Opinion

Why framing the union as a progressive force is pure dogma

17 Jan 2021 6 minutes Read
Union Flag

Arwyn Lloyd 

It is a great ill that befalls the Left when it frames the UK as some progressive institution; this is pure dogma.

Much of the British Left is content to occupy structures of power rather than dismantle the causes of inequality. My thinking on this has been formed in the face of unstinting loyalty to the UK by Labour members and their supporters.

The Tories represent two clear strands: Capital and Social Conservativism. Moreover, they represent a political tradition that stretches back through the centuries when the UK was forged based on class hegemony of capital and imperial expansion.

While the empire may be gone, and we are no colony, there exists a structure which has clear parallels. World Systems theory describes a core-periphery economic model that can be scaled to the centralised British State.

We need only compare the capital expenditure per head in various parts of the UK and observe the correlation with GVA and wages to recognise the economic impact. We note the Tories as champions of the UK as a single contiguous Nation-State. They instinctively reject devolution as they actively impose control from the centre. The UK is truly their baby, and they benefit significantly from its design.

 

‘Blind spot’ 

It is a genuine iniquity that the British Progressive Left possesses such a deliberate blind spot. Time and again, these structures’ occupation has led to topological changes that are easily reversed by the Tories.

We are yet to witness a genuine reform of the UK state. Home rule and reform of the Lords remain as unlikely as ever, whilst leading figures on the Left avail elitist private education.

The Blair Government shifted the Lords towards a model of political patronage. The Tories openly milk the golden cow it has created for themselves. British Progressives apply the fig leaf of their proclaimed values on an ostensibly conservative and unequal class derived UK; this is unicorn politics.

One such diffuse and woolly argument goes; “I have more in common with the working people of (insert urban English city/region name here) than I do the landowners of Wales.” How does this relate to the rights of Wales to a nation state?

It is an absurd argument which can be extended to any other country or region of the World. By way of comparison with an independent Wales, how does our inclusion in the UK help Newcastle people to a greater extent? Do our votes make the difference at Westminster, mainly as we are about to lose 20 per cent of our MP’s?

‘Solidarity’

I am a great advocate of solidarity. I just fail to see how supporting a right-wing, unfettered capitalist venture such as the UK equates to solidarity. I observe other nation states acting in solidarity with one another.

I expect to hear the Barnett formula and “the deficit” used as evidence of solidarity. But it is not our deficit. How can it be? We do not have significant borrowing powers. We do not have significant powers over taxation, and we do not set our budget.

It is the Barnett formula which decides according to England’s spending plans. We do not have a significant say in macroeconomic policy at a state level. We do not decide on large scale capital expenditure outlay (which is substantially lower in Wales than the UK average).

We have no sovereign currency. We are not allowed to issue bonds, do quantitative easing, or exercise any of the State’s normal fiscal/economic powers. And yet we are told that we run a deficit. No, we do not, a deficit is run in our name. This is not solidarity. This is control.

The UK runs a deficit on our behalf, and through a lack of capital expenditure leaves us with productivity at 70 per cent of the UK average. The attendant low average wages puts in-work families in poverty and a growing 30 per cent of children with them. If the UK has done these things, then it has failed Wales.

‘Alarm’ 

That the Tories are the UK’s greatest cheerleaders and wrap it up in an affected patriotism should sound an alarm for British progressives. But instead, they are tone-deaf to it. This is an obtuse position which has cost the Labour party dearly in Scotland. Albeit a few established figures elsewhere, such as Clive Lewis, Ben Bradshaw, Mick Antoniw appear to be waking up to the reality.

The dissolution of the UK should be seized upon as an opportunity for progressives in all the British Nations to fundamentally reform the distribution of power and end the existing structural inequalities.

If the political and economic basis for the UK is a hegemonic class power structure, its dissolution is the first step in Britain’s meaningful progressive reform.

Thus far, every proposal for federalism, including Mr Antoniw’s, has been predicated upon that prime Tory tenet – the Sovereignty of Westminster. Although bringing greater powers to Wales is welcome, it remains an easily reversible topological change.

Nothing will have been done to fundamentally change the balance of power or the economic model upon which the UK is based. The establishment of three new Nation States and a British Council, à la Benelux, rooted in the principles of democracy is our path towards social justice.

It will only be the beginning of the journey. But principles are not sufficient alone. Social justice is not possible in a Tory rigged UK no matter who occupies government positions. They merely preside over the continuation of the problem.

‘The Right’

I say that progressives must abandon the ad hominem “separatist”. It echoes the language of the Right. We Statists are the reformers, and we seek the political agency to affect social progress in our nations.

We do not seek independence based on exceptionalism but democracy and self-determination. The UK, from a progressive perspective, is not fit for purpose nor reformable. It must be dismantled, and a new relationship established between our nations founded on respect and equality which will also be to England’s advantage.

An English State loosed from the last vestiges of empire will, by necessity, reconsider its position in the World. It will also need cooperation with Europe to thrive. This will be a reckoning, and it will require cultural and societal change. An English state is the opportunity progressives must take to reform their country and rebuild it as a modern European nation. As a person of part English descent, I long to see such an outcome.

It is high time to put the dogma of the past behind us and allow the UK ‘one last hurrah’ in peacefully bequeathing to us three new nation states and a fourth reunited as it passes into history.

We will have solidarity if we build anew, together as free nations. Internationalism can be our purpose as we dismantle the Tory hegemony and rebuild our relationships with our neighbours in Europe and beyond.

It is time to dissolve the union and embrace Welsh national statehood.

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