WALES AND SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE
LEANNE WOOD, PRESIDENT OF PLAID CYMRU
Last year, in the run-up to the second RIC Conference, the Edinburgh branch put forward a proposal to organise a session on ‘Internationalism from below and the break-up of the UK, with speakers from Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales, This was agreed agreed and Mary MacGregor ( Dundee RIC), Bernadette McAliskey, Steve Freeman (Republican Socialist Alliance in England) and Leanne Wood (President, Plaid Cymru) were all invited to speak. Unfortunately, Leanne had another engagement and sent her apologies.
In June, some Plaid Cymru activists met with Pat Smith and Allan Armstrong of the Edinburgh RIC branch, and with Glasgow RIC members. The net result of this was decision to reinvite Leanne to speak in Scotland.
In the event, the venue chosen was Glasgow. And, as you will to read from Leanne’s talk below, this was a particularly appropriate decision. However, this meant that most Edinburgh RIC members did not hear Leanne’s talk. It is not on the national RIC blog. This is why we have reposted it below on the Edinburgh RIC blog.
I want to thank you for the invitation to speak to you this evening. It is a particular pleasure to address you at this venue.
The last Welsh political leader to visit this building, as I understand, was David Lloyd George back in 1917 as Prime Minister, when this building was known as St Andrew’s Hall.
I’ve had a better reception tonight than he did almost a century ago when an angry protest awaited him outside. The night is still young but I’m hopeful I won’t need to be escorted out of here under military guard as Lloyd George was that day.
Lloyd George was here to attend a ceremony where he received the freedom of the city of Glasgow. The protest was assembled to register anger at the imprisonment of socialist leader John Maclean.
It was a tumultuous time and regardless of people’s views of Maclean’s politics, no one can doubt the lasting impression he has made on left-wing politics in Scotland and indeed further afield.
And the protest that day in 1917 certainly left an impression on my compatriot – Maclean was released from jail the following day! The people have power. It's good to be in Glasgow.
This city has a proud tradition of amplifying the radicalism of your nation. In that sense there are parallels, commonalities between my home - the Rhondda valley and this great city. In the respective histories of both our nations, particularly in our industrial and social history, the Rhondda and Glasgow have taken leading roles.
Maclean himself visited the Rhondda in 1911 during a dispute between miners and managers. There was a lockout of 800 men by the owners of the Cambrian Combine - where my grandfather went on to work - because some of them who were working in particularly dangerous conditions had the temerity to demand a fair wage.
The lockout prompted a downing of tools by 12,000 Rhondda miners and Maclean came down to Tonypandy and saw first hand the dispute and the impact it was having. He issued an appeal to miners in Scotland to stand side by side with the miners of Wales in demanding a minimum wage and by supporting a general strike, if necessary.
Maclean's letter was typically eloquent and it stands as an example of the strong bond between our two nations, and particularly the working people of our two countries. It was a letter written at a time of industrial excitement. An historic and formative period for both Wales and Scotland. And we’re living through an historic, formative period once again. It is an historic period for all the nations of these islands.
But of course especially for Scotland. From outside Scotland we are watching with great interest. I have been very conscious throughout the course of your national conversation not to come here and lecture you. You’ve had too many people coming over Hadrian’s Wall to talk down to you. To suggest that they are better placed to determine the destiny of Scotland than you - the people IN Scotland. You won’t get that from me tonight or ever.
Yes - I believe that a ‘yes’ vote in September would be the best outcome for people here in Scotland. Yes - I believe that a ‘yes’ vote in September would be best for Wales. Yes - I believe that a ‘yes’ vote in September will be best for all the peoples and nations of these islands. But it is your referendum. Your choice.
This evening I wanted to share with you my thoughts on a number of issues. First, I want to tackle this claim that's perpetuated by the No Camp that a ‘yes’ vote in Scotland would be a betrayal, a letting down or an abandonment of people in the rest of Britain.
Secondly, I will address the social and political opportunities that independence would provide, to you here, but to those of us outside Scotland too.
Finally, while all eyes will understandably be focused on Scotland over the coming fifty-eight days, there are, too, developments in Wales.
I thought you might be interested to hear a little about Plaid Cymru’s vision for Wales to firstly develop our self-government, then moving on to emerge as the fourth independent state of these islands.
It’s worth noting, I think, that the United Kingdom and, more generally, the political arrangements on islands, have been subject to constant change. The current UK constitution can be traced back to the advent of devolution in 1999. Prior to that, the United Kingdom’s constitutional composition was amended in 1948 with the Ireland Act and again before then 1922 with the creation of the Irish Free State. And so on and so on.
You get the picture. To claim that we live in a centuries old, static, union is incorrect. The union remains and always has been, fluid. The question people in Scotland are now asking, and a question that people in my nation will ask too - is whether or not our relationship with one another on these islands is best served through partnership and through a social union... or whether we should remain part of a more rigid and unequal union.
A union that will centre on the sovereignty of Westminster. And let's make sure we always remember - the sovereignty of Westminster always trumps the demands, hopes and aspirations of the people.
A political elite in London will prevail over the will of our peoples for as long as the political union is upheld. They choose not to hear the people. There are numerous examples that can be cited to illustrate this point.
One that sticks in my mind is that day in February 2003 when millions of us marched to stop the illegal and bloody invasion of Iraq. There are no circumstances I can see whereby an independent Scotland or an independent Wales would have collaborated and joined in that illegal war. But by virtue of our membership of the union, that war was fought in our collective name. In September you have your chance to ensure that never ever again will your country be dragged into an illegal war against the will of its people.
That in itself would seem to me to be a good reason for starting afresh with independence. But of course the opportunities are greater than in just one policy area, even one as big as war.
You may have heard the phrase - from Wales, that devolution is a process not an event. That statement appears to have been accepted. But although even those who want to preserve this political union accept that devolution is a process and not an event, they have never spelt out the destination, the end-point to their process. Where do they want to go?
It's quite peculiar, from a pro-union point of view, to accept that your nation is involved in a process to which you are unwilling or unable to describe the destination.
Could it be that there is no destination in their minds? Is their vision of a process one that is knee-jerk in nature? One that gives as little as possible and only when the political circumstances demand.
It was Tony Blair who said "power devolved, is power retained. " Not only is independence an articulation of self-empowerment, the purest form of democratic expression, it is also the logical progression of the devolution journey.
There is no predetermined destination, of course. The most exciting aspect of your national conversation for me, as an outsider looking in, has been the excitement and the engagement the conversation itself has created.
Town halls full. People in shopping centres, in pubs and on social media wanting to engage. This process and the conversation it has generated has reinvigorated democracy in Scotland. That's what it looks like from outside anyway.
Scottish people will themselves decide on the 18th of September, the outcome of this national conversation. That outcome is in the hands of the people.
It's been argued by some that Scotland’s decision to become independent would in some way be an abandonment of the peoples in the rest of these islands. The inference is that a yes vote would be a selfish act, contrary to a spirit of solidarity. That it would confine the rest of us – especially working people to decades of unabated Tory rule.
I have to tackle this point head on. It is simply wrong to say that Scottish votes will save us from Tory rule. Wales and Scotland both voted Labour at the last UK general election, but that made no difference. Both our countries are enduring a government in London that has no mandate from our people.
I'm as keen as anyone to be freed of the shackles of Tory rule, but to argue that we should all endure it together, whether we voted for it or not... that for some reason, solidarity has to equate to collective suffering is to argue for a position that is both perverse and illogical.
To those who argue that solidarity can only be expressed through the collective suffering of all of the peoples of these islands, then surely the logical conclusion is that they should be arguing for an end to the devolution of education and health. Should not Scots and Welsh students have to endure £9,000 a year tuition fees as an act of solidarity with the people of England? Should not Scots and Welsh patients have to accept the privatisation and the break up of their health services as an act of solidarity?
Of course not. Collective suffering, disguised as solidarity, is a cynical ploy on the part of the No Campaign. Solidarity through uniformity of policy is no solidarity at all. And the ‘no’ camp know that. An attempt at guilting Scots that I’m sure will back fire. For those of us on the left, solidarity with others, of course is a central part of our political paradigm.
And I believe the best way for Scots to show solidarity with the rest of us is through voting ‘yes’. Because a yes vote here will usher in a new period of solidarity through divergence.
On the face of it that might appear as a contradiction. But let me outline how solidarity through divergence can work and how it has, in some respects, already begun.
The United Kingdom is an unbalanced state. We know that from every single economic indicator. Average wages. House prices. GVA per head. Unemployment levels. On every indicator, the London city-state bears almost no resemblance to the rest of the UK.
Never mind Scotland declaring independence – London was effectively granted it three decades ago with no referendum. When the Westminster political elite all agreed on a policy to intentionally deindustrialise places like Wales and Scotland and instead to prioritise the wholesale deregulation of the City, they placed all economic eggs in the one financial services basket. London was granted effective independence and it was granted at the expense of the rest of us.
Devolution has started to address the political imbalance of the UK, but without the economic levers that come with being independent, there will always be a limit to our ability to deliver equality, prosperity and social justice.
As I have mentioned, we can already point to Scotland as an example in terms of the different way they have prioritised public health and free education. Scotland gives us in Wales and our progressive friends in England opportunities to point to demonstrable examples of an alternative to neo-liberalism and the politics of austerity.
Just imagine what we could point to if Scotland emerges as an independent country. Having a new state on our doorstep approaching public services in a different, more progressive way compared to what will be left of the UK. Pursuing collaboration not competition. A Scottish state with control over its social protection policy.
This ability to create a different social security regime - one that will refuse to penalise and punish the unemployed, the sick and the disabled.
Friends, the greatest act of solidarity you can show us in Wales is to create in your nation a society that rejects the poison of spiteful right-wing rule and build instead a socially just country that will show the way for us all as a beacon in these islands.
I call it solidarity through divergence. By building for yourselves a new future, an alternative future, that will provide us with the context and the opportunity to tangibly point to alternatives as we confront the forces of neo-liberalism in the UK.
Scots are known throughout the world for your oil, your food and your whisky. But your greatest export to us after September will be social justice, Scotia style. Solidarity through divergence, isn’t introverted, inward-looking or selfish. Solidarity through divergence is internally selfless, within Scotland, because its basis is standing by those in need.
Externally, solidarity through divergence is selfless because you’ll be setting an example to all your neighbours of what is possible when the social tools are used for the good of society as a whole.
And there will be some who argue, ‘there are already examples of different approaches to social and economic policies elsewhere throughout Europe, yet what good has that done in building an alternative to austerity on the island of Britain?’
There’s merit in that observation. But I would respond by saying that the geography, culture and political position of the island of Britain has created several barriers in attempts to import alternatives. Britain is a largely English-speaking island, on the political and geographic periphery of Europe.
Free market-ism & neo-liberalism has meant that looking to the Unites States has been favoured in some powerful quarters, over looking towards Europe. We can see that from the difference given in media coverage to elections in the United States compared to say Germany, even though both have arguably as much of an impact upon our lives.
Imagine, a nation on this island, a new state on our doorstep pursuing a different set of political priorities, building a society based on a different set of values. It would be inescapable. We already see that when Scottish health and education policies are pointed to by English and Welsh politicians.
We saw it in practice when the other administrations of the UK followed your lead in public health policies such as the banning of smoking in public places. And we’ll see it again when you abolish the bedroom tax and provide for your people a wage upon which they can live.
The naysayers tell us that a "yes" vote will create a border, a barrier between Scotland and the rest of us. To me, that says a lot about how they look at the world. I see borders as gateways not barriers. And you have an opportunity for your border to become a new gateway for Scotland to the world.
That border has the potential to open up new opportunities for people England too. It could help people in England to find their own national voice and their own new place in the world. If that is what they want. And what about Wales?
How does the Scottish referendum itself impact upon our political debates? What will the impact on Wales be of either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote in Scotland in September? These are valid questions of course, but are they are questions that up until very recently were limited to a few anoraks and specialist commentators. Increasingly, people in Wales are beginning to consider their own national future.
More and more people are closely watching events here and pondering the possibilities for Wales. Wales and Scotland are two nations. Of that there is no debate. Wales and Scotland, to coin a phrase, were offered national legislatures because they are nations. The powers of our respective legislatures have been limited in case we act like nations.
I again turn to Blair’s assertion that power devolved is power retained to qualify that view (and I promise you I don't make a habit of quoting the former prime minister). Our two countries are on national journeys. Wales is at a different stage in our national journey to where you are in Scotland. That doesn’t mean in any way that I don’t aspire to Wales having the same national conversation you are having now... And for the people of Wales to one day having our own referendum so that we too can decide whether or not to emerge from the shadows as an independent nation.
But the very basis of self-determination is that the peoples of nations themselves decide the pace and nature of their national progression. There is no one size fits all route map to statehood. Indeed, we can see that in these islands. Following the establishment of the Irish Free State and the creation of a Parliament at Stormont following partition in 1922, a number of home rule groups emerged in Scotland, anticipating home rule here.
There was an air of inevitability at that time. As history has shown there is nothing inevitable about the course of history. Scotland had to wait, like Wales, until 1999 for the first taste of home rule. A lesson for Wales and for Scotland, is that our own fate is in our own hands – if we want it to be.
Essentially, that’s the very essence of the question you and your fellow citizens will be answering in September. Do you want control over decisions like war and peace? About a public or private health service? A non-judgemental social security system that meets the needs of those unable to fully meet their own? About child care? About the ability to properly protect yourselves with similar trades union rights to the ones that were taken away from you by Thatcher and kept from you by a Labour Westminster government? Having decent trades union laws in place may well have protected some of the downgrading in workers terms and conditions we have seen in recent years.
They have kept telling us that there is no alternative. Well the people of Scotland are showing us that there absolutely is an alternative. And it is within your grasp. You are being given the chance to decide whether your next steps and your political direction lies in your hands or in the hands of others.
The same applies to Wales. Plaid Cymru advocates that at the very least, Wales must move from a model of devolution now to a model of self-government. That’s more than a matter of semantics. Yes, we believe in a powers reserved model of government, but unlike the London-based parties, the Party of Wales wants powers reserved to Wales – not London.
It should be up to the people of Wales to decide what decisions are made at home and what powers we choose to share with others. There shouldn’t simply be a division of responsibility where powers are transferred to Wales but for those powers kept at London, Wales has no say at all. I’ll give you what I consider to be a powerful example of why powers should be shared on certain matters in the meantime, rather than powers being wholly reserved to London on behalf of Wales.
Following a ‘yes’ vote in September among your country’s priorities will be the removal of nuclear weapons from Scottish territorial waters. That process will involve their relocation, probably to another part of what is left of the UK.
I say, under no circumstances at all, should those weapons be relocated to Wales against the wishes of the people of Wales. And I can tell you tonight, that the Plaid Cymru government I will lead from 2016, will not, under any circumstances, allow our nation to be the dumping ground for unwanted, immoral, weapons of mass destruction.
It is my view, that moving to a model of self-government, where the sovereignty of the people of Wales is enshrined and respected, will give us in Wales the opportunities to begin the process of building the national infrastructure we need to deliver for our communities and our people.
But of course, Plaid Cymru’s aim is to secure independence for Wales. That is the normal status enjoyed by the vast majority of nations and there is no reason why Wales should continue forever as an international anomaly. Becoming independent is essential if the full potential of a nation and its people is to be unleashed. For too long in Wales we’ve expected others to deliver for us.
But there is a growing realisation now, that we have to do things for ourselves. Our recent experiences should act as a reminder to us that a culture of dependency will only deliver the same old disappointments.
I became politically conscious during the dark days of the miners’ strike of 1984/85. I know that time was equally significant for communities here too. In the eighties, the collective hope of so many Welsh communities was to see the Tories defeated. To see an end to Thatcherite policies. For most in such communities that hope of a better future was staked on Labour being returned to government.
Of course our countries had to endure two more terms of Tory rule against the democratic wishes of our two peoples. And then, when eventually a Labour government was returned to office, it was a New Labour government led by Tony Blair (that's three times he's been mentioned now)
Even when we voted Labour and Labour won, we didn’t get what we wanted! PAUSE 1984 and 1997. Both equally significant years in Wales’ history. The first a year where for a majority, a clear alternative was yearned for. 1997 the year that should have provided a new dawn.
It did not, because as we know, whatever the colour of the rosette or the ties of the party winning a UK election, their priorities will not be our priorities.
I began this evening by discussing the shared industrial experiences of our two nations and specifically of the city of Glasgow and my home valley of the Rhondda. Both places led their respective nations in political and social change. Radical change.
I very much look forward to this great city again leading a new beginning for the people of Scotland in September. And I’ll ask you, in a few years from now, to take time out of your efforts of building a new country from an old nation, to keep an eye on the Rhondda playing its part in the building of a new, fair and free Wales.
Diolch yn fawr.
Leanne’s talk was first posted at:-