Why the Welsh national movement needs Brexit voters
Ifan Morgan Jones
I, like many others within the Welsh national movement, voted to ‘Remain’ in the Referendum on EU membership on 23 June last year.
Subsequent events have, I believe, validated that choice. I believe that Wales will suffer economically, and culturally, because of Brexit.
However, as contradictory as it may seem, the Welsh Brexit voter may have gotten us into this mess, but they’re also key to getting us out of it.
There’s no point shunning them. They are our friends, family members, and fellow countrymen. If we truly believe that we’re running a national movement, we need to include them too.
And it’s clear that they share many of the aims of the Welsh national movement.
Wales voted ‘Leave’ because of a deep dissatisfaction with the political status quo.
To use slightly more colourful language, they wanted to give an out of touch elite that they perceive as not giving a damn about them, a good kicking.
And however terrible Brexit would be to the economy, they wouldn’t have risked that if they didn’t recognise that Wales’ economy was in a pretty bad state anyway.
OK, yes, the same elite they voted to kick is now using Brexit as an excuse to make themselves more politically powerful.
And yes, what little crumbs off the table they had given Wales in recent years are going to be swept back up off the floor. That surely wasn’t part of the plan.
But you can’t blame Leave voters for that. Some of us here in Wales had warned that this would happen, but:
- We lacked a strong Welsh media to get our message across
- We were complacent. We didn’t see it coming and didn’t do enough to stop it
If the national movement in Wales is going to make any ground, it needs to offer these small ‘c’ conservative voters a home. Here are four reasons:
- These are the people most likely to understand that we live in a rigged system, because they see that same system holding them back every day however hard they try to overcome it.
- These are also the people most willing to change that rigged system, because they have less to lose in doing so.
- They are looking for change. If the Welsh national movement doesn’t offer it to them, they will turn to the imperial nationalism of the Farages and Trumps of this world instead.
- The Welsh national movement won’t get very far without them.
The contradiction at the heart of the Welsh national movement is that it’s a middle-class, mainly Welsh-speaking, socialist movement in a mostly working class, English-speaking, socially conservative country.
In other words, it’s not much of a national movement at all because it effectively leaves out a good 75% of the population.
Independence and dependence
The second of the four reasons outlined above warrants further discussion.
These socially conservative voters are also actually more likely to ultimately vote for independence than the group that currently makes up the independence movement.
Although cultural factors do play a part, the success or failure of national movements ultimately comes down to economic and political self-interest.
Ironically, the people who currently make up the Welsh national movement are also the group that’s probably one of the least likely to vote for Welsh independence.
That may seem mind-boggling, but it’s true.
This is because their own economic and political self-interest is dependent on the public-sector institutions most likely to be damaged by the economic changes that would follow independence.
In fact, it could be argued that the Welsh national movement isn’t in its current form an independence movement at all. Its aim is to achieve two things:
- Maintain the current political status quo (with a few tweaks) in perpetuity
- Maintain Welsh institutions for the employment of the Welsh middle class
That is, we have ended up with half a nation state (devolution) not because the Welsh are ‘weak’ or because we’ve been ‘brainwashed’.
It’s because half a nation state is ultimately the arrangement that meets the political and financial needs those that make up the Welsh middle class than run the country.
While they are ultimately financially dependent on the UK government, the kind of activity that would make independence a possibility will never happen. There’s simply no incentive.
Only a financially independent middle class will ever fight for independence.
The conservative argument
Therefore, if Wales is to become independent (and it’s a big if) it’s more likely to do so via a small ‘c’ conservative movement than a left-wing, socialist one.
Such a movement would be free to argue for the following:
- Spending less on the public sector and more on projects that would strengthen the private economy in the long term, such as better infrastructure
- Lower taxes on small businesses to make Wales a country of financially independent business people.
- Fight to devolve broadcasting in Wales – the BBC and S4C. While the media in Wales depends on the UK Government’s funding it’s unlikely they would give an independence movement an equal platform.
- Argue that while immigration of skilled workers is a positive, free movement in and of itself can damage the cultural fabric of communities (English as well as Welsh speaking) if not controlled
- Combine local authorities but also devolve significant powers over housing, education, language, transport and agriculture
- Strive in every way to cut Wales’ financial deficit and set independence as the goal once it is done
These are arguments that are already out there, and are occasionally expressed by members of Plaid Cymru, Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.
However, there is no party or movement that has brought them together into one over-arching, consistent political manifesto.
Small ‘n’ nationalist in Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are mostly content with the current arrangements (with a few tweaks).
There is some overlap with the Conservative Party but their British nationalism means that such a program would be anathema to them.
Want Welsh independence? You’ll need Brexit voters.
But you may need to create a new movement from the ground up, as none of the political parties in Wales, at the moment at least, offer an easy fit.