Does Wales need – or want – a centre-right nationalist party?
Ifan Morgan Jones
Plans have been unveiled for a gathering in Aberystwyth to discuss the formation of a centre-right pro-independence party.
The party would be culturally and fiscally conservative, ditching socialism and civic nationalism for economic and cultural nationalism.
But, does Wales really need a new pro-independence, centre-right party?
Well, after careful consideration, the answer is, of course, maybe.
Let’s look at the arguments for, first. Here are five:
- Politics in Wales is currently a choice between two left-wing large and small ‘n’ nationalist parties, Plaid Cymru and Labour, and two right-wing unionist parties, the Conservatives and UKIP. Centre-right nationalists don’t have a home. If we are to build a national movement, then there needs to be room within it for conservatives as well as the socialists.
- Cultural conservatism and nationalism have always been bedfellows. The curiosity perhaps is that no centre-right nationalist movement has ever come about in Wales.
- Plaid Cymru’s left-liberal politics can sometimes be at odds with its own nationalist agenda. For instance, it’s difficult to argue for preserving Welsh language communities on one hand and freedom of movement on the other.
- A fiscally conservative approach that would put the emphasis on building up Wales’ private rather than public sector is probably more likely to lead to independence in the long term. You can’t be politically independent without financial independence.
- Plaid Cymru’s onward march has stalled. The national movement needs to try something different.
The difficulty, however, is this: Even if Wales needs this party – does it want it? Where are this party’s supporters going to come from?
Ideally, they would come from the Conservatives and UKIP. By presenting the arguments for Welsh independence through a right-wing prism, the party could win these people over.
It could also win broad support in areas where Labour is dominant. Many vote Labour for culturally conservative reasons, not because they’re socialists.
But how sympathetic are these people to the arguments for independence? How are they to be converted from unionists to Welsh nationalists?
And how will this new party succeed in getting those arguments across, where Plaid Cymru has failed, through a lack of a Welsh media?
Getting a new party off the ground is a tough business. It would need a core support that would spend a good decade building the party up from nothing to the point where it can contest winnable seats.
But how many right-wing voters who are sympathetic to Welsh nationalism are out there, in reality?
They’re very active in Facebook groups and here on Nation.Cymru’s comments section. But are they the silent majority or a noisy minority?
Another problem is that any new party tends to attract loonies and nutters – especially right of centre ones (look at UKIP).
If the party does become a home for crackpots, will anyone with the intellectual gravitas or political skill to chart a course for the party want to be involved with it?
And could they tarnish the name of Welsh nationalism as a whole, which has fought off (completely unfounded) allegations of fascism for decades?
The worst case scenario is that this new party simply hives off some 20% of Plaid Cymru’s vote – cultural conservatives that supported Plaid Cymru because they were the only pro-independence party.
If that happens, the independence movement could stall politically as neither party would have the votes to win seats under the FPTP and PR system.
Under Westminster and the Senedd’s voting systems, winning power is less about pleasing one group and more about being a big tent that can accommodate a lot of different voters.
While a new party for right-wing nationalists might be a good idea on paper, it might be easier if Plaid Cymru simply made more effort to accommodate them in the first place.
The SNP has somehow managed to straddle that divide – providing a home for ardent socialists and Tartan Tories alike, while charting a centrist path.
The other option is not to bother with a political party at all. In the age of digital media, political movements, such as Yes Cymru, don’t necessarily need to win seats to influence peoples’ thinking.
The Tea Party movement in the USA, or Momentum here, simply latched onto an existing host body and took it over – a much quicker way of getting things done than starting a party from scratch.
(I can’t help but notice that the Welsh Conservatives only have about 5,000, mostly elderly, members. An influx of a few hundred could turn it into a Welsh Conservative party that actually conserves Wales.)
The way forward
I will be watching the discussions at Aberystwyth with interest. I’m sure there will a lot of enthusiasm, but long-term success depends on them asking themselves some tough questions. I hope they’re about more than just forming a new party.
All the different options need to be on the table, including forming a political movement or finding a home within an already existing political party.
A new, centre-right party could be a welcome addition to Wales’ political firmament. But it’s a very long-term solution to near-term issues.
New parties take a long time to establish themselves. On subjects such as the Welsh language, culture, education, and the Welsh economy, is time on their side?