The Welsh independence movement’s Brexit stance risk alienating Leave voters

The March for Europe. Picture by Neil Schofield-Hughes

Joe Williams

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.

Problematic

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.

Unpalatable

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.

Violence in Catalonia during the 2017 independence vote

Neo-liberal

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.

Parallels

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?

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David Roberts
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David Roberts

About time this was said. Plaid have made themselves unelectable for decades to come, right the way across the Valleys of the south, virtually from the English border to the Irish sea. It’s too late.
In my area, Port Talbot, Plaid poll in single figures, yet the leave vote was not far off 60%…..and whilst it is a low Welsh speaking area, it will be amongst the very highest places in Wales, for people self-identifying as Welsh.
Vote Plaid, vote Unionist, Vote Remain, same thing, might as well vote Lib Dem.

John Evans
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John Evans

That makes me the one white crow. port talbot is approx 1% of wales population, I respect your right to your own opinion but you are wrong to assert this. I live in Llanharry, and know many pro remain, pro independence, pro plaid people. Don’t conflate welsh language with ‘welshness’ (no true Welshman fallacy) that’s just divisive. Tell me which party or group I vote for to gain Welsh independence? When we are free of any other nations yolk we can then decide whether or not we want to be members of the E.U.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

I’m all for ditching another nation’s yoke, but if anyone tips that eggy stuff over me I’ll get seriously angry.

Sorry John I couldn’t resist that one !

John Evans
Guest
John Evans

synchronicity – my nickname for rather boring reasons for many decades was Eggy so no prob there. can you imagine the size of the egg (obviously I’ve been too stressed with the rugby – good set up though!). Thanks Huw, my wife’s grinning at me now.

Alwyn Evans
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Alwyn Evans

I think this is a rational and well-reasoned argument, but unfortunately the author, though he acknowledges the loss to Wales of leaving the EU, does not recognise the sheer irrationality of the Leave campaign, and the strength of corrupt media agencies in supporting the dark forces of Murdoch, Banks, Rothermere and the Barclay brothers. . I would agree that there are many centripetal forces within the EU that need checking and reforming. However, there is far more congruence in a Wales, Scotland and united Ireland within Europe than a ‘United’ Kingdom dominated by one-nation English Tories intent on establishing a… Read more »

Eos Pengwern
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Eos Pengwern

The usual special pleading from the Remain camp, as if the Remain campaign hadn’t had the entire resources of the British State behind it – and lost anyway – and as if the entire resources of the same State weren’t working against the carrying out of the referendum result even as we speak. With Wales having voted Leave much more strongly than the UK as a whole, perhaps if the State ultimately succeeds in thwarting Brexit then it will spawn a new phase of the independence campaign; since if we can’t leave the EU within the UK, and the UK… Read more »

John Young
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John Young

I’d hardly call 52.53% (Wales) compared with 51.9% (UK) much more strongly Eos.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Well said ( or written) Eos. Minor point of disagreement – I don’t think Cameron tried very hard at all, it just wasn’t in his nature. He was instinctively a Remainer, saw the UK having power and influence within the EU, may have even seen a long term career move for himself in Brussels’ imperial structures. And above all, he was bloody lazy, couldn’t be bothered, so he ambled through a half hearted shuffle around EU leaders scoffing lunches and dinners. Big deal. You rightly point out that the British State is still working hard to defend the status quo… Read more »

Gareth
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Gareth

Do you think Plaid tried hard in the referendum? It’s horses for corses arguing over it now, but if you say Cameron didn’t try hard I’m curious as to what you made of Plaid’s efforts.

IMHO their attempt at campaigning in the 2016 referendum was woeful.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Plaid probably relegated itself to a “fringe player” role as there was a prevalent view that Remain would win, I seem to recall 54 – 46 being bandied about, and they left it to the bigger UK wide Unionists to do the heavy lifting for both sides of the debate. Accordingly any pronouncements were of the bland “nation must make up its mind” kind without ever thinking that a big chunk would respond in such an unpredicted way. Project Fear and other exaggerations were deployed by the Tory government but I don’t recall anyone from Plaid piping up with a… Read more »

Richard
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Richard

I agree with this but you have to remember that the referendum was called by the Tories even though nobody was asking for it. Most parties, labour included, left it to the Tories to sort out because of weakness and a lack of conviction.

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

I’d contend that most of those who voted Leave did so for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the EU. Indeed, the notion that the EU is somehow unique in human institutions in being unreformable just plays into the rhetoric of Farage and Co. I’m not surprised that the EU rebuffed those attempts at undermining worker rights etc as I can’t imagine either the French of German unions taking that lying down. Cameron went to try and negotiate further concessions for the UK, and not to reform the EU, and it was all about appeasing a minority of… Read more »

Ken Davies
Guest

This is not a time for nit-picking. Brexit will bring hardships to Wales that must be avoided at any cost. The LD blunders have to be acknowledged, but ignored for now whilst we deal with this existential threat to our very being.

Simon Gruffydd
Guest
Simon Gruffydd

“existential threat to our very being” ?? Do you have any idea how hysterical and unhinged that sounds? Did you get that phrase from the Extinction Rebellion loonies? The fact is that the majority of us don’t want to be governed by emotionally distraught people who have a loose grip on logic and rationality. This is party why we voted to leave the EU and will not be voting for Plaid Cymru ever again.

Wexit
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Wexit

You’ve hit the nail on the head with Plaid’s wilful blindness as to how their stance could blight a potential Welsh Independence Referendum down the line. With the demographics of Wales as it is, reaching 55%( the internationally recognised threshold for success) will be a huge ask as it is. But, Plaid’s Brexit position will surely embolden the thwarted 45% to refuse to accept the result and campaign against it. It’s just incredible that they haven’t realized that is exactly what will happen here in Wales if this second ‘people’ s vote’ is imposed on us. The age old principle… Read more »

Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

Well put. I believe that a large chunk of people who voted Remain still honour the democratic principle of Losers’ Consent. The result is that all the parties in Wales backing a 2nd referendum to stop Brexit will find their support base quite shrunken next election.

Steve Duggan
Guest
Steve Duggan

There is no good brexit so if we do leave it won’t be the parties pushing for a 2nd referendum who will find their support base shrunken will it. It’ll be the parties who put the country in that mess. It’s time those who desparately want to leave realised there will be big consequences. This is not going to be easy or pain free no matter what the ultras say. There is no justification for it. The EU maynot be perfect and we helped make it that way but that is no reason for a single person to lose their… Read more »

Chris
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Chris

There is a lot of real concerns in this article and it is something that needs thinking about. The truth is however, that short of not taking any opinion on Brexit Plaid would have the potential for alienating one half of the population. To take no side could have alienated both sides of the divide. I, for one, would have blamed Plaid for not defending Cymru against what I consider to be such a harmful move. That however, is true for all parties that take a line. After Brexit we may well have to re-formulate policy. It would be stupid… Read more »

Duncan Fisher
Guest

The common concern among those who want independence and those who want out of the EU is more local control over things that affect our lives – “taking back control” no less. This is not changed by the fact that the “take back control” agenda was colonised by extremely wealthy elites who were successful in selling wildly false promises and getting hoi polloi into a fight to the death with each other while they net their massive gains. If Plaid’s stated project were to work for people to have more control it would chime with the current anxieties and offer… Read more »

Richard
Guest
Richard

I agree 100% with this. You only have to look at how Ireland has benefited from membership of the EU to realise that we could do the same. The problem is that we are dominated by an English popular Press that constantly feeds anti-EU propaganda.

Joanne Davies
Guest
Joanne Davies

It has also alienated people like me who voted remain.

Democracy comes first, sod your lamb exports.

Leigh Richards
Guest
Leigh Richards

Ignorant ill informed and utopian claptrap! People in wales didn’t vote leave because the EU wasn’t a socialist paradise – they voted leave because I’m afraid they support the virulent and xenophobic British nationalism which drove the brexit campaign. As someone who campaigned in Wales during the referendum I can honestly say I didn’t meet a single leave voter who said they were voting leave because they wanted sovereignty to be with Wales and a Welsh government – they were voting leave because they wanted to restore ‘british sovereignty’ as they saw it. And needless to say that’s a British… Read more »

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Many surely voted to remove the hand of the EU on Wales, for instance the exposure to free movement, but had no choice but to look at this through ‘British’ eyes since the fate of Cymru is currently tied up with the UK. The near miss in the Scottish indy referendum, along with a less colonised mindset, gave the Scots the courage to vote to remain and to be willing to accommodate free movement without fear of further cultural decline. There is a small element of factual truth in your ‘BritNat’ argument, however – many would indeed have voted to… Read more »

Richard
Guest
Richard

Well put. Also worth pointing out that we don’t have an independent Press in Wales therefore are drip-fed anti-EU, Brit-Nat, propaganda. Contrast this with Scotland which has its own free Press.

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Cywir, Richard. I should have said ‘British media’ and not just TV. Just one new Wales-focused newspaper, with real Welsh news and not trivia, would significantly alter people’s perception of the condition of Wales and its future possibilities.

Penderyn
Guest
Penderyn

Leigh … your belief that those who support brexit is down to British nationalism does not stand up to scrutiny……as they are leave forces in Ireland and across Europe….are they all english nationalists?

Ben Angwin
Guest
Ben Angwin

Stay or leave, what comes this way to Wales are more qualms than ends. Plaid’s bet to go with the EU is good; it shows they can look at self-interest in place of collectivist trends set by those such as Corbyn.

Europe is about free-trade. It’s not Left wing.

Ivan Dinsmore
Guest
Ivan Dinsmore

Europe was NEVER about free trade. It is about stopping wars between France and Germany by binding them and any other state that wanted to join into a federal United States of Europe. The lie that the EU is about free trade has been doing the rounds since 1972 at least. Europe is neither left wing or right wing, it is about smothering all identity inside a huge superstate which sniffs out democracy.

jr humphrys
Guest
jr humphrys

A good post. But can I say the European Union is also about culture, education, and friendship.
The Catalunia question that real xenophobics in the UK shout about, demonstrates that maybe
the EU needs more centralisation, not less. The commision has no real power to intervene
in the actions of a nation state, thus proving the emptiness of the Brexiteer rhetoric.
A Europe Of The Peoples could be possible in the future European Federation.

Aled Gwyn Job
Guest
Aled Gwyn Job

Yes, this attempt to link the cause of Welsh Independence to the EU and an openly anti-Brexit stance is very worrying. As a YES Cymru member and supporter, I do have some concerns about the leadership of the movement going in this direction. That would be a very bad tactical mistake at a time when the independence cause is starting to pick up steam. Please stop this drift right now. Brexit is a toxic stew that needs to play itself out. Let the politicians cannibalise each other as part of the stew. YES Cymru have got to remain above the… Read more »

Simon Gruffydd
Guest
Simon Gruffydd

“Having clean hands” … like Pontius Pilate as Democracy is being crucified? That may come back to haunt you too.

Richard
Guest
Richard

The article starts well but then degrades into rhetoric. For example, “…the crushing of small nations like Greece…” Greece is not a small nation and support for the EU in Greece has never been higher. The same for Spain, Portugal and Italy. Are they stupid or do you get your news from the Daily Mail?

Mcollins
Guest
Mcollins

Very good article and glad to see there is plenty of other voices who see the pro-remain stance within the independence movement as a problem.

For me, many of the leave voting areas in Wales are the exact areas that would vote for independence. Ignoring their democratic vote and casting them as being ignorant, racist thickos will not help at all.

CapM
Guest
CapM

I don’t think it’s Plaid Cymru’s stance regarding Brexit that will be the main factor in any assumed lowering of support for independence. It would be the ever present anti independence narrative of the Anglocentric British nationalist state and it’s political, establishment and media backers and I can’t think why this narrative would not be pushed all the harder post Brexit. Given the adverse effects that Brexit will cause in Cymru I think that Welsh independence will be better advanced with an electorate recollecting that Plaid Cymru actively opposed those that brought on these effects rather than being told by… Read more »

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

It’s a tough one, and it’s impossible to say at the moment whether there will be a ‘vote dividend’ for Plaid Cymru once the effects of Brexit kick in. The arguments for and against such an outcome seem equally valid. You could be right, though, and Leavers may well end up saying “If only we’d listened to Plaid Cymru”. Whether this results in more Senedd seats for Plaid, we can’t yet predict, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t lead to a growth in support for independence. Neil McEvoy’s current proposal for a vote on whether an independence referendum… Read more »

Aled Gwyn Job
Guest
Aled Gwyn Job

Simon, I’m instinctively with you on this crucial question of democracy. An individual’s vote is quite often the only means of any measure of power that person has in his or her life. Quite an important consideration bearing in mind what an unequal and unfair society we have in the UK today. Furthermore, such individuals should expect the result of their voting decision to be respected by politicians when they have made such a historic move to transfer a key policy decision to the hands of the public by means of a referendum. It’s absolutely criminal that the metropolitan remain… Read more »