Stop the world we want to get on

Leanne Wood argues that the cause of national independence is essentially about renewing old friendships

Plaid Cymru wants Wales to join the community of nations. That aspiration is based on a desire to contribute to the world in a spirit of international solidarity. Contrary to the myth that statehood equates to isolation or ‘separation’, we contend that self-government leads to enhanced partnerships.

As we enter the final twelve months of the Scottish referendum campaign, the debate around what Britain will look like on the morning of the 19th of September 2014 will increase in intensity. What everyone can agree on is that no matter the outcome, the relationships between the nations of these islands will change forever. That statement need not sound as daunting as some would suggest. In fact it’s liberating.

One year to go

With just 12 months before the Scottish referendum on 18 September 2014 we are running a series of articles this week:

  • Tomorrow: Stephen Noon, chief strategist with Yes Scotland, says whatever the result of the referendum, Scotland and the rest of the UK will be closely intertwined.
  • Saturday: Charlie Jeffery, of Edinburgh University, describes a project that aims to keep us informed as the debate gathers pace.
  • Sunday:  James Mitchell, of Edinburgh University, analyses how the Yes and No campaigns are framing the referendum debate. .

Whether a new state emerges from these islands next autumn or not, is irrelevant to the wider issue of the nature of our relationships with each other as the peoples of Britain and Ireland. A new state may emerge, but the old nations will remain.

As the countdown to the Scottish referendum begins, it is up to us in Wales ensure that the constitutional changes that occur over the next year do not result in us being side-lined either by Tory indifference or Labour’s desperate avoidance to address the aspirations of the people. Its also worth spelling out how the creation of a new partnership within the British Isles could be facilitated.

It has been my long-standing view, that following a ‘Yes’ vote next year, a treaty of succession between Scotland and the UK should not exclude the Welsh Government. There will be a serious democratic deficit if negotiations on behalf of Wales are led by David Cameron, who has no mandate from our people.  Crucial issues such as the future of nuclear weapons and state assets will be agreed upon in such negotiations and all will have repercussions for Wales. Our exclusion from such negotiations would be unacceptable.

As those negotiations take place, I believe all the nations of these islands, the then three sovereign governments, the two remaining devolved administrations, in addition to the three Crown dependencies, will face an opportunity – curiously for the first time – to agree on a new framework for British-Irish co-operation. We already have, in the form of the British-Irish Council, the institution that could facilitate new Anglo-Celtic Accords, enshrining for the first time, the sovereignty of the peoples and affirming each nation’s right to follow its own constitutional path.

In Wales we have heard calls for a UK constitutional convention and whilst I’d welcome every opportunity to advance Wales’ case, it seems shortsighted to look internally within the British State for a new constitutional settlement when it makes perfect sense for such changes to be made within the context of the British Isles as a whole.

Within the Accords Plaid Cymru proposes, the governments could, in addition to constitutional relations, elaborate on four key strands for co-operation: the economy and taxation, defence and foreign affairs, energy and the environment, and free travel and crime.

Co-operation in these fields within the context of formal accords between our nations would provide the basis for collaboration on issues as diverse as formulating a currency union and overcoming tax evasion especially in the Crown dependencies, establishing a joint British-Irish peace-keeping force to meet our shared European and international obligations, and working together to maximise the potential of our natural resources.

As the ‘Yes’ campaign in Scotland have outlined during the referendum campaign, securing independence results in assuming responsibilities. Responsibilities to act in the interests of citizens and, crucially, a responsibility to work constructively with others.

Our Nordic neighbours have shown the endless possibilities when a group of nations, with varying constitutional statuses, pull together, building on their shared past, but with a commitment to a shared future.

The 1949 Ireland Act at Westminster proclaimed that whilst the Republic of Ireland’s independence was recognised, the new state and its citizens would not be considered foreign or alien. In that spirit, new accords in these islands would confirm that far from being an isolationist pursuit, the noble cause of national independence is in fact essentially about renewing old friendships.

Leanne Wood is AM for South Wales Central and Leader of Plaid Cymru

15 thoughts on “Stop the world we want to get on

  1. So Plaid Cymru is now advocating federalism, and ‘soft’ intra-British and Irish relations. I thought it was supposed to be a Welsh nationalist party. There is no critique here of British Nationalism, the overarching political force that is represented by many of the people who Leanne Wood seeks to engage in negotiations about these ‘islands’. If we desire real change, then the UK State has to be humanely terminated. That, loud and clear, should be Plaid Cymru’s message. Then, and only then, can a new (or, indeed, old) alliances and partnerships with the English, Scottish and Irish emerge. Prior to that any constitutional re-jigging – or ‘re-balancing Britain’, to use the Unionist terminology – is merely Canute-like positioning.

  2. Carwyn Jones has made the point that we can’t carry on tinkering with bits of the constitutional arrangements within the UK. As he said, “let’s put away the scattergun and move towards a binding, durable settlement based on agreed principles”. To ensure we don’t just get more tinkering and a quick fix between London and Edinburgh, he wants Wales to be properly involved in negotiations that the Scottish vote will lead to. So why not, as Leanne Wood suggests, involve the Republic of Ireland as well? The long term approach he is seeking surely shouldn’t be restricted to the shape of the UK as it has been since the 1920s. Wouldn’t it be better to draw up a settlement that covered the whole of these islands and looked to make the most of our relationship with others in the European Union?

    As Plaid are suggesting, learning from the arrangements already up and running in Scandinavia would seem to be a good starting point, since they are also a diverse group of small nations on the north western periphery of Europe. It’s time for the UK nations to let go of any remaining Imperial dreams and sort out some sensible working relationships with their neighbours, on the European mainland and nearby islands.

  3. ….”’ in addition to constitutional relations, elaborate on four key strands for co-operation: the economy and taxation, defence and foreign affairs, energy and the environment, and free travel and crime…”’

    …”’ Co-operation in these fields within the context of formal accords between our nations would provide the basis for collaboration on issues as diverse as formulating a currency union and overcoming tax evasion especially in the Crown dependencies, establishing a joint British-Irish peace-keeping force to meet our shared European and international obligations…”’

    In the 21st Century it is important that we realise that true Independence, as it was maybe 50 years ago, is no longer possible for any country, but instead we need to occasionally work with others. We need to work together, but not necessarily through formal structures that bind us. Terrorism, rogue nuclear states, entwined economies and also supranational bodies such as the EU and the UN mean that politics is global and not always national. Post-nationalism is the term some may use for the breed of nationalism that accepts this. The two quotes above show what Leanne Wood’s version of Welsh independence would look like; essentially it is dependence lite repackaged as co-operation. Whilst I agree we need to co-operate, I am in Plaid as I believe the aspirations and welfare of the Welsh people are better served in a sovereign, independent Welsh state. We do not need formal ‘accords’ tying us to anything. We will co-operate when we need to. Some may argue such military arrangements for example would be destined to fail also as the Celtic countries would be wholly less aggressive than the English, not to mention the right-wing tendencies on economic policies that prevail there. The list goes on why formal structures for co-operation may not work; co-operation is key but when we need to and on our terms, not through formal structures. I’m a Welsh ”nation”alist, i.e. I believe my nation should have a sovereign state, and I know grass root members do to.

  4. Like it or lump it, David Cameron (and his government) is overall in charge of the UK. It is the UK Government that decides about nuclear, etc.

  5. Ben –

    You believe in independence, and grass roots members of Plaid might believe in independence, but the majority of Welsh people don’t (myself among them, at least under present circumstances). My personal feeling has been for some time that the UK would work best as a federacy, but none of the London-based parties share this, so if Plaid take up this banner they are strongly likely to win my support (bearing in mind that I don’t stand alone in this). That said, I can completely sympathise with frustrated members who have built the party on a foundation which might look towards something different. Plaid is in an uneviable position in that, as long as the UK based parties continue to avoid the question of federalism, it now has to represent the spectrum of Welsh politics from left to right as well as from independence to devo-max. It is no one’s favoured solution, but if it is any consolation, I think Plaid is showing considerable bravery in standing up for the interests of Welsh people, whether they are involved with the party or not.

  6. “Plaid Cymru wants Wales to join the community of nations…..we contend that self-government leads to enhanced partnerships.”

    Be careful what you wish for – it should be abundantly clear to anybody with a Z in GCSE Maths that one of the first “enhanced partnerships” an independent Wales would need to forge would be with the International Monetary Fund!

  7. @John- most people in Scotland didn’t either but look what’s happened there, things change. When the Welsh people eventually realise that the London government only ever puts the South East of England first and that we are nothing to them now that they have taken our natural resources, people in Wales will gradually begin to look to the Welsh government to take control. You say Plaid should call for federalism. Having read Leanne’s article above I think she is calling for co-operation akin to federalism but without the formal political structures. Plaid members (myself one) want independence for Wales and for our nation to be sovereign, whilst working and co-operating with others in a community of nations. Wales has a lot to offer the world and we can support ourselves.

  8. We have to negotiate a new relationship within the British Isles whatever happens.

    We all know that a Federal structure would still be a system dictated by Westminster for England (that is, the South East – real England apparently). According to the Conservative Party, Federalism is Centralism and they don’t like Centralism. But they don’t like de-centralism either, nor anybody they rule exerting their human rights and being independent. No! I don’t understand that either!

    What it comes down to is that Westminister really want to dump Northern Ireland but the Colonialists they put there won’t let them – yet. They don’t want to loose Wales and Scotland because it deminishes their idea of England – sorry! Britain!

    They only way we can negotiate a new relationship is to be Independent of England. This is simply what Independence means. In fact, since most of the New Relationship would be covered by the relationship within the European Union – a co-operative rather than oppresive Union. So, if it didn’t suit us, we would be free not to enter into any new arrangement with England.

    If we did have a new arrangement with England it must include an “out” clause. Otherwise England will send in the Gunboats that she loves so much. I’m sure they’ll be gathering off the Scottish coast over the coming year – if the USA lets them.

    There’s no doubt we can support ourselves, as Ben says. We’ve just got to remember that an economist studies economics. They don’t understand or control it.

  9. I agree with Gwyn. As I said in my first comment above, any federal system will be geared towards England. How can any formal political structure based on federalism work when you have 3 parts of it with 5 or less million people, and a fourth with over 50 million or whatever it now is. It will not work on a demographic level given the size of England in comparison, it will not work economically because the Celtic economies are different and will be run by governments with different priorities and it will not work on a defence level as it is my belief that we would a whole lot less aggressive than England; Wales would want a defence force, a force to do just exactly that, defend and not attack. We should negotiate and talk and carve out new relationships but no way on earth enter into any legal unions, however new. Wales is a nation with different values despite being home to over half a million English people.

    @Gwyn- I’m not sure about NI. The UK govt seemed happy enough to ensure they stayed in the UK following the success of the Peace Talks under Mo Mowlam and Mandelson. The Good Friday Agreement showed the UK’s unfortunate commitment to keep Ireland divided, did it not?

  10. Gwyn, econonists can’t control or forecast – but they can count. Wales’ taxes currently finance no more than 60-70 per cent of government spending in Wales, including welfare benefits. Where do you think the rest comes from – Father Christmas? It is a subsidy from England. Yes, Wales can support itself so long as its people don’t mind being 30 per cent worse off than they are. I wish you luck trying to persuade them and I shall admire you if you succeed. As Kinnock once warned though “don’t be poor or old”. An indepedent Welsh government could not afford to support you.

  11. Tredwyn- I agree that we currently rely on external fiscal security. But why should we in Wales settle for that? We are one of the worlds most ancient nations, surely it’s about time we restructured our economy and became less dependent on a London government. Independence is about just that, no dependence on anyone else. Whilst some are happy to stay as a subsidized region, others would like to see a fully self sustaining nation, which is no less than we deserve. And let’s be honest anything Neil Kinnock said is worth ignoring.

  12. I don’t agree that it’s a “subsidy from England”. Wales receives money from the whole of the UK, including from the value of Scotland’s oil and gas reserves, and the revenues generated by the City of London. The north-west or north-east of England generate a shortfall in the same way of Wales, but it’d be inaccurate to say “England” subsidises them. But anyway, that’s not the point. The question, rather than being independent tomorrow, is should we gradually and pragmatically make Wales more accountable for its own finances? There is nothing at all wrong in wanting Wales to be more and more independent and autonomous. Plaid Cymru is fully behind that and getting Wales to a stronger position culturally, politically and economically.

  13. Ben, it is not that I am entirely unsympathetic to your aspiration but I think we need to consider the practicalities. I sometimes think that people who refuse to engage in practical discussions as to what the Welsh government should do and go on about independence are the people happiest with the status quo. Since independence is not going to happen in present circumstances they can posture all they like, safe in the knowledge they will never have to confront any hard choices. Of course it is high time we restructured our economy to be able to stand on our own feet. But how exactly, where do we start, how do we get the politicians to get serious about it, to use the powers they have? Those are the real questions. But look at this blog – any article about the language or the constitution gets plenty of comments; any article about policy nitty gritty gets many fewer. About time we stopped dreaming and got off our backsides.

  14. Ben – You’re right! But as regards NI I would point out a BBC interview with one of the Westminster Civil Servants who conducted the secret pre-negotiations with the Provos. He said he told them that his Government was supportive of re-unification but could not be seen to be forcing the Unionists into it.

    Tredwyn – the UK deficit according to UK treasury figures is 10%. Wales’ deficit (ALL government spending) is 3% to 5% so we are subsidising the UK (ie England) to the tune of 5% to 7%.

    Wales would not pay for many of the things (like nuclear weapons and Aircraft carriers without Aircraft) that we are currently lumbered with.

    Watch the BBC documentary on Statistics. It shows that some 90% of the formally Imperially ruled countries standard of living, wealth and life expectancy shot up after Independence to match their former Imperial masters. Being ruled by another country is a sure-fire formula for poverty. After all. if they did become rich it would go to the ruling country before you could blink. That’s what happened in Wales and still happens. And you support it???

  15. Luke,
    You are right tht many regions of England are also in apparent fiscal deficit, though per capita ours is the biggest. Depending on the oil price Scotland is in rough balance so any net transfer is indeed coming from within England. On the face of it, it comes from the South East and Easterm regions but there is a distortion. Company taxes will be registered to company headquarters, which are often in the London area, while many of their activities may be elsewhere. The transfer from London to other English regions is probably overstated therefore. This affects Wales too, of course, but unfortunately big UK companies don’t have much of their production in Wales.

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