From Indy-scepticism to Indy-enthusiasm: What changed my mind on Welsh independence

Lluniau gan / Pictures by Lluniau Lleucu

Lewis Owen

Last month I joined YesCymru, the grassroots campaign for Welsh independence. An act hardly worthy of an article, you might say: after all, YesCymru’s membership has grown prodigiously in recent times to over 5,000 members.

In writing this article however, I hope the interest to the reader will lie not because of who I am, but rather in how I came to the decision to finally commit to the campaign for independence. For far from being a straightforward process, my journey to the fold of YesCymru has entailed a considerable degree of soul-searching and the reassessment of some core tenets of my politics.

If nothing else, in articulating the evolution of my attitudes from indy-scepticism to indy-curiosity and eventually to indy-enthusiasm, perhaps others of a similarly conflicted disposition may be encouraged to reflect on their own set of conditions for shifting towards a more pro-indy mind-set, and consider whether, as has been my experience, recent events have served to impress a sense of urgency on arriving at a state of resolution on the matter.

While the nature of my political beliefs will doubtlessly be of little interest to anyone reading this article, suffice to say that my former indy-scepticism was rooted in my socialist principles (which I continue to hold dear), and the internationalism which it naturally imparted. Having been raised as a Welsh-language speaker, I felt little compunction in identifying myself as a cultural nationalist, and cherishing the role that my native tongue and the broader spectrum of Welsh culture has had in enriching (and continues to enrich) my life experience.

Within the lens of my political outlook, however, the notion of ‘nationalism’ had always appeared problematic; at best a flawed panacea for the ills of humanity that, in my mind, were more convincingly comprehended through the language of economics and class, and at worst a convenient outlet for the most virulent manifestations of bigotry, hatred and violence.

As my political education matured I was able to better appreciate the nuances of various nationalist ideologies, and recognise the disingenuousness of conflating the entirely laudable ambition of self-determination with national chauvinism. However a lingering sense of unease with the underlying connotations of political nationalism remained. This was reinforced by my discovery of the works of American political philosopher Murray Bookchin, whose excoriating critique of the modern nation-state as a facilitator of the mechanics of social hierarchy profoundly resonated with my sensibilities.

 

Price

The first step towards re-evaluating my stance on Welsh independence was precipitated by a growing recognition that the United Kingdom, at least in its current form as a unitary multinational state, has entered a period of seemingly inexorable decline.

This in itself was no cause of particular distress on my part. I felt little in the way of affinity towards the United Kingdom and its stiflingly archaic political institutions. After all, erosion, disintegration and remoulding are as much processes in the lifecycle of states as they are for the pebbles on our beaches. Previously, I had advocated federalism as the ideal outcome from any future remodelling of the British state apparatus, thus facilitating a more equitable constitutional relationship between the constituent nations without veering towards outright separatism.

However, what was particularly striking about the dynamics of this phase of decline, and which thus initiated my conversion to indy-curiosity, was the manner in which the primary impetus for the fracturing of the British state appeared to derive as much from the metropole, as it was a consequence of centrifugal political forces at the periphery.

Brexit, of course, was the catalyst for this process, a movement that has inspired a cultish devotion amongst its Westminster proponents, and which has had the effect of inducing the Tory Party in particular to all but shed its unionist credentials and embrace an exclusivist English nationalist character. In practical terms, this has resulted in Northern Ireland being effectively carved off from the rest of the United Kingdom in order to satisfy the deregulatory fantasies of the Brex-cultists, while the sheer contempt displayed towards the input of the devolved administrations since the referendum has pushed Scotland ever closer to the brink of independence (a price which an extraordinarily substantial proportion of Tory Party supporters deem acceptable to achieve Brexit).

But what of Wales’ part in this saga of the United Kingdom’s existential crisis? The Welsh pro-leave vote has inherently set the tone for what has largely been a passive role over the past four years, thus seemingly conforming with Norman Davies’ prediction in his magisterial work, Vanished Kingdoms, that the break-up of Britain could observe a trajectory whereby Wales’ independence is secured by default, as the sole inheritor of the husk of a British state actively abandoned by the other ‘home’ nations.

As such, the allure of a tentative indy-curiosity became more apparent: if the obstinate fanaticism of the incumbent British government to their vision of Brexit made the unravelling of the Union a virtual inevitability, would it not behove those invested in Wales’ future to envisage a scenario which granted the nation a proper agency in deciding its constitutional status, in contrast to Davies’ gloomy prophesy?

For some time I was content to dip my toes in these waters of indy-curiosity, and while the increasing egregiousness of the Westminster kakistocracy’s antics only served to enhance their soothing qualities, I remained reluctant to commit to a position of outright support.

Assault

This all changed after the recent release of a highly anticipated Welsh political barometer poll, which was well-publicised for indicating record figures of support for independence. However, an equally arresting (and decidedly alarming) aspect of the findings was the prominence of support for the complete abolishment of the Senedd.

For some time the growing profile of the abolitionist movement had been some cause of concern. In my mind it resembled a particularly petty, vindictive and insidious tendency whose raison d’etre, namely the dismantlement of a democratic institution, should surely be considered an affront to the sensibilities of all democrats in Wales (and indeed throughout Britain), regardless of their stance on independence.

Here was nothing more than the political equivalent of a petulant child wailing for a schoolyard game of football to be scrapped on account of their being insufficiently indulged by their teammates.

Despite its disreputable nature however, it was undeniable that the abolitionist campaign had weaponised public antipathy towards the political classes to great effect of late, and therefore demanded a robust response that disavowed all inclinations towards complacency. Certainly, it would be naïve to dismiss abolitionism as a ‘fringe’ phenomenon, especially in light of its less than surreptitious sponsoring by large swathes of the current crop of Tory MPs, thus typifying their party’s embrace of an exclusivist English and anti-Celtic nationalism.

For all their sophistry about curbing bureaucratic excess, we should be under no illusions that the abolitionists are leading nothing less than a calculated assault on the very principle of Welsh democracy itself, a democracy that was not easily won in the first place.

Risk

It was this recognition of the sheer severity of these threats to the fledgling constitutional identity of our nation that finally crystallised my affiliation to the independence campaign. With the increasing polarisation of Welsh political opinion between the abolitionist and independence camps, as well as the simultaneous erosion of the ‘pro status-quo’ constituency that has for so long represented a majority centre ground during the devolution era, our nation will surely soon be confronted with two distinct paths for its future.

To extirpate its own democratic spirit under the contemptuous oversight of Westminster, or to confidently proclaim the right to determine its own destiny: these are the questions. And unlike a certain Danish prince, I have little hesitation in firmly committing to one option over the other, and to finally vocalise my belief that independence now represents the optimal course of action for the people of Wales.

That isn’t to say that some of my reservations about the implications of independence have entirely subsided. Bookchin’s critique of the nation-state retains its potent influence over my worldview, and I am hopeful that the independence movement will not shy away from meaningful discourses on the shortcomings of nationalist orthodoxy.

And naturally, as is the case for all radical constitutional revisions of this nature, it will not be immune to risk.

But to those who maintain their aversion to independence I say this: is it not a greater risk to keep Wales tethered to a dysfunctional state whose incumbent government has few qualms in promoting the extinction of Welsh democracy, whose latent hostility to expressions of identity that reside beyond the realm of their exclusivist English nationalist outlook is never far from the surface and whose cultish devotion to a deregulatory Brexit is likely to imperil the livelihoods of a considerable portion of the Welsh population?

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