From Dominion Status, to Confederation, now Independence

Gwynoro Jones discovers views shared with Gwynfor Evans and Saunders Lewis

On closer analysis ‘Independence’ was hardly in the vocabulary of Saunders Lewis and Gwynfor Evans.


The National Party (as Plaid Cymru was originally called) talked of Dominion Status, and later on Gwynfor wrote about Confederalism.


So the party edged from Dominion Status, on its founding, to Confederalism under Gwynfor, to Independence in more recent times.


I can’t claim to be a specialist on the history of Plaid Cymru, but I have some awareness of its journey, particularly due to the intense decade of struggles in which I was involved  from mid-1960s to the mid-70s.


When my book on ‘Gwynoro and Gwynfor’ is published, the extent of Labour’s incessant attacks on Gwynfor and Plaid about their perceived aim of an ‘independent’ Wales will become truly apparent.


However, a week ago, when I blogged about ‘its time to debunk the ‘I’ word‘ – whilst commenting positively on the concept of Dominion status and Confederalism – I received a tweet from Mabon ap Gwynfor stating, and I paraphrase, ‘my grandfather never spoke of independence’.


Now, that intrigued me, because during the decade mentioned above, Gwynfor never disowned the ‘I’ word in speeches, the local papers and other press outlets. If he had, I suspect a lot of the vitriol flying around Welsh politics at that time, including from me, would have been significantly deflected from him, particularly on a personal level.


So, I endeavoured to do some research on the matter and to my great surprise, admittedly, what Mabon claims stands correct.


It begins with a book entitled The story of Saunders Lewis by Gwynn ap Gwilym 2011. In it he quotes Saunders Lewis writing in 1926:


”Do not ask for independence for Wales. Not because it is impracticable, but because its not worth having ….we want not independence but freedom and the meaning of freedom in this respect is responsibility. We who are Welsh claim that we are responsible for civilization and social life in our part of Europe”.


Gwynn ap Gwilym asserts that:  ”The National Party’s aim was ‘Dominion Status’ under British Sovereignty … and that its true ideal was for Wales to be one of a league of equal European states”


One has to admire the vision and foresight of Saunders Lewis, writing of a ‘league of equal European states’ in 1926 – over 30 years before the founding of the EEC and nearly 50 years before Britain joined in 1973!.


In 1975, Saunders repeated his words of 1926 in a lecture about the ‘Principles of Nationalism’ explaining that independence is impractical and not worth having. His central point was that independence is a materialistic argument and that there were higher principles than material rights to consider.


Soon after, in 1976,  Pennar Davies wrote a book on Gwynfor Evans, His Works and Thoughts, describing how Gwynfor envisaged that Dominion Status as encapsulating freedom from the rule of others and that  “it is not independence in the form of ‘ unconditional sovereignty’ is Plaid Cymru’s aim but an essential freedom to cooperate and work with other nations”.


Then in 1981 in one of his many books, because he was indeed a prolific writer, Gwynfor developed the concept of ‘confederation’ where he essentially repeated the words of the Imperial Conference of 1926 “envisaging nations within the UK in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs”.


Indeed it was precisely what I recommended in my post of October 5th:  


“A commitment to ensure increasing self-government for Wales as part of the wider nation-building process and to greater sovereignty akin to Dominion Status. Although there was no formal definition of dominion status, a pronouncement by the Imperial Conference of 1926 described Great Britain and the dominions as “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs. It was the term chosen to describe the position of the self-governing member states of the inter-war Commonwealth. The need to arrive at a similar position is much more urgent now in light of the United Kingdom’s possible departure from the EU”.


Although not sure of its publication date, Gwynfor Evans also published a pamphlet entitled Self Government for Wales and a Common Market for the Nations of Britain. This pamphlet, claimed Rhys Evans in his comprehensive 2005 book on Gwynfor Portrait of a Patriot, brought difficulties for Gwynfor politically as he laid out his constitutional position without consulting the party faithful! He sought to modernise policy in his attempt to reduce the levels of attack from Labour which asserted, quite sensibly at the time, that independence for Wales was an economic disaster.


The intention was, writes Rhys Evans, to “dispel the notion that Plaid Cymru wanted to separate economically from England” but with so doing the aim of Dominion Status was debunked – a move that was opposed by several figures in the party.


So, I am reproducing the extracts above in support of my central point made in the previous article:


“The reality is that the word ‘independence’ was and is a dirty word in many circles and has been used to create divisions and fear, enabling our detractors to raise questions as to how an empowered Wales with greater responsibilities for shaping its own future could survive.


May I suggest we re-frame the question  along the lines of what relationship Wales wishes to have with its neighbours going forward, rather than how separate we should stand”.


Finally I do find it ironical that along with myself, Lord Elystan Morgan, who has been arguing for Dominion Status, and Glyndwr Cennydd Jones, who has written extensively about constitutional models and confederalism, are probably closer to the positions of Saunders and Gwynfor than, at least, I have appreciated.


It is a source of some sadness to me that in all the years Gwynfor and I went ‘toe to toe’ politically, we never discussed these or any other things ……. there was so much bitterness in Welsh and Carmarthen politics in those days.


Photo by Mario Klassen on Unsplash


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Gwynoro Jones is a former Member of Parliament for Carmarthen

3 thoughts on “From Dominion Status, to Confederation, now Independence

  1. “Finally I do find it ironical that along with myself, Lord Elystan Morgan, who has been arguing for Dominion Status, and Glyndwr Cennydd Jones, who has written extensively about constitutional models and confederalism, are probably closer to the positions of Saunders and Gwynfor than, at least, I have appreciated”

    Perhaps the appreciation only comes when faced with the very real possibility of the UK soon ceasing to be.
    In these new circumstances clutching at straws by those who wish to keep the Union from sinking is perhaps to be expected.
    Even if those straws are many decades old and have previously been rejected and rubbished for being unfit for clutching by the now clutchees. Irony indeed.

  2. Saunders Lewis was not the most practical of politicians. Gwynfor Evans wanted independence or Cymru Rydd or Home Rule, he certainly wanted an end to Westminster meddling in Welsh affairs. We have had enough of bodge under recent leaders of Plaid. Jones and Wood, independence on page 32 on the general election manifesto and other nonsense.
    The SNP got where they are today by campaigning for independence and to get rid of the unionist Labour Party. Plaid Cymru failed to attack Labour and waffled about independence, Plaid is where it is and the SNP where they are.
    Adam Price offers not a breath of fresh air, but hurricane blast from America through the inertia in the ranks of Plaid.

  3. In the 1950s Plaid Cymru published a 24 page booklet entitled 80 Questions & Answers on Plaid Cymru (Welsh Freedom Party), the author of which was Gwynfor Evans. Question 12 asks. “Has not the nation survived for centuries without its own Government? The answer was. “Yes, but its life has been hopelessly incomplete, as can be seen by comparing Wales with small free nations. Instead of developing vigorously, it is obvious, considering the strength of the anglicising influences which permeate all aspects of life, that Wales cannot for long now maintain any form of national life unless it obtains independence.”

    This is qualified in Question 48 “What position does Plaid Cymru want to attain for the Welsh nation? The answer: “It has been stated from the outset that our aim is freedom not independence. We have rejected the idea of national sovereignty as immoral. Plaid Cymru seeks that degree of freedom for Wales which is essential to safeguard the conditions of life of its people. This can be done without breaking every connection with England and the Crown. When the full freedom of a nation within the Commonwealth is recognised it is called a Dominion. We seek Dominion status or Commonwealth status, as it is often called, for Wales.
    Question 49 continues “Does Commonwealth status fetter a nation? and the answer is “There are no obligations in this status that are not accepted voluntarily by the nation. There is an essential difference between the Commonwealth and the Empire. The Empire consists of subjected nations under England’s yoke. The Commonwealth is a society of free and equal nations, all of which recognise their relationship to each other. Of course, the equality is of rights and and not of skill and wealth. Every nation has the right to play its part in international institutions and to remain neutral in wartime if it so desires.”
    On the Crown the booklet states the Queen would come to Wales as Queen of Wales not Queen of England and would be received by the Welsh Government. “Wales would be free to change the system as it desired.” Elsewhere it is envisaged Wales would be able to have its own (more generous) social security system, and would not choose to spend as much on armaments. A Northern Ireland Stormont solution is rejected on the basis that Wales requires full freedom to rule itself and “play its part in international affairs, with a seat in any society of nations which is formed by free nations”.
    It is clear from the questions and answers that Gwynfor Evans did speak of independence but wanted this within an internationalist, co-operative framework, based on what he saw as the freedom of the individual and the nation. In proposing Wales should make its own defence and social security decisions, and have the right to a seat in international institutions, he seems to be going beyond any idea of mere federalism or confederalism within a continuing United Kingdom polity. In the context of the 1950s Plaid Cymru was seeking the degree of independence that the likes of Canada enjoyed and that was pretty substantial. This he envisaged would still make to possible to maintain strong and close relations with England, while still rejecting what he believed to be its “capitalist” and “imperialist” policies and underpinning.

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