From Dominion Status, to Confederation, now Independence

Gwynoro Jones discovers views shared with Gwynfor Evans and Saunders Lewis

Gwynoro Jones is a former Member of Parliament for Carmarthen

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


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