A hostile Westminster is waking Wales up to independence – will Welsh Labour wake up too?

First Minister Mark Drakeford AM.
First Minister Mark Drakeford AM. Mark Hawkins / Alamy Stock Photo

Ben Gwalchmai

I’ve purposefully waited to write this article until now.

Until Roger Awan-Scullly’s latest poll showing Labour in second place in Assembly and Westminster voting intentions, until Boris’ ‘tour’ and creation of a ‘Minister of the Union’ (or is it ‘for’ the union…his spokespeople don’t seem to know the difference); until our First Minister had had a chance to meet with the reality of where we are.

We are faced with a hostile Westminster. In truth, we have been for some time, but this government won’t hide it. This one will revel in it.

If it isn’t clear to you in Boris Johnson’s pledges that fly in the face of Devolution, it should be clear to you in his cabinet’s absolute refusal to listen to our farming and workers unions.

If you don’t believe me, believe Richard Wyn Jones when he said: “Composition of [the] new cabinet…suggests to me that the new UK Government is determined on (in essence) a conflictual relationship”.

If you don’t believe us, believe Michael Gove when he says the UK Government is “operating on [the] assumption” of a No Deal Brexit – something both Welsh and Scottish Governments have clearly stated would mean a catastrophe.

Indeed, when the Scottish and Welsh Governments have spoken with one voice in a recent letter stating what needs to be done to improve UK-wide intergovernmental mechanisms, that too was ignored.

What follows ignorance? Pride. Following pride? A fall.

If you really need the most cynical angle on it to believe me, Boris’ friends in The City of London have admitted that they’ll make a stock market killing amid the chaos of No Deal.

It is now the worst of all situations: a hostile Westminster set on No Deal, throwing their constitutional weight around; gleeful at the prospect of destroying our farming in Wales, just as Thatcher destroyed our mines.

As I’ve been saying for two years now: No Deal is coming. Be ready.

Preparedness

As several news sites have reported, the UK was more prepared for a No Deal Brexit in May than it is now. The Welsh Government has continued to reiterate its positions and ask business to be ready through what tools WelshGov can provide.

Notably, the chairs of our two most fundamental Welsh Government Committees have been preparing: Dai Rees and Mick Antoniw who chair the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee [EAAL] and the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee [CLAC], respectively.

They’ve been working behind the scenes and have now launched two invaluable consultations: the EAAL is now asking for our opinions on whether or not Wales should have its own immigration policy; and CLAC is asking for your opinions on what the future constitutional relationship between Wales and the UK should be.

These are commendable efforts and I’d urge every reader to submit to the consultations. They are an opportunity to write a constitution for Wales, by the people of Wales.

There are some signs that our First Minister is now sitting up and paying attention to the tectonic plates shifting but the necessary question is, is our First Minister prepared for a No Deal Brexit?

And, indeed, how prepared he is will tell us what Welsh Labour’s legacy will be at this time of crises.

When I interviewed Mark Drakeford in the 2018 race to be the new leader of Welsh Labour, I pressed the issue of No Deal.

If you listen back [especially from the 7:45 mark], I asked ‘What would be your response to a No Deal Brexit and continuing Tory austerity?’

I then asked, ‘…there are a few crisis models…is there a way to get ahead of that [Brexit crisis] in some form…some form of model to put forward…in order to say, ‘Whatever the UK Government does, as Wales, we’d like to do something different’?’

Mark’s response was complex but its start and end was important: ‘In these circumstances, no options are off the table. We shouldn’t say ‘We’re not willing to look at anything’. ‘…all bets would be off.’

Those circumstances are now with us. No Deal is here. All bets are off.

Westminster Government Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture by Annika Haas (CC BY 2.0)

Defence

So will our First Minister follow his own advice? I would urge him and his government to ready crisis models now. Not only is Brexit an oncoming crisis but we are faced with a Westminster that is its most anti-Devolution, anti-power-sharing self, run riot.

At the Labour for indyWales and Welsh Fabians event at Welsh Labour conference this year, Tonia Antoniazzi told us ‘The Tories hate Devolution’. Now their hatred has power.

In the circumstances Wales now faces, it needs defence: defence of our institutions, defence of our industries, and defence of the very structures we have built over the past 20 years of Devolution -what is the best defence? A good offence.

The people of Wales feel great change coming, already, and are marching in their thousands to bring a better kind of change forward; so much so that backbench Welsh Labour AMs are responding in kind.

We are facing a very new tomorrow. Will Welsh Labour embrace it? Or will our legacy of this period be that we didn’t put up enough of a fight?

The reality is Wales is waking to independence and Welsh Labour needs to wake up, to use our marchers to our advantage. Before Westminster steamrolls them.

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j r humphrysEos PengwernC JamesPendduNeil McEvoy Recent comment authors
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Eos Pengwern
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I only recently heard that nation.cymru has abandoned Facebook comments and allowed people who aren’t on Facebook to comment; an excellent (and long-overdue) move by Ifan. Ben, your conclusion that independence is the way forward is obviously correct, whatever sort of Brexit there is, but do you really believe there is any chance of Welsh Labour seriously pursing this? They’ve been the most consistently anti-Welsh party for over a century now (far less sympathetic to Welsh culture, and the language in particular, than even the Tories). Since Devolution their main ‘achievement’ has been to run down the Welsh economy and… Read more »

Gareth H
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Gareth H

Labour is, always has been, and always will be a unionist party. What they will most probably do is, once the feeling in Wales is significantly behind independence, they will jump on the bandwagon, say all the right things to get voters back, and then when it comes time for a referendum on independence, be very luke-warm (if warm at all) with their campaigning to try to get Wales to remain in the UK. I don’t see how anyone in Wales can trust Labour to do the right thing.

Steve Thomas
Guest

Totally agree.,I don’t for 1 minute doubt the genuine sincerity of Ben,but having fought against labour for over 50 years I know how unionist and anti- Welsh they are. LABOUR CANNOT BE TRUSTED TO DELIVER FOR WALES

Neil McEvoy
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Neil McEvoy

Labour allows outriders to widen its appeal. It’s cynical, but clever. They are unionists seeking power, for power’s sake; within the UK of course. Don’t be taken in. Please remember also, Labour does not own its voters. They are there to be converted to the cause.

Penddu
Guest
Penddu

An excellent opinion piece, but does anyone believe that ‘Welsh’ Labour is interested in anyone but themselves? The minute that opinion polls show them as able to cling to power they will drop any pretence at supporting independence.

Ben – you mean well but sooner or later you need to change party!

C James
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C James

Some of the worst drivel I have ever read. Aside from independence being economic suicide for Wales, the problems are numerous. 1. There isn’t more interest in independence amongst people, but the nationalist media in Wales are just happy to use their influence to push their own agendas. 2. Similarly, Plaid and Labour are talking about indy because apparently Brexit is not wanted in Wales. Wales voted to leave! People think the disconnect between politicians and voters in the UK is bad – in Wales is is bordering kafkaesque. 3. According to this article, Thatcher destroyed the mines – a)… Read more »

Eos Pengwern
Guest

You’re closer to being an Ein Gwlad supporter than you probably imagine: take a look at my blog article from last week, which makes some of the same points:

https://eingwlad.wales/NewsPortal/index.php/2019/08/01/lost-opportunities-lets-not-keep-making-the-same-mistake/

Obviously we disagree about independence, but you’re spot-on about Harold Wilson. Independence would not economic suicide – far from it – but the Labour government’s mismanagement of the Welsh economy has made it much more challenging to achieve, and I expect that’s been deliberate.

j r humphrys
Guest
j r humphrys

I think that people in Wales have changed their minds regarding Brexit. New ref. now required.