Articles Politics

The Fight for Fairness: The Labour Party and Welsh Independence

On the 11th May this month, on a surprisingly sunny Saturday, arguably one of the most historic events in recent Welsh history occurred.

Whether or not you accept the estimated number, it was said over a thousand  descended upon Cardiff in the largest ever march for Welsh Independence.

Indeed, whether it’s the rise of the ‘Indy-Curious‘,  or the success of the growing YesCymru movement, it’s hard to deny that the idea of Welsh Independence is surely entering the political mainstream.

With twenty years of one-party rule, the prospect of greater devolution is already a slow process for the Welsh Labour Government, with the idea that greater devolution could, in the words of First Minister Mark Drakeford, lead to breaking up Britain’.

Yet, at the front of a sea of Independence supporters in Cardiff that Saturday, speaking to the hundreds gathered,  there was a surprising figure.

That figure was Ben Gwalchmai. Proudly an advocate of Independence,  and proudly a member of the Labour Party.

In fact, Ben was at the rally to speak on behalf of a movement he and a few others started in 2017 –  Labour for an Independent Wales.

We’ve talked to Ben about the Labour movement, the desire within the Party for Independence, and how the prospect of Welsh Independence can bring about a truly Socialist Wales founded on a sense of fairness.

welsh indy march

(Photograph of the Welsh Independence March, courtesy of WalesOnline)

So what actually is the Labour movement for an Independent Wales?

Formed in 2017,  Labour for an Independent Wales is a campaign group within the Labour Party that does what it says on the tin – advocates an Independent Wales, albeit an Independence based on Labour values.

But haven’t Labour been in power the last twenty years in Wales?  What Labour values are these?

Ben Gwalchmai argues that the primary issue of Labour for an Independent Wales is that of fairness – something the current Welsh Labour Government could challenge more effectively if it supported Independence from a structurally unfair British state.

Ben argues that Britain has been broken for a long time, with the current political crisis  exposing the extent to which the United Kingdom is fundamentally a state built on an unfair structure of power.

No matter what way you voted in the EU referendum, the resulting years have beyond doubt shown what Ben dubs the ‘democratic deficit’ within the UK – something that benefits England most of all whilst unfairly disadvantaging Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Whether you’re a Leaver or a Remainer, as Ben argues, the sheer weight of English votes means that ultimately the Welsh voice in any UK-wide referendum is barely registered at best, potentially useless at worst.

If you take a look at the Referendum, were you to remove all Welsh votes, regardless of the way they voted, the sheer number of English voters means leave would still win.

Using figures from the Welsh Labour Representation Group, even if the roles were reversed, with 65% of Wales voting Remain instead of Leave, due to the number of English votes leave would still win.

Most damning of all, even if Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all voted 65% to Remain in the EU, the Leave campaign would still win based on English votes.

If you support Leave, that sounds very promising. The damning fact though is that any potential UK-wide referendum in future is ultimately, despite how every other country within the UK votes,  the decision of England.

Similarly, through what Ben Gwalchmai describes as the ‘Victorian, Imperial’ way Westminster has been handling the crisis, Westminster has proven itself to be more concerned with appeasing English voters than on working with the devolved governments.

Due to this, Ben argues the need for a stronger Indy-voice within the Labour Party, viewing the current Welsh Labour government as  ‘burying it’s head in the sand’ in regards to the increasing collapse of the British State.

But why choose Labour if you support an Independent Wales?   Why not Plaid?

Ben Gwalchmai argues that a future Welsh Labour Party supporting Independence would guarantee a vote for ‘a Socialist, Independent Wales’.  As a result of Plaid’s broad-church of Welsh Nationalism, Ben argues that Socialism is but one wing of the party, and cannot be fully guaranteed.

Similarly, Ben argues that the Labour Party already has a strong, home-grown tradition of demanding greater home-rule.

Quoting Welsh Socialist icons such as Keir Hardie and S.O. Davies, Ben Gwalchmai argues that there is already a tradition amongst Labour within Wales of supporting the right to Welsh home-rule, something that the Labour Party in Cardiff Bay need to currently incorporate.

And in two years, Labour for an Independent Wales have been making significant waves.

It was a Labour-fringe event with football legend Neville Southall – himself an avid supporter of Independence, that caught large-scale attention.

‘Big Nev’,  a supporter of Independence for Wales, but in particular a Labour supporter of Independence brought the campaign movement it’s first high-profile face.

On top of this, the movement has been consistently growing in numbers.  Even if just looking at their Twitter page, there are currently nearly 1,800 followers – comically, at the time of writing higher than that of the official Welsh Conservative’s page.

Importantly, the movement is actively planning how an Independent Wales would operate under a Labour Government, with Ben arguing that campaigning is only one aspect of the movement, with meticulous planning needed to ensure the day-by-day practicalities of an Independent Wales.

And according to Ben, the tide is changing not just for Labour. Increasingly, Ben argues, there’s a growing demand within the Welsh Liberal Democrats for Independence.  Even a few Conservatives are interested in the idea – though God know’s not for the same reasons.

How does the movement expand?

Most people dislike politics.

That’s almost a given fact.  You chat to the average person on the street in Wales and they’ll say as much, probably in a bit harsher language than what we use.

What the majority of people dislike about politics though, isn’t so much politics, but the corruption that too often plagues it. What Ben Gwalchmai argues though is that the language we use needs to change.

Rather than talk about politics, if you frame the argument about fairness,  the people will listen.

Indeed, with small communities in Wales at the whim of the un-elected House of Lords, currently one of the most expensive parliaments in the world, unfairness is an issue that plagues Wales.

Is it fair that one in three children in Wales are in poverty, all the while newborn Archie Mountbatten-Windsor gets a tax break?

This is not right, and this is what Ben argues will tip Labour supporters into advocating Independence.

It’s too common a fact that people in Wales, in particular the Valleys don’t often deviate from Labour. That’s a given.

As a result, parties that advocate Independence – i.e. Plaid, often don’t get the support they hope for in these areas.

It’s nothing personal, kid,  it’s just the way people in the South are currently ingrained.

However, with the increasingly turbulent times we live in, perhaps for many people in Labour areas, support for an Independent Wales, and for Ben’s movement would help change the Labour narrative.

In fact it was Ben’s grandfather, himself from the Rhondda, who perfectly summarised what was needed, and spurred Ben into action two years ago.

He said ‘people will never deviate from Labour, but people also support Independence…

…What are we going to do about it?’

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