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The Independence Commission’s call for multiple renerenda muddies what should be a simple yes or no issue

30 Sep 2020 4 minute read
Picture by the Independence Commission

John Ball, former lecturer in economics at Swansea University

Over the past two years, we have seen phenomenal growth in the demand for independence shown by Yes Cymru (which now has more members than some of Wales’ political parties).

We have also seen the rise of Labour for Independence, other non-political groups and two new political parties whose very existence speaks volumes.

Plaid Cymru needed to be seen to do something, and that something is the 225 page Independence Commission Report published last week. The response is a classic diversion.

When losing or avoiding a debate there is a time-honoured way to save face – the dead cat strategy: change the subject to muddy the debate and divert attention away from the real issue.

Plaid Cymru’s Independence Commission is an outstanding example, because it seems to have been designed to take the wind out of the sails of the movement.

The first part of the strategy is to deter readers and commentators. The report is 225 pages (who actually works their way through such a volume?); to obtain a full copy the party expects potential readers to either provide personal contact details and sign up to party propaganda, or fork out £9.99 for a print version.

The second part, it must be said, is genius; provide a set of unclear, confused and unworkable alternatives instigated with an incomparable approach; a referendum to decide on a referendum.

The report calls for a multi-choice exploratory referendum to gauge views and thus “have a clear understanding of the issues.” So how many choices will there be – abolish the Senedd, status quo, expanded Senedd powers, federalism, federation, independence?

This is a guaranteed way to confuse and confound, provide any number of choices and consequently, no clear result.

Then there is a further “binary” referendum with two questions; the status quo versus the outcome (if such a thing is possible) of the exploratory referendum – what happens if that outcome is (say) the status quo or further powers?

Hidden aware in the report is also the suggestion of yet another referendum, this time on whether to keep the Queen as head of state. Another excellent way to start an irrelevant (and potentially both heated an divisive) debate which of course further helps to confuse the real debate on our national future.


Save face

To continue the confusion, before the exploratory referendum there would be the establishment of a ‘Statutory National Commission’ supported by citizens assemblies which would “test the views” and draw up a written constitution.

The phraseology here is interesting. The commission will apparently “ensure maximum awareness, participation and involvement.”

Presumably, that’s not possible in an upfront, yes or no independence debate as they have successfully had in Scotland without any of these additional obstacles?

With all these artificial barriers constructed between Wales and independence – all opportunities to choose some watered down alternative – one gets the uneasy feeling that the party is not bursting with optimism about the prospect of full autonomy.

The feebleness of the party’s approach to independence is clearly illustrated with its notion that a “cold turkey” break with the UK would be “difficult financially.”

Really? The party really needs to look at research and evidence showing that this would simply not be the case.

In interviews following the release of the report, the leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price said that “we are already on a journey to independence.”

But one can only conclude that this is a party that wants the votes of those who unambiguously do support independence but whose own support for the cause is uncertain and insincere.

With a reactionary, inept Westminster government ignoring international law, bullying the rest of Europe and stealing what little national democracy we have, there has never been a more propitious time for undiluted commitment to national freedom.

Those seeking leadership during these exhilarating and challenging times, must look elsewhere. It will not come from Plaid Cymru.

There is a case for a referendum – just one. Independence, yes or no.

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