On St David’s Day BBC Wales released the results of a poll on Wales’ constitutional position. It was a rather peculiar poll. Five options were put to an unspecified number of people and they were asked to pick the one they favoured. These were the options and the results:
1 “Wales should become an independent country separate from the UK” – 7%
2 “The Welsh Assembly should have more powers than it currently has” – 36%
3 “The Welsh Assembly’s powers should remain as they are” – 29%
4 “The Welsh Assembly should have fewer powers than it currently has” – 2%
5 “Wales should remain part of the UK and the Welsh Assembly should be abolished” – 22%
When asked if an independent Scotland would make any difference, the only noteworthy change was a rise to 12% in those wanting independence, and a corresponding fall in those wanting the ‘devo max’ option 2.
The peculiarity is in the loaded, answer-prompting menu on offer, nudging respondents down preordained tracks. Note how two of the five options, 40% of what’s available, are tailored to anti-devolutionist opinion – a gross inflation of their weight and importance revealing the underlying stuctural bias. Option 4, a position that has no adherents on Planet Earth, seems to be there simply to resurrect the dead and buried ‘just say no’ tendency. And note the way option 3, the current reality, is strategically positioned as the sensible, centrist axis around which the other options pivot, thus setting the parameters of what’s possible while dispatching contrary views to the fringes. This crystallises an abiding BBC problem. Since it is legally bound to be “impartial”, and since there can be no unanimous agreement on what would constitute impartiality, the Corporation always ends up tracking the middle ground – defined as whatever the status quo happens to be, for want of any other workable definition. This leads inevitably to the trademark BBC all-is-for-the-best-in-the-best-of-all-possible-worlds approach, drowning the UK in bogus, Panglossian, happy-clappy, consensual treacle. And because the alternatives to a “neutral” public service broadcaster are so dreadful – news and opinion overseen by likes of Rupert Murdoch – we’re pathetically grateful for this prissy eggshell-treading. Here, perhaps, is a reason for the notorious passivity and conservatism of the “British” over the last 100 years.
Had the BBC, and its pollsters ICM, been wired to think outside the box, the outcomes might have been significantly different. For instance, imagine what the responses to the following wider range of options might be:
1 An independent Welsh republic
2 An independent Welsh constitutional monarchy
3 An independent Welsh constitutional monarchy retaining the Queen as head of state
4 A semi-independent self-governing nation within a federal UK (it could be called FUK – sorry, unable to resist)
5 A semi-independent self-governing nation within a confederal UK
6 A fully devolved Assembly within a federal UK
7 A fully devolved Assembly within the UK’s current constitution
8 A partially devolved Assembly within the UK’s current constitution – the status quo
9 A powerless Assembly, ceremonial functions only, Wales to be run from London by the Welsh Office
10 An abolished Assembly, Wales to be run from London by unelected quangos and the Welsh Office – pre-1999 situation
11 The abolition of Wales and all Welsh national institutions (it could be called West Angle, Wangle for short)
Constructing the poll this way, the ‘devo max’ option moves into pole position from the margins – and the human impulse to conform would doubtless take support for it to tipping-point quantities that even the ConDems couldn’t ignore. Answers indeed depend on the questions.
That said, I have no argument with the BBC’s results which I’m sure are a pretty accurate snapshot of Welsh opinion today. From the perspective of a Welsh Republican, I am delighted and encouraged by the figures. Taking a round number between the 7% who want independence now and the 12% who would want it if Scotland took the plunge first, it can be fairly stated that around 10% of Wales is in favour of independence – an amazingly high total considering that we have all been Br(it)ain-washed from cradle to grave for at least 20 generations, that there is no indigenous Welsh media to speak of, that no political party has ever argued for outright independence, that not a single newspaper, broadcaster, public body or popular mass movement has ever promoted or espoused independence (in stark contrast to the unionist propaganda mainlined daily into Wales’ jugular vein), that no route to independence has ever been even roughly charted, that the education system keeps most people in perfect ignorance of the violent appropriation of Wales, its continuing ruthless exploitation and the true nature of the British State, and that the prevailing ideology of shallow consumerism militates against any form of radicalism, non-conformity or idealism. Actually, it’s nothing short of a miracle that there are 300,000 people today who dream of a Free Wales – I thought I was the only one! How has that flame been kept flickering through all the centuries? We’ve been taking turns to pass it on…
From that 10% foundation, a Plaid Cymru at last committed to putting the case for independence should be able to build support for the idea to 20% over time, especially with Leanne Wood as leader to widen Plaid’s demographic. Then real creativity and inventiveness will be needed to push on to the clinching 51%. Off the top of my head here’s an idea that has never been tried anywhere and would perfectly suit Wales, where everyone is just two removes at most from everyone else (ie: if I don’t know you, I will know someone who does). The BBC/ICM poll takes no account of Wales’ huge army of missing voters – those who don’t vote, those who don’t register, the homeless and under-18s. Together they make up over 40% of the Welsh population. Disenfranchised and with no stake in the UK, they should be ignored no longer. The identification and targeting of non-voters, a door-to-door campaign to register everybody, and a default registration address in each constituency for the homeless and those who want to remain beyond the authorities’ reach should be combined with specific pledges tailored to each missing voter’s individual needs that would be legally redeemable when Wales achieves independence. Not only would this hugely crank up support for independence, but also it would elegantly counterbalance the British State’s sordid democratic deficit, that long, disgraceful track record of dispossession, extortion, bribery, vote-buying, vote-selling, protection rackets, corruption, gerrymandering, vested interests, nepotism, lies, broken promises, lobby fodder and unelected power. Allied with sustained campaigns to reduce the voting age to 16 and allow voting at home for Assembly elections (London retains control over Wales’ voting systems), a lucid, irresistible message would spread: in an independent Wales, for the first time, we will be citizens not subjects and all of us will count.
That’s just one idea. Independence will not be handed to Wales on a plate; it will require a struggle. An urgent priority is to form a Welsh Consitutional Convention, as was established in Scotland as far back as 1988. Prominent Scottish people, of all political persuasions and none, signed a declaration claiming their right to live in a sovereign nation. From that small seed a quarter of a century later Scotland has moved steadily in the direction of independence, while Wales has stagnated. As a result Welsh independence has never had any flesh put on its bones, the myriad issues that would need to be tackled have not been set out, a road map to the promised land has never been drawn up and the manifold advantages of independence have not been articulated. Such a Convention should work to write a draft Welsh Constitution, an essential tool in the process to focus minds, generate debate and whet appetites for the grown-up pleasures and excitements of autonomy. Independence isn’t an anti-Britain/England negative; it’s a pro-Wales positive and all its galvanising possibilities should be presented as such. In other words, to flip the humbug patriotism of JFK (1917-1963) on its head: ask not what you can do for Wales, ask what Wales can do for you…