Opinion

Why the indy movement is being driven by Labour not Plaid Cymru

17 May 2021 5 minutes Read
A Plaid Cymru rosette. Picture by Plaid Cymru.

Edward Greening

The dust has settled and it would seem that following Plaid Cymru’s relative failure on May 6th, an independence referendum in Wales is improbable before 2026.

Now that it hasn’t even got being junior coalition partner in government to fall back on, its responsibility to the independence movement is now to protect it from its most toxic element – its own supporters.

Plaid Cymru have utterly failed to understand what drove up to a solid third of the Welsh electorate supporting independence, which led to its abject failure to capitalise on the growth of the movement at the election.

There has always been a small bulwark of pro-independence voices, hovering around 10-15% of the vote. Plaid has long been the natural home for such elements. I view this as a top down approach. It follows the simple logic of traditional 19th and 20th Century nationalist movements; Wales should be governed by the Welsh in Wales. However, there has not been significant growth in these types of voices.

On 5th May, Comres published a Voting Intention survey for the election of the following day. Usefully, they also asked for attitudes towards Welsh independence, which was at 35% Yes. It is worth considering who those 35% are, and who did they intend to vote for?

The data is pretty damning. Many are used now to pointing out that around half of Labour supporters would vote for independence; Labour are such a behemoth in Wales that more of its voters support independence than those who vote Plaid Cymru.

In essence, the movement is being driven by Labour supporters, not the nationalist party.

Bottom up 

What does this mean in practice? Well, I see this as a bottom up approach. What do typical Labour voters want from society? Social equality, gender rights, increased workplace protections, more equitable taxation, good local services, strong education and health system and an international outlook.

Most of these have been in regression for the past ten years throughout Wales and indeed the UK. How can these be strengthened, and placed back at the heart of communities?

One answer is a Labour majority government in Westminster, but this looks as distant a prospect, and has done since 2010.

Another answer is through Welsh independence. It has surged to record levels of support, and we have witnessing the birth of a 21st Century nationalist movement.

It is also useful to look at who the 65% who would vote No to Wales becoming independent.

While the staunchly unionist Conservatives are no surprise as the largest contributor to the No vote, it is surprising to see just how many No supporters vote for Plaid Cymru.

In fact in this dataset only 65% of Plaid voters would vote Yes in a referendum, which shows that even for the most pro-independent Wales party, it remains a somewhat contentious issue.

There are also ample Labour voters there to be won over by taking the bottom-up, values driven approach. It has been shown that the growth in support for Welsh independence has come primarily from Labour supporters, who see the answer to their values being emboldened and enacted as Welsh independence.

Way forward

The way forward in the movement is for the best elements of Plaid Cymru and Labour to come together.

However, the new Wales we create should have certain values at its heart. Around 50% of the Welsh electorate will never vote for the top-down approach to independence If there was a desire for this approach it would have been enacted by now.

Wales will only achieve independence with a vision – a vision that will inspire activists, and indeed the electorate into taking a brave step into the unknown. It is a vision that Plaid in their campaign failed to offer.

This vision should be a bold new approach to statehood and statecraft, which allows the people of Wales to dream of a better life for themselves, family and friends.

There are too many Plaid supporters pushing back against this concept. It is clear that Plaid’s vision – or lack thereof – has not gained traction despite there appearing to be a favourable environment for it to do so.

I have seen countless examples of abuse aimed at Labour supporters for ‘identity politics’ – as if draping oneself in Y Ddraig Goch isn’t demonstrating an identity.

There have also been comments questioning people#s intelligence and accusations of “not really being Welsh”. Against such a backdrop of friendly online canvassing it is no surprise that Plaid Cymru stood still.

Perhaps worst of all is the notion of “independence first, politics later”. Firstly, this has not worked in the past several hundred years. The status quo has a strong advantage as people have little to lose and are understandably risk averse.

The movement must give people something to vote for, beyond a passport with a dragon on it.

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