for Home Rule, not independence

The Siambr at the Senedd building

Dr James Luchte argues that we need to build the Welsh nation through devolution before rushing for independence…

No one can argue in good faith that Brexit will be good for Wales.

Wales will be one of the biggest losers in the implementation of the “will of the people”.

Hundreds of millions in EU funding will be lost, and we will withdrawal from the single market which constitutes 67% of our exports.

Agriculture is likely to undergo massive dislocation due to increased international competition and the removal of EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies.

These pressures – in the absence of any UK commitment to support agriculture beyond 2020 – could lead to mass foreclosures of farming properties and disruption of local communities.

Over the next decade, over 750 trade agreements will have to be negotiated by the Westminster establishment through the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The WTO frowns upon agricultural subsidies as undermining competition – and, like the failed TTIP treaty, will penalise and allow lawsuits by multi-national corporations against countries which violate competition rules.

The EU CAP subsidies remain only due the fact that it is the world’s largest market and therefore has quite considerable clout in international trade negotiations. Without the protection of the EU, Wales truly faces an existential crisis.

The fact that this historical catastrophe will be orchestrated by a deluded Tory-DUP regressive alliance only adds insult to injury.

Devolution, not independence

Since the general election, many have offered their thoughts on the situation for Wales and what our response as a nation should be to the threat.

Huw Williams remarks on a recent poll which indicated a rise in support for independence among Welsh voters, and in particular, Labour Party members.

Nevertheless, his real intention, while celebrating open debate in our nascent public sphere, is to position Labour at the “centre” of the debate on the future of Welsh democracy.

Williams defines the centre through his reference to FM Carwyn Jones’ alleged “radical vision for devolution.”

Iwan Morgan and Jason Morgan, on the contrary, are among those in recent Nation articles calling for an intensification of focus upon Welsh independence – and specifically by Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales.

While the former outlines the positive case for independence in regards to enhanced powers of self-government, the latter has called for Leanne Wood to resign for failing to achieve an electoral breakthrough and not adequately promoting the cause of independence.

I would like to argue that Williams and the two Morgan’s represent two sides of the same coin, neither willing to confront a simple fact: Welsh devolution is incomplete.

It is a construction site in which we are building Welsh democracy.

For his part, Williams is hardly forthright when he speaks of Carwyn Jones’ (or the Labour Party’s) commitment to a “radical vision of devolution” for Wales.

Indeed, Jones and his Westminster Welsh Labour MPs have utterly failed to enact a robust devolutionary settlement either by blocking Plaid Cymru initiatives or simply abstaining on key legislation which would have given additional powers to Wales.

Indeed, it can be argued that every advance of Welsh democracy – including devolution itself – has been pushed primarily by Plaid Cymru.

The One Wales coalition, for instance, gave us the 2011 referendum, and the competency to enact primary legislation. The first piece of legislation was the Welsh Language Act.

Neither have the advocates of instant independence confronted the fact that devolution is the process by which we are literally building the Welsh state.

Iwan Morgan speaks of all the positive aspects of independence – but all the powers he mentions would already be possible through an expansion of powers and competencies of the National Assembly.

The idea of independence (one with which does not sit well with most Welsh people) is no substitute for the hard work of building Welsh democracy in the form of Home Rule.

Independence: No detail

In the wake of the recent election results, I would like to play the role of devil’s advocate.

First of all, no one was expecting a big surge for Plaid Cymru in the general election.  Most people were hoping for one or two seats.

Indeed, Jason Morgan demanded before the election that one additional seat was necessary.

It is strange therefore that he would call for Leanne Wood’s resignation when she fulfilled his basic requirement.

He also complains about the progressive politics of Plaid Cymru, feminism and the lack of focus on independence.

He seems not to grasp where he is and who the voters are: Wales is a progressive country – otherwise Labour would not gain 75% of the parliamentary seats.

Jeremy Corbyn, moreover, would not even have been possible without the anti-austerity alliance of Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon and Caroline Lucas in the 2015 general election.

While it is interesting moreover that Labour would be ready (if necessary) to colonise the independence movement, it is clear that they will not go that route anytime soon.

In this light, would a party which does emphasise independence do any better, as Iwan Morgan suggests?

I would argue, against both Morgan’s, that independence clearly harms Plaid Cymru’s voting share at the polls.

Indeed, while a solid case can be made for independence in abstracto, the pathway to independence is rarely discussed in detail.

That is because it relies upon the hard work of building Welsh democracy in the form of Home Rule.

Arrested development

Home rule has long been the goal of Plaid Cymru – although its precise meaning has not been clearly and consistently conveyed to the voters.

What is important here is that Home Rule or Devo-max seeks to build Welsh democracy initially within the context of the United Kingdom, our beloved “Family of Nations.” This has yet to be fully attempted.

Moreover, building Home Rule creates the conditions of possibility for independence through a process of political, economic, social and cultural development.

My argument surrounding independence is based upon the simple principle:

If the constitutional design and political economy of the United Kingdom cannot accommodate our aspirations for a robust Welsh democracy, then the question of independence becomes inescapable.

At this point in a long history, there is much reason to doubt that the British state would ever allow Welsh democracy to come to fruition.  Yet, what is the British state – or better, who is the British state?

Much is possible in the context of Parliamentary sovereignty and Labour did, in fact, deliver devolution in 1999.

Yet, since this time, it has only been Plaid Cymru which has pushed the process further: and this has been Plaid Cymru’s longstanding policy.

The Tories and Labour have maintained Wales in a state of arrested development.  Only a Plaid Cymru government in the National Assembly can begin to liberate Welsh democracy.

After Brexit, in order to avoid the homogeneity of a London-dominated unipolar UK, it will be necessary to create a multipolar UK.

Home rule in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will allow the emergence of countervailing poles to re-balance the UK political economy.

This is possible in the context of current devolutionary tendencies: much has been achieved by Scotland, for instance.

It is important to remember that devolution is a constitutional project to ameliorate democratic deficiencies with regards to minority nations.

The same project can be harnessed to transform the political economic structure of the UK after Brexit.

This is why, for the next elections to what will then be called the Welsh Parliament, Plaid Cymru must emphasise a renewed and consistent focus on building Home Rule.

In this context, independence would be the stick to the carrot of authentic devolution. Plaid Cymru, over the next few years, must educate the Welsh populace on how devolution can allow us to “take back control.”

Indeed, home rule is a much more tangible offering for a population where the vast majority are still wary of the spectre of independence.

I feel that proponents of independence, in their enthusiasm, often forget that we still need to build the Welsh state – and that much of this work can be done prior to independence.

This work is done by building home rule and the establishment of a true Welsh social democracy.

Home rule is something people can grasp and understand. And thankfully, it is 90% of the way to independence.

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  1. For Home Rule to be something which people can “grasp and understand”, it needs (as with any other term) to be defined. Home Rule can cover a lot of ground – from a feeble ineffective sop of more devolution, through to being effectively independent under dominion status, simply keeping the Queen as head of state. This, with respect, this article does not do. I would certainly be happy if Plaid Cymru (as this article seems to be concentrating on Plaid Cymru) were to push for dominion status. I would not be happy if they continue to call for an “annexe to independence” as Adam Price called for, (what is that? it could be argued we are in one), or if it continues to only call for crumbs of devolution but calling it Home Rule, which will end with us receiving nothing.

  2. An interesting “don’t scare the horses” scenario, which at first glance, appears to be a fairly benign proposition.

    After all, wasn’t “Home Rule for All”, our own Lloyd George’s great rallying cry before he was seduced by the trappings of power at Westminster? Perhaps we could revive his original
    blueprint and prove that history does not always have to be an incomplete process?

    Alas, i think the author gives the game away with his reference to devolution as being a ” a constitutional project to ameliorate democratic difficulties with regards to minority nations” as if
    it was done with the gracious benevolence of the British State, which can now be appealed to once again following Brexit.

    Perhaps he forgets Tony Blair’s assurances to his fellow Labour MP’s that devolution will ” kill Scottish and Welsh nationalism stone dead”, and that both the
    Scottish Assembly and Welsh Assembly were designed with electoral systems to favour the Labour party in perpetuity( although the SNP surge in 2011 and 2016 did manage to break
    that particular stranglehold). Devolution was meant to choke the life out of the national movement here in Wales, and who could argue that it has not done exceedingly well in that respect
    with low democratic participation in its elections, a nation-wide sense that the Cardiff Bay bubble is completely removed from the realities of life in Wales, and nationalists dismayed and despondent at how the post-devolution years have panned out in Wales. Along with the complete lack of ambition and the lack of vision for Wales shown by the respective First Ministers by Alun Michael, Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones. Talented and charismatic as the late Rhodri Morgan undoubtedly was: his answer to the question of what his main achievement was as
    First Minister of Wales was very illuminating : “Bringing the Ryder Cup to Wales”. i.e that the real purpose of devolutionary Wales was to be a showcase for
    events and celebrities from elsewhere……. ( the recent champions league final at Cardiff shows that this is still very much the case). Heavens forbid that we could actually aim to be a
    nation doing things in our own right.

    And you want more of this?!!

    I think the author also downplays the very nature of the existential crisis now facing the British state, with his “let’s give them one last chance so that we can build something together” approach, and the historic opportunity now in front of the Welsh national movement.

    Let’s be clear about this: by leaving the EU, the UK is also unwittingly dissolving itself. Historians will look back at this period and scratch their heads in bewilderment as to why the
    political leaders of the UK managed such an act of ultimate self-sabotage, which led to the re-unification of Ireland and Independence for both Scotland and Wales in quick succession.

    A sense of collective guilt at what has been done over the centuries to the Celtic nations of these isles? A long unacknowledged sense of self-loathing? Or a gung-ho sense of English superiority, marching out to meet the gunfire of history oblivious to the wider ramifications? One can only imagine that a battalion of psychologists will also have a field day in the future working all this out!

    As Yeats said: “You do not strike when the iron is hot, you strike to make the iron hot”.

    Asking for home rule when the whole edifice of the British state is crashing down around us would be akin to inviting a couple of defenders to get back on the line when there is an
    open goal in front of us, just so that we can appear to be good sports.

    The concept of Independence has never really been put before the people of Wales.

    Maybe we have been waiting for the right moment…?

  3. Wales only got devolution because the European courts pressurised Tony Blair into making the UK less centralised…we also need to take this into account with “trusting” westminster to be pro-active…which I doubt

  4. over 50% of Welsh people think independence is inevitable one day………but many keep kicking it into the long grass…Plaid Cymru must start RAGING against the dying of the light

  5. Nicholas Stradling

    Nah. A good article but it briefly references its biggest flaw: Post rise of SNP, British state will never allow Wales to build to the point of viable independence.

    Home Rule a vague concept that can and will be frustrated by London, defined by London, given by London and compromised by London. We must make independence viable, by achieving it ourselves.

  6. leigh richards

    I think James is right on the money when he warns of the grave dangers brexit will pose for the welsh economy, and more powers for Wales in whatever form they come are to be welcomed (but bear in mind all the devolution wales has accrued in the last 20 years could still disappear at the stroke of a pen in westminster). But more devolution or home rule or devo max are no substitute for a country managing its own affairs. There are over 200 countries on this planet – dozens of them smaller and poorer than wales incidentally – which are independent and manage their own affairs and there is no reason why wales could not and should not do the same. Joining the likes of Malta, Ireland, Iceland, costa rica at the United Nations and all the other international institutions which countries join.

    When all is said and done Wales is not a region or a principality or a dominion – Wales is a nation and like all nations has an inalienable right to manage its own affairs should its people choose to exercise this right. No one is pretending Wales is on the brink of independence right now or that prising Wales away from the clutches of the british state will be an easy or straightforward matter but one thing’s for sure – if we stop talking about independence for wales and stop making the case for it then it will certainly never happen.

  7. I finished this article uncertain of exactly what the author mean by Home Rule – more devo? How much? Where’s the list of “powers we should have” to be considered having Home Rule”. Where the list of assurances and legislative guarantees we’d need to ensure any increase couldn’t be rolled back a la The Wales Act recently?

    Without those things as a bare minimum it’s hard for me to be persuaded away from my current idea which is the devolution is s sop and red herring. A false trail that turns out not to be a route through the woods to a proper road but a sheeptrack you mistook for a path that leads you no where and wastes you time.

    Scotland have had far more powers in their devolution settlement that Wales for a long time time and it hasn’t stopped them pushing for independence.

  8. Gordon Murray

    Such a shame that Wales is waiting to be shown the road to self determination rather than just getting on with it.
    Wales rejected devolution when Scotland took it. Now you’re griping that devolved Scotland gets everything and Wales gets nothing.
    Nobody is going to do it for you, if you continually grab your ankles and think of England.
    Malta is independent and thriving.
    Isn’t that embarrassing and a wee bit shameful to everyone in Wales who still believe they need England to hold their hand and provide their pocket money!

  9. Dim gorffwys tan Annibyniaeth! No rest until Independence!

    Dim dotio ar gyfer datganoli! No dithering for devolution.

    We’ve been there done it, it didn’t work so, can we now move into the 21st century break away from our oppressor and build a new country with a totally new concept. Not some angloised step-child version of an ex colony!

    Those that cannot fight for Independence need to get off the roundabout wait until yer heads stop spinning and look at what is going on at the moment with a group like YesCymru!

  10. Capitalist and Welshnash

    Home Rule sounds too much like Ireland. Most people will not support it.

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  12. For the purposes of openness and fairness, the rest of this comment should be understood in the light of the fact that the author of the article called be a “troll” on Twitter and blocked me for saying that the article was basically meaningless without a definition of “Home Rule”. (Apparently the author thinks “thinking with definition is an inferior practice”, whatever that may mean.) So- If Plaid Cymru is impressed by this sort of pretentious, pseudo-intellectual waffle (as it sometimes seems, and as perhaps evidenced by Leanne Wood retweeting this completely meaningless article,) then Plaid Cymru is going to be pushing the ultimate destruction of Wales through weakness in perusing this sort of utterly meaningless, pretentious tripe instead of listening to people with real intelligence.

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