Why the Welsh independence movement needs Labour supporters to win
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.
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.