Welsh Labour must choose between independence or perpetual winter under a Tory government

The White Witch of Narnia

Ioan Talfryn

In C. S. Lewis’ The Lion of the Witch and the Wardrobe four siblings come across a magical world that has been plunged into an eternal winter.

This dead, stagnant world was meant as a Christian allegory but as a metaphor, it’s also quite apt as Labour survey the artic political landscape following their worst electoral results since 1935.

The first step towards releasing themselves from this icy prison, in the minds of many Labour supporters, is to find a new leader to replace Jeremy Corbyn.

The competition has already begun with Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey the two early contenders for Labour’s own Aslan-like saviour.

An early feature of this race has been that words such as ‘the country’ and ‘patriotism’ (and Labour’s need to embrace it) have been uncritically banded around.

This is understandable because key to Labour’s ability to bring back their own glorious political summer is solving the thorny question of national identity.

However, when the prospective English-only candidates for the Labour leadership talk about country and patriotism in such an ill-defined way, one can’t help but feel that they mean England.

This is a problem for Labour because key to their difficulties is that Britain / UK is not a single patria, a country or a nation, but an amalgam of four nations which are very quickly going their own way.

When asked to designate their nationality in the 2011 census the majority of individuals in the mainland UK chose English, Scottish or Welsh solely as opposed to just British or British and English, Scottish and Welsh – 60%, 62%, 58% respectively.

The ‘Welsh only’ percentage leaps to 65% amongst under 17-year-olds, suggesting that this tendency to identify with one’s nation rather than Britain is increasing not decreasing.

A look at the election results demonstrates that Labour’s problems are starkly different in each of the nations of the UK.

 

Conservative vote Labour vote
England 47.2% 34.0%
Wales 36.1% 40.9%
Scotland 25.1% 18.6%

Of the four nations that make up the UK, Labour’s only remaining political bastion is Wales. Here, despite shrinking support for Labour, the party still won a majority of seats; 22 out of 40, with Plaid Cymru winning four and the Conservatives on 14.

For visual confirmation of the political differences between England and the rest of the UK just look at the colours on the constituency map of Wales produced following the election results:

Wales constituency hex map by Open Data Institute Leeds

If this pattern had been reflected in England Labour would have won 293 seats, the Conservatives 187 and ‘others’ 53.

Unfortunately for Labour of course Wales’ MPs only make up 6% of the UK’s total.

And in Scotland the Labour party is dead as a political force, down to one MP. Because of this, the country’s 59 constituencies will not be able to deliver the large numbers of Labour MPs which tended in the past to bail out Labour in England.

This means that the only route to a Labour government is for England to vote Labour. If England doesn’t vote Labour, then Wales does not get a Labour government at Westminster.

And it seems likely that Johnson may push for constituency changes which further damage Labour’s chances there.

What Labour in Wales now needs to get to grips with is that it is highly unlikely that England, by itself, will vote in a majority Labour government in the foreseeable future – if ever.

 

Perpetual

As a result, it is beginning to dawn on some Labour members in both Scotland and Wales that the only way for the Scots and the Welsh to have a government which reflects their political leanings as separate peoples is to opt for independence.

Nationalism in Wales and Scotland does not have the right-wing connotations it has in England (e.g. no one with any grasp of reality could accuse Adam Price or Leanne Wood, his predecessor, of being right-wing). In fact, Welsh and Scottish nationalism defines itself in opposition to right-wing British nationalism.

This reality is a very sad state of affairs if you happen to be a left-leaning English voter, but the Welsh and the Scots should not be treated as cannon fodder in England’s continuing class war. Had the Labour party forcefully embraced the concept of a federal UK (as put forward by figures such as Lords Hain and Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister) then I suspect that many of those who advocate independence for Scotland and Wales would have been happy with that.

But following the big Conservative victory at this election that’s never likely to be on offer. Indeed, there are signs that the Conservatives may try to undermine even the current level of devolution, bringing those nations even further under the control of a government they did not vote for.

So the choice for Labour supporters in Scotland and Wales is quite stark.  Vote for the current unionist Labour Party in the slight hope that once in a blue moon it will win enough seats in England to enable it to form a minority government supported by the SNP and ‘others’ (i.e. Plaid, Lib Dems, Greens).

Or embrace independence (as Labour supporters) and have left of centre governments in Scotland and Wales able to deliver policies which fit much closer to the aspirations of its peoples than will be possible under the likely scenario of perpetual Anglo-centric Conservative governments based in Westminster.

If Scottish and Welsh Labour continue to stick to the unionist line they should at least be honest about the consequences of that choice for their supporters in these two countries.

It’ll be like choosing to live in Narnia under the White Witch – always winter but never Christmas.

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Arwyn Lloyd
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If Labour’s Welsh membership are to be persuaded we need to stop calling the desire for a Welsh State “Nationalism.” It is a desire for Democracy. The analysis must be clear. That is that in the 100 year history of the modern UK state, coincident with Labour domination of the Welsh political landscape has yielded more often than not, a Conservative government and a Welsh economy in decline relative to the r.o.UK and Europe. This has not delivered the solidarity/equality (see GINI) to which Labour aspires. Neither has it been conservative with regard to our communities, society and culture. Why… Read more »

John
Guest
John

As I see it, the big problem of the last few years was that bizarrely, Labour supported the twin right wing policies of Brexit and British Nationalism in the belief that they would deliver votes. Instead, voters flocked to the real thing instead.

Arwyn Lloyd
Guest

There’s some truth in that. Their leadership was certainly dysfunctional and in their division failed to present a coherent offering to the public.

In terms of governance I’ll never understand Labour’s conflation of solidarity with support for the UK state. It might be a comfort blanket but it’s unreal. We can stand shoulder to shoulder with England etc. Doesn’t automatically mean that we’re best governed from Westminster and usually by the Conservatives. I thought Labour was a party of reform not a Conservative movement.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I think the answer to the very pertinent point which you raise in your second paragraph is that Labour’s still locked into the traditional socialist worldview of international class solidarity which prompts them instinctively to oppose national movements within established nation states in the developed world. You could argue that, historically, Wales’s relationship with England isn’t too different from that of many colonies in the old Empire whose independence Labour enthusiastically championed in the middle of the last century. But because Wales finally became an English colony in the 13th rather than in the 19th century that’s simply not been… Read more »

John Young
Guest
John Young

Talking of British Nationalism, it’s interesting to note that since the GE, of the 7,500 people who have joined the Tory party 5000 are members of Britain First, an openly anti-Islam group. And, coincidentally you might say, within days of his GE success Boris dropped the promised inquiry into islamophobia in the Conservative party. This after hammering Jeremy Corbyn and Labour over their lack of progress in addressing anti-semitism within Labour during the GE campaign. Aren’t we extremely lucky in Wales to have such a person deciding on Wales’ future for the next five years, or very likely the next… Read more »

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

And ‘Tommy Robinson’ has also announced that he’s joined the Conservative party. Given the esteem in which they hold him, doubtless quite a number of his erstwhile colleagues in the EDL will follow his example.

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

That should prompt Welsh Conservatives to reconsider seriously their relationship with the English/UK Tory party who are becoming loaded up with AngloBrit supremacist types, many of an oppressive nature. Right now I don’t think they are inclined to rethink where they stand on such matters as they are upbeat about the 2019 GE/Brexit outcomes. The 2021 Cynulliad elections might make them rethink, or of course swing the other way and endorse further dilutions of that institution’s powers.

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

If they happened to do untypically well in 2021, you can bet that any thought of calling a referendum on the future of the Senedd would be quietly dropped!

John Young
Guest
John Young

Great post.

jr humphrys
Guest
jr humphrys

Good post. I noticed that Scottish frontbench Labour member, Monica Lennon, is calling for Scottish Labour to fully back Independence in order to avoid oblivion. Welsh Labour take note? Though I don’t
know if “the UK is changing”, rather than crumbling. Johnson may well try to spend his way out of the
coming political crisis, but I can’t see him getting continuous credit with his dodgy market situation?

A Prophecy is buried in Eglwyseg
Guest
A Prophecy is buried in Eglwyseg

It is not Plaid Cymru Afon Gwy’s waters have trickled name of. The Valleys fall to a new belief.

A Russian uprising comes; the endless forest hides them from sky machines. Serbia changes. China imitates Cecil Rhodes. France holds back a darkness.

Cymraeg must survive what comes. All other roads vanish Wales.

jr humphys
Guest
jr humphys

Hope France holds.

Petroc ap Seisyllt
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Petroc ap Seisyllt

It can only get even more Tory dominated over the next few years as the boundary commissioners changes need to be implemented and will cut welsh influence and also reduce seats in “labour areas” of both Wales and England at the same time.
The swings needed for a labour majority government in EnglandandWales are now enormous.
The demographics projections for Wales show no growth, but a continued exchange of population , wheras England will continue its steady growth of 2 to 3 million people per decade. Wales is being swallowed whole.

Jonathan Edwards
Guest
Jonathan Edwards

In trying to unlock the Welsh mindset, especially the Welsh Labour mindset, I’d point out 2 things. Labour might be trying to fight in England’s continuing class war. But it seems to this observer that Labour have in fact gone off on another track, the “woke” versus the rest. Most of Wales does not buy “woke” as it does not reflect real life as most of us see it. See also Plaid. “Nationalism in Wales and Scotland does not have the right-wing connotations it has in England”. This does not sound right. Welsh Labour does hiss “nationalist” as an all-purpose… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Guest
Leigh Richards

There’d never be a right wing govt in an independent Wales – welsh labour members and supporters what are you waiting for? Get involved in the burgeoning Welsh Indy movement

Steve Duggan
Guest
Steve Duggan

Basically we are now living in a one party state, there is very little chance of a Labour government for the foreseeable future, the only way Cymru can avoid this Tory hell is by going it’s own way – we all know that. I do believe Mark Drakeford has some independence leanings, I’m no Labour supporter but their backing is needed. No Dominion status but fully independence before the Tories trash our country any further- and they will.

Jonathan Edwards
Guest
Jonathan Edwards

Please just study the history and law of Indy. You won’t get Indy – in the true legal actual sense of International Recognition – unless you have got Dominion Status first. Look at Ireland, most countries in the Commonwealth. Why do you say Wales can buck history? Dominion Status – see Wiki – gets us over the Catalunya problem

Steve Duggan
Guest
Steve Duggan

The biggest stumbling block to your ‘Dominion’ dream is – the Tories will never allow it. Also unlike Catolonia, Wales is now fully ratified as a country, Catolonia is not. Secondly there have been many occasions where countries have gone independent without first being a Dominion – Rhodesia in 1965 and of cause the 13 colonies of North America in 1776 both declaring ‘Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI)’ and regarding themselves as independent sovereign states. If we wait for any UK government to grant us Dominion status we’ll never, ever gain independence. Please let’s not waste time, our people are… Read more »

Jonathan Edwards
Guest
Jonathan Edwards

Such a muddle. Look closer at the history. And the Law of Nations. To be a candidate for the UN (ie to be recognised as a State) you have to control/rule your own country. Law, see? Wales is in law a creation of England. Dominion Status gives you control, well, 90% of control. In Law. So Wales with DS can say to the other states “We now wish to cross the 10% gap” and be recognised. In Law. But people need to understand that getting DS and then 100% legal statehood is very very hard and takes assertion and guts… Read more »

Jonathan Gammond
Guest
Jonathan Gammond

The First Past the Post system gives the impression that voters in England, Scotland and Wales (and across the different regions of the three nations) have very different beliefs and values; however once you look at the vote shares then you soon realize that there are a lot more similarities of outlook than differences. However, it is often the case that as the differences become fewer so there is a need on the part of some people to emphasize them. The 2011 census didn’t allow people to choose more than one identity; however, increasing numbers of people have multiple layered… Read more »

Clive Bradley
Guest
Clive Bradley

That map looks wrong to me. The Lib Dems were defeated by the Torys in Brecon and Radnor – but it’s shown as all red around there?

jr humphrys
Guest
jr humphrys

It shows Bre in blue.

William watkins
Guest
William watkins

Danny Dorling Oxford Professor of geography has found that the influx of retired English people into Wales tilted the balance off voting for remain to that for Brexit. If that analysis is correct would that influx from England stop the Welsh people gaining control of their own country. I think this point has to be taken seriously by those who like myself want Wales to break the Westminster stranglehold of Welsh life and culture.

Arwyn Lloyd
Guest

I wouldn’t presume that every English person would vote against the formation of a Welsh State. I feel wary of the trend in indy circles to paint the English in Wales as a great negative (I once shared this opinion btw). There was once a big migration from England to the Valleys yet this is now the region that most identifies as Welsh nowadays. There are challenges no doubt but we’ll build Wales together or not at all IMHO.

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

As a Mancunian by birth and upbringing living in Wales, I’d agree with your opening assertion. I first moved into Wales in the mid-1960s as a student. Back then I’d have called myself a unionist, though for sure not a very considered one; indeed, though I was never a party member (and as you didn’t get the vote until you were 21 back then it had no practical impact!) I tended towards the Tories. The Conservative party in the era of Macmillan and Home was then a rather different beast from what it has subsequently become. After I graduated I… Read more »

Arwyn Lloyd
Guest

Thank you for your excellent reply John. It certainly shows the need for all of us in Wales to talk and see each others perspectives. I suspect we all have at least one thing in common. We would all want to see the governance of Wales improve and consequently a better economy and standard of living. That being the ends we need to come to agreement on the means by which we will achieve this.

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

Agree entirely.

jr humphrys
Guest
jr humphrys

There is “English Welsh for Indy”, who are trying hard for Cymru. Any English person interested should get in touch with them on Facebook or just through the net. I would personally join Plaid, where you would be welcome, but everyone needs their comfort zone.

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest
Dafydd ap Gwilym

Good article, but yet another that is a waste of time and effort! It is a pointless topic for discussion, only if you want to dwell in Neverland for ever. It just keeps doing the rounds attracting the same comments and achieves nothing (that’s why it keeps doing the rounds!). As you say Welsh Labour is a UNIONIST PARTY and therefore will only pay homage, be loyal and give service to the English monarch and Westminster and never wholeheartedly Cymru. That is how their politicians end up in the house of whores. I only wish more time was devoted to… Read more »

Bev
Guest
Bev

Those horrible far right English nationalists while we welsh nats are all cuddly and cute…..remind me who burned down whose houses?

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

Except that firing tai ail was always a minority sport.