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From land grabbing to the housing crisis: Nid yw Cymru ar werth (“Wales is Not for Sale!”)

Real Wild Estates Company and the French mega-corporation L’Oreal Groupe, recently met to discuss plans to buy up land to rewild, writes Alex Heffon on the Welsh socialist blog of Undod.  They are explicitly looking to profit from forms of landlordism such as the private housing market and holiday lets while benefiting from public subsidies for activities such as tree planting.

They also aim to profit from new carbon markets, whereby carbon sequestered in the form of trees, pastures and peatland, will be exchanged for carbon credits, so that heavy emitting companies may “offset” their carbon emissions. This is how countries like the UK will reach “net zero” despite the practice being called dangerous by a group of climate scientists. A form of greenwashing that will do nothing to halt catastrophic climate change — but will enable the status quo to continue a little longer.

The UK is aiming to make itself the global financial capital of “green growth”, which in practice means the continuation of neocolonialism (the practice of continuing to economically exploit former colonies) whilst the Global North continues to evade its responsibility for causing climate change. As Tom Goldtooth, leader of the Indigenous Environmental Network put it at COP26 it’s a “new form of colonialism”.

“Natural capital” is the ideology that underpins this fantasy that says you can financially value so-called “natural assets”. This is supposed to facilitate “payments for ecosystem services” (PES) whereby you pay for good practice and financially punish bad practice. Over time their aim is to improve the financial valuation of nature, which is supposed to indicate an improving state of ecosystems. It is argued that pricing ecosystems will lead to more rational and efficient management of natural resources and halt their destruction.

It’s easy to see why this appeals to the Tories. But the complexity of ecosystems, along with the myriad ecological demands of human and non-human life, makes a mockery of this simplistic concept that privileges profit above all else.

For example, you might pay a landowner in Wales to sequester carbon in the form of tree-planting (itself more complex than is oft-realised), and in the process offset food production to the other side of the world, contributing to deforestation and Indigenous land dispossession elsewhere. In theory, so long as that destruction and death is made up for financially elsewhere, then it’s possible to attribute a net benefit. This is clearly absurd.

A form of “biodiversity offsetting” that allows financial markets and corporations ever more control in managing the planet’s ecology in a process dubbed land grabbing or “green grabbing“. This flawed model of natural capital however, is the very logic that underlies the upcoming Sustainable Farming Scheme in Wales. As Calvin Jones warned, “rural Wales is in trouble.”

Further commodification and financialisation of ecosystems is no answer to ecological breakdown and climate chaos which is already driven by capital accumulation in the first place. This is why hedge-funds are looking to “invest” in land. It’s an easy way to profit from asset appreciation, rentier income and looming carbon exchange payments and subsidies.

‘Carbon Rush’ in Wales

Mark Redfern, of Voice.Wales, has uncovered how Foresight Group, an investment fund, has specifically set up Foresight Forestry Company PLC with the sole aim of profiting from this new carbon rush. They are looking to float on the London Stock Exchange for an initial offering of £200 million and are behind some of the recent land buyouts across Powys. There’s clearly money to be made for a small handful, but of what value will that be to rural Welsh communities and Wales as a whole?

There’s nothing to stop these companies from establishing conifer plantations that are of little ecological value, and the carbon credits they’ll accumulate will likely be used to offset fossil fuel emissions. So local communities, the wider ecology and the climate all lose, whilst private investment funds win. And what’s to stop them “asset stripping” these newly acquired ecosystems once they’ve served their purpose of capital accumulation and carbon offsetting?

Land in Wales is relatively cheaper than other parts of the UK, making it ripe for such profiteering. This is land that would’ve once been part of a small farm, but as farming becomes increasingly less viable, due to the capitalist food economy that pits farmers across the globe against each other in a race to the bottom, it becomes ever more difficult for small farms to survive. Land is either bought up by bigger farms, consolidating land, in order to compete in commodity production, or is now increasingly bought up by investment funds looking to extract financial value, all greenwashed in the vocabulary of ecosystem services. These groups, like Real Wild Estates Group, will espouse the lingo of community regeneration but in reality they will bring little of the sort.

Empower local people in ecological restoration

There is a need for ecological restoration across Wales, that few deny, but it must be led by, and for, Welsh communities. Land needs further democratisation, not further concentration  that benefits capitalists and elites fortunate to be born into family dynasties that extend back to the Normans. These new public school-educated white knights, cloaked in Barbour, tweed and Le Chameau wellingtons, will not rescue our communities, even if the idea of being “rescued” itself wasn’t misplaced and condescending enough.

True ecological restoration requires decommodification of food, land and labour. It requires us to direct human effort towards what urgently needs doing in the face of ecological and climate breakdown. The desire and knowledge is already there, but it’s exceptionally hard to direct that energy to the tasks required when most people have to work hard enough as it is to maintain a living.

Project Skyline, in the Valleys, is one such attempt to reimagine land use in post-industrial regions, in a manner that re-empowers local people in the project of ecological restoration. Surely this is better than another Amazon warehouse or a faceless, pin-striped suit in London managing Welsh affairs yet again. Instead of being sold off to the highest bidder, in an independent Wales, land could  be bought up by our own central bank and used to expand the county farm estate. Community land trusts, funded by low-cost, long-term loans provide another option, as does the new concept of “Public-Common Partnerships“. But Wales can’t do this without increased fiscal powers and it can’t do this if it stays in thrall to capital. As Laurie Macfarlane points out, Scotland is also seeing a new round of land grabbing in the form of the “green lairds” – but Scotland does at least have the option of community land buyouts, unlike Wales. As it stands, the Welsh Government will be actively subsidising these hedge-funds, through Glastir payments, to the tune of millions of pounds of taxpayer money. Money that instead could be used to expand the county farm estate —instead of running it down and selling it off.

All across Wales communities are under attack from the profit-driven, capitalist housing and land market. From decades of gentrification that is driving up rent and living costs for Cardiff’s working class, to rural homes being bought as second houses or holiday lets, to the land being acquired by hedge-funds. It’s something that unites everyone, except those that profit. All of this works to drive up the cost of living, drives people away from their home towns, villages and neighbourhoods, and turns Wales into the extensive leisure grounds of the wealthy.

We can see the detrimental effects this has on the Welsh language with the tragic closure of Ysgol Abersoch. As an act of triage to prevent further damage Welsh Government needs to, for example; enact rent controls, prevent buying of homes for holiday lets and second homes and regulate AirBnB, as Mabli Siriol called for at the recent Nid Yw Cymru Ar Werth rally in Caerdydd. They must also prevent so-called investors buying land and instead instigate land reform, as Robat Idris proposed last year. The new Plaid-Labour agreement hints that some of these demands might be met, though time will tell.

How long for Welsh Government action?

How long must we wait for Welsh Government to take action? In her article for Undod Angharad Tomos succinctly highlights that this damage is decades old.  In some coastal parts of Pembrokeshire, 40% of houses are holiday homes, and in Abersoch, Gwynedd, it’s 46%. Welsh Government recently published a report looking into new policies to solve the second homes crisis but most importantly we need actions now before it’s too late. Perhaps one stumbling block to Welsh Government taking effective action is the fact that 28% of MS’ are landlords themselves? The wellbeing of future generations depends on it, and they require us to channel the spirit of Rebecca. Inspiration can be taken from the continued resistance shown by the Save the Northern Meadows campaign.

As Cian Ireland put it in his speech earlier this year, for the Nid Yw Cymru Ar Werth rally at Tryweryn:

“Instead of facing drowning by water, we face being drowned by a flood of wealthy buyers who can outcompete local people on the private market, which prioritises wealth before the needs of our people. This is an attack from the capitalist housing market on our communities.”

 

This article was originally published on the blog of Undod, the Welsh socialist organisation and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Undod.  The original can be found here in English: https://undod.cymru/en/2022/02/04/cipio-tir-argyfwng-tai/ and here in the Welsh Language: O gipio tir i’r argyfwng tai: Nid yw Cymru ar werth – undod

‘Undod’ (Welsh for union or struggle) is a democratic, socialist republican, green and anti-hierarchical organisation set up to ensure radical independence for Wales  Readers in Scotland and elsewhere can support Undod and sign up for mailings on its website – https://undod.cymru/.  All material is bi-lingual.

 

 

 




A Year In The Life of the Welsh Underground Network

One of the exciting developments in Welsh politics during 2021 was the creation of the Welsh Underground Network – a group of Marxist activists committed to independence for Wales and with an orientation towards community politics.  Below we republish their review of the year written by secretary of the WUN, Joseph Jones who visited Glasgow and met with members of the Radical Independence Campaign and ecosocialist.scot in November during COP26.

As we have finally reached 2022, now’s the time to reflect on the promises we made to ourselves this time 12 months ago, and what we’ve achieved in this long, and for many, difficult year.

At the risk of sounding like a Christmas advert – it’s genuinely been a year like no other.

For the Organization I’ve been lucky enough to Chair for over two years – the Welsh Underground Network, it’s been a year of amazing growth, of challenges, of triumphs, and of forging links – between ourselves, and the communities we operate in.

I thought I’d write this as a way to sum up the year we’ve had, to recollect, and to help us plot where we intend to go in 2022.

1: Becoming the WUN

The biggest thing to happen to us in 2021 has undoubtedly been the birth of the WUN itself.

In April 2021, we were thrilled to announce the launch of Wrexham Underground – our Chapter in North Wales. For the near two years previous, we had been solely Valleys Underground, but had dreams of expansion.

With Wrexham’s dramatic launch – starting with a beautiful banner display across a busy motorway – we launched a National Organization, and have since had applications from across Wales.

In the last fortnight, we are thrilled to close off the year with the launch of our Swansea Chapter – bringing the total number of active chapters to three.

We’ve also managed to increase the number of working groups within the WUN itself. With the establishment of a Women’s Working Group, a Trans Working Group, and a POC Working Group, we are attempting to ensure the voices of everyone are not only included, but amplified, to ensure a Socialist Welsh Republic for all, not just some.

2: Events, events, events.

Despite the many, many, many limitations of the year, the WUN has been able to organize a variety of events and actions.

Starting off in 2019, our goal was to be active, be seen, and to do good work in the community. We’ve faced quite a few bumps along the way, but I’m immensely proud of the work our Members have done this year.

A point of pride has been our free food events.

From Wrexham City Center, to the Gurnos Shops in Merthyr, Blackwood, Swansea, Lansbury Park, and the Fernhill Estate, our Members have been active across Wales – providing hot food, hygiene products, and basic supplies to those who need them.

Members of our Wrexham Chapter conducting a free-food event.

We’ve also been active in community clearups, helping work on the derelict Fernhill Allotments, helping renovate the Cefn Fforest Miner’s Institute, and continuing our work with the Foundation for Jewish Heritage on the Merthyr Synagogue.

Members of our Valleys Chapter active in the Cefn Fforest Miner’s Institute.

Members have also conducted a number of online events this year too. From our regular RedReads bookclub, to live-streamed panels, to film screenings for charity, we have attempted to find new ways of reaching people due to the strains of Covid.

Members of the WUN have also been present at a variety of demonstrations in Wales this year.

The disgusting, yet unsurprising horror in America regarding Racism has fuelled a cry across the world for basic justice.

In Wales, we have so much to do.

Our Members were in attendance at a variety of BLM protests, and have since made strong links with BLM’s active campaigns across Wales.

Members have also participated in action regarding Kill the Bill demonstrations, building links with other activists in our fight against the encroaching erosion of our liberties by an increasingly authoritarian right-wing state.

In a momentous occasion for us, we also held our first WUN Congress in Aberystwyth, where members from across Wales came together to socialise, create a Constitution, sort out internal affairs, and plan for the upcoming year.

Members at our first-ever WUN Congress in Aberystwyth.

3: Building links

As already mentioned, the WUN have increased our attempts to build links with other activists this year, making connections with groups and organizations not just in Wales, not just within the UK, but across the World.

Our Valleys Chapter were thrilled to host the Zapatistas this summer, giving a Radical History tour of Merthyr Tydfil to the delegation of Revolutionaries.

Some of our Members have also built links with Internationalist groups, such as Palestine Action. In late November, members were ‘allegedly’ involved in an action conducted by PA in Wrexham against a Drone manufacturer.

…alleged Members of the WUN at the Palestine Action Occupation of Solvay Drone Materials Factory.

I myself was lucky enough to boost links on behalf of the WUN with the Radical Independence Campaign in Scotland this Autumn, speaking at their COP26 Summit Event on Revolutionary Nationalism.

4: The Walk

Yours truly, having just finished the WUN Long March (three months after starting…)

Speaking for myself, the year was marked largely by the WUN Long March. From August until November, roughly 70-odd days, I walked and wild-camped the entirety of the UK – Land’s End to John O’Groats.

It was a hard slog, I won’t lie. I had heatstroke, fell down a cliff, ruined two tents, and travelled through a variety of rough weather.

The result though was almost £2,000 raised for the WUN’s community projects. I was pleased along the way to meet up with Socialist activists, and build bridges with Groups and Organizations on behalf of the WUN.

 

Conclusion

2021 for the WUN was a monumental year, perhaps the best year of our existence. We’ve had challenges, of course, but what our Members have achieved has been phenomenal.

I would like to thank everyone on behalf of the WUN for your support, your patronage, and your aid in making 2021 a year like no other.

In 2022, let’s make this the year of action, of physical aid, and of new horizons.

We wish you all the very best for the coming new year, and hope you find what you’re looking for.

Joseph Jones, Chair of the WUN.  First published at https://welshundergroundnetwork.com/2021/12/31/2021-the-year-in-review/

 




The Labour-Plaid deal is the faintest outline of a Wales beyond neoliberalism

“On the surface, the deal announced this week between the two parties represents a real break with the status quo” writes Sam Coates in an article on the website blog of Undod, the non-party Welsh socialist organisation supporting independence.

“Bringing in rent controls, caps on second homes and new state-owned companies would mean a dramatic break with the idea that the ‘market knows best’, and that direct government action to protect people and communities is needed.

While Welsh Labour has traded on the mirage of ‘clear red water’, the reality has been a government that talks radical and acts slowly. The recently published The Welsh Way (with numerous contributions from Undod members) has finally laid bare the myth of Wales being more progressive than the rest of the UK.

Free lunches for all primary school children is a deserved victory for the alliance of civil society campaigners that have worked so hard. But any socialist government should never have let food poverty grow on its watch in the first place. It will cost something to implement, but fundamentally it doesn’t challenge any powerful interests in Welsh society.

That’s why the plans on second and holiday homes seem most significant. This is where the agreement does the most to challenge the rule of the market, but in most other areas the commitments are vague and could easily be left to gather dust in Cardiff Bay – like so many past promises.

Plans to cap the number of second homes, and using the planning system to stop the spread is the first real commitment to say that people and communities matter more than private profit. That makes it an even greater victory for Cymdeithas yr Iaith and other friends, and communities that have tirelessly fought for their very existence.

On a smaller scale, the very mention of rent controls, while currently weak, is a testament to groups like ACORN that have sprung up during the pandemic to organise working people. Plans for a community food strategy are encouraging and will hopefully lead to public procurement of locally produced food. Every school and hospital in Wales should be serving local produce.

As family farms are bought up for corporate carbon offsetting, the absence of land reform is disappointing. As Robat Idris outlines for Undod, this is essential to ensure Wales meets its climate change obligations whilst strengthening rural communities.

For everyone who wants a Wales that puts people before profit, this deal is the very start of that struggle, not the end. It represents the faintest outline of a Wales beyond neoliberalism that we must fight together to bring into full view. While only independence can create a Wales where our people not only survive, but thrive, this is a step to make full use of the powers our government already has.

Contrast this Labour-Plaid agreement, with the neoliberal announcement made by Keir Starmer this week. It’s clear that there is desire in Wales for something better, and that the union won’t offer that.

Powerful interests like the landlord lobby will do everything they can to stop this shift in our political direction, so it’s up to us to pile the pressure on politicians. We must say ‘go further’ ‘do it now, not after yet another investigation’ and not give them the benefit of the doubt that has allowed so much inaction from Cardiff Bay over the past two decades.

We will work with whoever wants to take advantage of this new opening. And we’ll demand the radical action needed to realise the vision of this deal – join Undod today to be part of it.”

Republished from Undod – https://undod.cymru/en/2021/11/23/y-fargen-rhwng-llafur-a-plaid-ywr-amlinelliad-gwelwaf-o-gymru-y-tu-hwnt-i-neoryddfrydiaeth/

 

In Welsh.  Original:  https://undod.cymru/cy/2021/11/23/y-fargen-rhwng-llafur-a-plaid-ywr-amlinelliad-gwelwaf-o-gymru-y-tu-hwnt-i-neoryddfrydiaeth/#respond

Ar yr wyneb, mae’r fargen a gyhoeddwyd yr wythnos hon rhwng y ddwy blaid yn cynrychioli toriad go iawn gyda pethau fel y mae nhw. Byddai dod â rheolaethau rhent, capiau ar ail gartrefi a sefydlu cwmnïau newydd sy’n eiddo i’r wladwriaeth yn golygu toriad dramatig gyda’r syniad mai’r ‘farchnad sy’n gwybod orau’, a bod angen gweithredu uniongyrchol gan y llywodraeth i amddiffyn pobl a chymunedau.

Tra bod Llafur Cymru wedi manteisio ar y rhith o ‘ddŵr coch clir’, y realiti fu llywodraeth sy’n siarad yn radical ond yn gweithredu’n araf. Mae The Welsh Way a gyhoeddwyd yn ddiweddar (gyda nifer o gyfraniadau gan aelodau Undod) wedi dangos yn derfynol mai myth yw fod Cymru yn fwy blaengar na gweddill y Deyrnas Gyfunol.

Mae cinio am ddim i bob plentyn ysgol gynradd yn fuddugoliaeth haeddiannol i gynghrair o ymgyrchwyr cymdeithas sifil sydd wedi gweithio mor galed. Ond ni ddylai unrhyw lywodraeth sosialaidd erioed fod wedi gadael i dlodi bwyd gynyddu dan ei goruchwyliaeth yn y lle cyntaf. Bydd yn costio i’w weithredu, ond yn y bôn nid yw’n herio unrhyw fuddiannau pwerus yng nghymdeithas Cymru.

Dyna pam mae’r cynlluniau ar gyfer ail gartrefi a chartrefi gwyliau yn ymddangos yn hynod o arwyddocaol. Dyma lle mae’r cytundeb yn gwneud y mwyaf i herio rheol y farchnad, ond yn y rhan fwyaf o feysydd eraill mae’r ymrwymiadau’n amwys a byddai’n hawdd eu gadael i gasglu llwch ym Mae Caerdydd – fel cymaint o addewidion yn y gorffennol.

Cynlluniau i roi cap ar nifer yr ail gartrefi, a defnyddio’r system gynllunio i atal eu lledaeniad yw’r gwir ymrwymiad cyntaf i ddatgan bod pobl a chymunedau o bwys mwy nag elw preifat. Mae hynny’n ei gwneud yn fuddugoliaeth hyd yn oed yn fwy i Gymdeithas yr Iaith a chyfeillion eraill, a chymunedau sydd wedi ymladd yn ddiflino am eu bodolaeth.

Ar raddfa lai, mae hyd yn oed sôn am reolaethau rhent, er eu bod yn wan ar hyn o bryd, yn dyst i grwpiau fel ACORN sydd wedi codi yn ystod y pandemig i drefnu gweithiwyr. Mae cynlluniau ar gyfer strategaeth bwyd cymunedol yn galonogol a gobeithio y byddant yn arwain at gaffael cyhoeddus o fwyd a gynhyrchir yn lleol. Dylai pob ysgol ac ysbyty yng Nghymru fod yn gweini cynnyrch lleol.

Wrth i ffermydd teuluol gael eu prynu ar gyfer gwrthbwyso carbon corfforaethol, mae’r diffyg sôn am ddiwygio tir yn siomedig. Fel y mae Robat Idris wedi amlinellu mewn erthygl ar gyfer Undod, mae hyn yn hanfodol i sicrhau bod Cymru yn cyflawni ei rhwymedigaethau newid yn yr hinsawdd tra’n cryfhau cymunedau gwledig.

I bawb sydd eisiau Cymru sy’n rhoi pobl o flaen elw, dim ond dechrau’r frwydr yw’r fargen hon, nid y diwedd. Mae’n cynrychioli’r amlinelliad gwelwaf o Gymru y tu hwnt i neoryddfrydiaeth y mae’n rhaid i ni ei ymladd gyda’n gilydd er mwyn ei sylweddoli yn llawn. Er mai dim ond annibyniaeth all greu Cymru lle mae ein pobl nid yn unig yn goroesi, ond yn ffynnu, mae hwn yn gam i wneud defnydd llawn o’r pwerau sydd gan ein llywodraeth eisoes.

Cyferbynnwch y cytundeb Llafur-Plaid hwn, gyda’r cyhoeddiad neoryddfrydol a wnaed gan Keir Starmer yr wythnos hon. Mae’n amlwg bod awydd yng Nghymru am rywbeth gwell, ac nad yw’r undeb yn cynnig hynny.

Bydd buddiannau pwerus fel undeb y landlordiaid yn gwneud popeth o fewn eu gallu i atal y newid hwn i’n cyfeiriad gwleidyddol, felly mae pentyrru’r pwysau ar wleidyddion i fyny i ni. Rhaid inni ddweud ‘ewch ymhellach’ ‘gwnewch hynny nawr, nid ar ôl ymchwiliad arall eto’ a pheidio â rhoi budd yr amheuaeth iddynt sydd wedi caniatáu cymaint o ddiffyg gweithredu o Fae Caerdydd dros y ddau ddegawd diwethaf.

Byddwn yn gweithio gyda phwy bynnag sydd am fanteisio ar yr agoriad newydd hwn. A byddwn yn mynnu y gweithredu radical sydd ei angen i wireddu gweledigaeth y fargen hon – ymunwch ag Undod heddiw i fod yn rhan ohoni.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




A Long March for Wales

One of the positive developments in British politics over the last few years has been the rising support for Welsh Independence which according to polls now stands at a record high among the general population.  This has also led to a rise in organisations supporting Welsh Independence, including Yes Cymru (a broad based mass campaign for independence), Undod (which means ‘Solidarity’ and is a new bilingual broad socialist organisation), and the Welsh Underground Network (previously Valleys Underground and explicitly a Marxist organisation).  Contacts between Scottish and Welsh activists are growing and in this interview with a Welsh Underground Network activist, Paul Inglis of ecosocialist.scot discusses the new politics of Wales.  [This article was previously published on the Bella Caledonia website and is republished with their kind permission.]

A Long March for Wales

It was a drab Autumn evening when my friend Joe picked up the phone for our interview. As we spoke he was sitting in a tent near Gloucester, enduring the rain and wind with a good portion of his clothes soaked, but happy to chat politics with a fellow socialist for a while. The weather would have been a nightmare if this were just a weekend camping trip, but by this point Joe was quite used to this sort of thing – he had been on the road since August. His route: An 876-mile trek from Lands’ End in Cornwall to John o’ Groats here in Scotland – a long camping trip indeed, and one scarcely improved by typical British rain! And the reason for the journey? A rather unusual one, because Joe’s goal isn’t to raise money for charity, but for the activities of a Welsh Marxist organisation.

The name of this group, for which Joe is exerting his limbs and braving the elements, is the Welsh Underground Network (WUN). They are relatively new on the political scene in Wales, having formed just before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The WUN, as previously mentioned, is a Marxist organisation, with the ultimate aim of an independent Welsh socialist republic. But in order to achieve this, they take a different tack from your usual paper-selling, protest-chasing leftie group. The WUN firmly believe that you cannot have lofty political ideals without building an actual power base in communities, without putting in work on the ground to make your neighbourhood, village or town a more united and better place to live in. Joe summed up this ethos for me in a couple of sentences: “You have to start from home, and you actually have to start. Online activism is good to a degree, but real change comes from getting things done and interacting with people.”

“Serving the People”

To this end, the WUN’s political work consciously takes a form that might be familiar to those who know of the Black Panther Party of the 1960’s and their strategy of building power in communities by “serving the people”. The Network’s activity so far has involved things like local litter pickups, free food events in towns like Merthyr Tydfil, Wrexham, Blackwood, Mountain Ash and Caerphilly, clearing out the Fernhill allotments for restored community use, and helping the Foundation for Jewish Heritage clear out and tidy the site of Merthyr Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Wales, so that it can be renovated. Joe explained that the WUN do not believe in more “official” forms of political organising like canvassing and doorknocking for elections. They think that socialists must have a more active and meaningful presence in everyday working class life, not just coming round every few years with a yarn about policies and then disappearing until next time. That kind of presence, politics that has deep roots in neighbourhood and class, did once exist in Wales, as Joe pointed out: The old miners’ unions had their own libraries, hospitals, clubs and concert halls, and were a focal point in Welsh working class life. As is well known, that intertwining of politics and the everyday has been severely eroded since the 1980’s, but Joe and his comrades look to rebuild it- They feel that only by doing this can the working class actually have the strength and energy to take an active, fighting part in the battle for both independence and socialism. Of course, the pandemic has hindered the ability of the WUN to do more than they already have, but they are excited to expand their community programmes even further now that the prospects are opening up for more public political work. Starting from Merthyr Tydfil, the WUN has recently set up a new branch in Wrexham, and are looking to gain more across Wales in the next few months, building towards a national organisation.

It’s for this “serve the people” work that Joe, chairman of the WUN, is walking across the island of Britain to raise money. Referred to by the WUN as the “Long March”, a nod to the Chinese Red Army’s epic year-long march across China that is only slightly tongue-in-cheek, Joe’s trek aims to supply the basis for more free food events, more litter-picks, and all the equipment needed for these. He was explicit that the money from this fundraiser will not be going towards leaflets or banners- It is for helping people directly, not for propagandising. The reason the fundraiser has taken on the specific form of a walk underlines the WUN’s emphasis on socialists getting out and actually doing things. Joe was eager to dispel the stereotype of “socialists, particularly in the West, being permanently online activists doing nothing but spending all day arguing with each other over semantics while the world burns.” Robust physical activity is certainly one way to fight the cliché of the “three-times-a-week book club and nothing else” leftie. In addition, Joe was enthusiastic about the potential of a journey like this for communicating the WUN’s ideas and for making links with activists throughout England and Scotland: “It gives us a chance to talk to people across the UK and say that, while we are for national independence, we are still internationalists and want to communicate that solidarity.”

Now, while this particular Long March might not be as high-stakes as the original, it has nevertheless been beset by an enemy even more determined than the Kuomintang: British weather. This has been Joe’s main challenge so far. From heatstroke-inducing late Summer sun in Cornwall to all the leaks and soaked clothes that rain brings, Joe has been experiencing nature’s climatic variety first hand, and soon he will be meeting with the chill of Scotland in late Autumn and early Winter. These obstacles however, and the random aches and bruises of nomadic life, are being borne by Joe with courage and good humour, an example of the sort of socialist fighting spirit that is often parodied and mythologised, but which is inspiring to see in genuine motion. Of course, the path isn’t just filled with struggle. Joe has also found great kindness in the areas he has walked, with free meals and places to stay being offered him again and again.

Socialist Ideals

Moving from the immediate topic of the march, I asked Joe about his own socialist ideals. It’s the case that the Panther-style organising discussed earlier isn’t the only way in which the WUN calls on the legacy of the 60’s. Indeed, the group takes up the language and the ideas of the old black revolutionaries in talking of the WUN’s own “ten-point programme” for an independent Wales based on working class unity and socialist principles. At the heart of the beliefs of the Panthers and the WUN is a demand for self-determination in its broadest sense. With that in mind, I wanted to know why Joe, as a socialist, believes in Welsh independence.

For Joe, as for many of us, James Connolly’s famous remarks on Irish independence are a guiding light, so it was no surprise that he began by referencing them. They bear quoting in full:

“If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts will be in vain. England will still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.”

Those lines underpin the classic contention of socialists involved in independence movements the world over, past and present, who have argued that there can be no real change unless there is socialist change. Nevertheless, Connolly did still fight for Irish independence, and the WUN and their counterparts here in Scotland do the same. For Joe, it’s a point familiar to us Scots that leads him to support independence – the barrier the British state poses to progressive change in Wales. The democratic deficit that is so often the meat of political issues here also exists in Wales, in a similarly potent form. Joe pointed to the limited remit of the Senedd, and the fact that Welsh institutions are largely run from Westminster. He also spoke about how Wales has voted for social democratic government for over a century, as long as Labour has been in existence, and how it has only really had an impact in a national election twice. I’m sure that disappointing feeling, of not getting what your country actually votes for, will resonate with readers here in Scotland.

Community Power

On the other hand, Joe doesn’t have any illusions that Welsh-run institutions would necessarily be more progressive than English-run ones. Given his quoting of Connolly, it would be a surprise if he did. It’s just that, with the current direction of English politics, he doesn’t see a path for socialism in Wales that can be followed while the British state still has a grip over the political life of the country. His scepticism about a progressive future for Wales within the United Kingdom is especially pertinent given the recent crushing failure of Corbynism and the return to British statist reformism it signified. It’s a scepticism that is sure to be shared by many across these islands as the gulfs between the distinct political worlds of the home nations widen more with every passing month.

As our call drew to a close, I wanted to know what Joe would say to anyone reading this article who would like to set up their own community-power type organisation. Joe was immediately enthusiastic: “Absolutely do it! Don’t think that you need a million people to start it. You don’t.” He continued, explaining that when the WUN started out it was just him for the first couple of weeks, doing a litter-pick in the local area and posting about it on the group’s social media. From there, with people seeing the posts and asking to join, the group was able to expand its work and further grow in size. In Joe’s opinion, people tend to overestimate the effort that goes into starting an organisation, when in actual fact the real struggle comes with maintaining an organisation. “If you want to start it, go out and do something, and even if you fail it is okay because you can pick yourself up and start again.” For him, consistency and dedication are the important things, even if they take a while to bear fruit.

I finished by asking Joe how readers in Scotland could show support. Given our shared fight for self-determination and the fact that at time of writing it won’t be long before he enters the country, I was excited to bring news of Joe’s march to a Scottish audience. Naturally, he pointed to the WUN’s fundraiser as a key way of lending a hand, emphasising that even the smallest amounts would go a long way towards helping the group’s work in neighbourhoods across Wales. In addition to this, Joe once again expressed his desire to make links with activists in Scotland, asking that any interested readers reach out and get in contact with him and the WUN via their social media. If you can keep him supplied, give him a place to stay, or just want a chat with a comrade from Wales, give him a shout! Beyond all that, Joe simply wants more people to do what the WUN are doing. If they can encourage more people to get organised and have a go in their own communities, it’ll be a victory for the working class.

 

You can donate to the WUN crowdfunder at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/wun-walks-britain?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_campaign=p_cp%20share-sheet&fbclid=IwAR0NBfXKyR2ZeytW7jvsSO1lVtvR0Y_hWWlKBbTiiwBDpIor_h-6KOT3s_Y

Get in contact with Joe and keep up to date with the Long March at: https://twitter.com/cawsabara

And get in contact with the Welsh Underground Network at:

https://twitter.com/WelshUGN

https://www.facebook.com/WelshUGN

https://welshundergroundnetwork.com/

Originally published by Bella Caledonia, a Scottish-based online magazine combining political and cultural commentary.  You can support Bella Caledonia and Scottish independent media by donating here: https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/donate

 

 

 

Footnote: ecosocialist.scot stands in the tradition of the Fourth International in Britain which for a long time been one of the few left wing British organisations consistently supporting both Scottish and Welsh independence.  You can read about our position on Scottish Independence here: https://www.ecosocialist.scot/?page_id=52,  and in order to learn more about the marxist position on Welsh Nationalism and nationalism in general, we would particularly recommend a compendium of writings called ‘Whispers of a Forgotten Nation’ by Ceri Evans, which can be found here: https://valleysunderground.files.wordpress.com/2020/04/whispers_of_a_forgotten_nation_-_the_wri-2.pdf    Ceri Evans was a Welsh writer and academic, a longstanding member of the Fourth International, who sadly died in 2002.




Wales since the election

Wales is the one country within the United Kingdom where there has been a Labour administration over recent years. To many people’s surprise, including their own, Labour not only won the Senedd election in May but gained a seat overall. Geoff Ryan looks at some of what has been going on since then.

The Labour administration has had to deal with a number of issues, in particular climate change and the environment, housing; free school meals; the continuing Corona virus pandemic and of course the relationship between Wales and the United Kingdom have been high on their agenda

Climate Change and the Environment

One of the first acts of the new government was to introduce a new Ministry for Climate Change which has responsibility for transport, housing, planning, regeneration, energy and environment. The main function of the Ministry is to ‘ensure that all Welsh Government policy on new infrastructure projects, energy schemes, and planning decisions can meet environmental targets and be justified in the context of Wales’ current and future climate challenges’. Julie James, the Minister and Lee Waters, her deputy, are generally thought to be on the left of the party and close allies of First Minister Mark Drakeford.[3]

One of the first acts of the new ministry was to put a complete halt to all new road building. This was opposed by the Tories, many of whom still dream of getting the go-ahead for the M4 relief road near Newport despite Senedd majority against. At least one Labour MP, Mark Tami who represents Alyn and Deeside, has complained about the fact that the ‘red route’ linking the A55 to the A494 and A550 as been put on ice. And Cardiff Council is using £300,000 of its ‘clean air fund’ to make Castle Street wider for traffic while reducing the pavements – hardly an environmentally friendly step.[4]

Of course there are a few instances when new roads may have to be built. In fact the government quickly reversed its freezing of the Llandeilo bypass in Carmarthenshire, a road that has been planned for years and has become more necessary because of the number of HGVs passing through which have started to have a serious impact on the structural safety of some  buildings as well as posing a threat to pedestrians in this small, picturesque town which attracts significant numbers of tourists.

The ban on road building has been followed up with proposals to introduce 20 mph speed limits in all built up areas, including villages. There are also proposals to ban all parking on pavements. While these proposals have been largely welcomed there has also been opposition. While the 20 mph limit is anathema to the Top Gear brigade who think they have a right to drive as fast as they see fit, the proposals on parking have often been criticised by local residents because many towns do not have wide enough roads to allow for parking close to one’s house.

But, in fact, there is a link between issues of speed and parking on pavements. For example, where I live, on a busy main road, some drivers frequently exceed the 30 mph limit. Because the road is narrow, despite being a main route, car owners often park partly on the pavement to avoid their car being damaged by the boy racers. Slowing down the traffic would mean there would not be the necessity to park on the pavements.

And of course there are far too many cars on the road. The problem in many areas is the lack of reliable public transport, especially in the evenings. Where I live it is impossible to go to Ammanford (about 8 miles away), never mind Swansea (15-16 miles) after about 18.30 other than by taxi or car. Given the enormous cost and scarcity of taxis, it is not surprising that many people rely on their own private transport. This problem is currently being taken up by the Labour Party in the Amman Valley with the intention of building a broad based campaign for regular and cheap public transport, preferably using electric vehicles.

The Welsh government is trying to develop an approach that recognises the linked nature of many issues. In my village, for example, there are proposals for a housing estate off my road and a hotel, holiday accommodation and a diving school further down the road at a former coal mine. While these projects may be beneficial for the village, they have potentially negative aspects such as considerably increasing the amount of traffic as well as creating problems for the already overburdened local school if significant numbers of children move to the new estate. Consequently plans for the estate and the diving school complex are on hold until all these issues can be resolved satisfactorily. No doubt this has been repeated throughout Wales.

Labour has also promised a national forest for Wales, stretching the length and breadth of the country. The aim is to plant 86 million trees in 9 years. This is very much a personal project for Mark Drakeford but is generally popular. Tory MP for Aberconwy Robin Millar has criticised the scheme for taking away farm land, mainly because he doesn’t understand, or pretends to not understand, the difference between reforestation (which is what is proposed) and afforestation i.e. the establishment if a forest where there has not previously been tree cover.

Swansea council has announced free buses for 4 days per week while it looks likely that the Swansea Bay metro may go ahead, with plans to link up much of west and south west Wales by public transport. Both these initiatives show there is considerable enthusiasm for environmental friendly projects. There are also plans to use ‘Homes As Power Stations’ in Neath Port Talbot and spreading to much of South West Wales.[5]

And, somewhat unusually for Welsh Labour, on 30 June the government supported the Plaid Cymru motion calling on the Senedd to declare a nature emergency as well as calling for legally binding biodiversity targets. This makes the Senedd one of the first Parliaments on the world to declare such an emergency. The holding of COP 26 in Glasgow later this year didn’t appear to have much impact on the Welsh Tories, 13 of whom voted against the motion.

Housing

Wales has a serious housing problem. According to Nation.Cymru (29 July 2021) 25,701 homes worth £4 billion pounds sit vacant across Wales.; partly because of second homes and holiday homes that are occupied for only a small part of the year. Though Janet Finch-Saunders, Tory spokesperson on housing, tried to dismiss the impact of second homes: perhaps she is influenced by the 7 residential and 4 retail properties she owns, as well as the trusteeship of a further 2 residential properties in Llandudno.

In addition, Wales has some of the oldest and least efficient housing in Western Europe, which impacts on climate change. According to Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioners for Wales a £15 billion retrofit plan would create 26,500 jobs by 2030 and would reduce fuel poverty. She recognises that there is a link between the climate emergency and fuel poverty. [6]

On Saturday 10 July, hundreds of protesters turned out at the Tryweryn dam to call for action from the Labour government to stop local people being priced out of the housing market by second home owners and to protect the Welsh language. Tryweryn is a potent symbol of Welsh resistance since the artificial lake there was created by the drowning of the Welsh speaking village of Capel Celyn against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the population. The rally was addressed by, among others, Mabon ap Gwynfor the Plaid Cymru MS for the Dwyfor-Meirionnydd constituency in which Treweryn is to be found and Cian Ireland, former Labour candidate for the seat and a member of Labour For An Independent Wales.

Welsh language campaign Cymdeithas yr Iaith was involved in the protest, not least because one of the effects of second homes is to weaken the position of the Welsh language as villages are taken over by relatively wealthy incomers from England. To get some idea of the scale of second homes it was revealed in the week before the protest that almost half of all houses sold in the constituency in the previous 12 month were second homes.

And Norton Finance is encouraging investment in buy-to-let properties in Wales’ national parks, particularly the Brecon Beacons, while the Telegraph encouraged its readers to invest in the ‘staycation boom’ by snapping up a holiday home in Wales. Property clearly outranks the preservation of Welsh culture and language for them.

The Welsh government has published a plan for dealing with the second home crisis but this has been called ‘weak’ by Plaid Cymru and Cymdeithas yr Iaith. Mark Drakeford has also said he will explore the possibility of a ‘tourist tax’. This, not surprisingly, attracted the hostility of the Tories. Yet the idea is not totally farfetched: certainly it’s not unusual to pay a local tax, collected as part of a hotel bill, in a number of other European countries.

Wales and the UK

After the election Mark Drakeford published Reforming Our Union [7]( a follow up to a previous version originally published a few years ago and also We The People[8] largely identified with Mick Antoniw, a left wing member of the government and now Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution. Drakeford and Antoniw are both in favour of maintaining the UK though, as Mark Drakeford recognises in his foreword, this is becoming increasingly harder to argue. But they certainly want significant changes, though stopping short of independence.

In fact, the Tories have made it harder and harder for Drakeford to hold back demands for independence and indeed at times they behave as if they want to break up the UK. The ridiculous attempt to prevent journalists referring to the 4 nations and insisting there is only one British nation ( at a time when England, Scotland and Wales all had their own teams playing in the Euros), the demand that the union flag (aka the butcher’s apron) be flown higher than the Saltire or Red Dragon on all government buildings, the demand that children in Welsh and Scottish schools sing the dire We Are Britain anthem on ‘One Britain, One Nation Day’ (totally ignored in Welsh schools, schools in Scotland were already on holiday) has now been upstaged by the plan to install a 100 foot union flag on the UK Government’s tax office in Cardiff. Tory MP Darren Millar welcomed this display of imperial rule and demanded the Welsh government took action against Yes Cymru for a proliferation of stickers.

All of this comes against a backdrop of increasing hostility to Wales and the Welsh language among sections of English people. Most recently Carol Decker, singer with T’Pau, who was born in Shrewsbury and lives on the English-Welsh border, claimed that a supermarket in a photo she was shown couldn’t be in the UK because some of the signs were in a ‘foreign’ language. They were: Welsh, a language Ms Decker must have come across many times given where she grew up and continues to live.

Guardian writer Rhiannon Lucy Coslett was recently abused online after she wrote an article Wales eerily beautiful slate quarries are getting the recognition they deserve after the North Wales slate quarries were awarded World Heritage Status. The editor of the Spectator joked about the Welsh language after Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner accidentally typed nonsense in a tweet. TV newsreader Huw Edwards was told to take off his mask by a fellow passenger on the London underground because they objected to the red dragon flag of Wale on said mask. English newspapers complained about the ‘bias’ of Gaby Logan and her team when reporting on Wales’ matches in the Euros (unlike the totally neutral English media!) And the list goes on.

Perhaps worst of all in its attitude to the Welsh language was an article written by a Belfast based sociologist Dr. James Dingley for the Unionist supporting The News Letter in which he compared the Welsh language movement to the Nazis.[9]

Even the relatively mild proposal from the Welsh government that public servants should be able to speak a few Welsh phrases (not at a level where they could compete at an Eisteddfod, just a few simple phrases to answer the telephone, greet someone) was met with considerable hostility from the Tories for whom Wales is essentially an English colony. I can’t speak Welsh but I think I could meet the requirements set out by the government.

A Crisis in Yes Cymru

Unfortunately this is all taking place against a serious crisis in Yes Cymru, the campaign for Welsh independence[10].

Exactly what has been happening is unclear. One of the complaints is the lack of minutes. There have been a number of resignations from the recently elected Central Committee and Sion Jobbins, one of the founders of the organisation, has stepped down as National Secretary. Some members of the CC have been suspended. Allegations of harassment and bullying have been made. Most of the allegations and complaints about different issues are very vague, don’t give names etc so it is difficult to work out exactly what is going on.

However, it is quite likely there has been an orchestrated campaign by right-wing currents against the largely left-wing leadership elected at the last AGM. The right didn’t put much effort into the election and are now attempting to oust the left. Apart from the allegations of bullying etc the opponents of the left are insisting that Yes.Cymru must be an organisation solely committed to achieving independence. I don’t think there are any currents inside Yes.Cymru which disagree with this; the real problem for them is that the left (Labour For An Independent Wales, Undod) have gained places in the leadership which sections of the membership seem to believe makes it impossible for Yes.Cymru to remain a broad based campaign.

But seriously, anyone who believes that members of the thoroughly unionist Conservative and Unionist Party (the clue’s in the name) or the  equally pro-unionist Liberal Democrats are going to join and work with Yes.Cymru to break-up the union to which they are thoroughly  committed is living in a fantasy land. It may be possible to attract a few Tory or Lib Dem voters but there is zero chance of winning the parties to support for Welsh independence. Realistically only Plaid Cymru and sections of the Labour Party, along with the Greens and far-left, are going to seriously champion independence for Wales.

There may be another AGM later this year and the remaining members of the current CC will remain in place until then though many members are unhappy with even that proposal and want an EGM as soon as possible and the current CC to step down.  And the remaining members of the Central Committee are not helping themselves by a failure to recognise there may be some justification for the complaints, dismissing the views of local branches far too readily.

The destruction of Yes Cymru would be a major defeat for all those committed to independence. Both sides need to row back immediately from a potentially damaging split.

Free School Meals

While the Labour government’s record on the environment has much to commend it they have completely failed on the issue of free school meals. This was a major issue before, during and since the Senedd elections. Wales had, and continues to have, the worst provision of free school meals of any of the nations of the UK. The Bevan Foundation, the Child Poverty Action Group Wales have both been active in calling for an extension of the provision, as has Labour MP Beth Winter. But much of the lead has been taken by People’s Assembly Wales (PAW), in conjunction with the others. There finally appears to be some movement by the government with letters being exchanged between Vicky Howells MS, Chair of the Senedd Labour Group and Len Arthur of PAW and Pasty Thomas-Turner of Unite Community Wales.[11] This is at least a step forward since previously the Labour Group has tended to ignore criticism of its policy on providing free school meals and has voted down resolutions in the Senedd from Plaid to expand the provision with the entire Labour Group, including the supposed left-wingers, voting as one.

Coronavirus

From Saturday August 7, most restrictions in Wales have come to an end, several days earlier than in England despite Boris Johnson’s boastful ‘Freedom Day’. For virtually the first time Keir Starmer has spoken out in support of the Labour government in Wales. He has usually been silent or supported Johnson and ignored Mark Drakeford.

While there have been some anti-restrictions, anti-vax protests in Wales they have generally been on a much smaller scale that in England, though the most recent saw a few hundred people outside Drakeford’s home.

This is very much an aberration. The Welsh Labour government has generally been credited with running a more efficient (and more humane) Covid campaign than their English counterparts. Wales, despite a slow start, has now vaccinated more people than any UK nation and, indeed, has one of the best records in the world.

Despite the trolls, particularly on WalesOnline, and the protests outside his house, Drakeford has a much higher satisfaction level than Johnson. Of course this is partially because he is the First Minister in Wales and therefore attracts support from people in Wales whereas Johnson is identified much more with the UK or, especially, England. But it is also because at least some of the praise for the Welsh government’s handling of the crisis is justified.

Nevertheless we should not ignore some unpleasant facts. WalesOnline may be seen as a cheerleader for the Welsh government, especially by Unionist and anti-Labour trolls who constantly spread vitriol in the comments section, but it has posed some difficult questions for the Welsh government. The refusal of the Welsh government to agree to a Wales specific enquiry into the handling of the pandemic is particularly problematic – but was reiterated on August 6 by the new Health Minister Eluned Morgan.[12]

On its refusal to hold an enquiry into its handling of the Covid pandemic and its unwillingness to increase the numbers entitled to free school meals the Welsh government certainly should be held to account. Unfortunately we don’t appear to have an equivalent figure to Marcus Rashford so that puts the onus on the left in Wales to work together to support the government when they deserve our support and to fight them whenever necessary. Left Unity in Wales has recently issued a letter in which they appeal for the Welsh left to create an ecosocialist, radical independence current. This would certainly be a step forward and one Anti*Capitalist Resistance welcomes.

Source: AntiCapitalist Resistance


[1] Mark Drakeford formed a Labour led administration in Wales in 2018 when he took over as First Minister from Carwyn Jones.

[2] The unicameral chamber that runs devolved matters in Wales has been the Sennedd (Parliament) since  May 2020  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senedd for more details of the history and of devolved powers

[3] For a good analysis of the setting up of the Ministry and Labour’s actions in the first few week after the election see this article by Sean Thompson on Red Green Labour.

[4] By far the most disruptive and stupid of Welsh MPs is Chris Bryant who defended the suspension of Dawn Butler and complained that the new Peruvian government wasn’t centrist enough and got involved in a spat with an academic who knows a lot more about Peru than Bryant. He has been accused of having a hostile attitude to the Welsh language, while encouraging young people to learn a second language. Presumably Bryant would prefer those young people to learn Castillian, which he speaks fluently, to Welsh. The sooner the working class of the Rhondda can replace him the better.

[5] https://www.southwalesguardian.co.uk/news/19474735.thousands-homes-south-west-wales-become-power-stations/?ref=rss&IYA-mail=6d6eabaf-a701-4b57-aa60-ee39a5436952

[6] https://nation.cymru/news/15bn-plan-to-retrofit-existing-homes-in-wales-could-eradicate-fuel-poverty-says-future-generations-commissioner/

[7] https://gov.wales/reforming-our-union-shared-governance-in-the-uk-2nd-edition

[8] https://labourlist.org/2021/01/constitutional-reform-is-key-labour-needs-an-agenda-for-a-radical-federal-uk/

[9] https://nation.cymru/opinion/knowing-a-few-welsh-words-really-isnt-too-much-to-ask-for-a-job-with-the-government/https://nation.cymru/news/huw-edwards-told-to-take-off-covid-mask-because-it-had-a-welsh-dragon-on-it/https://nation.cymru/news/belfast-based-academic-compared-welsh-language-movement-to-nazis/

[10] See my earlier article here; https://anticapitalistresistance.org/why-is-welsh-independence-suddenly-being-taken-seriously/

[11] https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rlsYpJPa1WKH9XIBez0RqZH79p3HeJ29LLNYbCZJV-o/edit?usp=sharinghttps://pawalescymru.blogspot.com/2021/06/our-post-senedd-election-free-school.html;

[12] https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/politics/welsh-government-coronavirus-covid-mistakes-21107573?utm_source=wales_online_newsletter&utm_campaign=politics_newsletter2&utm_medium=emailhttps://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/eluned-morgan-interview-health-minister-21241975?utm_source=wales_online_newsletter&utm_campaign=politics_newsletter2&utm_medium=email


Geoff Ryan is a member of Undod, YesCymru, Labour For An Independent Wales, and Carmarthen East & Dynefwr Labour Party.




Wales’s new Climate Change Ministry bodes well for the future – possibly

Red-Green Labour’s Sean Thompson gives a cautious welcome to Welsh Labour’s plans.

In May’s Welsh Senedd elections, Labour equalled its best result since the Welsh Assembly was established in 1999, winning 30 of the Senedd’s 60 seats. Labour’s manifesto had contained a number of modest, but welcome pledges, including the banning of most single use plastics, the creation of a new national forest stretching the length of the country from North to South and a moratorium on planning permission for large incineration facilities. During the election campaign, the First Minister, Mark Drakeford had repeatedly declared that if re-elected, he would  ‘embed our response to the climate and nature emergency in everything we do’.

Such fine words are to be expected during election campaigns, but all too frequently disappointingly little is done to put them into practice. However, within a week Drakeford announced a major reorganisation of his administration, creating a powerful new Ministry for Climate Change, which has responsibility for transport, housing, planning, regeneration, energy and environment. The Minister and Deputy Minister are, respectively, Julie James and Lee Waters, both on the left of the party, and their key role is stated as being to ensure all Welsh Government policy on new infrastructure projects, energy schemes, and planning decisions can meet environmental targets and be justified in the context of Wales’ current and future climate challenges’.  In an early indication of how the new ministry may combine policy areas with the climate crisis in mind, Drakeford announced a commitment to build 20,000 new social homes for rent that will be built to zero-carbon standards, piloting the use of new design and production methods and making use of the underused resource of Welsh timber, currently largely used for pulp.

On 15 June, the administration’s Programme for Government was published, laying out its delivery plan for the next 5 years. Lee Waters has been quite open about his view that the Ministry for Climate Change’s plans are extremely modest in the light of the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, nonetheless they mark a significant step forward both in ambition and recognising the need for a properly integrated programme. In addition to the policies already mentioned, the 2021-26 action plan includes the following main commitments:

  • Legislating to abolish the use of more commonly littered single use plastics.
  • Introducing a Clean Air Act for Wales, consistent with WHO guidance.
  • Maintaining the policy of opposing the extraction of fossil fuels in Wales.
  • Supporting the Wales TUC proposals for union members to become Green Reps, with the same rights as H&S Reps, in the workplace.
  • Aiming for a 30% target for working remotely.
  • Implementing a new 10-year Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan for a zero-carbon economy.
  • Reviving the Swansea Tidal Lagoon project as part of a wider’Tidal Lagoon Challenge’ and supporting initiatives that can make Wales a centre of emerging tide and wave technologies.
  • Expanding renewable energy generation by public bodies and community groups in Wales by over 100MW by 2026, as well as supporting other community-led initiatives, such as cooperative housing and community land trusts.
  • Lifting the ban on local authorities setting up new municipal bus companies, expanding flexible demand-responsive travel across Wales, making 20mph the default speed limit in residential areas throughout Wales and hitting a target of at least 45% of journeys by sustainable modes by 2040.
  • Delivering good quality jobs and training through the housing retrofit programme, using local supply chains.

There is much else in the Programme to applaud; strengthening the protections for ancient woodlands, funding additional flood protection for more than 45,000 homes and delivering nature-based flood management in all major river catchments, to expand wetland and woodland habitats, creating a new system of farm support and developing a Wales Community Food Strategy, as well as a commitment to ‘explore options for workers to take an ownership stake in our national transport assets’.  However, as ever, words are cheap. Some of the commitments are not entirely in the Welsh Government’s gift, others will, at the very least, be at the very boundaries of the government’s powers – or even beyond them.

For example, the commitment to work towards 30% of office based workers working remotely makes a lot of sense in terms of both encouraging more employment in the valleys of south east Wales or the isolated rural communities of mid and north Wales, as well as helping to reduce the congestion in the major urban areas (pre-Covid, Cardiff had to deal with an influx of over 80,000 commuter vehicles a day, while the antiquated rail services were unbearably overcrowded). However, while the government is proposing a number of sensible measures, such as developing new remote working hubs in former mining communities, they are going to be dependent not only on co-operation – and probably co-funding – with cash strapped local councils, but also on the co-operation of employers. Wales has the largest proportion of its workforce in the public sector of any part of Britain, so getting the active support of local authorities, the NHS and the Higher Education sector is going to be key to the success of the policy.

Supporting, the Wales TUC proposals for Green Reps in the workplace is laudable, however it is beyond the Welsh Government’s devolved powers to enforce it. It will require the government, as part of its Social Partnership policy, to include this reform in the package of fair employment measures it will be seeking to ‘persuade’ employers to accept through the leverage of its (along with the NHS and Higher Education) public procurement muscle.

A number of important measures, such as ensuring that Wales gets its fair share of the Shared Prosperity Fund and the so-called Levelling Up Fund from Whitehall and getting a fair share of vital rail infrastructure and R&D investment for Wales, rely on the the Tories being prepared to spread largesse to the ungrateful Welsh in the manner of Lady Bountiful – an eventuality it would be unwise to hold one’s breath waiting for.  And relaunching the Swansea Tidal Lagoon (as it were) would almost certainly require the Treasury (motto: ’Out of my cold dead hand…’) to relax its grip on the Welsh Government’s borrowing limits.

The Tories have always been hostile to the direction that even its current very limited devolved powers have taken Wales, and the performance of the Welsh Government and NHS during the Covid crisis in contrast to the fiasco in England has clearly intensified that hostility. The Westminster Government has already demonstrated that it intends to use the funds meant to replace those from the EU that were devolved to the Welsh Government, that have been so important to the poorest parts of Wales, itself, with (up to now) no consultation with the Welsh Government. Johnson has even threatened that the Westminster Government might seek to impose the environmentally disastrous M4 Extension project, rejected eighteen months ago by the Welsh Government, on Wales as though it was a colony of England (luckily, this idea is about as workable as Johnson’s other wheezes, like the Scotland-Ireland bridge).  But in these circumstances, the Welsh Government’s hope that, for example, the under-funded Health and Safety Executive might be devolved to Wales is probably a pipe dream.

Even where the Welsh Government has both the powers and the funding to implement its programme there remains the question of whether it will, in practice, do so. Its record of delivery is patchy. For example, for some years the Welsh Government has – rhetorically at least – had a progressive policy of increasing tree cover in Wales. Since January 2008, under the ‘Plant!’ scheme, a tree has been planted for very child born in Wales (and since 2014, another has been planted in Mbale, Uganda) and the government has had a target of planting 2,000 hectares of new woodland each year. However, since 2013 new woodland has averaged less than 1,000 hectares a year and in 2019/20 just 80 hectares were planted, though the Climate Change Commission estimates that tree planting in Wales needs to be moving towards 5,000 hectares a year if we are to achieve 24% woodland cover by 2050. Given that the idea of a National Forest is Mark Drakeford’s personal vision, one can only hope that the government gets its act together in the most dramatic fashion over the next couple of years.

Another example: the Welsh Government has been committed to a desperately needed green housing retrofit programme for some years. 32% of homes in Wales were built before 1919, we have some of the oldest and least thermally efficient homes in Europe, and there are currently over 250,000 households living in fuel poverty.

But while the Welsh Government has implemented a number of worthwhile initiatives to address these issues, including its Warm Homes Programme, the Welsh Housing Quality Standard and most recently the Optimised Retrofit Programme, these initiatives have largely involved social housing, not privately let or owner occupied homes, though both of those latter sectors are on average in poorer condition.  A major programme is needed to retrofit all existing homes in Wales to at least an EPC ‘B’ rating within the next ten years that would not only tackle both greenhouse gas emissions and fuel poverty, but would create thousands of new, well paid, unionised jobs (10,000 FTE jobs a year over 15 years, according to the Institute of Welsh Affairs).

However, as with many of the commitments in the Programme for Government, no targets or timescales for the housing retrofit programme have been published, just statements of good intentions, although given the speed at which the programme has been put together and published since the election in May, that is not entirely surprising. It is vital, though, that those statements of intent are transformed into practical action over the coming months.

Despite the Welsh Government’s less than stellar environmental performance record, the relative modesty of the environmental goals in its new Programme for Government and the increasingly problematic issue of its limited legislative and financial powers under the current devolution settlement, there are reasons to be optimistic. The creation of a new Ministry explicitly concerned with the climate crisis that is responsible for most of the key areas where radical change is needed – including transport, housing, environment and energy – is potentially extraordinarily important. The fact that Drakeford has put this Ministry in the charge of two of his key supporters – both firmly on the left of the party when the majority of Labour MSs (Senedd Members) are on the right – is a hopeful sign that radical action that challenges the status quo may start to creep onto the political agenda.

And evidence that that hope is not totally unfounded was provided on 21 June when Lee Waters announced that all new road building programmes in Wales have been frozen with immediate effect in order to be subject to an independent review. In his announcement, Waters said: ‘I don’t think people realise the amount we have to do. Since 1990 we have reduced emissions by 32% and by the end of the decade we have to more than double that and it’s up again by 2040. We really do have to ramp up what we have been doing. In 10 years, we need to achieve more than the last 30 and in those years we have done the relatively easy things, there is no low hanging fruit. If we’re going to hit this target we’re going to have to do things differently.’

When asked what he would say to people who face regular traffic jams on the roads where schemes have been halted, he said: ‘If we do nothing, we are facing catastrophic consequences for our communities. A lot of this is going to be uncomfortable change and it’s not going to be easy and I am not pretending there’s simple answers. There will be tensions and will be contradictions, we need to make it easier for people to do things that help us tackle climate change…For most people, the reality is that using public transport is not easy and isn’t attractive and we need to change that to make it easier. We can’t do that if we’re spending all our money on road building. We have reached the point where we have to confront the fact we can’t keep doing what we have always done’.

Republished from RedGreen Labour




DISUNITED KINGDOM – the elections on 6 May

by Terry Conway  31 May 2021

On 6 May 2021 there were elections of some sort everywhere in England, in Scotland and in Wales. The picture in England was one in which Johnson’s Tories using a model of right-populist Keynesianism and appeals to English nationalism and anti-migrant racism, have done well and Starmer’s Labour had disastrous results. The Green Party of England and Wales also improved their showing – gaining 80 extra seats in local government.

There were parts of England where Labour did better – notably in Greater Manchester where Mayor Andy Burnham had showed rather more spine in challenging the Tories than Labour leader Keir Starmer, but also in parts of the south east. Indeed, Labour did relatively well at the level of Mayors – winning 11 out of the 13 contests – including Sadiq Khan’s seat in London, but this is nothing like enough to compensate for the loss of a bye-election in Hartlepool and dire results at local council level.

But it is the extraordinary differences between Scotland, Wales and England that are the key story of this election and that the left in England ignores at its peril.

Pro-independence majority at Holyrood

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP (Scottish National Party) are right to point out that it is a huge victory to be returned as the largest party after 14 years in office, to be forming the fourth government in succession This is particularly the case if you realise that the particular form of proportional representation voting in use for Holyrood elections was precisely introduced to prevent any party getting an absolute majority. They would have needed 65 seats to take an absolute majority and came one short with 64 – but that is one more than in 2016.

They did so with a much higher turnout than anywhere else in Britain, 64 per cent overall with some constituencies topping 70 per cent and queues reported in some places. One polling station was unable to close until 11.30pm because of the numbers already queuing before the 10pm deadline.

Another first for Scotland was that for the first time there – or anywhere else in Britain – all foreign nationals and anyone serving a prison sentence of less than 12 months to vote. [1] And 16-17 year olds – allowed to vote in Wales for the first time at this election – have been allowed to vote in Scottish elections since 2015. England looks increasingly isolated with its limited franchise.

Despite the split in the independence electoral camp as a result of the founding of Alba by former first Minister Alec Salmond, and the fact that the Unionist media used this as an opportunity to lay into both Nicola Sturgeon personally and her party, the SNP vote has held up and it remains the main electoral expression of the independence movement.

While Salmond attempted to present Alba as to the left of the SNP, even on the question of independence; they do not have the key to unlock the standoff between Westminster and Holyrood. Only a mass movement on the schemes (housing estates) and the streets which dwarfs what the Radical Independence campaign impressively managed in the second referendum, based on a radical vision of what an independent Scotland would stand for, could force Johnson to change his mind.

This needs to be combined with a major growth in support in England and Wales for the democratic right of the Scottish people to decide. Salmond and Alba are no more likely to build such a pluralist movement than Sturgeon and the SNP. In the meantime, Alba has a reactionary stance on social issues with prominent members playing a role in an anti trans backlash and trivialising misogyny in terms of Salmond’s behaviour.

The Scottish Greens, who stood in more constituencies than previously and saw their share of the vote rise, have also elected eight MSPs, an improvement on their previous best showing in 2003 where they elected 7. Indeed, they could easily have elected 10 MSPs – coming only a few hundred votes short of doing so.

Support for independence was clearer in their manifesto than before and with COP26 coming to Glasgow in November the environment has been climbing the Scottish political agenda. So it was not surprising that that section of the pro-independence electorate who did not buy the rather hollow appeal to give both their votes to the SNP were more likely to back the Greens. [2] Their strong showing should be welcomed and it is to be expected they will exact a radical price from the SNP – particularly, but not necessarily exclusively on environmental questions.

The Scottish Greens are an interesting formation – with political positions similar to or to the left of the GPEW (Green Party of England and Wales) – but with no real branch structure or existence outside elections. Patrick Harvie has been the party’s dominant figure for a long time – becoming an MSP in 2003 and taking over from Robin Harper in 2008 as co-convenor (the post became co-leader in 2019). Though he has nominally shared the leadership during these years the fact that 5 women have shared that role with him means that his profile has been much greater. Whether a bigger parliamentary group, including previous co-convenor and socialist Maggie Chapman, who was also active in the Radical Independence Campaign, remains to be seen.

While there is not the scope in this piece to deal with the radical left in Scotland in detail, its certainly worth noting that this was the first Holyrood elections were there were no pro-independence candidates to the left of the Greens. The Scottish Socialist Party decided not to stand any candidates – and indeed looking at their website, they hardly acknowledge an election was taking place. Sheridan’s Solidarity has effectively disappeared.

The current that played a major role in the Radical Independence Campaign during the previous referendum campaign, the International Socialist group Scotland, formally dissolved in 2015 with its members going into other projects such as Rise and Conter. Unfortunately some of them were also heavily involved in attempts to undemocratically wind up RIC precisely at the point when the left needed to really focus on what urgent tasks would be posed for it following the inevitable fact of a new electoral mandate for a new referendum. [3] After all it was precisely in the last referendum campaign that the failure of the SNP to put forward a radical vision for Scotland became apparent to the greatest numbers. The Republican Socialist Platform has made some important steps forward in this regard but cannot hope to entirely fill the gap

Unionist discipline

There was disciplined tactical voting in the Unionist camp. In seat after seat significant numbers of voters backed whichever Unionist party was seen as the strongest challenger to the SNP, whether that be Tory, Labour or Lib Dem, though this was less true of Labour voters. While this did not take seats from the governing party, it did prevent the SNP taking a number of key target seats – Dumbarton was held by Labour as was Edinburgh Southern while the Tories held Eastwood.

In Dumbarton, the seat with the smallest majority in the country, Labour’s Jackie Baillie saw an increase of 6.1 per cent in her votes with the Tory vote falling by 6.3 per cent and the Lib Dems by 1.6. In Edinburgh Southern Labour’s vote increased 10.4 per cent, the Tory vote fell 14.5 per cent and the SNP vote rose only 4.4 per cent. In Eastwood the Tory vote went up by 6.2 per cent to hold the seat while the SNP challenging increased only by 5.6, while Labour’s vote plummeted by 14.8 in a seat where they had no hope of even being second. It is probably worth marking the fact that a higher proportion of Tory supporters switched to Labour where this was tactically advisable – the strength of their unionism was hugely apparent.

The new leader of Scottish Labour, Anas Sarwar, presided over a 1.6 fall in his party’s vote, the worst since devolution, but claims it is on ‘a journey back’. Tell that to the whole of the Glasgow Kelvin Executive committee who resigned their positions after candidate Hollie Cameron was removed for disagreeing with the leadership over the right to a referendum. [4] The support even for the right to a referendum has always been weak in Scottish Labour, which has a long tradition of tribalism and of dismissing the SNP as Tartan Tories – somewhat ironically when the majority of their leadership is happy to block with the Conservative and Unionist Party to try to defeat a push for independence.

While promises of further devolution may have purchase in Wales and in the English cities, it is unclear that they would fly in Scotland. Sarwar is much closer to Starmer than to Drakeford and has inherited a Scottish Labour Party which has lost a huge proportion of its working-class base in particular to the SNP. No road back without some very sharp turns – turns which Sarwar is certainly not contemplating.

The Welsh dragon roars

Welsh Labour’s Mark Drakeford will be very pleased with the surprisingly good results in the Sennedd elections where Labour took 30 seats, Tories 16, Plaid 13 and Lib Dems 1.

Making a comparison with the previous national elections in Wales is complex because then UKIP took 7 seats and this time they (nor the new formation Abolish the Welsh Assembly with similar reactionary roots) had any significant impact. This, together with the two tier electoral system means that calculating swings is a nightmare.

Labour’s showing was much better than opinion polls predicted early on. Drakeford has definitely benefited from managing the pandemic relatively well – he has not made nearly as many U-turns as Johnson, though that does not explain the shift during the campaign. [5] Labour will work with other parties on a case by case basis; the widely predicted Labour-Plaid coalition is not a runner. And while the Tories in Wales are much less pleased than those in England, they should not be completely written off.

The big political story in Wales however is increasing support for independence . [6] Before 2018, the proportion of Welsh voters in favour of independence ranged between 10% and 20%. However, this figure has increased in recent years. Recent polling indicates that between one quarter and one third of Welsh voters who express a view say they would vote Yes in a Welsh independence referendum. Yes Cymru has grown significantly – and those numbers are probably much higher amongst younger people.

But unlike in Scotland, where for the mass of people the SNP is clearly the electoral voice of the independence movement, the same is not true in the same way for Plaid in Wales. While the differences are indisputable the reasons need more exploration.

There are certainly different takes. This piece “This was a bad election for Plaid Cymru – but they seem to be winning without winning elections” seems a profoundly complacent piece after such a lacklustre campaign by Plaid, whereas this [Voice Wales article which suggests former Plaid leader Leanne Wood, who lost her seat in the Rhonda, might have been a victim of current leader Adam Price failure to champion independence enough in a lacklustre campaign. [7]

Plaid’s website remarkably has no reaction to the results – only a statement at the eve of poll as to why people should vote for Plaid. I can only find Price’s comment on his own individual election result – but clearly they will not be happy not only at the loss of Leanne Wood’s seat but with their national showing. [8]

Indeed independence was the issue that everyone other than the far right were trying to downplay despite its increasing popularity. The Welsh Labour manifesto has nothing to say about it but Drakeford made a speech to Welsh Labour’s spring conference in late February in which he said: “Now, for all that to be achieved we need a more powerful devolution settlement. One in which we secure both home rule for Wales but in a successful United Kingdom. Internationalist, not nationalist. Outward facing, not inward looking.” [9]

The fact that since the election Mick Antoniw has been appointed to a new post of Minster for the Constitution shows that this was not just a stance to undermine Plaid at the election but a longer term route that Welsh Labour under Drakeford is committed to going down. Antoniw was one of the those involved in the publication of an extensive report on Radical Federalism published this January – so in appointing him Drakeford is certainly given some weight to his views. [10]

While sections of the Welsh Labour bureaucracy can be as tribalist as is the case for the overwhelming majority of Scottish Labour, there is also more support – and more organised support for independence inside Welsh Labour than there ever was in their sister party in Scotland. Labour for an independent Wales is a visible and serious organisation which makes this key statement: Labour for an Independent Wales sees independence as a tool with which to organise a socialist state, on an equal footing with every other state around the world – an ambition that is unattainable in the United Kingdom as it is.

It is not clear how these views around home rule and independence are reflected within the Labour left in Wales. Welsh Labour Grassroots, the sister organisation of Momentum in Wales, these days has a very out of date website and no list of its current office holders, but it was good to see prominent Welsh Labour Grassroots member s making a public tribute to Leanne Wood. This sentiment was also expressed widely by supporters of Labour for an Independent Wales recognising that she was probably the most left wing members of the Sennedd

All of this means that for socialists in England the question of deepening our understanding of the national questions in both Scotland and Wales, and in particular fighting for labour movement support for the right to self determination, needs to be pushed much higher up our political agenda.

Republished from International Viewpoint




Why is Welsh independence suddenly being taken seriously?

There has been a remarkable rise in support for a movement advocating independence for Wales, writes Geoff Ryan

At the beginning of 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, membership of YesCymru stood at about 2,000. In November, writes Geoff Ryan, I received my membership card: Number 15,706. Membership has further increased to about 20,000 today. That is a remarkable rise in support for a movement advocating independence for Wales. Especially since it was only formed in 2016. Moreover for more than a year it has not been able to follow up on the increasingly bigger demonstrations held in Caernarfon, Cardiff and Merthyr.[i]

Polls also show a big increase in support for independence with up to 40 percent of those expressing a view saying they would vote for independence if a referendum were to be held tomorrow. In some polls a majority of Labour voters have supported independence. Young people in particular are inclined towards independence. 16 and 17 year olds are able to vote in the Senedd elections on Thursday 6 May but at the moment it is unclear to what extent this will impact on the election result.

Labour Party supporters such as Michael Sheen[ii] and Charlotte Church have come out in favour of independence. Charlotte Church’s support for independence is on the front page of the first edition of YesCymru’s free paper which has been distributed to households throughout Wales. Former Wales and Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall and sports journalist Eddie Butler are prominent supporters of independence for Wales.

At least some of the mainstream press are taking the possibility of Wexit, as Sky News dubbed it[iii], seriously. This is also being taken up outside Britain. For example both the Irish Times and South China Morning Post have featured articles on Welsh independence.[iv]

So why has support for independence suddenly mushroomed?

The first thing to note is that, contrary to the arguments of the capitalist media and sections of the Labour Party, support for some form of independence has always existed in Wales. Just before and after the First World War the South Wales Miners Federation supported a Welsh Parliament. They were joined by all the major Welsh Labour organisations.

Unfortunately the workers movement failed to put itself at the head of the fight for a Welsh Parliament, leaving it to the Liberals, so gradually the Welsh Labour movement became more ‘British’ in outlook the more it came to be dominated by the British Labour Party.[v] As a result devolution was rejected in a 1979 referendum and there was barely a majority for devolution when another referendum was held in 1997.

There have also been major struggles around the language question, particularly from the 1960s onwards. Despite significant victories there are still ongoing issues around the status of the Welsh language. Jacob Rees Mogg’s recent description of Welsh as ‘a foreign language’ incensed many people in Wales. Not least because it showed an appalling ignorance on the part of this staunch British patriot of the connection between Welsh and the indigenous language of the original Britons. English, Mr Rees Mogg, with its Latin, Norman French, Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian heritages is the non-native language.

The current discussion about whether of not Snowdon should only be called by its Welsh name Yr Wyddfa is also having an impact on attitudes in Wales; particularly after the ridiculing of Welsh on a recent edition of Have I Got News For You. Bizarrely support for the use of Yr Wyddfa has come from the Tory supporting Telegraph.[vi] There are also campaigns for the country to only be referred to as Cymru rather than its English name.

The Wales football team reaching the semi-finals of the 2016 UEFA championship (England lost to Iceland in the last 16) and Gareth Thomas winning the Tour de France in 2018 certainly increased a sense of Welsh identity and pride. The much improved form of the Wales rugby union team, winning the 6 Nations Championship after a disastrous 2020, has also strengthened Welsh national feelings.

But all these issues have reinforced a move that was already underway towards greater support for independence in Wales. They did not create it. What then are the major reasons for the rise in support for independence?

Basically there are 4 main reasons for the growth of the independence movement in Wales:

  1. Brexit
  2. Covid
  3. Westminster interference
  4. Scottish independence

1) Brexit

Unlike Scotland a majority of voters in Wales supported Brexit. Indeed, without that Welsh support Brexit would have been clearly revealed as the little Englander project it was. In fact if Wales had also voted to remain the break-up of the UK would probably have accelerated. Consider if a government in Westminster had tried to go ahead with Brexit against the wishes of three of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom. It is the effect of Brexit on Wales, and Welsh farmers in particular, that has led to a change in views, with probably a majority now wishing they had voted remain. Many farmers have accused the Westminster government of a ‘Brexit betrayal’ after the farming sector’s 2020 budget was slashed by £95 million, despite the Tories having promised a year earlier to maintain agricultural development funding. Also the hostility of farmers has also increased because they have not received much of the money they were promised. In fact the Tories’ response is to centrally control all funding, by-passing the Welsh Labour government. This hostility to the devolved administration has undoubtedly increased support for a weakening of ties with England.

2) Covid 19

The Welsh Labour government has not performed massively better than the Johnson government in terms of reducing deaths from Covid. Nevertheless in every poll Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is credited with performing much better than Johnson. Indeed Johnson is seen negatively in every poll in Wales. What the pandemic has revealed to much wider layers of Welsh society is that the devolved government has far greater powers than most people thought and that it can use them independently of Westminster. By taking control of dealing with the pandemic the Labour government in Wales has been able to demonstrate the benefits of devolved government (even within the limits currently in place). This is the main reason why Boris Johnson regretted allowing the devolved governments to take responsibility for the Covid crisis. At the same time he refuses to talk to the government in Cardiff.

And the Labour government has been able to take alternative roads to the Westminster government. Find, Test, Track, Trace, Isolate in Wales has been carried out by the public sector, unlike in England where vast sums have been handed over to Serco to run a frankly useless system. The Welsh government has been more inclined to act on the advice of scientists and take measures to reduce, or try to reduce, the spread of the virus. Unlike the government in Westminster, which refused to stop people living in areas with high levels of Covid travelling to Wales.

Certainly the Welsh government can be criticized for its slowness in reacting at the start of the pandemic, its tardiness in making the wearing of masks compulsory in shops and on public transport, its ending the autumn fire-break too quickly and several other mistakes. But the Labour government’s failings are certainly far less than those of the Tories in Westminster and, despite the trolls on WalesOnline the majority of people are inclined to support Drakeford’s measures. But most importantly in increasing willingness to consider independence is the fact that the Welsh government was able to take measures and was the vehicle for communicating with the people of Wales.

3) Westminster Interference

Interference from Westminster predates Johnson becoming PM. It was Theresa May’s government that refused to support the Swansea bay barrage scheme on the grounds of cost. At one and the same time this showed how dependent Wales was on Westminster and how little the Tory government cared about the people of Wales or the environment. Under Johnson that has become even more apparent. Although the Welsh government rejected the proposed M4 relief road on environmental grounds (as well as cost) Johnson has declared it must go ahead.

In the early days of the pandemic BBC Wales news reported, on at least 2 different occasions, that care homes in North Wales had had PPE taken from them and diverted to hospitals in England. Although Johnson denies this it is almost certainly true. In any case many people did believe the stories which reinforced a belief that Wales would always be subject to England unless it took measures to free itself.

As mentioned above in the section on Brexit the Johnson government has tried to seize control of the distribution of funds from the devolved administration and to bring in the Internal Market Act to undermine the ability of the devolved governments to resist Westminster diktats. The Crime, Sentencing, Police and Courts Bill will be imposed on Wales – not that South Wales Police need much encouragement to break up protests. Furthermore Wales representation at Westminster will be cut from 40 to 32 MPs.

In addition Johnson has instructed all public authorities to fly the Union Jack (known throughout much of the world as the Butcher’s Apron) on their buildings. He has understood that a complete ban on flying the Saltire or the Red Dragon would spell disaster for his government but his diktat that they must be flown below the union flag is an unambiguous call for Unionism to be made the dominant legal position in Scotland and Wales. Devolution is to be forever subordinate. As can be imagined this did not go down well in Wales or Scotland.

4) Scottish Independence

The continued growth in support for parties in Scotland advocating independence has also had an impact in Wales. On one level there has been increasing contact and cooperation between Socialist Republican forces in Wales and Scotland. Contact and cooperation is continuing not solely around issues of independence but also around, for example, COP 26 in Glasgow. But on a more general level there is a growing feeling in Wales that if Scotland does break from the United Kingdom then Wales would have to follow suit if it does not want to be merely an appendage of England. This is far from a unique situation. Although the relative sizes of the parties involved are reversed, Wales following Scotland out of the UK is almost as inevitable as Croatia following Slovenia out of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia – though hopefully without the dreadful consequences.

Johnson’s disparaging comments about Scottish devolution on a visit to Scotland and his regret that the Welsh government has powers over lockdown and coronavirus[vii] have also strengthened anti-unionist views. Not surprisingly Tory interference in Welsh decision making has increased support for independence. Or, at the very least, has fundamentally challenged the existing constitutional set-up whereby the United Kingdom is totally dominated by England.

Federal Responses

Mark Drakeford is undoubtedly a unionist. Yet he has begun to question the current arrangements. His speech to the (virtual) Welsh Labour Party Spring Conference called unambiguously for ‘Home Rule’.[viii] Mick Antoniw, a left Labour Member of the Senedd, has written a pamphlet in which he argues for a new federal arrangement in which England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are equal partners.[ix] However, leaving aside the rather important issue of Irish reunification, Antoniw’s proposals are essentially a rehash of Gordon Brown’s Devo-max which was used to undermine the pro-independence vote in Scotland and, as a result, have seen support for independence soar. Antoniw also hopes that Keir Starmer will take up the cause of federalism. Given Starmer’s current inclination to wrap himself in the Union Jack even more than Johnson this is a forlorn hope.

The increase in support for independence in Wales has also led to calls for a separate Welsh Labour Party, again led by Mick Antoniw.[x] Earlier this year saw the formation of Labour For An Independent Wales (L4IW) which has 3 candidates on the Labour slates for the upcoming Senedd elections. Only 1 of them is a constituency candidate, the other 2 are on the regional lists and none of them have much hope of being elected but it is still an important achievement given that the sole supporter of an independent Scotland was removed from the Labour slate for the Scottish Parliament.

The moves within sections of Welsh Labour are inadequate but they clearly reflect a questioning among Labour Party members and supporters of the current constitutional setup in which England is able to totally dominate the other nations. Socialists can work with the advocates of federalism while at the same time criticizing the limits of the proposals and arguing for the need to go beyond federalism and create a Welsh Socialist Republic.

Socialist Republicanism

Outside the Labour Party a number of organisations have developed over the last year in support of a Welsh Socialist Republic: in particular Undod (Unity) and Valleys Underground. Undod has about 650 members spread throughout Wales. It is in favour of a Welsh Socialist Republic (as is L4IW and Valleys Underground) and is trying to construct an open, democratic organisation in which people from different political traditions and viewpoints can discuss and work together. It has a strong ecosocialist dimension and Merched Undod (Undod Women) are ensuring that it also emphasises feminism.

Valleys Underground describe themselves as explicitly Marxist. They originate from the South Wales Valleys, hence the name, but have now built a branch in Wrexham, North Wales. Like Undod and L4IW they argue for a Welsh Socialist Republic and are involved in practical ecosocialist activities such as cleaning up waste ground. There is a certain overlap in membership between Undod, Valleys Underground and, to a lesser extent, L4IW. All 3 organisations participate in YesCymru.

There are 2 important websites giving largely pro-independence views: Voice.Wales (not to be confused with Voice of Wales, a far right site) and Nation.Cymru. Both print articles primarily in English though some of the comments are in Welsh. In addition Undod and Valleys Underground also provide good reporting on events in Wales from a socialist republican viewpoint.

There has also been a growth in websites dealing with all aspects of Welsh life, including history, natural history, ecological issues and cultural matters – mostly bilingual sites.

And in addition, of course, there is Plaid Cymru which has taken a much more pro-independence position over the last year or so. However, the polls suggest that the growth in support for independence has not necessarily led to an increase in support for Plaid.

Opposition to Independence

However, despite the unprecedented growth in support for independence in Wales there has also been increasing vocal opposition. The Abolish The Assembly Party is standing in the Senedd elections on Thursday 6 May – though the fact the Welsh Assembly became the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament over a year ago doesn’t appear to have impinged much on their political awareness. Despite their desire to abolish the ‘Assembly’ their candidates have indicated they would take up positions as MSs and take the not insignificant salaries. According to the polls Abolish could win between 0 and 7 seats from the regional lists. UKIP, which had 7 AMs at the last election before splitting several times, are unlikely to win more than 1 seat. Their leaflet in support of Neil Hamilton is thoroughly racist, anti-Black Lives Matter, anti-immigrants adnd anti-foreigners. It also calls for the scrapping of the Senedd. Perhaps surprisingly Reform UK, successor to the Brexit Party, is not overtly opposed to devolution and does not call for abolishing the Senedd. But like Abolish and UKIP their leaflets are all only in English.

Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins recently claimed that the biggest handicap to an independent Wales is hostility to ‘newcomers’.[xi] He has clearly never read the YesCymru constitution, adopted in January 2020:

“2. YesCymru is a campaigning organisation with the aim of gaining independence for Wales in order to improve the way the country is governed. YesCymru believes that Wales would be better running its own affairs, as part of a wider European and international family.

YesCymru believes in an inclusive citizenship, which embraces the fact that all who choose to make Wales their home – regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation – are full citizens of the new Wales.”

Certainly the Constitution could be improved to show an understanding of the social model of disability, but otherwise this is not only a constitution socialists can support but one which we can advocate for every area of society. It puts the movement for Welsh independence in the forefront of the fight for civil and human rights for everyone.


[i] On the rise of Yes Cymru see WalesOnline, 8 Nov 2020.
[ii] See the fascinating interview with Michael Sheen by Owen Jones. Available on You Tube.
[iii] Sky News 16 September 2019
[iv] Irish Times, April 23 2021; South China Morning Post, 29 January 2021
[v] See Gareth Miles and Robert Griffiths; Socialism For The Welsh People; 1979. Interestingly Griffiths, current General Secretary of the CPB, calls for a Welsh Socialist Republic at the end of the pamphlet – not something advocated today by the CPB even though support for such a demand is much higher than in 1979.
vi] Nation.Cymru, 29 April 2021
[vii] WalesOnline 23 Mar 2021
[viii] WalesOnline, 26 Feb 2021
[ix] See Constitutional reform is key: Labour needs an agenda for a radical federal UK in LabourList, 14 Jan 2021.
[x] Nation.Cymru, 22 Feb 2021
[xi] Nation.Cymru, 01 May 2021

Geoff Ryan is a member of Undod, YesCymru, Labour For An Independent Wales, and Carmarthen East & Dynefwr Labour Party.

Republished from AntiCapitalist Resistance