Opinion

If Welsh Labour is serious about reforming the UK, we must begin with our own party

09 May 2021 5 minutes Read
Mark Drakeford with a Welsh flag (pre-pandemic). Picture by Lee Waters / @mark4leader/Twitter.

Robert Lloyd, Labour for an Independent Wales

Not many could have predicted the result of the sixth Senedd election. Even the buoyant First Minister admitted he thought a seat tally in the high twenties was “at the top end” of Welsh Labour’s prospects.

Welsh Labour, though, has won and will be able to govern relatively independently in the Senedd.

As the dust settles on the election, attention now turns, seemingly counter-intuitively, to the party’s manifesto.

The Welsh Labour platform was built with enough breadth to build consensus in the likelihood negotiations would now be underway to weld a new government together.

More than a showcase for policy (such as a ‘Young Persons Guarantee’, the creation of a new national park in the north east, the creation of a National Music Service, etc.), the manifesto was an opportunity taken to reiterate Welsh Labour’s values: social solidarity, public and private partnership, and a championing of explicitly Welsh solutions to global problems.

Perhaps reflecting the growing fervour of the issue outside the election campaign, nowhere did Welsh Labour twirl its rhetorical baton with greater flourish than in the section concerning the constitution.

Accusing the UK Government of undermining devolution and threatening its very existence, the manifesto makes no bones about Mark Drakeford’s view that the UK Government has “betrayed Wales”.

The remedy for this betrayal is to ask the principal threat to devolution’s existence, the Conservative UK Government (with a projected national vote share (almost) as high as Welsh Labour’s in Wales), to recognise the concept of sovereignty supported in Cathays Park.

The manifesto makes it clear that the next Welsh Government considers the union a “voluntary association of four nations”, despite the state’s outright rejection of the Scottish mandate to reconsider that association.

It’s highly unlikely, too, that the UK Government will recognise the +65% vote share in favour of further devolution as a favourable request to legislate away its power, so it seems that on the island Welsh Labour is unique in believing this state is such an association.

Nevertheless, all things constitutional are beyond the new Welsh Government’s powers.

What is in Welsh Labour’s power, though, is its approach to nation-building as a party.

Emotional

If we are to build a state based on the principles of ‘radical federalism’ and the voluntary association of four nations, it’s necessary to build a party based on those principles too.

A federation of different nations requires a federation of different parties.

It requires a Welsh Labour Party, associating voluntarily with sister-parties in Scottish Labour and however the party in England organises, fighting reactionary politics in solidarity in Westminster.

A party, though, independent in Wales, free to diverge without fear of contradiction or embarrassment, free to continue championing a distinctly Welsh identity, co-operating with our partners where we can, taking different decisions where we must.

The campaigns and results in the different elections on the island draw into sharp relief the fact that Wales, England, and Scotland are distinct and separate polities. The reaction and fallout from UK Labour’s loss in England demonstrates that Welsh Labour, too, is a different animal from its state-wide counterpart.

As Andy Burnham identified, Labour in England has lost its “emotional connection” with people across their country. This is not the case in Wales. Yes, Welsh Labour has a credible record of achievement in government to fall back on, but it wouldn’t have been achieved had the party itself not been seared into Welsh identity.

To be Welsh, for some, is to support the Labour Party. This is not by accident.

But who speaks for England? If the Labour Party cannot speak for the places left behind by austerity and the pandemic, the door is wide open for the far-right to exploit those insecurities. So far, for England, Labour has been silent.

Difficult

An independent Welsh Labour Party, associated with but independent from English Labour Parties, would allow our comrades in England to embrace their own national identity – as Welsh Labour has done in Wales – and put to an end the constant reluctance for Labour leaders in England to even acknowledge their own country.

By no means is this intended to be an exhaustive proposal for establishing a federation of Labour Parties, and the biggest factor in realising this reform is the organisation and support of the trade unions.

My intention though is to begin, much as Mick Antoniw’s series of ‘Radical Federalism’ reports do, a necessary conversation in Welsh Labour about who we are and how we best organise ourselves to ensure we can bring about democratic socialism not just here in Wales, but across the island. Indeed, Mick Antoniw himself agrees in principle.

The conversation to follow will be difficult, the detail – particularly surrounding funding – complicated, but it is necessary.

If Welsh Labour is serious about its approach to constitutional reform, we must begin by reforming ourselves.

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Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
6 months ago

I’m not a Labour supporter but if Cymru is to achieve independence the Welsh Labour Party must be seen to back it. That is slowly happening as support has grown amongst the youth of the party. Separation from the London based UK party should be the next step. Then working with Plaid Cymru on the issues that matter to the Welsh people must happen, even drawing up plans for the possibility of an independent nation. Cymru first politic second.

Mike Toozer
Mike Toozer
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve Duggan

Not just the youth of the party! I’m 65 and a life long Labour supporter and member for 30+ years. I’m also a Yes Cymru member and want nothing less than an independent Wales under a Labour government. The largely incorrect suspicion that Plaid will insist on everyone speaking Cymraeg is always going to hold back independence in the SE in particular, and will never be overcome. What an opportunity then for Labour in Wales to change its unionist stance and build a true, multi-ligual socialist Wales. Very interesting article though. Cymru am byth!

Cenedlaetholwr
Cenedlaetholwr
6 months ago

Welsh Labour should now become a totally independent, seperate entity to the UK Labour Party – England will NEVER vote for a Labour government, or any other progressive, left of centre government anytime soon – Welsh Labour has been pushed more and more (by Plaid and the Welsh Nationalist movement more generally) to embrace its distinctive Welshness, its so called “clear red water” between UK Labour and a more “Welsh” identity – I expect very many thousands of “soft” Welsh Nationalists supported Mark Drakeford this time around to have a administration of continuity as we (hopefully) exit the pandemic, and… Read more »

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
6 months ago

Interesting situation for Welsh Labour.
Just heard Diane Abbott brag about the success of “our” party in Wales.

Alwyn Evans
Alwyn Evans
6 months ago

It needs far, far more than Robert Lloyd postulates. It needs a determination to go so far with devolution that decision-making in ALL areas that matter with the exception of international relationships is decided in Wales, and for Wales. But also it needs a new vision for what Wales must become – a country that is vibrant, green, socially just and accepting, and successful on its own terms.. Labour need to abolish the dependency attitudes and straight line thinking that has largely characterised its cautious, safe, but limited manifesto and campaign. . In short -adopt Plaid’s manifesto! And if Boris… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Alwyn Evans
Ian Gwynne
Ian Gwynne
6 months ago

Members may be warming to the cause but while MPs and MSs use language like “seperatist” and claim that nobody on the doorsteps of the campaign was interested in the question, members will always be voting for people at odds with their views.

Radical Federalism is a term of appeasement and nothing more.

CJPh
CJPh
6 months ago

The growing support within Welsh Labour for the notion that Cymru should be a sovereign state is something to applaud; this is a sign we are moving closer to independence. I do fear, however, that we do not have a concurrent movement on the centre/Liberal side or a popular conservative movement for national liberation and thus risk the very notion of rhyddid i Gymru being inextricably linked to the Left (or, more narrowly, to socialism). We are far to ground down by centuries of servitude and social malaise to countenance the ‘radical’, a word Plaid insists on using, believing it… Read more »

Jon
Jon
6 months ago

How would these arguments look if Labour had won the 2017 election, as they so nearly did, and a left-wing leader in London was carrying out a socialist manifesto, while Labour in Wales was being led by a right-winger? We need some perspective on this debate.

Geraint
Geraint
6 months ago
Reply to  Jon

The idea that Carwyn Jones is anywhere near a “right-winger” is absolutely laughable. He is on the left of politics just as much as Rhodri or Mark.

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