The ripples of Scotland’s thrilling push towards independence, spreading outwards from Edinburgh, have now crossed Offa’s Dyke. The men who hold two of the most powerful positions within Wales, the First Minister and the editor of the Western Mail, have been putting their thinking caps on and coming up with their considered reactions. For your edification, here they are:
•CARWYN JONES, BBC Wales interview: “Let’s not pretend that it would be a good thing for Wales to become independent. We know financially that it’s not in our interests. We know that being part of the UK gives us a much stronger voice on the world stage.”
•ALAN EDMUNDS, Western Mail editorial: “The plain fact is that independence for Wales would be an economic disaster. We are the poorest nation in the UK, we have some of the poorest communities in Europe and we lack the private sector to bolster prosperity.”
This is the best the leaders of the British nationalist cause in Wales can come up with? Let’s deal with Edmunds first. In just two sentences that flatly contradict each other he manages to perfectly encapsulate their threadbare case. His tortured logic is like advising a battered wife to stay with her abusive husband because there might be brutes even more violent awaiting her. Things Can Only Get Worse: the usual counsel of utter despair and hopelessness from the ‘National Newspaper of Wales’ (sic). As TrinityMirror announces yet more redundancies and the Mail’s circulation plummets to the humiliating levels of a shire county free-sheet, the only question left is how soon before someone in London does the decent thing and puts Edmunds out of his misery. Carwyn Jones will not, unfortunately, be got rid of so easily.
It’s nearly a year now since he became First Minister and he’s starting to remind me of a fat lad at school who was the only one with a decent football, but kept it hidden in his locker lest it get dirty. Armed with more powers than any Welsh leader in history, Carwyn has decided to do, well, absolutely nothing. He’s not going to play and he’s taking the ball home with him. Compared to him Rhodri Morgan was a whirling dervish, Ron Davies a visionary genius and Alun Michael a veritable Boutros Boutros-Ghali – mind you, he did somehow summon up the energy to concoct outrageous proposals with Peter Hain to end proportionality at Assembly elections in an effort to gerrymander a permanent Labour majority, so there are some signs of life. When roused from the torpor he has made into a fine art his message is always the same: not so much don’t rock the boat, more don’t let the boat out of dry dock. His BBC interview suggests he is losing the plot. There is only one known, tried and trusted way for any nation to “have a voice on the world stage” and that is by being an independent nation state. Estonia, say, was mute when subsumed into the USSR but since independence has a voice in every world forum. Being part of the UK, in complete confutation of Jones’s assertion, is precisely the reason why there is no Welsh voice on any international body (bar a few sports), and never will be until we are an independent nation. Jones must know this, unless he’s an idiot.
As for his use of the old “we can’t afford it” argument, it hardly deserves dignifying with a response because, in effect, Jones is telling us that we Welsh are uniquely incompetent and thus unfit to do what is done routinely the whole world over. Every single one of the 120 countries that have gained independence since the end of WW2 has increased its prosperity, why would Wales be any different? What an insult. Actually, we can’t afford not to be independent, but so inured is he to the UK way of running an economy in the interests of the rich and powerful he lacks the brain synapses to imagine anything different. And even if it were true (which it is not) that an independent Wales would be worse off “financially” – so what? What kind of mean and narrow definition of nationhood is it that reduces everything to a balance sheet? Nobody in South Sudan was so tiny-minded when it became the world’s 198th nation state in 2011, despite the fact the impoverished Republic begins life at 138th in the world’s economic league (out of interest, if Wales became independent today we would be 75th – a lousy British legacy we could surely improve on). Carwyn’s prescription for Wales is as pathetically timid and unambitious as a middle-aged man still living at home with his parents because it’s cheaper and mam does his washing. The sole purpose of a nation is to actualise itself, to bring itself into being, or else it is nothing more than a set of useless symbols. The fledgling must eventually fly the nest, take that leap into the unknown, spread its wings and reach for freedom. That’s the whole point, First Minister. Someone chuck a bucket of cold water over him…