Sam Parry discusses the concept of an Independent Wales following Plaid Cymru's change in policy.
There is a conception in Wales that we are not ready, or able, to be independent. It has become so engrained in our national psyche that it has become the ‘common sense’ or accepted wisdom both in Wales and Westminster. Those against independence state that we will never be able to stand on our own two feet, whereas some advocates of independence stipulate that one day we may be able to be independent, but not yet, and probably not in our lifetime. Both sides of the debate base these claims on economic factors, that we do not have the capability to afford our public sector without support from the rest of the UK, namely England. What those on both side of the fence fail to address is that we are in this situation partly due to the fact that we are in a political union with the rest of the UK. The Union is based on the presumption that its constituent parts are too small, or too weak to go it alone. Yet, this phenomenon of stateless nations reasserting themselves is a common trend in Europe, it is what Mathew Hechter calls the awakening of the first world’s third world. It has to be remembered that Wales was annexed by England and that since then we have consistently been England’s poorer neighbour, a region for extraction, whether it be coal, water or energy. How do those against independence in our lifetime suggest we fight against the English imperial state in what is essentially England’s first colony?
Wales is currently funded through the Barnett formula, which in simple terms means that the devolved administrations are given a bloc grant dependent on changes to spend in UK Government departments and population share. The formula is designed so that spending increases or decreases equally between all four constituent parts, this is not the reality. Scotland receives 6% more spending per head than Wales and Northern Ireland a staggering 14%. This, added to the fact that Wales’ relative need is much higher than Scotland’s, and similar to that of Northern Ireland’s led the Holtham Commission to conclude that Wales is underfunded by around 300 million a year. Lord Barnett was right when he called his formula a “terrible mistake”. Although the Barnett Formula is in need of reform, this will not happen, as the leaders of the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats promised they would not cut funding for Scotland in what is now called “The Vow”. The reality is that Scotland is more important to the UK than Wales will ever be and a continued under-funding and deepening of poverty in Wales is a small price to pay for the continuing role of Scotland within the Union. When it comes to funding, Wales is the party who is supposed to be grateful for the scraps she is given after the rest have had their share.
Nowhere is England’s ambivalence towards us clearer than when we look at the state of our national resources. Wales is a net exporter of energy, in 2010, 25% of the energy we created was exported to England. In the same year, our energy prices were higher than in any other constituent part of the UK. This is a continuing phenomena, the proposed tidal lagoon in Cardiff could generate enough energy for every single household in Wales, yet pumping this energy over the border to Bristol has not been ruled out. This is the 21st Century equivalent of drowning Welsh villages for English drinking water. Wales has always been seen, and used as a place for the British state to extract what it needs. Through the UK state apparatus, consent has been manufactured through the coercive force of political and civil society. A “common” or “dominant” worldview is spread and permeates through Welsh society which helps Westminster keep its hegemonic position. The media, including the BBC and English-run newspapers are the mouthpiece of this “common” worldview. Due to our weak civil society (because of our lack of self-governance) English led news and English opinion is what is heard and permeates through Welsh society; this helps to strengthen the apparent invalidity of Welsh nationalism by calling it “backward” or “regressive”. What these discourses fail to address is that ‘Britishness’ is also a form of nationalism, no more natural or unnatural than that of Welsh, Kurdish or Sicilian nationalism, the difference is the hegemonic position of the British state and consequently, British nationalism.
The vestiges of our past as a conquered people have led us to see ourselves as the poor neighbours, those at the bottom of the pile, those last to the table, the afterthought of all discussions. This does not have to be our fate. We will always be poor as long as we are part of the UK state apparatus, we have had 500 years within the UK state, with no change in our fortunes. The question I would like to ask is why do people think that a state that has kept us poor for so long is somehow the answer that will lead us to economic prosperity? Heaven knows they’ve had enough time to solve this issue. It’s now time for a new, radical, forward-looking, positive solution.