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Support for Welsh independence is ‘unprecedented’, says Guardian columnist

26 Jan 2021 3 minutes Read
The independence march in Merthyr Tydfil on 7 September. Pictures by Lluniau Lleucu

The support for Welsh independence is “unprecedented” according to a columnist for The Guardian.

Martin Kettle argues in a column for the newspaper that it may be too late to save the union because of years of neglect, following reports that Boris Johnson is headed to Scotland for a “charm offensive” in an “an all-out bid to save” it, which could include promises of further devolution.

He accused the Prime Minister of “cavalier inattention” which has led to the “souring political mood towards Whitehall” in Wales. Mr Kettle said the UK government was “emotionally English-centred” and added that Johnson has a “toxic sense of entitlement”.

He also warned “get Scotland wrong” where there have been 19 opinion polls in a row showing a majority in favour of independence, “and Wales becomes more fractious, including for the Tory party internally”.

A recent YouGov opinion poll put support for independence at 23 per cent, with 52 per cent against, and those who don’t know on 11 per cent. If the don’t knows are removed, this puts support for independence at around a third.

The survey also suggested that 31 per cent of Welsh voters want an independence referendum in the next five years, put those against on 47 per cent, and those who don’t know on 22 per cent.

Mr Kettle said: “The potential breakup of Britain has crept up on Boris Johnson in plain sight. Cavalier inattention in Downing Street to the souring political mood towards Whitehall in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as in parts of northern England, has been increasingly reckless.

“It may already be impossible for the Conservatives to retrieve the situation and keep the United Kingdom together much longer.”

‘Disunited’ 

He added: “The upshot has been the disunited Britain to which many London-based politicians and commentators have only recently woken up – if indeed they yet have.

“Its features were usefully summarised in the weekend Sunday Times surveys that found British identity disintegrating across these islands in favour of English, Welsh, Scottish and two kinds of Irish identities.

“Border polls now have narrow majority backing in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and unprecedented support from a third of Wales.

“Scotland is very much the catalyst for the new approach. But the policy holds big implications for other parts of the UK. Get Scotland wrong and Wales becomes more fractious, including for the Tory party internally.

“Any change to Northern Ireland’s future necessarily involves the Irish Republic and the EU.

“And the elephant in the room in any debate about a new UK order is always England, which has 85 per cent of the whole population and has no national self-government at all.”

He added: “Brexit also marked the Johnson government as emotionally English-centred – unable to display much feeling for the other parts of the UK.

“This is a trait that Johnson himself embodies in a particularly southern English way, as Theresa May had also done, though without the toxic sense of entitlement that Johnson exudes.

“While Dominic Cummings ruled in Downing Street, the government also exhibited raw contempt for opponents and for inherited institutions, including devolution.

“Its unionism was unapologetically centralist as well as English, not pluralist or based on arts of compromise or reform.”

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