The Welsh independence movement’s Brexit stance risk alienating Leave voters
Before I even begin, let me say I voted Remain – though very begrudgingly.
Whilst there are systemic issues within the EU that need to be urgently dealt with, I feel that Wales benefits more from being within a radically reformed EU than out of it.
However, the general attitude towards the EU, and indeed Leave voters, taken by elements of the Welsh Nationalist movement is arguably hindering widespread support at a critical junction – one where Independence is rapidly gaining ground.
From attacking Welsh Leave voters based on broad generalisations, to Plaid’s basing an Independence campaign on EU membership, the increasing inter-linking of the Nationalist Movement to the European Union risks politically alienating large sections of the Welsh public – sections it desperately needs to win over to achieve any sort of hegemony.
It could be argued that there is an increasingly awkward silence within the movement regarding those who believe in both Brexit and Independence.
To outwards observers, a dissatisfaction with the current political establishment, unhappiness with other countries legislating on issues within Wales, and a desire for greater domestic powers is something that binds both Nationalists and Leave voters.
This unquestioned support of the EU, or even of further integration by some Welsh Nationalists, whilst also arguing the UK is so incapable of reform we need an immediate exit, is increasingly problematic.
Even within Plaid, there are those who remember the party as opposed to the EU. In 1975, Plaid Cymru had actually campaigned against the European Community, arguing that EU regional aid policies were designed to ‘reconcile places like Wales to their subordinate position’.
And even with the EU now, Ashcroft polling indicates a ‘significant’ number of Plaid members voted to Leave in the 2016 Referendum, challenging the idea that the party is united party in its support of the EU, and a far cry from the narrative that Welsh Brexit support was concentrated largely amongst the right-wing, the xenophobic, and the staunchly unionist.
Whilst I support both to differing degrees, it must be noted that Welsh Independence, and indeed Welsh membership of the EU are currently electorally unpopular in Wales.
Whilst Plaid celebrated its ‘historic’ win over Labour in the 2019 European Parliament election, they were still beaten by the Brexit Party – a difference of over 100,000 votes.
So whilst Plaid promotion of Independence within the EU – oddly highlighted with the implication Owain Glyndŵr was a Remainer, may win support from within the party, it is at increasing odds with the political reality of present Wales.
Whilst Plaid feel continued EU membership is in Wales’ best interest – something I also agree with, their approach risks division, even amongst supporters.
The ‘serious consideration’ of an electoral pact with the Liberal Democrats to ‘fight Brexit’ is just one divisive example regarding the EU.
Many in the most deprived areas of Wales, constituencies Plaid desperately need to win, aren’t so quick to forgive the Liberal Democrats for their propping up of Austerity.
Even for some in Plaid, an alliance with the staunch Unionism of Jo Swinson isn’t a palatable decision.
Any potential pact with the ‘Stop Brexit’ Liberal Democrats would also forever tie Plaid – however much they may disagree, with the absolute revocation of Brexit.
Similarly, Plaid’s intention to campaign on a ‘cancel Brexit’ platform in the absence of a ‘People’s Vote’ will inevitably harm any future Independence referendum.
The notion that Plaid are willing to question the results of a referendum, regardless of reasons, will inevitably come back to haunt them.
While the EU has undeniably provided for Wales where the UK has lacked, if Plaid is going to continue an Independence campaign inextricably linked to EU membership, it needs to address the serious issues prevalent within the EU – and offer comprehensive answers to them.
The strict adherence to Neo-Liberal policies – particularly austerity, the clamp-down on labour strikes, dirty deals with dictators, the financial crushing of small nations like Greece, and the disgusting ‘Fortress Europe’ are just some examples of recent EU actions that are the antithesis of Plaid policies and values.
Similarly, John Hendy QC – a leading academic in UK labour law, argues that the EU has become ‘a disaster for the collective rights of workers’, and that ‘there appears to be little implication to protect worker’s rights’ in current EU law.
For a small nation wanting Independence within the EU, the lessons of Catalonia must not be forgotten. From Catalan MEPs banned from even entering the EU parliament, to police brutality, to the recent imprisonment of Catalan leaders – the European Commission continues to remain at best silent, and at worst actively supporting Spanish oppression.
Whilst any form of Brexit would cause a degree of harm to come to Wales, ignoring the varied reasons for a Welsh Leave vote and a Plaid drift towards revocation would cause resentment against the political establishment, and the Nationalist cause, that would last generations.
The fact is that many Independence and Brexit supporters come from similar places. Where there is an opportunity to win over Indy-curious Leave voters by applying their same logic to Welsh Independence, many would rather generalize, and tar them as uneducated, racist, right-wing, or even ridiculously as English retirees rather than address the diverse reasons Welsh people voted Leave, and how often it parallels Nationalist arguments.
Would Wales be better off in the EU? In many ways, yes.
Are Plaid shooting themselves in the foot with the basing of their Independence campaign on EU membership? Absolutely.
For the party, their advocation of the EU already limits support across predominantly Leave areas in Wales – or rather, 17 out of 22 Welsh voting areas.
If Plaid were to champion a progressive-led exit deal that would best preserve the rights and interests of people in Wales, with the promise of another referendum post-Independence, they would realistically stand a chance in the various areas across Wales that overwhelmingly voted Leave.
Even if the party, at the very least, committed their ‘Remain’ campaign to a concrete, serious and well thought out plan to radically reform the EU, they could potentially limit the vote-share for parties such as UKIP and Farage’s Brexit Party – removing the need for dubious deals.
To tie Welsh Nationalism with EU membership, Plaid Cymru – the only major political party advocating Welsh Independence, and potentially even the Welsh Nationalist Movement risk alienating large areas of Wales.
Who knows for how long?