Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader
As the British State mismanages yet another crisis, we have to shake off our political passivity that excuses British political failures and accept that these are irrefutable signs of a political system broken beyond repair. The British State has had its time – now we need and can have an independent Wales that puts people, honesty and efficiency at the heart of our politics.
Long quietly ridiculed in the corridors of Westminster, against the tragic backdrop of Covid-19, Wales’s democracy and institutions have admirably fought the virus as Westminster itself descended into bombast and bluster. The consequences of this tragic failure to lead, to provide adequate resource for our public services or simply to be honest with the public have undoubtedly contributed to Friday’s polling which showed support for Welsh independence reaching a record 33%.
For too long, supporters of Welsh independence were dismissed as fanciful, unrealistic even. We were told by unionists confident in the cult of British exceptionalism that we were too poor, too incompetent or too small to manage our own affairs or to decide our own future. With the UK, we are told, we are part of something strong, stable and reliable.
Yet the last few years – even the last few weeks – have shown us the UK is anything but that. Chastened by the Cummings scandal which showed the full extent of Westminster’s patronising double standards and with a workshy Prime Minister in retreat, the Conservatives decided to play fast and loose with people’s lives by recalling MPs to Parliament this week.
Ending the long-overdue effort for a digital Parliament for a digital age, the Conservative government sought the comfort of the crumbling Palace of Westminster and barking ranks of Tory MPs to conceal the evidence of its tragic mishandling of Covid-19. Instead, political bluster collided with Covid-19 reality as MPs shuffled for nearly an hour along crumbling corridors to vote while Bill Committees could barely work due to lack of space for social distancing.
The image is telling. Caught off-guard by an international pandemic which exposed austerity’s hollowing effect on our economy and public services and the hostility of a formerly colonised-rising power, the Brexiteer Tories retreated to the decaying Victorian Palace of Westminster to invoke the spirit of Churchill.
In the face of the EU’s collective trade strength, a rogue White House and an aggressive China, the UK looks anything but strong. This is also little evidence of a ‘stable’ UK, with Johnson becoming the first Prime Minister of England by imposing borders within the UK against the backdrop of growing calls for Irish reunification and increasing support for independence in Scotland and Wales.
And in terms of competence, we only have to consider the brutal legacy of austerity, the ongoing shambles of Brexit negotiations and Johnson’s handling of Covid-19.
The Tories have left the UK without the resources necessary for an effective state response.
Belonging to this union no longer brings benefits. The sense of common purpose is gone, broken by the ever-growing contradictions of an out-of-touch British State which has failed to modernise and has unacceptably reinterpreted being ‘British’ as increasingly isolationist, exceptionalist and Conservative.
Under the broken Westminster system, the UK has veered to the political, economic and social extremes which have left our communities fractured, our economy unequal and our international reputation tarnished. Instead of the renewal they promised during the election, the Tory majority has been used to backtrack on commitments to protect food standards, marginalise parliament in trade negotiations and build unaffordable England-only railways.
The choice for Wales is therefore clear. Do we continue to live for a future determined by a dispassionate and disconnected group who hide their own failings by asking the public to make sacrifices, or one in which we take the full honest weight of responsibility for our future?
Supporting independence is not about isolation, exclusion or apathy. In a world where politics is all too often about reaching compromises for the present, independence is the political opportunity to choose to do things differently and to forge our better future.
It is the opportunity together to rethink what, how and why we do things the way we do. Embodied in the spirit of YesCymru, independence can bring all of Wales together to build a future that better reflects our interests and values.
Small states have proven themselves to be remarkably resilient, innovative and internationally engaged. With quicker decision-making and closer proximity between the public and their government, small states such as New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and Denmark have led the Covid-19 response far ahead of their much larger neighbours.
No doubt there are challenges to independence. Yet in those challenges lie the strength of independence – we need new ideas, collective effort and participation that only comes if Wales comes together and takes ownership.
With Plaid Cymru, we continue to build the policies that begin such a transition from a peripheral backwater of the UK to an independent state in our own right: with responsible and efficient institutions, a balanced, sustainable economy and a society mobilised by a sense of fairness of purpose.
Together, we can build a better Wales. We just have to choose to act for ourselves.