Why it’s right for YesCymru to reach out to conservatives
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
YesCymru came in for a bit of stick recently for having the temerity to reach out to conservatives. In a tweet, they said that it was unionism not conservatism they took umbrage with.
Oh boy, did the pitchforks come out when it was suggested that you don’t have to be left wing to support independence. Things kicked off big time in the online echo chamber, forcing YesCymru to delete the tweet.
But before rushing to burn down the house, it may be prudent to pause and consider a few things.
Cast you minds back for a moment to the referendum on creating our devolved legislature. It was won by a razor-thin margin of just a few thousand votes. It is not inconceivable that a good chunk of those votes came from people of a conservative disposition.
If you could, would you go back in time, tell them to vote the other way, lose the referendum, and then give yourself a pat on the back for having prevented our national parliament from being created? If you support independence, I suspect you would not.
If you wouldn’t scupper the creation of the Senedd, why potentially scupper endowing it with full sovereign authority?
Let’s just think about the basic mathematics of a referendum for a moment. For a referendum campaign for independence to be successful, you need to win over 50 per cent of the votes cast. Uniformity of opinion on every topic under the sun, even those of real importance, across that 50 percent plus of voters is just not feasible. Bringing together people with a diverse range of opinions isn’t just desirable, it is a necessity. It is a strategic imperative, whether you like it or not.
A successful referendum campaign requires a coalition of voters. It requires creating and maintaining a broad church. One sect loudly denouncing everyone outside its ideological strictures as heretics and then trying to get them excommunicated, is not a helpful or particularly astute stratagem with regards to that endeavour. Sorry. It just isn’t.
That’s not to say that I would spend an inordinate amount of time and effort on wooing conservatives. This is not a particularly rich seam to mine. The polls show that most conservatives are staunchly unionist. Most are heavily inclined towards the status quo. The instinct for many of them is to conserve the United Kingdom despite and sometimes because of its maladies.
However, the margin between victory and defeat in an independence referendum could be a slim one. The votes of conservative-leaning voters could make the difference between continued Westminster rule and the freedom to make our own laws.
I cannot overemphasise therefore what a self-defeating position it would be to tell conservative voters that we didn’t want them to back independence. It would be to shoot yourself in the foot with a bazooka.
And the reality is that there is room in a cross-party movement like YesCymru for people from across the political spectrum.
Support for independence is compatible with conservatism. That’s a fact. It is also compatible with socialism. It is compatible with laissez-faire capitalism. It is compatible with a dirigisme economy where the state plays a far more active role in planning. It is compatible with a Scandinavian-style social democracy and a number of other forms of governance. That’s because what independence does is to give the people of Wales full control over how they wish to be governed. That’s it.
Independence would simply put all the tools in our hands we would need to build the nation we wanted. It would not come as a prefab utopia.
And whether people want conservatives to vote for independence or not, they would still be in the country after it does so, and would have a vote just like everyone else. Voting for independence wouldn’t vote conservatism out of existence.
At the same time, I think the YesCymru movement can be pretty confident that conservatives wouldn’t dominate after independence, as they do in the UK as a whole.
Let’s remember that Wales, economically at least, is a pretty left-wing country. Typically, it just doesn’t vote in Conservative governments. Just in my lifetime, it didn’t vote for Thatcher, it didn’t vote for Major, it didn’t vote for Cameron, it didn’t vote for May nor for nor that mendacious, incompetent, and deeply irresponsible clown, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.
Even when Conservatism has been at its highest ebb across the UK, in 1983 and then again in 2019, conservatism made major inroads in Wales but come nowhere near winning.
The country has been solidly Labour for around a century and it was solidly Liberal before that. It hasn’t voted Tory since most property-owning men were given the vote in the 1860s.
Put in that perspective, the fear that YesCymru telling conservatives that they could indeed vote for independence is a slippery slope to a right-wing independent Wales seems somewhat overblown.
YesCymru’s tweet does not mean that the grassroots organisation has suddenly become in favour of a Westminster-style kleptocracy with a Welsh flag on it. A cursory glace at its social media feed will attest to the fact that the group is resolutely against such an arrangement.
And let’s not forget that a number of conservative-leaning voters aren’t too keen on how Johnson and gang are running the UK at the moment, either. Whisper it quietly, but you just may have that in common with them, despite all your other profound disagreements. Awful I know.
One criticism of reaching out to conservatives I have seen is that it would be a strategic error because it would toxify the YesCymru brand with the average punter. I understand where it is coming from, and it is not something I have dismissed out of hand. However, here I would like to draw a distinction between cosying up to the Tory party itself and reaching out to conservative-leaning voters. They’re not the same thing.
Cosying up to the Tory party would be a bad idea. We saw what happened to Labour during the Scottish referendum campaign when they got too close. But it isn’t going to be an option anyway because the Tories are resolutely against independence. They will be attacking the movement with everything they have, so I don’t think we have to worry about being seen to be in their pockets.
It’s unlikely that Conservatives who are in favour of independence are unaware of the broadly left-wing nature of the country in which they live, either, but they are prepared to vote for it regardless. They are prepared to, as they see it, put their country first. They are prepared to put Wales ahead of their ideological preferences and possibly even their self-interest.
No one is telling you that you have to lavish them with praise for doing so – just refrain from telling them to bog off when they’re doing the thing you want, that’s all.
I find the whole “I don’t want people I don’t agree with to vote for the things I want to actually happen” school of politics tiresome. Telling conservatives they can indeed vote for independence if they’re inclined to do so really shouldn’t be controversial.
I know a farmer who used to be a member of the Conservatives but has since left after becoming thoroughly fed up with how the party was behaving. He is now open to the idea of independence. Should I tell him to get lost?
Telling voters who are potentially sympathetic to your cause to get lost because they don’t agree with you on absolutely everything has been a characteristic of the left in recent years. ‘Why don’t you just join the Tories?’ has been a familiar cry.
Just remind me, looking back at the most recent elections and referenda these past few years – how has it worked out for the left so far?