Kinnock’s attack on the Welsh independence campaign shows exactly why it’s needed

Stephen Kinnock MP. Picture by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

Stephen Kinnock, the MP for Aberavon, has penned an article for the Western Mail today addressing the growing calls for independence in Wales.

The article doesn’t seem to be online, so here is a screenshot if you’re happy to squint your eyes at it:

YesCymru will welcome articles such as Stephen Kinnock’s because they confirm that support for Welsh independence is growing.

By joining the conversation, MPs such as Kinnock accord the Welsh national movement credibility. He will know this, and will have considered the danger of not addressing the movement as greater than giving it the oxygen of publicity.

The next independence march, in Merthyr Tydfil on 7 September, might be hitting (quite literally) too close to home.

It’s worth noting however that while Stephen Kinnock’s article has been motivated by the rise of support for Welsh independence, it makes no attempt to really engage with any of the arguments put forward by YesCymru.

The first half of it is very much a colour-by-numbers, prefab article responding to any kind of call for autonomy from Westminster.

It could well have been copied and pasted from an article about Scottish independence, or indeed an article warning any of the 63 nations that have declared independence from Westminster since the 18th century.

In fact, the article makes this even starker by first of all attacking Scottish independence, before making the same arguments (again) about Welsh independence.

So let’s have a look at some of the arguments in the article and what they amount to.

Status quo

The first is that Welsh nationalism is a “divisive and dangerous ideology”, which is “regressive and isolationist” in contrast to a British “progressive patriotism”.

So, what’s the difference between patriotism and nationalism?

As one of the foremost academics writing about nationalism, Michael Billig, notes in his study ‘Banal Nationalism’, the reality is that ‘patriotism’ is really just a nicer word for ‘nationalism’ that people turn to when they want to differentiate their own feelings for their nation-state from that of others.

Some will argue that patriotism means ‘loving your country’ while nationalism means ‘thinking your country is better than others’.

But that’s bunkum, really – they both mean the same thing, which is that you have an opinion on the geography/institutions/culture of your nation.

If you prefer the status quo of the United Kingdom to one where Scotland is an independent country, then you are a nationalist.

If you believe the UK is better run by Westminster than, say, the French Assembly, you are a nationalist.

Supporting the status quo of things as they are in Britain today, where Westminster is the sovereign parliament, makes you a British nationalist.

So what Kinnock is really arguing for in his article is British nationalism – i.e. the belief that Britain should be the sovereign nation, rather than Wales or Scotland. The use of the word ‘patriotism’ is just smoke and mirrors. So, if nationalism is inherently “divisive and dangerous” then British nationalism is too.

And it can be, of course, in the wrong hands. Any nationalism can be a tool for divisiveness and even xenophobia. We’ve seen that in Europe and the United States.

But nationalism is not inherently bad, any more than any change of government is bad. Unions = good, independent nations = bad, is far too simplistic.

If a nation-state that has been governed poorly or evilly leaves a larger union and is then governed well and for the greater good of all, that cannot be a bad thing.

In contrasting a “progressive” British nationalism and “regressive” Welsh nationalism, Kinnock is recycling the arguments of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, but they hold even less water since 2016 and the age of Brexit.

No longer can British nationalism claim to be an uniquely “internationalist” ideology – especially when Plaid Cymru and the SNP wish to stay in Europe while the unionist parties are far less keen on doing so.

If Kinnock’s own EU-supporting British nationalism is “progressive” then he must allow that the SNP and Plaid Cymru’s desire to stay in the EU rather than go down the Brexit rabbit hole with Westminster is just as “progressive”.

But if Kinnock would rather Wales remain under Westminster control come what may – even if that means leaving the EU, which now seems inevitable – then his nationalism is just as “regressive” of that of the Brexit supporting government which he chides.

Picture by Ifan Morgan Jones / Llinos Dafydd. (CC BY 2.0)

Money

The second segment to Kinnock’s article is the boilerplate ‘Wales is too poor’ argument.

First, he argues that access to the UK’s market is worth too much to Wales’ economy to leave the UK.

This might be a good argument if Wales planned to become a hermit kingdom and rebuild Offa’s Dyke. As it stands, I have not heard anyone suggest that Wales should turn its back, economically or otherwise, on the rest of the UK.

The argument for or against Welsh independence is about whether Westminster should retain political control over Wales.

Wales will always be part of the British isles, geographically, linguistically, culturally and – indeed – economically. Unless we find some way of reversing the Atlantic ocean’s continental drift in an extremely localised way, that isn’t going to change.

Unlike some of the arguments for Brexit which suggest that trade deals with the USA or Japan will replace those at their front door, supports of Welsh independence seem rather most sensible in that regard.

If Wales does become independent, it’s going to have to retain close economic ties with England.

The second economic argument is that there is a £15bn gap between what Wales raises in tax and spends.

There’s no point denying that there is a deficit. But if Wales can’t afford to be independent, neither can the UK as a whole. The UK has a deficit of £100 billion a year and is in debt to the tune of £1.83 trillion.

The United States has a deficit of £440 billion and a debt of £18.96 trillion.

And a lot of what is claimed to be ‘Wales’ deficit’ – around £14 billion – is actually Wales’ share of money spent on transport, infrastructure and the military across the UK.

Money spent on things like HS2 and even the Olympic Games in 2012 – mentioned in Kinnock’s article as the pinnacle of British “progressive” patriotism – is counted as money spent on Wales.

All the cash in the world is no good for Wales if it’s not spent for the benefit of the people of that nation. What Kinnock’s argument does not address is the advantage that Wales would get from being able to run an economy and spend its money purely in Wales’ interests.

The ability to borrow to spend would allow us to invest in things like infrastructure which creates further wealth down the line which pays for the borrowing.

Vow

According to Kinnock’s own article, Westminster has not invested sufficiently in Wales in this way.

In fact, in its second half the article takes an altogether unexpected turn. It is almost as if it has been written by someone completely different (and considering that it is often political and communications advisors who often write these articles, rather then the MPs themselves, that may well be the case).

After attacking nationalists as “regressive” and “divisive”, he now concedes that they had a point all along.

“The rising tide of anti-Westminster sentiment in Wales and Scotland is understandable,” he says. “The UK Government has done far too little for Wales over the past 40 years.”

He then argues that the UK should devolve new powers, including the powers to raise tax, and reform the House of Lords and set up citizens’ assemblies to ensure that Wales has a much greater say at Westminster.

It’s worth noting that such suggestions in and of themselves, coming from a Labour MP, show the intrinsic worth of having an independence campaign.

Far from being “dangerous”, it admits that Welsh nationalists’ arguments have merit and that MPs do react to political pressure put on Westminster by groups such as YesCymru.

The problem is that the wishlist outlined in Kinnock’s article has not happened in and will not happen. Reform of the House of Lords has been on the cards for 200 years. Rather than devolve new powers, Westminster seems intent on actually clawing them back.

Rather ironically, Kinnock ends by quoting Gordon Brown during the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum campaign.

Brown was one of the authors of the ‘Vow’ – a promise to Scotland that things would change as long as they stayed in the union. The Vow was, of course, broken.

Kinnock and other Labour MPs are therefore either extremely naïve about how likely Westminster is to change, or are happy to promise a fairer settlement somewhere in the future that they will know will never come about in order to pacify Wales and Scotland.

If the latter is true, and if they’re willing to accept virtually anything Westminster throws at Wales in the name of retaining the union, are Welsh independence supporters really the “dangerous and divisive” and “regressive” nationalists?

A nationalism that keeps us in the hands of a “hard-right” government which will turn Britain into a “deregulated off-shore tax haven” – Kinnock’s words, not mine – would seem rather more dangerous to me.

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Richard PenderynKKLilian GammonJohn YoungAlwyn ap Huw Recent comment authors
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Colin Jones
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Colin Jones

Mab ei dad.

Richard Penderyn
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Richard Penderyn

His mother spoke Welsh yet only passed on English to him while he was privately educated in Denmark and elsewhere …. I wouldnt call that internationalist or multicultural ….. thats regressive and parochial

Hywel Moseley
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Hywel Moseley

Excellent reply to Kinnock’s article.

Helen Glassford
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Helen Glassford

As a Scot who’s come round to the idea of independence, I’d agree that this is an excellent reply to Kinnock.

It’s Labour’s betrayal of working people that’s led to this position. As in Scotland, stand back and watch the people realise that these career politicians like Kinnock will do and say anything to cling to power. You’ve voted for them loyally for decades, just to be ruled by the Tories.

Come onboard Wales!

Cedwyn
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Cedwyn

He is the perfect embodiment of everything that’s wrong with Welsh Labour.

Richard Penderyn
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Richard Penderyn

Mick Antoniw Am for Pontypridd is a decent Labour one … believes in more power and self rule

Chris J Priest
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Chris J Priest

Ardderchog wir!

Kathleen Mullan
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Kathleen Mullan

Now, more than ever Mr Kinnock, the UK is disunited. We in Scotland who are on the march for independence , know this. Our cousins in Ireland, who seek reunification, know this. And now, growing numbers in Wales know this. The final demise cannot come soon enough.

Richard Penderyn
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Richard Penderyn

. This is the definition of hypocrisy

The United Kingdom is a Nationalist state.

He says “Nationalism is an dangerous ideology” ….. while supporting the Nationalist ideology of the UK state

Richard Penderyn
Guest
Richard Penderyn

He didn’t post this online….. well .. his loss…

Only a few thousands people will read his article in the Western Mail ….. smaller newspapers are almost finished

Keith Parry
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Keith Parry

In 1979 Neil Kinnock fought tooth and nail against Welsh Home Rule and left Wales defenseless against eighteen years of Thatcher and Major. Many parts of Wales have never recovered from Kinnock Seniors actions. Kinockio was rewarded by the grateful English State and made an E.U. Commissioner and a Lord. His family becoming very well off in the process. Now we have Son of Kinockio telling us we must live in the English Tory state so he can carry on in his pointless well paid job in the House of Commons. WE DONT NEED THESE PARASITES FEEDING OFF THE PEOPLE… Read more »

Norm
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Norm

Dis you know people laugh at you behind your back Keith?

Lilian Gammon
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Lilian Gammon

The Tories you mean!

Richard Penderyn
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Richard Penderyn

Norm … Keith tells the truth…Kinnock tried to smear the 79 devolution campaign as akin to nazism …… now thats laughable

Tudor Rees
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Tudor Rees

The whole Westminster/Whitehall version of “Britishness” being thrust upon us with increasing vigour, with the approach of Oct 31st 2019 is phoney, and potentially damaging to those overvalue it. Until the 1707 the term “British” referred to the Brythonic areas of the British Isles, Wales, Cornwall and Cumbria and their culture. There had been some instances of Anglo Saxons or Anglo Normans claiming the title “British”, but it was not until the Acts of Union in1707 that this cultural appropriation was given legal status in English Law. Under the Westminster parliament, an English interpretation of “Britishness” was fostered in Wales… Read more »

Keith Darlington
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Keith Darlington

Mr Kinnock has all the makings of a careerist MP who would have slotted into Blair’s Centrist New Labour perfectly. Other than representing a safe Labour Welsh constituency he has shown no interest in Wales whatsoever – apart from the time when his constituents at the Port Talbot steelworks were threatened with redundancy. As far as I know, he has had nothing ever to say about Welsh culture, or offered any vision for Wales. It is also interesting to note that he still opposes a second referendum on EU membership, despite the fiasco during the last three years and the… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

Nice to see a rational comment that’s probably very near the mark. Sadly I think that Plaid is perhaps expecting to gain ground by default, which isn’t good, as it means that Plaid are being as lazy as Labour, which isn’t good for any of us.

jr humphreys
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jr humphreys

( Plaid give off, to me anyway, a sort of Deaf Adder attitude. I’m convinced that Gwlad, or even Yes Cymru (and others) would not exist if Plaid were/had been truly “inclusive”.
As for the Kinnocks……………………………..)

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

Plaid’s mistake is similar to that of Labour in that they appear to ignore the issues that concern most people on an everyday basis, such as the daily struggle to live, and in showing no real opposition to what the Tories have done. It’s not so much that they support what some, (including myself at times) refer to as ‘ishoos’, but that they appear to be doing so whilst apparently ignoring, or remaining awfully silent when it comes to the daily assault on the lives of people for whom these issues are a luxury that they’d probably be supportive of,… Read more »

Jr Humphrys
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Jr Humphrys

More “McEvoyism” is what’s required?
Plaid could let the floodgates open in their favour, if only………….

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

I got fed up a while ago with the evident reluctance of Plaid to launch a sustained “barrage” of critical analysis on the failure of Labour in Cardiff and Tories in London to even begin to address the concerns of these marginalised communities. I don’t belong to a party, never have done, but am always alert to the presence of any politicians active in the front line doing some heavy lifting with people who need help and an articulate voice. McEvoy does it in Cardiff West but elsewhere the silence is deafening. As for Kinnock, well he’s good at keeping… Read more »

KC Gordon
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KC Gordon

…but what currency would an independent Wales, or Scotland, use?

CapM
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CapM

https://iea.org.uk/solving-the-scottish-currency-conundrum/ssion

Seems like there are three realistic options immediately after independence
Euro
Currency Union with Sterling with consent
Currency Union with Sterling without consent
All three have their pros and cons (as of course has using Sterling without being independent). Only the second option requires England’s co-operation.

Norm
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Norm

rUK wont back a break away poverty region

CapM
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CapM

So you think England will rule out option two. That leaves options one and three.
Which do you think it will be?

Norm
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Norm

Wales will have have to fully submit itself to the EU and pretend its an independent nation, not going to happen anyway and you know it deep down.

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

What utter rubbish! Anyone who visits France, Germany or any other country in the EU would very quickly discover that they actually think quite a lot about their individual nations, and have no plans to subsume that. The EU wasn’t so much founded on the notion that Europe had been war torn, as that was a simple fact, but to act as an institution for mediation. There are many claims that the EU is responsible for phenomenal percentages of national laws, but none of these claims stand up to scrutiny, and it remains that the vast majority of legislation passed… Read more »

Norm
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Norm

The working classes of east wales will decide the direction of travel in wales and that is the same direction as the midlands and northern England. The division is between western welsh speakers and the rest of us.

Alwyn ap Huw
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Alwyn ap Huw

The fraternal link between the “working class” across Britain that existed from the 1920’s-1980’s has broken down irretrievably with the loss of common industries such as mining, steel production, manufacturing etc. Working class people who work in the tourist service industry in Snowdonia National Park don’t have a fraternal bond with people who work in the tourist service industry in the Lake District National Park similar to that which use to be shared by Yorkshire and Welsh Miners. That bond has gone forever and will no longer decide any direction of travel. The language divide that use to exist in… Read more »

G Jones
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G Jones

We would just not survive. The only thing we have to sell is water.

Roger
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Roger

My apologies for being so long. Taken from a study by. Patrick Jeremy, who studied at University of Wales, Newport From the excellent. walescan.com website Myth #1: Wales is too small to survive as an independent nation Myth Busted: Wales, a country of 3 million people, is not too small to survive as an independent country. It is a fact that there are over 100 other independent countries in the world that are smaller than Wales. In fact, of the top 10 wealthiest countries in terms of GDP per capita, 9 have a population of less than 5 million, and… Read more »

Roger
Guest
Roger

I notice from this that Denmark is included and is smaller than Wales. Wasn’t that where Mr Kinnocks wife was the Prime Minister.

John Young
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John Young

‘The only thing we have to sell is water’. A very strange thing to say. At the moment our water is taken with no recompense to Wales whatsoever. Also more than half of the power generated in Wales is taken into the UK National Grid with, again, no recompense to Wales. The value of both the water and power taken from Wales is enormous. But Wales does not benefit one iota. If the only thing we have to sell is water, and currently we don’t sell that because it’s just taken, where does the roughly £85 billion of Welsh GDP… Read more »

Roger
Guest
Roger

Mae Dadi yn nol. Dadi is back. He may be more concerned with losing his Parachuted easy to win seat at Aberafan for Westminster. Self interest is what guides this.

KK
Guest
KK

I can’t really take anything anyone says from the Kinnock family seriously. To wit: Neil Kinnock: Thatcher and the Tories are evil. Result: Helps mould and fashion the Labour Party as New Labour. Neil Kinnock: Scrap the House of Lords. Result: Neil Kinnock receives the title of Lord Bedwellty. Neil Kinnock: The EEC is a gravy train. Result: Neil Kinnock becomes European Commissioner. Neil Kinnock : I support Cardiff City and have done for years. Reality: Doesn’t have a clue about football. Who on earth asks whether a football has the same number of leather panels as a rugby ball?… Read more »