Opinion

Why the Welsh independence movement needs Labour supporters to win

07 Sep 2021 5 minutes Read
Labour’s Nye Bevan looks down at passing marchers in Cardiff. Picture by Lluniau Lleucu / Yes Cymru

Harriet Protheroe-Soltani

I am a member of the Labour Party and I support independence. Yes, you read that right. But, you shouldn’t be shocked.

There are many members of the Welsh Labour Party who support independence.

In August 2020, Yougov found that 39% of Labour voters would vote for independence if there was a referendum tomorrow. According to The Welsh Governance Centre, in the last election over 40% of Labour voters supported independence.

Facts are facts – many Labour voters increasingly support Welsh independence.

I spent years arguing with friends within the Labour Party about independence. At times I felt like a lone voice. I lost friendships. I’ll be honest – it’s a difficult discussion to have in the Labour Party. The age-old adage of “class before nation” is ingrained in many Labour Party voters, and as a result, means any conversation around independence gets shut down quite quickly.

There are many reasons why I think the discussion is more nuanced than “class before nation”, but that’s a whole other article! Yet, since the pandemic, I have seen people in the Labour Party start to (slowly) shift their opinions. I mean, who wouldn’t?

Given that The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, publicly stated that he had received virtually no contact with the UK government at the start of the pandemic. Given that Westminster outbid the Welsh government for PPE during the start of the pandemic. Given that Westminster refused to agree with the Welsh government request to extend the furlough scheme.

Given that the Swansea Tidal Lagoon project was cancelled by the Westminster Government. Given the internal markets bill has actively undermined the authority of devolved Governments.

Given all of this, I’m not surprised people are starting to question the usefulness of union.

I think this shift in opinion is very important. It’s important to recognise that to win any independence referendum we will need to win over 51%+ of the population, and that includes Labour voters.

Allowed to change my mind

I’m from Merthyr Tydfil, and I moved to study in Scotland/ Edinburgh in 2012. I stayed until 2016, so I experienced the Scottish referendum first hand.

In the beginning, I didn’t know if I supported Scottish independence. To be frank, I was scared of what it would mean for Wales. Not an unreasonable thing to worry about.

In hindsight, I was wrong to worry about this. It took me some time, but I began to realise that anything that can rupture the elitist institutions of the British state was a good thing.

What’s important is that friends in Scotland allowed me to take this journey towards independence. I was allowed to change my mind, and I was welcomed when I did.

If I had experienced people calling me a “Labourite Unionist”, then I probably wouldn’t have changed my mind. I would have felt too uncomfortable to enter into a movement that I thought hated me. I probably would have dug my heels in. Which would have got the movement nowhere.

In the end, I campaigned nearly every day during the referendum for Scottish independence. In the last couple of weeks, in the short campaign, I knocked doors 24/7. At the time I hadn’t found a house for the next semester, so I was sleeping on my friend’s sofa. I woke up at 8am every morning and joined a door-knocking team of strangers from all across Scotland. Notably, I knocked doors in many areas that had previously been working-class Labour heartlands.

When the referendum result came in, an instant sadness fell over the city. In the early hours of the morning, I got a call from BBC Radio 5 Live to come and meet them on Princes’ street in Edinburgh to talk to them.

I hadn’t slept. I was so distraught that the journalist didn’t really know what to do with me, other than offer me a hug – I sobbed into his arms for a solid ten minutes. Between the sobs I remember saying “we have killed the dreams of people who thought that change was possible”.

It was because I had questioned and challenged my own beliefs about how society could change, and come to my own conclusions, that I became so passionate about Scottish independence.

Challenge

It’s essential for our movement to welcome Labour voters who have come over to the independence movement.

On the 19th of August 2021, The Welsh Governance Centre tweeted saying “A majority of current Welsh indy supporters are converts to the cause: people who have changed their minds since 2016.” It couldn’t be stated any plainer.

Therefore, decrying that Labour Party activists are all “unionists”, because they vote for Labour candidates, is not constructive or tactical. Labour voters are the very people the independence movement needs to win over!

And, there are many within the Labour Party itself who are already battling to have independence put on the agenda. If the independence movement is to create a supermajority, and a cross-party movement then we need the support of our friends in the Labour Party.

The crucial challenge is how we do this. The independence movement must now engage in the hard community work of knocking doors and having difficult conversations – particularly in Labour voting constituencies.

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hdavies15
hdavies15
14 days ago

of course we need Labour party members and supporters to “switch over”. Best if they dump the UK Labour party with its inherently Unionist view of life and set up a brand new Llafur Cymru leaving all the old baggage behind. Fresh start with an honest appeal instead of the highly ambiguous version that is now running things in Cardiff Bay.

Alun
Alun
14 days ago

Excellent article. As a Plaid Cymru member I fully accept that the independence movement needs to respect and work with supporters of other parties, including those who are currently indy-sceptical or sitting on the fence. Much as I’d like my party to win every election, when we finally achieve independence it will have been a cross-party initiative.

Shan Morgain
14 days ago

It’s very important not to say ‘the Labour Party’. Westminster Labour is quite distinct and separate from Welsh Labour and the poor fragment of Scots Labour. Welsh Labour will back Home Ruke, federal UK, and independence, given the chance. The choice looks different in the crux of an exciting referendum tamely answering a What if? question. That excitement/ passion will sway many.

Shan Morgain
14 days ago
Reply to  Shan Morgain

(Well of course there are formal links between Welsh Labour and Westminster Labour but that is not relevant to how they operate. Except the disintegrating Westminster version would now like closer links to us because we’re a success not only in popularity but in active government. Suddenly Wales is interesting – hypocrites.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
14 days ago
Reply to  Shan Morgain

It’s labour hq in london which approves peoples membership or suspends members or which approves candidates who want to be labour MPs – the party in wales is at present just a branch of uk labour shan.

Andrew Murphy
Andrew Murphy
14 days ago
Reply to  Shan Morgain

I’m sorry Shan, that really is the crux of the problem, there is no such thing as “Welsh labour” it doesn’t exist. “Welsh labour” is a marketing myth and gimmick although very successfully employed. Labour in Wales are a branch of the UK “unionist” labour party  constitutionally and  ideologically, no more but certainly no less. There’s not one single Labour MP or MS representing Welsh constituencies who support independence. As a party Labour, whether in, Wales, Scotland or England, are wholly committed to the union.   So yes of course to succeed Independence in Wales needs labour voters, just as the SNP… Read more »

Welshman21
Welshman21
14 days ago

The indy movement will need those from the right as well as left to succeed though.

Lowri C
Lowri C
14 days ago
Reply to  Welshman21

Agreed! We all need to come together from all parties to make this work for Wales. There’s no reason that the independence movement should just be dominated by woke lefties. Maybe we need a new political party, or Plaid Cymru / Labour to make a more centrist shift.

Geoff Ryan
Geoff Ryan
14 days ago
Reply to  Welshman21

It may be possible to win a few individual Tory or Lib Dem voters to support independence but there is zero chance of winning the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative and Unionist party (the clue’s in the name) to the independence project. UKIP and the Brexit party are even more hostile to independence than the Tories and Lib Dems.
The only likely alliance is Plaid Cymru, sections of the Labour party and the Green party along with unaffiliated people and some of the smaller left-wing groups.

Mr M W Price
Mr M W Price
14 days ago

I have tried joining for the last week. The Labour website has an error on all the Join pages.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
14 days ago

Have to say im not aware of anyone in the welsh indy supporters who thinks we dont need labour voters – indeed the growth in support for welsh independence among labour voters in Wales has been one of the most encouraging political developments of recent times. But the fact remains they wont bring welsh independence any nearer while they continue to vote for a party which remains a ‘regional branch’ of the uk labour party and who’s leader in Wales has repeatedly attacked welsh independence ☹️ https://nation.cymru/news/independence-would-shut-us-off-from-the-world-says-mark-drakeford/

William-Glyn THOMAS
William-Glyn THOMAS
14 days ago

Llafur needs to break away from a disastrous English Labour party. Our First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has shown he has the necessary skills to organise an Independent nation called Cymru. Get rid of the YOKE of Westminster.

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
14 days ago

We have to face the reality that upwards of 30% of our electorate vote Tory. We cannot afford to shun support from that quarter either. Tribal differences need to be set aside and the focus must be locked on to the cause of independence. Other issues can then be decided in a truly Welsh context, rather than being dictated by Westminster.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
14 days ago

Yes, Wales need all the votes it can to make our nation the country it could and can be. Prosperous , outward-looking & inclusive. This will never happen if we remain prisoner of this false British Union of one that imposes itself on Wales like a dirty old man would a young child. And if Labour supporters happily aided England by voting for Brexit, can & should do the same for Wales by putting our interests first for once by supporting our cause of an independent Wales free of Tory tethers. Also, seeing we’re out of Europe and there’s an… Read more »

Last edited 14 days ago by Y Cymro
Jill
Jill
14 days ago

Nobody is disputing this to start with, so why are people banging on about it. ITt’s obvious to all and sundry. The independence movement needs all colours on board. What the non partisan movement does not need is the likes of Harriet and heR Labour /Undod friends tryiNG to make Yes Cymru a Labour vehicle. This LADY Was the engagement officer employed without the post being advertised, and who never ever engaged with one group.

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
14 days ago
Reply to  Jill

You’re right. I think we have to be skeptical of the motives of someone who was involved with the recently-disgraced central committee of YesCymru that tried to downgrade Welsh independence in its list of priorities. If a significant number of Labour supporters in Wales are now sympathetic to the idea of Welsh indpendnce, it might be a productive move if they switched their allegiance to Plaid Cymru or Gwlad.

Last edited 14 days ago by Wrexhamian
Arwyn
14 days ago

Whilst I welcome Labour supporters and others changing their minds about Welsh Statehood nothing is going to change until Wales votes for a majority of pro-independence parties at the Senedd and amongst our soon to be reduced to 32 MP’s. Neither Welsh Labour or HQ support Welsh independence. There is lukewarm motioning towards federalism or “Home Rule.” That is the official line and to be fair they have something of a mandate for it in Wales at least. If you are in favour of Welsh Independence a vote for Labour is a wasted vote. Activists might feel that they can… Read more »

Last edited 14 days ago by Arwyn
Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
14 days ago

If Labour voters really want Welsh independence then they only have one choice: to vote for Plaid Cymru. Unless and until the Welsh branch of the Labour party breaks free from the English (Unionist) Labour party and formally adopts Welsh independence as policy, then a vote for Labour is not a vote for independence and never will be. So, if you’re a Labour support (as I once was) and you want independence then make the switch and support Plaid, just as Scottish Labour voters switched to the SNP. For a start you’ll probably find that Plaid more left wing then… Read more »

Lorcán B
Lorcán B
14 days ago
Reply to  Barry Pandy

100% agree with this , FFS people get it in your heads – people who want independence must rally around plaid !We will never get independence if this doesn’t happen . It’s not difficult 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Philip Jones
Philip Jones
14 days ago

Simple question to the author – if you lived in the Rhondda would you vote for the ultimate labour unionist or someone who put Cymru first?

Gareth Parry
Gareth Parry
14 days ago

Interesting article, and fully support the principle that within Labour voters, there is a genuine desire for independence inc some Welsh Labour Members, but the hard reality is that can Welsh Labour afford to go it alone without the massive financial clout of the Trade Union movement behind it, To wait for Welsh Labour to support wholeheartedly Welsh Independence is akin to waiting for the second coming , Labour advocates need to ask themselves whether Labour or Plaid Cymru has the attainable vision to deliver an Independent Wales built on Socialist values.

David Lloyd Owen
David Lloyd Owen
14 days ago

Those on the centre and centre-right also need to be drawn in. In Inger-lan’ (a long, long time ago) I would vote Conservative. Since returning in 1999, I have been solidly Plaid. Why? For Wales. As CV-19 has shown, we are different. We do have an idea of society. I know there are a lot of right-leaning people who are at least Indy-curious. After all, a democratic nation need a spectrum of opinion, it needs engaged debate. David Melding is an excellent example of a solid Conservative who has profoundly challenged unionism. We need to build a big tent if… Read more »

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