Wales faces decades of Conservative rule – will the left-wing majority back independence?
Ifan Morgan Jones
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote an article for this site called ‘Corbyn can’t win in England – the only path to socialism is more powers for Wales’.
It was obvious then that Labour had no hope of winning the kind of middle England seats they needed to secure a governing majority. No one would have guessed that it was far worse than that – they couldn’t even win post-industrial communities like Workington.
The scale of the task facing Labour was illustrated by the result in Nuneaton. This was the kind of middle England bell-weather seat that Labour needed to win in order to gain power. The Conservatives won 60.6% (+9.0) of the vote to Labour’s 31.5%.
Closer to home, take a look at Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. This was Labour target seat 64 – the exact threshold they needed to cross to win a majority at Westminster. The Conservatives won a thumping 52.7% of the vote to Labour’s 34.3%.
If a centre-left party cannot win in parts of Wales, it’s clear that they cannot win in England. It is a resolutely conservative, centre-right country.
What yesterday’s result means is that Wales doesn’t just face five years of Conservative government but probably at least another decade. The road back for Labour is as long as it was in 1979 when the Conservatives last made such inroads across the country.
It would be another 18 years before Tony Blair won his 1997 landslide, largely by moving his party closer to the Conservatives.
Blaming it all on Brexit, as some on the left have done, is a cop-out. Divisions on the left on this issue may have added to the scale of the defeat but the Conservatives were winning in England before the word Brexit was even coined.
Wales has voted Labour for 100 years but has only had a Labour government for 34 of those. And with just 40 of 650 seats in the UK, whether Wales gets the government it voted for is largely a matter of chance.
Ultimately, England decides, and 100% of the time it chooses a government of either the centre or, usually, the right.
With boundary changes soon to reduce our number to 29 MPs we will have even less of a say.
There are positives to take from yesterday’s result, however. The main one is that despite the Conservative encroachment into Wales, over 50% voted for centre-left parties in Wales. Only 41.5% voted for the Conservatives or Brexit Party.
The question for Wales’s left, therefore, is whether they are happy to be ruled by an unrepresentative government out of loyalty to the union or if they would rather Wales have the powers to run itself as a centre-left country.
Socialists have a natural aversion to nationalism, favour internationalism and open borders. But Welsh nationalism is internationalist and defines itself in contrast to right-wing, intolerant British nationalism.
Whether the left in Wales finds it more palatable to call it independence, federalism, home rule, dominion status or whatever else, it seems obvious that increased powers for Wales is the way forward.
Labour has long described itself as Wales’ shield. Well, to survive the next 10 years, the left are going to need not just a bigger shield but a bazooka too.
Wales stands at a crossroads now. The population is at the same time moving politically towards independence and, as yesterday’s results show, towards greater political integration into England.
With a Senedd election on the horizon in 2021, and results in both Scotland and Northern Ireland suggesting they are quickly moving towards independence and reunification, the national question is likely to dominate the next year at least.
With a powerful Westminster Government determined to take back control from the devolved nations, a middle of the road approach to maintaining the devolved status quo is no longer tenable.
It’s time for the left in Wales to make a choice, between greater independence and a decade – or possibly decades – of right-wing government.