Labour’s attack on Adam Price’s ‘colonialism’ comment is a preview of the 2021 campaign

Adam Price: Picture by Plaid Cymru (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

One of the most notable but least commented-upon features of this General Election campaign in Wales has been the invisibility of Welsh Labour.

In 2017 it was very different. Fearing that the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn would drag them down with him, First Minister Carwyn Jones – who was still very well-known and popular at the time – conducted what was almost an independent campaign. A moat of clear red water was hastily dug between Welsh and UK Labour.

This time, of course, we have a rather less well-known and pro-Corbyn Mark Drakeford as First Minister, and apart from a campaign launch on 6 November and a few visits here and there the Welsh Labour brand has been mostly invisible.

Yesterday however Welsh Labour stirred to life and we got something of a preview – a kind of teaser trailer – of the Wales-focused battle that awaits us at the 2021 Senedd elections.

Adam Price was accused of “deliberately offensive terminology” in comparing the experience of Wales with colonialism.

Assembly Member Vaughan Gething said: “To try to say that the experience of Wales as a country and as a people is analogous to colonialism, is analogous to slavery, that is just outrageous.”

Of course, a few different things can be true here at once:

1.) Adam Price needs to be careful about what he says

Vaughan’s comments are a little bit of a straw man. Nowhere in his comments does Adam Price say that Wales’ experience was analogous to slavery.

Read as a whole, it was clear that he was discussing the extraction of Wales’ material wealth.

However, Adam Price does need to be careful about the words he uses to describe Wales’ historical experience. The word ‘reparations’ in particular is one that is usually only used in connection with compensation for the descendants of those that suffered as a result of the Atlantic slave trade.

I can understand why many would find that word offensive, and he should stop using it.

The use of the word ‘colony’ can be argued about, and has for many years since the publication in 1977 of Michael Hechter’s book Internal Colonialism.

The academic debate continues to rage about whether Wales was a colony but there is very little doubt that it was considered in those terms during the 19th century.

As the Times wrote in 1866: “It is true [that Wales] possesses valuable minerals, but these have been chiefly developed by English energy and for the supply of English wants. A rare existence on the most primitive food of a mountainous race is all that the Welsh could enjoy if left to themselves…”

We tend to put a lot of emphasis on the effects of the Blue Books and Welsh Not on Welsh psychology during the 19th century but tend to forget that they were reading this kind of material which essentially told them they were sub-human and inferior in the press throughout the century.

You can argue about whether Wales was an economic colony or not – in my opinion, it’s very difficult to compare an economy fully integrated into England with a nation thousands of miles away.

However, I don’t think there’s much doubt that Wales was often made to think of itself as a colony and still suffers as a result of that.

However, if Adam Price does mention colonialism in Wales he sould also condemn the fact that the Welsh were enthusiastic partners in the British Empire which colonised much of the world.

Wales and colonialism is complicated, and perhaps this entire tricky discussion could be avoided if Adam Price were to drop what is to most people an extraneous subject altogether. Adam Price is a politician, and by using the word ‘colony’ he does leave himself open to political attack.

Voters care about the here and now, not the 19th century.

2.) The timing of Labour’s attack is all about the General Election

Vaughan Gething described himself as ‘staggered’ by Adam Price’s comments. So staggered that he waited until the second day of an election campaign to make his views on the matter heard.

Adam Price’s book Wales: The First and Final Colony has been out for over a year and even that was a collection of far earlier articles.

The Plaid Cymru leader has been saying that Wales is a colony for decades. So it is hard not to be cynical about the timing of this attack.

It is clear that Welsh Labour have done a bit of ‘oppo research’ which they will be releasing in chunks as we approach the 2021 Senedd election.

3.) It won’t make any difference to the campaign

Plaid Cymru’s big problem at UK General Elections is that they are largely ignored by the press and therefore have no means of getting their message across.

Welsh Labour meanwhile know that their own message will reach voters via the wider Corbyn-led campaign.

It’s a strange decision therefore to shout ‘look at what Adam Price is saying’ in the middle of a General Election. Labour’s best tactic might be just to ignore him completely and frame the race as being between them and the Conservatives.

I’m not convinced either than a rather intellectual argument over Wales’ history will really have much traction among voters.

Again, voters have enough to worry about with Brexit, health, education and other subjects without worrying about whether a 1860s ironmaster in Merthyr Tydfil was Welsh or English.

However, Plaid Cymru and Adam Price more specifically need to be careful about this kind of thing in future.

They need to learn the lesson of Mike Parker, who probably lost the election in Ceredigion in 2015 because something he had written in the past was deliberately taken out of context.

Writing all the way back in 2001 about the rise of the far-right in Wales, his words were splashed as ‘incomers are Nazis’ in the Cambrian news.

In hindsight, I don’t think anyone would be able to claim that Mike Parker wasn’t right to raise concerns about the rise of right-wing politics in Wales, but his political opponents presented it as an attack on English incomers.

Plaid Cymru are likely to campaign in 2021 on highlighting the juxtaposition in leadership styles between Adam Price and Mark Drakeford.

Labour meanwhile will want to paint him as an extremist who is culturally out of touch with the bulk of Welsh voters.

You can bet your bottom dollar on the fact that Adam Price’s political opponents will be scouring everything he has written since the 90s for the opportunity of an incriminating quote.

Offensive

Plaid Cymru meanwhile seem altogether too nice for any such ‘oppo research’ and seem perpetually surprised when their political opponents attack them in this way.

For instance, I’m still trying to figure out why Plaid Cymru have never pointed out Mark Drakeford’s offensive comments about Welsh language communities.

In 2012, while already an Assembly Member, he wrote “Plaid’s heartlands remain Welsh-speaking and Poujadist”.

Pierre Poujade’s movement was far-right, populist, xenophobic and anti-intellectual. Drakeford wasn’t saying this about Plaid Cymru, he was saying this about the Welsh-speaking communities themselves, a large chunk of the country for which he is now First Minister.

I wonder how the Remain-voting Arfon, Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Ceredigion feel about being labelled xenophobic and populist, particularly as research has found a strong correlation between speaking Welsh and pro-EU sentiment?

Plaid Cymru, of course, perpetually want to avoid personal matters and talk about the issues, but I’m not sure how much electoral good it does them to allow their political opponents to keep jabbing at them and never take a swing back.

Reading

In conclusion, although this attack is likely to have little impact, Plaid Cymru should treat it as a teaser for what is to come in the 2021 campaign and plan accordingly.

Between now and then someone in Ty Gwynfor should busy themselves reading everything Adam Price has written since 1990 and draw up an action plan for when different subjects do come up.

Adam Price meanwhile should remember that while it’s safe for us academics to witter on about whether Wales was a colony that a) voters probably don’t care, and b) he should avoid using potentially offensive terminology that could land him in hot water.

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RhosdduDave BrookerHethin BennettPlain citizenAnthony Mitchell Recent comment authors
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Phil Davies
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Phil Davies

Comments such as those found in your article were also made after the Plaid Cymru conference and I tweeted at the time the need to stop using the emotive term ‘reparations’. The need to compensate Wales for centuries of economic exploitation is blindingly obvious, but using the term ‘reparations’ only distracts from the real argument. I would also rather see the term Internal Colony revived to describe Wales’s historical relationship with England. It is a term long-used used by academics, and successfully describes, in my opinion, the way Wales was successfully subjugated. The methods used became a template for future… Read more »

Richard Jenkins
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Richard Jenkins

Good pragmatic advice I suspect from IMJ. We can look forward to a few years of similar ad hominem attacks running up to the Senedd elections. However, it’s a sad comment on the level of debate in modern Cymru. It seems it’s ‘politic’ not to use the word ‘colony’ in Welsh politics as nobody can agree to it’s true interpretation. Possibly due to the bad press the term carries? The Welsh, rightly perhaps, see at as insulting. Anti Indy thinkers seem to think it insults other colonies of the English Empire to suggest Cymru has suffered on the same scale.… Read more »

vicky moller
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vicky moller

the need for wales to run its own affairs and have resources taken returned in some shape is justifief only by the benefit that Wales can thereby bring to itself, the UK, other neighbours and the world. The crisis and the challenge is global All solutions here should be seen as and justified only as contributions to the wider and global conundrums. ‘The argument: We were unfairly treated and still are’ is a puny perochial self interested and defeatist. Wales is here to transform the future, for all its friends and neighbours, not to fight for a fairer slice of… Read more »

jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

We know Drakeford is Kinnocked, but how can Labour’s door to door stand it?

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

Plaid has constantly been too nice when if comes to challenging the status quo in Wales, which is Labour Power, and Labour has honed it’s skills of undermining Plaid to such an extent that it does so with maximum impact. There’s a lot to be said about occupying the moral high ground, but in the realm of politics this is unsuitable. Politics is a dirty business, and sometimes, as a matter of defence retaliation is necessary, not because it’s desirable in itself but as a way of instilling in the opponent that there is an inherent risk that a target… Read more »

Ernie The Smallholder
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Ernie The Smallholder

It is slightly easier in Scotland for the SNP as they have their own printed media, produced in Scotland by Scottish people addressing Scottish issues from a Scottish stand point. In Wales, there are a couple of local papers but many are owned outside Wales. Then there is the daily crap from London ! Labour is addressing its election as a UK party in opposition to the Conservatives, which actually means very little to ‘on the ground’ issues except that policies from an English elected Conservative regime are imposed on the Welsh population with no mandate from its people. The… Read more »

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

You’re right on the money with all these points, but are Gwlad, Gwlad are a fascist party? I honestly don’t think so.

Tudor Rees
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Tudor Rees

The best way to look at this outburst, is to appreciate how Vaughan and many Labour members have been victims of the Imperial version of history that was dished out in schools throughout Wales and the rest of the British Empire, with little or no consideration given to the history of their own countries, Wales included.

John
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John

Hmmm. Not happy with your remark: “In hindsight, I don’t think anyone would be able to claim that Mike Parker wasn’t completely spot on about his comments” apropos the ‘incomers are nazis’ paraphrase (which was, itself, not an accurate summary of his comment). Please acknowledge that there are also incomers who are vocally curious about the culture and who make a strong contribution to its preservation. Incomers who learn the language (sometimes in the face of apathy) and who play a role in the community.

Russell Owen
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Russell Owen

Wales and many Welsh ‘leaders’ have acquiesced in English colonial dominance over Wales. As for the Welsh eagerly participating in Britain’s Imperial adventure, it would be more accurate to say that they fled Britain to escape religious and racist persecution. Many of the founding fathers of the USA came from such a background in Wales. Many who left for Patagonia did so because they were guaranteed religious and cultural freedom in Argentina. For too long Welsh leaders have been misleading their own public by doing England’s bidding. It is time that they all followed Adam Price’s example and stood their… Read more »

Gerrard Raven
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Gerrard Raven

It is nonsense to say the word “reparations” is linked to the slave trade. The Allies who won World War One used this word to describe the compensation they thought the Germans should pay for having provoked that conflict. Arguably World War Two was made inevitable by the reparations demanded of the Germans under the Treaty of Versailles.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Just to set the record straight: 1/ Adam Price is right in saying that Wales was and is an internal colony. 2/ Vaughan Gething knows it, and knows that if he were to acknowledge his own part in what is in effect a colonial administration, he would be faced with an existential crisis and an awareness of the meaninglessness of his job. He also does very nicely out of this cosy little set-up. This is why he attempts to close down the debate by introducing a historical issue that is irrelevant to Wales’s present predicament, namely 18th-Century slavery. 3/ Ifan… Read more »

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Isn’t this website an example of a better-informed and non-unionist media? I suppose you mean a newspaper, in which case, I agree with you.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

You’re right that non-unionist media has to reach all Welsh people. Most are totally unaware of some of the things that are being perpetrated in their own country.

Anthony Mitchell
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Anthony Mitchell

Torn between Labour or Plaid Cymru for Dec elections, after Vaughan Gething shameless attempts to undermine Adam by pulling the race card, I’m now firmly settled on Plaid Cymru. Probably the most vocal, inspirational and iconic man who would agree with Adams comments was the god father of the black civil rights movement, Paul Robeson. Whose voice I would put far above most others who supposedly “speak/spoke” for Wales, he even said himself when he came to Wales that he learned then that the struggle for black people in America was the same struggle as the working class white people… Read more »

Dave Brooker
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Dave Brooker

Pretending that Wales is a colony is just lazy xenophobic populist nonsense from weak politicians with no actual ideas.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Wales is a colony, of course (the evidence is there on this and other websites), but, yes! the failure of AMs and in many cases councillors to confront these problems is unforgivable.

Xenophobia: it’s been remarked many times that apologists for the status quo in Cymru often resort to playing the race card to emasculate those who challenge that status quo, without offering any actual argument. The above is a good example. Thanks.

Hethin Bennett
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Hethin Bennett

You are right but you wont get much sense from the 7 posters who read this site……

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Everyone’s still waiting for a comment from you that will actually contribute to the debate, “Hethin”.

Plain citizen
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Plain citizen

Very helpful article, I think that reparations is a term well known to those who study 20th century history and it should not be confined to efforts by those who wish to gain forms of compensation for exploitation of their ancestors during the trans Atlantic slave trade.

Hethin Bennett
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Hethin Bennett

Civic nationalism hasn’t worked for Plaid Cymru it knows straight talking victimhood and blame politics cut through so its going back to its roots, blame the Englsish for everything and reap the rewards.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

I don’t think you are right to blame the English for everything, Hethin. Certainly, you are wrong if you blame every settler. There are many (admittedly still a minority) who are taking Welsh culture on board and ‘becoming Welsh’. Part of the blame lies with a compliant Welsh Labour Government that in many respects is nothing more than a colonial administration. Much of the blame, however, as most who look into the matter acknowledge, lies with Westminster and with Cymru’s powerlessness to act in its own interests even if Welsh Labour were of a mind to. Yes, Plaid Cymru have… Read more »

Dave Brooker
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Dave Brooker

But what would repatriations be for??

Coal and steel took Wales from a sparse populated country to one of the industrial revolutions most important places,

The wealth build towns and cities across Wales, why is that a bad thing??

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Most people are in agreement that it was inappropriate to ask for reparations, but, yes. it would be for the uncompensated extraction of natural resources (steel isn’t one – they make it in a steelworks).