Monday, August 20, 2007

Trouble with Independence

Funny how a seemingly innocuous and oft-repeated remark can suddenly take on a life of its own. Oddly, the background to this observation is my opposition to the idea of 'Independence' for Wales. As usual, the potentially troublesome comment was posted on this blog, which is subject to 'trawlers' looking for opportunities to embarrass me. And as usual, the journalist who picks up on these things with the precision of a sniffer dog on a Semtex trail is Martin Shipton. He's been on the phone today, and I'm feeling a bit tense about how what I might have said will read in tomorrow's Western Mail.

What I posted was that I saw no reason why Wales would not flourish as an 'independent' nation. And that is what I do think. There are several reasons why we should oppose 'Independence', but that Wales could not survive as an independent nation is not one of them. In fact, I regard it as insulting to the Welsh nation to assert that she couldn't survive. Wales would not be the same country if it was not a part of Great Britain - but there is no reason why she should not flourish, both economically and politically. The government of this independent nation would certainly have less money to spend without the City of London tax base - and it would probably have to opt out of the international obligations that a British government accepts. I suppose that the reality would be that Wales success would depend on how well she would be governed.

However, I do think the idea of 'Independence' for Wales is a thoroughly bad idea. At a time when the world is becoming more interdependent, it seems illogical in the extreme to create an international boundary between us and our nearest neighbour along Offa's Dyke. It is downright stupid to turn our backs on services that can more sensibly and conveniently be provided over the English border just to provide the service within Wales. The decision by the current Assembly Government to require patients from North Wales to access neurological services 200 miles away in Cardiff or Swansea gives an idea of what would happen. And where I live in Mid Wales, the area has more affinity with the West Midlands from an economic perspective than with a Cardiff dominated South Wales.

I do not believe that many people support the idea of Welsh 'Independence'. I don't - and I would not favour putting forwards the option in a referendum on future governance arrangements for Wales. It is just not a sensible idea. It is crucial that opposition to the idea is based on sound argument, not on assertions that belittle the Welsh people. As we have seen in Scotland, the people might just become offended - and bloody minded. I'm told that Martin has written 600 words for tomorrow. I may have to leave the country.

19 comments:

Part Timer said...

Well Glyn having read Martin's article in the Western Mail I think you can safely put emigration on the back burner. I thought the article was rather tame – I think Martin let you off lightly – he could have had a bit more fun at your expense. But I think that you are correct in what you said in the Blog and what Martin has quoted you as saying. Independence in the way the Scots are looking at is merely a vehicle for the Nationalists to drum up support amongst their die hard members. More logical people would see the obvious disadvantages of such a move. More law making powers would mean more independence from the Westminster control freaks and an ability to gain control over our own destiny. However, that may merely mean a change from London based Labour control freakery to Cardiff based Labour control freakery.

Christopher Glamorgan said...

I am stunned and astonished that Alan in Dyfed wasn't the first to comment on this post - he must be taking a day off. On that note, I'm so shocked that I'm not going to work for the remainder of the day ;-D

alanindyfed said...

To allay Christopher Glamorgan's fears that I am sleeping on the job - here it comes:
Glyn is halfway there (to accepting 'independence', and I congratulate him for demolishing one myth, that Wales cannot support itself
(see "Myths...." on my blog)
but I am sadly disappointed to see that he clings to another, along with Don Touhig I believe, and that is that Wales should be interdependent (which all countries are), so here we have the "separatist/isolationist myth" being marketed by Peter Hain.
Gwynfor Evans foresaw a "nation among nations", trading, economically interdependent, a member of the UN and the EU, as Ireland is. This myth cannot be sustained either. There would be no frontier posts as the scaremongers like to tell us, there would be a Schengen-like agreement for uninterrupted passage between the nations, as there is between the two Irish states. The remaining myth is the one that Wales cannot afford to be independent, and we have know that it can.
Glyn knows well that Wales would not be cut off from England and the world. Therefore he can embrace the idea of independence with a clean conscience.

Republicanos said...

Martin was trying his best to spin your largely sensible analysis for his own ends. Tellingly, the headline in the paper hardly reflects or matches the contents of the article or the balance of your comments.

Keir Hardly has posted on the article too.

Dave said...

Of course independence could happen if the Welsh people choose it. The question really is why on earth they should want to?

Very few people seriously dispute that there is a fiscal gap in Wales (i.e. that public spending exceeds tax revenues), even if it is notoriously problemmatic to quantify. It stands to reason that a fiscally unified state as the UK is will be involved in redistribution of wealth not only between classes of individuals, but between its different nations and regions. Remove these transfers and it is clear that there would have to be either cuts to public spending (the vast majority of which is socially beneficial one way or another), or tax rises - most likely both.

I'm all in favour of being part of the EU and enjoying Schengen agreement travel arrangements - but I am already an EU citizen and already enjoy such benefits without having to see my country secede from the UK! I am quite content to be, for different legal purposes a citizen of Wales, the United Kingdom and the European Union, although personally I regard myself as a citizen of the first world, sharing affinity with all those who enjoy the benefits of being brought up in stable liberal democracies.

Nation states are a human construct, and while I reluctantly accept that at this point in time it is not possible to do without them altogether, surely we should be focussing on breaking down the barriers (not only physical border controls, but legal, social, linguistic and economic) that divide humanity rather than trying to errect (or resurrect) further ones!

johnny foreigner said...

Glyn says....

"I do not believe that many people support the idea of Welsh 'Independence'. I don't - and I would not favour putting forwards the option in a referendum on future governance arrangements for Wales. It is just not a sensible idea. It is crucial that opposition to the idea is based on sound argument, not on assertions that belittle the Welsh people. As we have seen in Scotland, the people might just become offended - and bloody minded. I'm told that Martin has written 600 words for tomorrow. I may have to leave the country."

johnny says....

Me too, pal.

Alan and his mates have no place for such as I in their Nationalist Nirvana.

They insist on using the Scots as their 'template' but fail to address the small matter of language.

The ever pragmatic Scots noted the clear divisions that the language issue was causing and consequently abandoned any linguistic requirements in their moves towards further self-determination.

While the Nationalists and Republicans continue their Statutory attempts to force the Welsh Language down our throats, it comforts me to know that this will be the rock on which their aspirations perish.

Your perspicacious pal.

johnny.

alanindyfed said...

The fallacy in your argument is that we are not trying to contruct further barriers, and the nation state is a different thing from the nation. If you understand the nationalist point of view a nation state is more than a political entity. The state is the political structure of the nation, and the nation is a people united in a shared identity and allegiance (which involves heritage/culture/language/anthem/flag etc. etc.). It is a total myth to say that barriers are being erected. It is no less than the dignity and a right of a people, and we welcome all, trade with all and share humanity with all.
Let us lay this myth to rest. It has no basis on fact or supposition.

alanindyfed said...

Not so perspicacious my friend.
Nobody is forcing Welsh down your throat, and you know it. I think Glyn is a darned sight more fair-minded than you are. Maybe once you had a bad experience with the language? It is a rich and vital part of Welsh life, and people have sacrificed to keep it alive and vibrant.

Dave said...

I can try to understand nationalism in the same way that I can try to understand religious belief, but that does not imply acceptance of either. In fact I hold both to be at root pernicious, although accepting that in practice there is a world of difference between the forms that different strands take.

My mother was born in Inverness, my father in Cork. I entered the world in Northwick Park General Hospital, Wembley. Since the age of five (apart from time at university) I have lived in Wales. On most definitions, not least the WRU’s and Dafydd Wigley’s, I am Welsh. But I’m also very clearly British. Neither identity is inferior, insofar as I consider them at all relevant for day to day purposes. In point of fact, other tribal identities I hold include: Arsenal fan (when it comes to world cups I tend to support the team with the greater number of Arsenal players - even when that means cheering for france against england!); Swansea City fan; Osprey’s fan; Labour Party activist; enthusiastic cyclist; trade union member; humanist; chess player. Each of these in particular circumstances supersedes any ‘national identity’. Far more important however than my individual tribal identifications (dictated, as they are for all of us, by my background, and personality type); is my identification as a human being in common with all other peoples of all nations, cultures and races. I very probably have as much in common with a teacher in California or a lawyer in Cyprus as I do with a hill farmer in Ceredigion.

As Amartya Sen puts it in her book 'Identity and Violence': "The freedom to determine our loyalties and priorities between the different groups to all of which we may belong is a peculiarly important liberty which we have reason to recognize, value and defend."

alanindyfed said...

I agree with your 'world citizen'/'fellow human being' stance, and always have done. No-one can ever accuse me of taking a narrow, or blinkered, view. I see no discrepancy in affirming my national identity (Welsh, by choice), but cannot accept that Welsh AND British are synonymous or desirable. One simple fact : there is no "Britishness", British nationality, or "British nation".
If one's nation is Wales, Scotland or England - and they are nations -
there can logically be no British nation. It's your choice but you must choose.

johnny foreigner said...

alanindyfed said...

"Not so perspicacious my friend.
Nobody is forcing Welsh down your throat, and you know it."

johnny says....

If this be the case, why is there a proposal to COMPEL businesses in Wales to conduct their business via Welsh? This is then combined with the threat that if one fails to COMPLY then Civil Action for "hurt to feelings" will ensue.

Explanation please.

Your puzzled pal.

johnny.

Glyn Davies said...

part timer - agreed. A lesser journalist would have taken the p*** out of me big-time. But Martin accepted the point I had posted and wrote a fair article. If he had thought I was committed to what I was saying, he would have done it differently. Of course, I was a touch concerned though.

Christopher - nice to see that you are still around.

alan - you've lost me a bit. I will have to re-read.

republicanos - I thought Martin was fair - and it could easily have been otherwise.

dave - there would be much less money, but a sensible government would not waste billions. And of course, there wouldn't be enough money available to do a lot of what the a British Government does (for good or ill).

Johnny - I am a centre/right royalist - and the Welsh Language is really important to me. I share a lot of your instincts - but not about the language.

alan and dave again - self identity is fluid. i see myself as Montgomeryshire first, Wales second, British third, citizen of the world fourth, and European last. I refuse to recognise any allegiance to Powys at all. But that is today. Tomorrows another day.

Glyn Davies said...

Johnny - you make a good point here. I've always had some difficulty with the balance between 'compulsion' and 'rights'. I have always accepted the principle of 'compulsion' in education of the 5-11s. This is where it counts. Much of the fuss about compelling business is peripheral and self defeating, in my view. Yet again, you are burdened with a modicum of agreement from me. Sorry about that.

alanindyfed said...

The most poignant and significant saying that you have made GD,

"Tomorrow's another day"

Keep it up!

Dave said...

"dave - there would be much less money, but a sensible government would not waste billions. And of course, there wouldn't be enough money available to do a lot of what the a British Government does (for good or ill)."

Of course there would be savings, but there would also be corresponding additional costs (foreign ministry, currency/economy ministry, home affairs and the rest - even leaving aside the national debt, contributions to NATO etc ... how much is all that going to cost?

Agreed that governments waste money, but so do all organisations from time to time especially when engaged on government scale projects. The fact is that the comparative record of the united kingdom for stable, competent and incorruptible administration is still pretty much second to none, save perhaps switzerland. There is nothing obviously 'failed' about the UK - it is not post-Tito Yugoslavia !!!

"alan and dave again - self identity is fluid. i see myself as Montgomeryshire first, Wales second, British third, citizen of the world fourth, and European last. I refuse to recognise any allegiance to Powys at all. But that is today. Tomorrows another day."

Agreed - except I don't even feel one should have to order them. It may be partly because i feel more content with the european designation than Glyn (although I think we share similar opinions on the UN), but it is about finding the most appropriate level to deal with different issues.

I am in total agreement with the principles of localism, subsidiarity and democratic accountabilty, which are the reasons I support devolution. Localism though (e.g. as practised in Sweden) is an organisational principle, not a substitute for collective solidarity on a wider scale.

Since Alanindyfed is happy to pool welsg soverignty on a european scale, why is he so hostile to doing so on a british scale???

Dave said...

apols for spelling error in final sentence ...

alanindyfed said...

For reasons which should be obvious.
Wales has suffered historically from British colonialist policies, denigration of the language, denial of national pretensions, neglect of the economy, and in recent times withdrawal of services and loss of employment. Europe is Wales' salvation as exemplified by Ireland's rise from poverty. British policy overseas mirrors that of America, which is to be the world's policeman and imposition of Western-style 'democracy' on other sovereign nations for reasons of self-interest. We must not be blind to the realities.

Glyn Davies said...

Dave -a lot of what you are posting is stuff that we could discuss and comprmise on. No opinion can be held as an island and not subject to influence by debate.

Alan - I agree that Wales has been treated unfairly historically - but no more than regions of England. I do not think it has been any sort of anti-Wales plot. I simply do not agree with you on your linguistric point. I think the Welsh have been the enemy of the Language - and over recent decades have woken up to its importance. The English who move have a positive attitude and , in general, accept that there must be compulsion at the primary school age. Again, I believe it is the antagonistic approach of some Welsh speakers who cause resentment and do damage to the cause they so vehemently claim to espouse.

johnny foreigner said...

Glyn said....

Again, I believe it is the antagonistic approach of some Welsh speakers who cause resentment and do damage to the cause they so vehemently claim to espouse.

johnny says....

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Thanks for sharing the burden of our "modicum of agreement".

That's such a relief!

Your punditocratic pal.

johnny.