Monday, March 2, 2009

Only 13% want independence: could this be good for Plaid?

It's a good time of year to talk about this kind of thing. There has been a very positive poll for the BBC which everyone has already blogged about. The pro-devolution camp should obviously focus on this and take steps towards the 'Yes' campaign and the referendum. But some points were raised on Marcus' blog about the apparently insignificant support for Welsh independence in the very same poll, with the inference that this is bad news for Plaid Cymru.

In the poll, two pro-independence options (within the EU and outside the EU) receive 8% and 5% respectively, with 13% of those polled wanting an independent Wales. I'm not sure if this is worth reading into (remember the poll that showed hardly any Plaid supporters wanted independence?), but if I was to read into it as a pro-devolution, pro-Wales person, my reading would come out as positive for Plaid's long-term aims.

Independence for Wales is at present an abstracted position to take (although an entirely honourable one, and one I subscribe to personally) because no political party in Wales is currently advocating it. Not even Plaid Cymru is campaigning for independence, because the realities of devolution mean that we need to nation-build Wales first. In recent years Plaid have instead sought to extend devolution. The extent to which they have been succesful is hugely significant, just 10 years after the first elections to the Assembly a pro-more powers consensus has already been formed across the Assembly, and a majority of people in Wales want to move further down the road of devolution (not the 'slippery slope'). When you think about it, this is quite an achievement, considering the mandate for creating the Assembly was extremely slim.

The remaining three mainstream parties are all British in their identity and approach, so the political weight is stacked against any pro-independence view (more so than in Scotland where smaller parties other than the SNP back independence- not tiny parties either, ones which have won MSPs in the past). And if independence is solely seen as Plaid's pet, but is not even being campaigned for by them, what chance does it have? Even 13% in an opinion poll is surprisingly good for such an obscure term, when posed during an economic recession which experts have predicted would diminish support for independence in Scotland for example (not convinced at all that those experts are right, but there you go).

It could be argued that abolishing the Assembly, an option that polls 21% in the latest survey, has a similar position to independence, that it's an abstract idea that no party is campaigning for. But the 'no devolution' cause, if it can be called such a thing, does have a history in recent living memory: in the vociferous 'no' campaign in 1997 when the outgoing ruling party in the UK officially backed such a campaign. It also has more of a grassroots following in the newspaper letters' pages in Wales, mainly in South-East Wales amongst conservative voters and supporters (inevitably older generations). Independence has no such impetus or recent history as an ideal in the political fabric of Wales (probably a good thing, the last thing the national movement needs is to resort to misty-eyed remembrancing).

For independence to progress as a national cause that people will support, there needs to be a strong fabric of Welsh life and identity already in place. As far as I can see, this is what the nationalists in Wales are trying to achieve. Wales has only become classified as a nation in living memory, only got a capital city in the 1950s and faced linguistic extinction not that long before then. Nationalists in Wales need to model a view of the kind of independence they want to achieve and the kind of society they want to create. Wales having it's own army and a seat at the UN isn't good enough. As James Connolly warned, changing the colour of the flag won't make a difference unless you also change society. I think this is the kind of independence we can campaign for and achieve, but nobody has set it out yet.

If you want to read further into the point I was trying to make about older generations, these recent stats about national identity amongst school children in Wales are very relevant. These kids are growing up under the Assembly, by the time they are older it will be their reference point to politics, such a huge change from my (young) generation who had the Assembly created as something new in their life times. The 13% for independence is going to be a growing pool. The 21% for abolishing the Assembly is going to shrink with age and eventually die out.


  1. Again i think you make very reasonable arguments, arguments i would probably be making if i was inclined to support independence.

    I think what i was suggesting was that more people want to abolish the assembly than want independence (a point you have covered), but many within your cause call abolitionists lunatics. In real terms, those same 'lunatics' in true wales are articulating a far more supported view than those who want independence.

    There is a flight of fancy with your view, that somehow incremental changes will galvanise more nationalist fervour. However that very same analysis could be made by a member of True Wales. For instance, if the no vote won out in this next referendum, it could be argued (with a similar amount of presumption as you have used) that people will then increasingly see the assembly as not worthwhile and a talking shop.

    I dont subscribe to either view, but the fact is that independence is just as unrealistic as the abolitionists. You cannot seriously argue with any semblance of empiricism that independence is somehow more abstract than abolition; indeed, no party has a constitutional aim to abolish the assembly (UKIP accepted).

    Any political strategist worth their salt knows that Plaid's recent changes are to essentially flush out independence as policy. The name change, the logo change, the fact you will not hear top level Plaid politicians speak about it, all show that even the party itself know how unpopular the idea is.

    "The 13% for independence is going to be a growing pool. The 21% for abolishing the Assembly is going to shrink with age and eventually die out."

    The paucity of evidence to support that claim is there for all to see. You could switch that statement with an equal amount of reasoning. You have totally also missed the anti-politician vote that the no campaign will harness.

  2. You are broadly right, but I was hoping my post would imply that I don't think independence should be built on anything like 'nationalist fervour'.

    Do you think that the Assembly growing with age and acquiring more powers will lead to a heightened sense of Britishness or a heightened sense of Welshness- i'm not talking about nationalist fervour, simply the basic sense people have of having a government building in Cardiff. A majority in the latest poll think that the Assembly Government both has and should have the biggest influence over affairs in Wales.

  3. You certainly have a point about people beginning to see the Welsh Assembly as the institution that ‘governs’ them, but that is far different to wanting to be independent.

    My own view is that a self governed Wales, a federal Wales, is probably the most likely destination. I have no real problem with that, but that is a long way from independence.

    You have chosen to focus on a small point about nationalism, without actually considering the crux of my point – which is regarding by what measure you feel that independence is any more popular or crazy than abolition?

  4. I think this is a really excellent post with some very germane observations about the absence of a sustained movement in favour of independence.

  5. Thanks for the positive feedback.

    Marcus (asking the difficult questions as ever!)- I don't feel that independence or abolition of the Assembly are 'crazy' ideas. Perhaps i've implied that by accident or through inexperience though.

    A better way to look at it is this- Abolition/No Devolution is a backward-looking position to take because it would involve removing constitutional powers from Wales and nullifying a project worth hundreds of millions of pounds, on very simple terms a building that already exists etc.

    Independence, even if considered to be a flawed idea, is by definition forward-looking as it would involve building on what is already here rather than taking anything away.

  6. "Independence, even if considered to be a flawed idea, is by definition forward-looking as it would involve building on what is already here rather than taking anything away."

    Your obvious intellect somehow allows you still leave even a bogun like me certain open goals.

    Perhaps it’s worth considering the notion of how you would transfer state apparatus with independence then? I would imagine a whole new ‘welsh’ financial system (treasury, regulatory framework etc) would not be cheap or indeed merely a case of ‘building on’ things we already have. Do you seriously suggest that building an independent state would not be hugely costly? Who will meet that cost, and for what reason?

    The term ‘backward’ is loaded by the people using it, I simply do not see how independence is any more worthy of being dismissed as both unpalatable and unrealistic as abolition is.

    As Adam pointed out, there is also a question of why there isn’t any moves by Plaid to push for independence? That is a question that can be answered to where you sit politically. I would argue it is because even the bonkers wing of Plaid know they need to keep independence in the closet like an unwanted sloth from ‘The Goonies’ to stand any chance of electoral gains or even solidification.

  7. I wasn't questioning why Plaid don;t push for independence. My point - such as it was - was to agree with the original post; unlike 1) unitary rule, 2) devolution and 3) more devolution there has never, ever been a sustained case for independence made by any party.