Over the past year or two, there has been quite a debate within the Welsh independence movement about whether it should be a big tent, remaining neutral on every question other than ‘should Wales become independent?. The opposing view is that it should instead adopt detailed political positions and make clear beforehand what, precisely, an independent Wales would look like.
This second view has mainly been advocated by leftists, arguing there isn’t much point to an independent Wales that isn’t focused on social justice and equality. They also argue that an independent Wales is probably unachievable unless it can be shown to a majority of Welsh people beforehand precisely how independence will make it easier to enact policies that will significantly and assuredly improve their lives.
As a leftist myself, I tend towards the second view. I’ll also be honest here and admit that I’m probably emotionally invested in the idea of an independent Wales. I understand, however, that this isn’t the case for most Welsh people, who will require a clear demonstration that it’d be the means to achieve specific and useful ends. By happy coincidence, I do genuinely believe that the best way for Wales to achieve equality and social justice is for it to become the independent country that I’ve always wanted it to be anyway.
Also, there is a risk that well-intentioned and ostensibly non-partisan movements can be vulnerable to capture by the right. This appears to have happened in Brazil following protests that started in 2013, with catastrophic results.
I don’t think there’s any danger of Wales producing its own Bolsonaro, but as I have previously argued on this site, there have been hints of alt-right elements within the independence movement of which we should be extremely wary. The best way to nip these in the bud is to make clear that the movement opposes everything they stand for, rather than pretend they don’t exist out of some misguided desire to appear neutral.
However, as Brexit Day approaches, I’m frustrated by how casual and flippant some of the same leftists are about Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union. It stands in stark contrast with the rigorous demands they make of the Welsh independence movement.
To be clear, I sympathise with many of the leftist critiques of the EU: it is above all a capitalist club, after all, and a rather opaque one at that. I also share the leftist disdain towards some of the more vocal Remainers. Yes, their endless stupid hashtags are annoying, and we should definitely ridicule any notion that somehow cancelling Brexit would allow us to pretend that none of this ever happened. Our problems clearly pre-date 2015.
Alas, it has been very obvious since well before the EU referendum campaign even started that it was never going to be about leftist concerns. Brexit was given the opportunity in the first place because xenophobic reactionary Conservatives and UKIPers demanded it, and it is they who still dominate the movement.
For some on the left the plan appears to be to sit back and let right-wing maniacs drag us out of the EU, wrecking the UK in the process. This will then, somehow, enable the left to step in, take power, and build socialism on the rubble. It’s never explained, however, precisely how they intend to take power once the reactionaries have completed the dirty work on their behalf. History suggests that it’s in fact the right that will be further emboldened in this scenario.
This strategy (if you can even call it that) seems wildly irresponsible to me. Although Britain is already a terrible country, things really can still get a lot worse. Lots of real people are going to suffer even more than they already are because of Brexit, especially if we tumble out without any deal whatsoever.
It’s also dishonest and opportunistic. The honorable way for the left to achieve its preferred version of Brexit would’ve been for it to announce its own referendum while in power, so that the debate could be had on proper leftist terms.
This same left wouldn’t allow the independence movement to get away with this sort of vagueness. Imagine a Welsh independence campaign with a serious chance of winning but which is dominated by a bunch of horrible reactionaries: the reasonable left would – rightly – disown it. In that instance, any nationalist leftists that tried to justify persisting with the project on the basis that they plan to let the right secure independence, before somehow taking control of it from them afterwards, would – again rightly – be derided.
The left is correct to demand more than vague platitudes from the Welsh independence movement. It urgently needs to apply the same standard to its own treatment of Brexit.