Stephen Kinnock’s tin-eared attack on Welsh independence shows how out of touch he is
As the independence movement in Wales gathered pace it was inevitable that some politicians would begin to take the movement seriously and oppose it.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,” as Mahatma Gandhi said.
It seems that the independence movement has now reached the third phase of that quote.
Stephen Kinnock, Aberavon MP, has been the first out of the woodwork and he is quickly becoming the face of the anti-Welsh independence movement.
If so then the Welsh national movement is very lucky in its enemies. The son of Lord and Baroness Kinnock is MP for one of the poorest areas in western Europe but his comments suggest that he has no understanding of the discontent driving the growth in support for independence.
His own motivation is easy to understand – if Westminster goes, so does his job – but his comments are particularly tin-eared.
“The Welsh are patriotic realists who care deeply about Wales’ position on the world stage and who know being part of UK helps us to punch above our weight,” he said.
“The independence Welsh nationalists seek would diminish Wales’ stature and would have a disastrous impact on Welsh jobs and livelihoods.”
First of all, what does he mean about being patriotic? What he means, of course, is that we should be British nationalists rather than Welsh nationalists.
The aim here is to distance ‘patriotism’ from the ‘nationalism’ of the Welsh independence movement. But his comments are themselves dripping with the nationalism of British exceptionalism.
Talk of Wales’ “position of the world stage” and “punching above our weight” demonstrates this clearly.
This is the thinking of the old days of the British Empire, where seeking to be a large power on the world stage and dominating other nations was a thing to aspire to.
The truth is that Wales as an independent nation would stand as an equal partner with other nations in Europe and so wouldn’t need to “punch” anyone, but rather talk to them.
But for Kinnock, a nation’s worth is in how dominant they are and therefore being part of Britain is a great way for Wales to feel powerful by proxy.
It’s quite amazing that after all the nation-states that have left the British Empire over the past hundred years and more, having become fed up with just this kind of world view, the independence supporters are still being painted as the regressive ones!
Stephen Kinnock has also claimed that Welsh independence would have a “disastrous impact on Welsh jobs and livelihoods.”
Hasn’t he noticed that the upsurge in support for Welsh independence has come about as a result of Westminster’s attempt to drag us out of the EU without a deal – which would have a disastrous economic impact on Wales?
Warning of potentially grim economic consequences has rather less impact when we’re escaping a nation-state that is about to carry out a great act of economic self-harm.
Westminster’s problem is that it is a cosseted club of people completely removed from the rest of the nation who primarily serve the interests of England – or, in truth, a small part of England.
As the Daily Mail put it when describing how Mrs. May was pursuing Brexit: “To make her Brexit work, the prime minister of England, for that is what she is, must discipline Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland… and subordinate them to her will.”
Stephen Kinnock doesn’t understand this because he is living in an imagined world of his own making completely disconnected from the lives of his constituents and the wider public.
His argument that “Now, more than ever, our United Kingdom needs to stay united” ignores the central fact that the UK has never been more divided and wishing that it wasn’t is a classic example burying one’s head in the sand.
It is those pushing for Brexit at any cost – a group who Stephen Kinnock has made himself useful to – that have completely divided the UK into two camps, Leavers and Remainers.
Kinnock has condemned the campaign for independence for Wales as being divisive, while not recognising that Wales would be ‘dividing’ itself from an arrangement within which it has no power and no voice.
Brexit came about because of an internal struggle within the Conservative party – a party that has little representation in Wales. A struggle brought about by British – or English – nationalism in its purest undiluted form.
But even after all the damage Anglo-British nationalism has done over the past few years, Kinnock cannot acknowledge this. It is Welsh nationalism, that wants Wales as an equal partner to all nations, that is the dangerous and “divisive” one.
Stephen Kinnock’s only other argument is the schoolboy chestnut about the so-called fiscal gap of £15bn between what Wales spends and what it raises in tax within the British state.
As pointed out many times already, this is a joke as it doesn’t compare like with like when it comes to how the economy of an independent nation would work.
It is Wales’ fiscal gap as part of the union – where we have no control over our own economy and have to pay for ‘national’ projects such as HS2 and Crossrail that don’t benefit us in the least – not what it would be in an independent Wales.
In simple language, Kinnock’s argument is redundant because an Independent Wales would spend significantly less in a number of different areas.
For instance, an independent Wales would also spend a fraction of the UK’s budget on defence and nothing at all on vanity projects such as refurbishing the Houses of Parliament.
We would be free to set our own spending priorities which would be significantly different to those dictated to us by Tories in Westminster. And we could actually spend on our own infrastructure, giving ourselves a great economic boost in the process.
The second problem with Mr. Kinnock’s estimate is there is considerable debate about what the true Welsh tax base actually is because accurate figures are not currently available.
Many companies who operate in both Wales and England are often registered in England for tax purposes, meaning we do not currently have accurate data as regards what taxes are raised in Wales.
All in all, any fiscal gap in an Independent Wales would be substantially less than the estimate used in the £15bn figure. Additionally, having full control over all economic levers such as borrowing and taxation means we will finally have the economic tools we need to build the Welsh economy.
The truth is that our economy has been kept on its knees by successive UK Governments who have never prioritised our interests but instead been more interested in exploiting our resources. We literally can’t afford not to be independent.
Furthermore, it is obvious that Kinnock does not understand that the economy of an independent nation is not the same as a household. The vast majority of countries in the world run at a deficit, aside from a few oil rich middle eastern nations.
It’s worth pointing out to him that any fiscal gap in Wales is dwarfed by the fiscal gap of the UK, which stood at a whopping £167b at its highest in 2010. Which raises the question, can the UK afford to be independent?
At the end of the day, Stephen Kinnock is a politician and will say what is politically useful to himself in a given moment.
The grassroots Welsh independence movement is focused on what is best for the people of Wales.
We are taking back control – not from Brussels, but from Westminster.