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Labour shortage: Welsh Labour’s independence problem

15 Mar 2023 4 minute read
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, image by Stefan Rousseau, PA Images

Hayden Williams

Larger, apparently secure parties can suddenly come unstuck. Scottish Labour, Ireland’s Fianna Fáil, the French Socialists, and PASOK in Greece are all examples.

Could Welsh Labour go the same way?

Game of two halves

It might sound nuts to suggest Welsh Labour could come unstuck, given the party’s importance in Welsh history, the depth of positive feeling, and the size of the support base.

And the people of Wales may well abandon other parties to vote strategically for Welsh Labour in the next general election too.

But this would only be a reflection of people’s desire to get the Tories out — not a true reflection of what Cymru wants as a nation in its own right.

Political analysts have dismissed the idea Welsh Labour could be supplanted by the independence movement in the way Scottish Labour was, but perhaps they’re overconfident on Labour’s ability to keep its loyal supporters.

No-one seems too concerned by the giant fault lines running right through the party’s centre, in any case.

The statistic that half of all Welsh Labour voters are pro-independence is well-worn by now, but when you add in the fact that Indy-Labour is essentially a splinter group waiting to happen, Welsh Labour could be in for a shakeup.

The other big factor is only half of Wales’ eligible voting population showed up to vote at the 2021 Senedd election, so what’s that missing half thinking and feeling by now?

It would be complacent of Labour to sit back and assume half of Wales’ potential voters remain apathetic, and then to further assume those people, if inspired to vote, would be bound to vote Labour thanks to Tory atrocities.

Radical change

With the financial collapse of 2008, the neoliberal spell began to fade. People have started waking up, demanding radical, structural change; so much so that in some countries (like Italy) they’re willing to back fascists to get it.

Sunak’s newly announced policy on asylum seekers is an obvious attempt to tap into the same kind of discontent through populist support, by shifting people’s dissatisfactions onto convenient scapegoats.

In a popular movement, Wales would go left rather than right. But Welsh Labour is peddling left-of-centre. They won’t deliver anything radical because they’re too often concerned with the Starmer party line.

And as one Nation Cymru reader commented, you can hardly get a cigarette paper between UK Labour and the Conservatives nowadays.

This was nowhere more apparent than at the end of last week’s Welsh Labour conference.

‘Further-devolved rule-book’

Mark Drakeford’s ‘home rule’ version of federalism has been described by one Indy-Labour supporter as “vague and misleading” because it sounds like independence but it isn’t.

Half of Labour’s support might be pro-independence, but the political party’s vision stops short at greater devolution — and Westminster is still the overarching power in that scenario.

Promises to entrench devolution depend on the entrenchment being agreed to in the UK Parliament, so promising isn’t the same as delivering, and Welsh Labour must surely know this.

It’s also taking victory for Starmer in 2025 for granted.

Like a Russian doll inside the bigger UK Labour shell, Welsh Labour has now tried exactly the same trick on the Welsh party faithful, offering ‘further devolution’ from Starmer — as if Starmer would ever be mad enough to let all those Welsh Labour votes stand apart.


On the other hand, there’s true independence. Independence could bring about the radical changes people seem to want.

The indy movement in Wales is political, of course, but grass-roots, and presently not tied to any specific political party.

As such, it represents a welcome restoration or rejoining of public interest in political life — but it needs a political party to gain any capability for realising its ambition.

If Welsh Labour doesn’t get on board with that, the party element desiring independence will just have to accept it or vote somewhere else. It could mean a Labour split after all, or it could just mean at least some people end up voting for a different party.

It won’t matter how many times Welsh Labour repeats the word “bold.” If they want to keep it together, sooner or later they’ll have to put their money where their mouth is and boldly leave both UK Labour and unionism behind.

Hayden Williams is a New Zealand based journalist, a member of Plaid Cymru, and a member of the New Zealand Labour Party.

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Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
1 year ago

It’s true, the independence movement is growing fastest amongst our young, who are feeling the affects of how the union treats Wales the most acutely. Many of these young people are members of the Labour party so it’s only a matter of time before one of them becomes leader and begins the process of changing party policy towards independence. In the near future there will be no UK whether UK Labour regains power or not. The sooner that day comes the better for all of us.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

N.C in the interest of fair play to Labour chances in the election change that far right image eh! (that is how fair I am)…

1 year ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Na, cadwch y llun, mae’n ein hatgoffa beth i’w ddisgwyl gan Lafur Starmer

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago
Reply to  Pawl

‘Reading between the lines’ (Gwrthdroadol)…it is a reminder for you and anybody else…

Malcolm Jones
Malcolm Jones
1 year ago

Nothing changes for Wales if labour or the conservatives are in charge in Westminster labour won’t look After Wales they don’t have to worry the Welsh will vote for them ANYWAY. And they will look After marginal seats in England. the conservatives won’t look after Wales because it wouldn’t matter how much they did for the Welsh people they would still vote for the labour party it’s about time the Welsh people started to see what’s going on and vote labour out of power or nothing Will change

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm Jones

Sorry Malcolm, I would wish to disagree. If the people of Cymru are to vote Labour out of power in Cymru, for whom should they vote? I have concerns about Plaid, despite being represented by the marvellous Ben Lake. If all Plaid candid ates were like him then I would say yes, lets all vote Plaid. Unfortunately, I am afraid that, from odd conversations I had have so not a proper survey, some people see Plaid as far too much of a clique and anti the English speaker. Whilst it would be lovely if we all spoke Welsh, it cannot… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

” so that the Democratic Liberal majority finally get the representation that they deserve. “
The problem is that without significant SNP and PC representation such a majority is overwhelmingly British nationalist. And it’s self interest will ensure that Scotland and Cymru are kept bound in the UK. Personally I don’t think the “Democratic Liberal majority” deserve that power.

1 year ago

Why do we need to give our votes to MP’s in Westminster? They use that power against us & in their own interest.
I’d rather vote directly online, on everything that our MPs currently vote on.
I think we are grown up enough to vote for ourselves. We have the technology. Everyone can vote from home or from the bus on their way home.
I want my vote back. I want proper democracy.
I don’t need Westminster MPs. They don’t speak for me.

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