Sunday, March 8, 2009

Independent Thinking

Chanticleer has blogged about a story that touches on the Welsh independence blog post I did last week.

Plaid Cymru are launching a website promoting a discussion of independence and what form it could take for Wales. The last opinion poll showed 13% support for independence, not earth-shaking but as I argued, not insignificant considering it is not an idea being pushed or campaigned for at present. Certainly, enough of a mandate to start testing the waters with a debate that needs to last a few years. I feel that reiterating my previous points about independence would be useful. The Assembly is only ten years old (near enough), to have a 13% polling for independence (admittedly based on only one poll) is fairly credible for the national movement but also highlights how Welsh independence has not been expanded upon by any of its current adherents. Perhaps this new initiative from the party will allow a solid case for independence to be built on facts and ideas, and could also help the party retain its identity during a period in coalition government.

I also note that the top-up fees row appears to have reached some kind of resolution today. Plaid Assembly Members will get a free vote which allows them to choose between party and government policy. This is probably the only way that things can be resolved. The party membership and student wing might be asked to accept that the playing field is against them on this issue, although it still might be worth inviting Plaid AMs to vote against the top-up fees reintroduction- again, it would seem prudent to hold on to a non-Labour perspective on many policies, without necessarily bringing down an administration that has been progressive and fair-minded to date. I would argue, from a blinkered position as a recent student, that the best result for Plaid would be for all their Assembly Members apart from the Ministers to abstain from voting. By not voting for Jane Hutt's plans they would be honouring party policy, but by not voting against the government they would be ensuring that the government and their party leader isn't defeated. What's best for students is unfortunately something entirely different, but there you go!


  1. Good post again.

    On the independence campaign website, I welcome it hugely. I am a passionate advocates of having debates about things that perhaps ordinarily do not get discussed in the required fullness.

    Personally, if I was a Plaid member, I would actually not use such a party political vehicle. One could at least foresee that there will be some pretty hard evidence to highlight the net damage independence would bring to Wales. The debate of course is there to be had, and I am sure Plaid will bring forward tempting positive benefits to independence, but by making it a party led thing, you get the feeling that robust evidence against independence will not be challenged.

    There has yet to be (perhaps this new initiative will be) a real evidence based case for independence, a truly pragmatic and utility based case for independence benefitting Wales sans cultural mythology. The Plaid response to the economy has unfortunately slipped into the trap of believing independence would have averted it, and is the only option.

    Unfortunately, I am also welcoming because this has the potential to be a banana skin for Plaid. The fact that they have spent a number of years diluting and essentially removing independence from their political lexicon was, I feel, for sound electoral reasons. Such a move has detoxified Plaid (sans Cymru) to a credible left wing alternative to Labour, however, the question of timing and relevance to current political (ie Economic) debate must be asked?

    You have been very choice with the version of the poll you have chosen to give. My understanding, which I am happy to be corrected on, was that Independence has flatlined under 15% for a generation – providing a far better measure as to the general feeling. You have recognised this admittedly, but it is a dogmatic logic that assumes people who support devolution are naturally unconverted nationalists who need that final push and convincing. Realistically, Plaid will need to overtake Labour as the biggest party in the Senedd (and with 30 seats) to go any further than a full welsh parliament. There is an argument to be made that a campaign now for independence is exactly the potential hari kiri that will make sure Plaid don’t manage that in the future.

  2. Interesting response Marcus. I would argue against where you say that making it a party led thing evidence against independence will not be challenge. Firstly I guess this has to be a party thing in order to legitimise it. If Joe Blogs started it I can't see many people taking it serious, but as a political party Plaid offer it clout whilst I get the impression it is designed to be open to the general public making it a legitimate debate. I would say that it is designed at opening up the debate and breaking down the myths and putting counter arguments forward. Ultimately it will obviously be up to the individual where they side following the evidence. People who support independence like me would argue that whilst you say Plaid will bring forward tempting positive benefits to independence that do not challenge the evidence against I suggest that those committed to the union bring forward tempting positives of the union that do not challenge the evidence against.

    I understand that you welcome it as a potential banana skin; you’re a member of an opposing party after all! Still I think it is mature of Plaid to embrace this debate (not that I am saying you are disagreeing with that.) As for the economic timing you could say that during a time where the Union's economy has fallen apart and Wales is loosing out disproportionately what better time to put forward an alternative approach to politics and the financial affairs of Wales?

    Finally I would say that this is an independence initiative and not so much a campaign. It is about having a debate on the future of Wales not an open campaign.

  3. It should definitely be a debate rather than forceful campaign. The website is really good to be fair.

    In general, the case for independence has to be won or lost on economics. Alot of anti-devolutionists and people who are opposed to independence recite a study by Oxford Economics who estimated that Wales would be £8bn in deficit, if we were an independent state based on current levels of taxation and expenditure. It is a fairly well-argued report. However, the catch is that an independent Wales surely wouldn't have the same levels of taxation and expenditure as it does now so the £8n figure could be totally different. And what's more, the UK's deficit is far far greater (even proportionally) than £8bn! Really, the UK can't afford to be independent either so who knows where that line of thinking leaves us.

    I think Wales has during its history been vastly wealthy in material resources, and that those resources were exploited in a way that did not benefit the people of Wales. Don't get me wrong, Yorkshire was exploited in the same way, it's a geopolitical/regional rather than national case, but the economy of the future (billions of pounds worth of coal-bed methane gas anyone?) can't be drained away from us in the same way. Independence would be a way of correcting this.