No Clear Strategy
Political strategies for Welsh Independence have varied over time. Our country was conquered by its neighbour, England, in mediaeval times. Although Wales has kept a fair amount of its culture and identity, no clear strategy for getting back national freedom has emerged other than trying to follow the Scottish example, yet to be fulfilled.
Muddied Waters & the Dreaded ‘I’ Word
The choice on Leaving the EU has muddied the water. How should Independence supporting Nationalist play the UK/ EU Referendum? What , if any was the plan?
Plaid Cymru had dropped the policy of independence in 1999, ostensibly to boost its numbers to the new National Assembly. Dafydd Wigley, the party leader had simply announced that the party was not for independence and the party had never been so. Whether this had any influence on the vote for Plaid is unclear but they did have their best Assembly result ever to date on that first election.
Over the years independence had crept back, but was pretty aspirational, without a clear pathway or deadlines. Plaid Cymru supported Remain, ostensibly for the grant monies administered by the EU for Wales which, following Brexit, they did not trust the UK to continue paying, and they said they were concerned about any impacts on business. Fair points, but nothing likely to favour Independence. Other Welsh nationalists could see the possibilities of Brexit opening up a road to Independence. In Scotland, former SNP depute Leader, Jim Sillars has eloquently set out the reason for his “out and out” policy.
In surely a regressive policy move against independence, the “I” word has again disappeared from Plaid’s literature in the leaflets for the European Elections. Presumably in a move to capture the Labour Remain vote, the narrative is just the nice generous EU with whom we will be far better off. No mention of the real issues of Wales, which is not primarily the money “from Europe” but the more pressing economic, structural, environmental and health service problems which threaten us all. These are more due to the chronic problems of governmental neglect , maladministration and the horrific waste of public money we see so often.
Leaving the EU Itself Is Not a New Idea
The original Treaty of Rome, in 1957, was signed in Perpetuity, but events have since forced the EU to allow countries to leave.
First was Algeria after the Declaration of Independence of the former French Algeria. Greenland became independent in 19 79 after winning an independence referendum but as their only sizeable industry was fisheries they were severely economically disadvantaged by membership of the Common Fisheries policy. After winning a referendum to exit the EU in 1985 they were allowed to leave. As these areas were – in theory – territories of member countries (when the EU was formed) had gained independence, a blind eye could be turned to the treaty of Rome as the legal issues were blurred.
In 2004 the EU expanded and the accession countries demanded a change in the constitution to allow states to leave. Obviously a treaty in perpetuity is a big ask, as there could come a time for any members when leaving was desirable.
This was drawn up at the request of those members by UK Peer Lord Kerr of Kinlochlard. It was difficult to get the original EU members to agree to it and Article 50 was incorporated into EU law only after the clause was inserted into the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force in 2009.
Since then Saint Barthelemy, a French Caribbean Island which seceded by poplar vote from the community of Guadeloupe, has also left the EU in 2012 – greatly improving its tourism economy
However Greenland and St. Barts have accepted the position of becoming “Overseas Countries and Territories” of the EU. This means they have a far looser situation, a soft Brexit type position. They have the Euro, follow basic EU regulations, even have limited access to development grants but also have a have strong degree of National Autonomy and they are not in the single market so do not have freedom of movement of workers, but they do accept the EU workers’ rights entirely.
UK The First To Try And Escape?
As the only countries who have left the EU so far have been those who seceded from existing member states first, the UK is the first ‘complete’ state to try to get out of the EU. The precedent is already set for stateless nations, and autonomous territories of larger states, who democratically decide to claim their independence. Suddenly the EU pulls out all the stops to keep the UK. Of course it’s the money. Since the UK and Germany are the main countries bankrolling the EU subsidies for farming, development grants etc., many of the smaller countries and weaker economies are seriously concerned at the loss of a huge portion of their “aid money” on which they rely. Little problem getting out of the EU if you are Greenland or St. Barts and have practically no impact on the economy of the EU. But richer nations – No Way! Of course it has to be hard and preferably blocked.
Are We Too Valuable To Lose?
And unfortunately even Scotland and Wales are probably too valuable to the EU to let go of easily. While the loss of 10,000 former French citizens in St. Barts was not worth arguing over, the EU seems less keen to encourage Independence in richer populous provinces such as Cataluña,
The evidence of that is the huge efforts made by EU leaders in 2014, during the Scottish Referendum, to tell the Scottish people that leaving the UK meant economic disaster, a hard border with England, catastrophic loss of trade and a decade to get back in. The current policy in Scotland is now to demand a second referendum on the EU decision and, whether they get it or not, to go for Indyref2 – preferably in 2020.
This will honour the landmark Declaration of Arbroath, the emphatic statement of Flower of Scotland, and a timely reminder that there was a time when large English armies were driven by force from the soil of Scotland, not by force of numbers but by superior strategy and unwavering determination to be free, as the Declaration of Arbroath makes clear.
What About Wales?
Are Plaid waiting to win a majority in the Senedd? Then persuade a UK Government to hold a referendum and then win it – possibly in the face of a great deal of opposition from all of the powerful interests who benefit so much from the status quo?
If the SNP wins Indyref2, will that encourage the Rump UK to be nice to Wales? If they don’t win its a great excuse to refuse even starting the Indyref process in Wales. The UK is unlikely to play the game. There may be lots of sweets for Scotland’s Ugly Little Sister (as Blair’s Cabinet allegedly called us) to persuade her to stay, the last colony. But what are we doing now to keep the desire for Independence alive and the people of Wales properly educated about the advantages of leaving the UK?
Personally, as a radical nationalist, I’ve never thought that staying in the EU will advance independence for Wales. I was a Leaver – like most Welsh voters.
But I do accept that for many, the promise of more probable economic security in the near future currently trumps a longer term aspiration for Independence. However, I believe that every day we put off Independence we lose more of our people, more of our culture, and more of our National Heritage. Its a choice that should not be made secretly in small rooms but publicly and openly. The question is, “If not now, when?” Supporting Remain may have a heavy price if abandoning Independence is the practical result.