Mark Drakeford’s interview with Nick Robinson on BBC Radio 4 yesterday was very revealing of the First Minister’s views on whether independence for Wales would be worthwhile in order to avoid Conservative UK Governments.
It could not have been clearer what he was being asked: “Have you never thought, over the years, the decades since, been tempted to think maybe we have a real chance of achieving the socialism we want in Wales by being nationalist?”
Unfortunately, the question gave him the chance to wriggle out of this obvious dilemma by using the word “nationalist” rather than the more realistic words by “becoming independent”.
This allowed the First Minister to avoid a straight answer and say instead that Welsh nationalism is an “inherently right-wing creed” and that people must choose between it and socialism.
Some have subsequently tried to defend the First Minister by arguing that he was talking about other national movements, not the Welsh independence movement.
But within the wider context of the discussion – the First Minister’s background growing up in Carmarthenshire in the 60s – it’s clear what he meant. He presented nationalism and socialism as binary, incompatible choices.
“It meant that I had to face very early on really the choice between whether you were a nationalist or you were a socialist,” he said. “And by the time I was about 14 I had already decided that I was a socialist.”
Of course, Mark Drakeford knows perfectly well that there are socialist national movements. He spends his working life looking across the Siambr at a socialist national party, Plaid Cymru.
Socialist national movements aren’t about blood and soil but about ensuring that power resides at the right levels of government in order to reach the goal of a socialist state.
The UK isn’t a socialist state by any stretch of the imagination. Despite Wales voting Labour for 100 years, it is usually run by a party, the Conservatives, that is fundamentally at odds with Drakeford’s view of government’s role in society.
And devolution has barely budged the dial in terms of giving Wales the economic levers it needs in order to solve society’s problems. In the UK’s hyper-centralised state, Wales repeatedly votes for socialism and gets neo-liberalism.
As a result I find it very hard to get my head around that Drakeford really believes what he is saying about nationalism being a “right-wing creed”. Surely, he just said it either to impress the wider-UK audience who may be listening on, or is simply rejecting the ‘nationalist’ label so that he can use it as a stick to bash Plaid Cymru?
He will know that his comments make no sense at all as there are as many forms of nationalism as there are nations. By his logic, those who led independence campaigns against the British Empire, such as Mahatma Gandhi were “inherently right-wing”.
Ultimately there are two types of nationalism – those of countries who want to control other nations, and national movements who want to free themselves from control by another nation. Welsh nationalism fits into the latter category, the Unionist nationalism that Drakeford and Labour as a whole is so keen to pretend doesn’t exist too often veers into the first category.
Mark Drakeford says that he wants “Wales to be part of the wider collective” of the United Kingdom “in which we pool our resources and we redistribute them out to where the need is greatest”.
What country has Mark Drakeford been living in these past 65 years? The UK certainly does pool resources, but that pool has a very deep end in London and the south-east and a very shallow one in Wales, Scotland and the north of England.
Just during the last few months, we have seen a UK Government dominated by English public schoolboys gazump Drakeford’s own Welsh Government’s coronavirus tests.
There’s only one nationalist movement with a “right-wing creed” in British politics and that’s the one that has captured the UK Government on the promise of “taking back control” and cutting our ties with the continent.
And it’s the one that Mark Drakeford argues we must keep ourselves shackled to at all costs.