Why negative comparisons between the independence movements in Wales and Scotland don’t add up
John Ball, former lecturer in economics at Swansea University
This an exciting time in the history of Wales; the growth of support for independence is unprecedented, the debate exhilarating and the challenge exciting.
But there will always be naysayers, sadly supported by some just one step away purporting to be supporters of independence. They in reality defeatists, having already given up.
One such is Peter Jones; in his response to my recent article, he suggests the way forward is a “gradualist approach to self-government,” presenting a long list of reasons why an independence referendum would fail whilst contemporaneously ignoring the lessons of history. His arguments do not stand up to scrutiny and clearly require a positive response.
In his article he negatively compares the prospects for independence in Wales with Scotland:
“Those seeking independence for Wales are starting from a far lower base than their counterparts in Scotland. That country has a history of genuine statehood and has never lost its own distinct legal system. It was never conquered or merged with England, it joined the union as a separate and equal kingdom. This century has seen the emergence of a completely distinct Scottish politics. Wales has so much further to go just to get close to where Scotland is now.”
But here in Wales, support for independence currently stands at 32%. Not only is this the highest ever recorded but is in excess of that in Scotland at the outset of the 2014 referendum.
As the debate intensified, the Scottish people increasingly understood and accepted the positive arguments for independence: while we have never had such a debate nor has the question ever been put.
One of the unexpected consequences of the Scottish referendum is that the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament were thrown into sharp focus. Unlike here in Wales (where confusion still abounds) the Scottish people now know where duties and power resides.
The comparison with Scotland therefore, rather than being interpreted negatively, provides real grounds for optimism. Wales has come further without having anything close to the same national debate as in Scotland.
In Scotland, there is indeed a “long history of statehood” as Peter says. But although many of the accepted trappings of state do not currently exist here, our national spirit will provide the makings of a modern, caring and outward-looking state.
We only have to look to Europe where many of the small and most successful European states that emerged from the Soviet Union just twenty years ago similarly lacked a “history of statehood”. Has that stopped them?
Jones points to two other supposed problems. The first is the high number of those who have moved to Wales. However, the argument that they would somehow en masse vote No does not stand up. The case for a small, independent state better equipped to provide an outstanding quality of life and a caring regime, can be as appealing to them as those born in Wales.
He points to the border areas as being unlikely to be supportive – he will be glad to know that the greatest growth in membership and activity by Yes Cymru is in the “border areas,” notably Gwent and Newport.
If there was a case for a gradual approach to independence, history provides a stark warning. The first Home Rule bill was in 1886, which coincided with the establishment of Cymry Fydd committed to home rule, then a further bill in 1893 and in 1918 the labour manifesto promised “home rule all round”.
Labour quietly dropped the idea, despite the efforts of the late S O Davies and his 1955 Home Rule bill. In 1964 the Welsh Office came about and in 1997 the Assembly with very limited – and grudgingly given – powers.
So, since Gladstone’s first recognition of a potential Welsh state to date has taken almost a century and a half; we can’t wait another 150 years.
For the people of Wales, the choice remains – a new, dynamic and exciting future or remaining part of a failed state governed by an increasingly out of touch and paranoid elite.