Westminster won’t deliver equality – it’s time for Labour to support Welsh independence

Ben Gwalchmai speaking at the event

Ben Gwalchmai

This is the text of the speech that opened the inaugural Labour for Independent Wales event on Friday, 6 October.

I’d like to take a moment to tell you about a phrase my taid – my tadcu – taught me. He said, “Where there’s muck, there’s gold” – only he did not use the word “muck”.

This week has been an absolute muck-show in politics, to put it lightly, but the best roses grow in the strongest muck and the Labour Party’s symbol is, after all, a rose.

I dare not think how long this week in politics has been for the leader of the UK government and their party.

But it is incumbent on us, members of Welsh Labour, to think about what the weeks, the months, the past year has done – not just to politics – but to reveal the truth of the relationships between the nations of the UK and to discuss both the threats and the opportunities of the immediate future.

Labour for an Independent Wales was set up in January this year with just a few of us. We’re now at roughly two hundred supporters from the party and we suspect that there are many more who have briefly considered the questions we’re considering but have not yet stepped across the threshold toward openly discussing it.

We see our group as building a network, forwarding the discussion, and encouraging our party to get ahead of the dangers we’ll all face in the next 18 months. We believe this can be achieved through independence.

How we get there is up for debate and precisely why I’m so excited to have everyone here today.

We’ve all seen the struggles Carwyn Jones and his team have faced when dealing with Westminster since the EU referendum. We’re also now seeing the struggles of the world dealing with the UK’s embarrassment of a Foreign Secretary.

Those struggles will only continue.

We see our work as adding to Carwyn’s arsenal – day by day it looks more likely that the UK will face the cataclysmic shock of a “No Deal”, Hard Brexit.

If that day comes, Carwyn will be able to point to our growing network and name a body within the party that supports the need for us to take a different path to England.

There’s already evidence of a growing desire for this path.

A YouGov poll of Welsh voters taken in May showed that, if a Tory government returned at this year’s general election, 47% of Labour supporters would consider independence to be a genuine option.

That’s half the party.

I’ll say it again: half the party now considers independence to be a genuine option.

We’re here to give a voice to that half – to let them know that, in the big tent of the Labour family, they are welcome, and their questions are being discussed. Today and in the future.

Leverage

To give a more anecdotal but indicative example: this week, we in Labour for an Independent Wales got the backing of legendary Big Nev or as he’s known to the rest of the world, Welsh footballer Neville Southall.

This came about because a football podcast asked him if he supports Independence for Wales to which he tweeted, simply, “Yes”.

Leanne Wood even encouraged him to join Plaid Cymru on Twitter but he said, “Much as I like and admire what you are doing and have done, I am Labour through and through”.

Well, this made me punch the air because, not only does Big Nev sport the same moustache as my taid, this showed that our message of a better, more prosperous future for Wales can reach the rafters to a lot of people who are – like me – Labour through and through.

Aside from the clear and present dangers mentioned, there are a great many positive reasons for our work. As we all know, Wales has approximately 6% of the seats in the House of Commons and has consistently voted Labour. England, with 86% of the seats, has not.

Whatever the outcome of our work, even the threat of independence gives Wales leverage.

If we want a progressive platform for continued growth and the redistribution of the wealth created therein, we need all the levers of power & taxation under our control.

Smaller states make for stronger democracies – more agile, more responsive, and a healthy democracy can make for a prosperous populace.

If we in the Labour party want a fully Federal UK or Wales to have dominion status, we must be innovative, we must push at barriers untested, we must have the great debates and we must have them quickly.

Old power

My position is one of a political utilitarian: if Wales is seen to be divided, will we be conquered anew.

The Labour party values of equality, a fair social-democracy, and international fraternity are all we’re asking for but Westminster has proven time and time again that it will not deliver them without a fight.

So, I argue we must swing for independence and we must be united when we do it – an old power does not give up its power lightly.

And the British State – that great machine that crushes radicals and moderates alike – is a very old power.

As we’ve been in power for 20 years in Wales, some in political circles now accuse Welsh Labour of becoming an “old power” in the Senedd.

Though we don’t believe this to be true, we see our work as a corrective to this narrative: in discussing new ways forward, we’re not just discussing new ways forward for Wales but for Welsh Labour as a whole.

On a personal level, I’ve always thought of myself as a European, an internationalist. An Independent Wales would give us and ours the option of deciding if we want to be part of the European Union anew.

We’re very lucky in the Labour Party – few other parties allow for such diversity, such discussion, such sparks of creativity. Today is a lucky day, a day for creative discussion and active listening.

There are many other great reasons that I’m looking forward to discussing today but it’s almost time we begin.

Before we do, I’d like to end this introduction with words from one of my favourite writers. Like me, he lived on the border of Wales.

Raymond Williams, the author of Border Country, said ‘If we seek to separate it is only to join together again on a better basis’.

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17 Comments

  1. Viv Jenkins

    It would have been interesting to find out what being “Labour, through and through” actually means to Ben Gwalchmai. Additionally, I would like to know whether he’s referring to Welsh “ Blairite “ Labour or the far more socialist Labour espousedby Jeremy Corbyn.

  2. Capitalist and Welshnash

    Welsh Labour in the south/southeast, Plaid in the Northwest, Conservatives along the English border.

    I see Wales forming into kingdoms ruled by dominant groups unable to completely dominate the entire country, again.

    • I see Wales as a pluralist democracy. I also see the end of our current party structure. The Tories will have to renew themselves or change because their job is to maintain the Union. Plaid will have lost their main function- an independent Wales. Labour have to constitute themselves as a separate Party to the English Labour Party or face their membership charged with treason in an independent country. but essentially yes, the three “tribes” model will mean a country run by compromise, which is an improvement on teh zero sum Year Zero world we live in now

  3. Just perplexed why you organised this Friday meeting in Carmarthen.
    I live in Carmarthen and this area was one of the first areas to elect a Welsh Nationalist and in the last election Plaid Cymru. We have a very good assembly member in Adam Price AM, and our MP is Jonathan Edwards. Holding a meeting here in Carmarthenshire is preaching to the converted and Plaid is very effective in Carmarthenshire.
    You would be better campaigning in the Welsh Valleys, Cardiff, Swansea, Neath and Bridgend where they still need to be convinced.
    The Labour party is 2nd in Pembrokeshire, how about campaigning in Monmouthshire? – get rid of those awful tories.

    If your new movement is sincere then I would recommend that you (and your group) work alongside Plaid Cymru for the aim of independence for Wales.
    Otherwise the Westminster elite would have its way of dividing the nation of Wales. Division is what has happened in Pembrokeshire with 2 tory MPs: Do you want those there or are you willing to work alongside Plaid?

  4. WELCOME ABOARD…..I hope to see you push for Labour to legally become a proper Welsh based party….as it is still technically and legally not Welsh

  5. Jonathan Edwards

    Not a natural Labour voter, me, but lets have a look at this. Labour for an Independent Wales (LIW) has 200 members – good start. If they want an independent Wales I am going to avoid falling our with them. What are they aiming for? “Independence” – do they mean “like Ireland, Norway, Estonia”? Perfectly doable, but somehow I don’t see Labour UK/England will let Wales go, any more than they like Scotland going. “Dominion Status” – do they mean like Ireland used to be, or N.Zealand? I won’t fall about with Ben G over this, but Dominion Status is vague, what you make of it. But it is different to Independence. But “Independent” or “Dominion Status” are both better than Wales 2017 style. More work needed. Me, I’d like more clarity. “Statehood” ought to do it. Call a Wales Convention, adopt a Welsh Constitution, reserve all rights to Wales, but delegate some to London. 200+ years of experience in 50 US States of this – a whole lot clearer than being a Dominion.
    But I don’t think Ben (or LIW, or Labour) have got this far yet.
    Will LIW or Labour insist on any Wales being “Guardian” style left-correct? Need to think about this. As do Plaid. A Welsh State/Dominion, when voted through, would be highly progressive in that it would release a lot of youth, energy, new ideas but also a challenge to grow up politically. To trust the new Welsh State to get the policies right in due course. When the new Wales Parliament gets elected. i worry that Labour and Plaid will be tempted to draft a Constitution which will cause problems.
    Take the McEvoy Constitution, in which he wants to give us all a right to housing/home. Yes, this would look nice in a Constitution. So would the right to medical treatment.
    But 200 LIW members, and the present teeny-weeny Plaid numbers, and Yes Cymru are going to need to attract many many more Welsh people to the cause. So I hope Ben G and LIW won’t be greedy. Get us a Constitution, get us the framework. But don’t try to lay down the policies as well. Let the first elected Welsh Parliament (the new, real one) decide on things like housing, health. This being Wales, the left-leaners will get to make a good contribution. But let others have a say as well. A new Welsh State will be worth it.
    Finally – if I support Ben G and LIW and the whole united pro-Wales front, will Labour insist on getting their Black Route round Newport? And similar Labour pet projects, which voters would probably reject? Me, I’m so keep on there being a new State of Wales that I’d probably indulge Ben G and Labour and let them have such toys. But I can’t speak for others.
    We have a window of opportunity – created by the Brexit meltdown, and a British (reign and) Constitution reaching the end of an era. So, Ben G and LIW, get thinking!

  6. Could happen under three conditions:

    1. Pigs flying;
    2. Hell freezing over;
    3. All months to consist entirely of Sundays

  7. Keith Parry

    I dont see Lord Kinnock, Chris Bryant and other dead wood ever accepting a Free Wales. I think Mr Gwalchmai will have to choose between independence or Labour.

  8. I have resisted supporting Welsh labour precisely because the party is in fact not fully federal, and the easiest way to convince the “independance minded” labour voters would be to fully separate the English and Welsh Labour parties. Then as a truly Welsh member based party you can discuss policy and position freely. The Unions could also do with catching up on devolution as Cardiff is the bargaining partner in vast areas of government activity and the Welsh TUC would have a strong influence on Welsh law if it was less London focussed. Until then it seems that those “independance minded” labour voters are an easy target for Plaid Cymru when Carwyn or even Welsh Westminster MPs are displaced by a London chosen replacement. Blaenau Gwent is not unique in its politics is it?

  9. Good to see this being discussed sensible among the other parties outside of Plaid. Clearly it cannot be achieved with just one party – there isn’t enough of any of them – and we presumably don’t WANT a one-party state following independence anyway!

  10. Tame Frontiersman

    Good luck. Bob hwyl

  11. Those involved with this initiative know exactly the sort of the” beast” (the Labour Party) they are dealing with and are attempting to change. At the moment this exercise hints at being either naive or cynical to me.

    If Jeremy Corbyn had a whiff of a chance of getting into No 10 at the next General election does anyone think that this, Labour for an independent Cymru idea, would do anything other than disappear in a puff of smoke?

    • Better to try with small steps than do nothing with no steps

      • Small steps yes but my comment and question was not on the size or existence of these steps but whether they are naïve or cynical steps or not and whether you think the steps will stop abruptly if Labour look like winning the next general election.

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