Saturday, 26 July 2008

Wales dithers as Scotland marches

The stunning by-election victory for the Scottish National Party in Glasgow East this week has attracted the usual clichés, although I really don't believe the journos and usual commentators have fully appreciated the significance of the victory and what it means for the Union.

The UK media have of course explained away the rejection of Labour in Glasgow East as just another by-election defeat for Gordon Brown and another 'protest vote' against unpopular Government policies that are, of course, a consequence of 'global economic problems.'

Whilst I accept the fact that rising food and fuel prices, on top of the 10p tax farce were all factors in Labour's defeat, what the Brit press fail to grasp is that this was a rejection of the sovereignty of the British Government in Scotland. It was, in effect, a mini-referendum on whether the East Weigies wanted to legitimise UK Government interference in Scottish affairs, or whether they endorsed the Scottish administration's transition from an 'executive' to a real government with teeth.

The SNP's slogan for the by-election 'On your side' I think encapsulated the mood that lingers in the new-found confidence of the Scottish people: they trust their government to put them first, and reject Westminster. Quite ironically, at a time when the UK Cabinet must feel like a meeting of IRN BRU shareholders.

And significantly, the people of Glasgow East, a strong Hibernian-Catholic area, where the SNP have been suspected of being Presbyterian and diametrically in contrast with the Glasgow Irish's vision of a united Ireland, have crossed that last legacy of Britishness in the Gaelic countries: sectarianism.

For while the Scots for generations have divided into Catholic-Protestant, Gaelic-Lallands, Highland-Lowland camps, the British state has happily kept Scotland in the Union playing on 'unique' divisions in Scottish society and selling the Union as the glue that keeps them all together in relative peace.

But post-2007 Scotland is a very different place to the poor, partisan Scotland of the early 1900s. The SNP administration has demonstrated, consistently and confidently what the SNP always knew: that the Union actually keeps old divisions alive and that when Scots get on with making decisions for themselves and each other, then divides are crossed, communities come together and strength is found in the most important segment of the shared values of Scots, whoever and wherever they are, namely the fact that they are Scottish.

The old bogeymen and psychological barriers neatly placed and safeguarded by the British Sate for generations are gone, for good and forever. The SNP will continue I'm sure to win the trust of the people of Scotland, for their success in doing so will not only determine the future of a political party, but also the fate of a nation.

Such a contrast with Wales. Although we cannot expect our national movement to match, or come close to matching, the significant rise of the Scottish counterpart. There is a significant feeling of frustration for a Welsh Nationalist in watching our Celtic cousins setting a new social and political agenda, whilst we, it seems, timidly and apologetically lurk in the wilderness.

If there is one thing Plaid Cymru need to learn from the SNP, it is that only through setting the political agenda can a party deliver succession for its country from a larger state. Plaid Cymru needs to remember that it will never deliver (if indeed it desires) independence for Wales by relying on the devolution process to organically conclude with the lowering of the Butcher's Apron from Cardiff Castle.

And how tiring it is for Plaid to claim that all of Scotland's successes in nation building are down to the fact that it has always had its own education, banking, and criminal justice systems. The party cannot hide behind such excuses anymore. Devolution has existed for nearly ten years and yet there is a lack of momentum and direction in the Welsh national movement. It is responsive and at times, frankly, impotent. Entering into coalition with Labour may have been a wise move at this juncture for the party, but if it fails to deliver not only constitutional change, but also a change in the esteem of the people, then maybe Plaid Cymru underestimated the ability of the Labour party to pacify and negate Plaid Cymru in government.

A number of opportunities have been and gone. Plaid Cymru could have nailed so many blows to Labour's coffin with announcements from Whitehall getting more and more draconian and right-wing. The 10p, non-doms, Welfare reform, fuel and energy costs etc. London's difficulty is Wales' opportunity.

The case for full fiscal autonomy for Wales, within or without the Union could have been made with effortless ease on all of these issues. 'A Welsh treasury would re-introduce the 10p tax band'; 'a Welsh treasury would cap energy costs.' The script writes itself.

Plaid is in government, and has demonstrated that all hell won't break loose with nationalists in government in Cardiff Bay. But frankly, our national legislature is hardly filled with charismatic and visionary states-people; anyone could be competent in government in the Bay.

And that should make it easier for Plaid. Although many of their most talented are outside the Senedd (Adam Price springs to mind) getting such people elected to the Assembly could provide Plaid with a formidable potential front-bench team. Perhaps Plaid needs to be more calculating in terms of its candidate selection and maybe then we will see the temperature rise.

As Alex Salmond said, his party and government are marching to a Scottish tune. It's maybe time Plaid Cymru had the courage to change the record and conduct a confident, pro-independence symphony.


Lenin Cymru said...

Welcome to the blogosphere Edward!

Lenin Cymru said...

Can you link to my blog?

Edward ap Sion said...

Please find that I have duly obliged - and thank you for adding a link to my blog on your page.

Penddu said...

An excellent analysis - I hope you keep this up.

Plaid Whitegate said...

Adam for the Assembly; an unambiguous message of pro-independence; insist on the referendum on greater powers before 2011 if the coalition is to hold.

Above all, be bold, be confident that our vision for Welsh self-government means people come before profits. I doubt there was a better time for a left-wing message than now given the resentment at record profits and reckless bonuses for the ruling elite.

Draig said...

I wonder if the general public will be so enthusiastic about voting in the One Wales referendum when they realise that it's not even offering parity with the CURRENT scottish set-up.

I was under the impression that was what was on offer, but it's not the case. What was it George Orwell wrote in 1984? All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others...

Good blog anyways mun.