My colleague Siân Caiach wrote a very pertinent article on Tuesday about the importance of the Welsh independence movement having a strategy. This is especially salient at a time when aspirations for independence seem to be on the rise, just as the incumbent nationalist party has been back-pedalling on the subject.
One route to independence which is sometimes overlooked is for the subject nation to be kicked out of its former host and told to fend for itself. This may not be a frequent occurrence, but it’s not at all unheard of and some very successful countries have started up this way.
The best known example of this is probably Singapore. In 1963, newly-independent Malaya (Malaysia as we now know it) was set on using its vast natural resources to create an ethnically and religiously homogeneous state run for the benefit of the bumiputra (the ‘sons of the soil’). It didn’t have much use for the impoverished island at the tip of its southern peninsula with its weird mix of Christian Europeans, Confucian (and Communist) Chinese, Muslim Malay and Hindu Indian inhabitants who were constantly fighting with one another. In 1965 the Malay government cut them loose and Singapore was left to fend for itself.
And fend it did. Under the low-key and businesslike, but astonishingly effective, leadership of Lee Kwan Yew (one of my personal heroes), it rapidly built a highly diverse, highly-skilled economy based on finance, trade and high-value manufacturing and today is one of the richest countries in the world.
Further South still
I got thinking about this topic recently because of this article in last week’s Telegraph, on the subject of how many supporters of the Australian Labour Party have called for Queensland to be expelled from Australia. It was that state’s support for the Liberal Party (which is sort-of the Australian equivalent of the Conservative party, except that in Australia they are actually conservative) that denied Labour victory in their recent election.
Just like in the UK, the Australian Labour party no longer makes any real pretence of caring for the interests of working people. They garner the bulk of their support from progressive urbanites whose main concerns are LBGT rights and climate change, whilst the Liberals gather the votes of those in rural and suburban areas who are concerned with jobs and the economy at large. In last month’s election, the strength of Liberal support in Queensland, the state where most of Australia’s heavy industry and in particular its coalmining industry is based, proved crucial to their winning the election and re-installing Scott Morrison as Prime Minister against all expectations.
A Queensland MP for the populist Australian Party said “We have called for a separate state in north Queensland. It is a terrific idea. We’ve got economic decline, population decline, our suicide and crime statistics are getting worse. And we hear from the government that the big challenge of our time is climate change and the Great Barrier Reef.”
According to the Telegraph, the main grounds for a divorce would be economic independence and the freedom to exploit north Queensland’s natural resources, including coal, without outside meddling from southerners or environmental restriction.
Closer to home
I don’t think that ‘Quexit’ (as they call it) is to be taken too seriously, but how might Wales come to be kicked out of the United Kingdom? The idea’s not as fanciful as it sounds, because after all England has an independence movement of its own. English nationalism has a bad reputation because of its past associations with the likes of the National Front and the English Defence League, but that’s far from being the whole story. There certainly are English Nationalists who seem to me to be perfectly reasonable people, although they occasionally suffer because of the tendency of the media and the twitterati to brand as ‘far right’ or ‘fascist’ anything that they don’t like or don’t understand.
Part of the reason for this, of course is the ingrained assumption that if you’re ‘English’ then you must be white, and if you’re not white then you must be ‘British’.
Sadly we suffer from the same misconception here in Wales. Neil McEvoy has recently pointed out the absurdity that, faced with a survey form from Cardiff City Council – who of all people should know better – there was no box for him as a non-white Welshman to tick. We in the nationalist movement need to be completely clear about this: a black or Asian Welshman is a Welshman, full stop. You don’t have to be white to be Welsh. We mustn’t allow the liberal establishment to use ethnic diversity, which is a good thing in itself, as a way of imposing Britishness on us by the back door.
So all of that said, I keep a sympathetic eye on the English Democrats and the Yorkshire Party, and I could easily see the Brexit Party morphing into an English nationalist party within England once Brexit is done and dusted (unless they instead become a drop-in replacement for the Conservative Party, just as the Reform Party replaced the Canadian Conservatives when they imploded in the 1990s). They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but only fools call them fascists.
It’s not too hard to imagine a situation where if the Scottish Nationalists don’t get too distracted by their Europhilia and manage to achieve independence for Scotland, and if the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru are allowed to continue running down the Welsh economy so that larger and larger subsidies are needed to keep Wales from destitution, then plenty of people in England might start to question why they are continuing to subsidise their ungrateful Western neighbour with ever-increasing amounts of their taxes. At that point it’s entirely reasonable to expect pro-English sentiment to eclipse pro-what’s-left-of-the-Union sentiment, so that England chooses to cut loose and go its own way – leaving Wales (and presumably Northern Ireland) to shift as best they can.
The thing is, that will achieve the overall objective of Welsh independence, but it’s not a very attractive way of doing it: a poverty-stricken Wales expelled from the Union on England’s terms and left to rebuild from an even lower base than where we are today. Unless a Welsh Lee Kwan Yew were to emerge (and looking around, there’s precious little sign of one) then the outlook would be bleak indeed.
Surely it’s better for Wales to take the initiative itself and elect a pro-independence party that has a credible plan for a prosperous Wales that can stand on its own feet and hold its head high; one that doesn’t have a chip on its shoulder about the English but wants Wales to stand alongside them as equals.