When do we get our independence referendum?

Elin Jones has just been reported by the BBC as saying:

"There is a debate happening now in Wales, England and Scotland now about the future of the UK constitution - I want to see Plaid Cymru engaged fully in the debate in order to lead us to becoming a successful independent nation.

"I'm clearly of the view that two consecutive victories for Plaid Cymru, just as with the SNP in Scotland, could trigger a referendum for independence in Wales."

It is the first time a leading Plaid figure has suggested a referendum could take place within the next decade.

BBC, 25 January 2011

Let's start with the positives. First, it's right to acknowledge that Elin has consistently taken a stand in favour of independence for Wales, that puts her head and shoulders above two of the other leadership candidates. Second, 2020 is certainly an improvement on her previous suggestion that we should aim to be independent before 2036. That is the sort of date that means nothing in practical terms because it is much too far away.

But I don't think she should have put it in the way she now has. It is definitely not necessary for Plaid Cymru to win two consecutive elections before we have the right to call an independence referendum. We just need to look to Scotland to see that. The SNP would have had a referendum on independence before 2011 if there had been a majority in the Scottish Parliament willing to pass a referendum bill in the 2007-2011 term. The only reason it didn't happen was because the SNP (together with the Greens and Margo MacDonald) didn't have a majority, and the three unionist parties would have voted it down.

The same is true in Wales. We will have a referendum on independence when a majority of AMs in the Senedd is prepared to vote for it. Nor will all those that vote for it have to be Plaid Cymru AMs, for there might well come a time when other parties are convinced that independence is in the best interests of Wales. But in practical terms, getting an independence referendum is more likely to happen when we elect a Plaid Cymru government.


I couldn't agree more with the idea of setting out a route map towards independence. We need to do this. Every country needs to have a framework of fundamental structures and institutions in place in order to safeguard the wellbeing, prosperity and security of its people. Wales does have some of these and with the progress of devolution is gaining more, but we are some way from having all of them. Every step we can take now will make the final step to independence that much smaller and therefore that much easier.

But we must also bear in mind that other events might bring us to the point where we are faced with making a decision much sooner. Events such as Scotland becoming independent, a wave of other countries in Europe becoming independent (Catalunya, Euskadi and Flanders, for example) or a reunited Ireland might mean that we have to make a choice between independence or being part of Greater England before we've built the framework of structures and institutions we need. That's not an insuperable problem ... we'll just have to build them after we've become independent instead.

So although we should work out a step-by-step route map and put dates against each step for planning purposes, we should not rule out becoming independent much sooner. The only criticism I have of what Elin has now said is that it seems to rule this out. I'm sure that is not what she intended, but those who are opposed to our independence are going to interpret it that way.

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Owen said...

We saw how difficult it is for Labour to get a majority in May, despite having practically everything in their favour. In a 60 member Assembly it's nigh on impossible for any party to achieve a "comfortable majority" so I think Elin has made a boo-boo there.

As you've said MH, it'll have to be a majority of AM's needed to back an independence referendum. That could be in the form of the Greens getting elected and finally disassembling themselves from EnglandandWales - adopting a pro-independence stance like their Scottish equivalent. It could even just be the Unionist parties going for a Wendy Alexander "bring it on" approach.

On independence itself, I still think there's awful lot of work to do before we can seriously contemplate it like the Scots are. If there were a vote tomorrow I'd still vote yes. But as you've said we need to build that framework and iron out all those issues before Wales can take the plunge.

I suspect many of those things - like defence, taxation, welfare - will be examined in closer detail in the Scottish independence debate and many of those ideas will probably be taken up by Welsh nationalists. Of course there are also plenty of areas where we don't need to copy the Scots.

Anonymous said...

Only two weeks ago the Green leader in Wales called for devo max for Wales. I would imagine they would support independence too.

Britnot said...

Let's not forget the "Elephant in the room", - England. I mentioned on another blog that there is an increasing antipathy towards the perception of the "Benefit Junkie" Celtic fringe, fuelled by misinformation supplied by Unionists. For those of us in favour of Independence we may well find the impetus propelling us towards freedom supplied by our neighbours east of Offa's Dyke.

I don't care where the irresistible force for freedom comes and in some ways we should thank the less than honest exponents of the Unionist cause for their involuntary support. Would it not be the ultimate irony that utterances from True Wales etc finally pushed the English into a desire to dispense with the union with their Celtic fringe neighbours?

Anonymous said...

Thats the thing with the English, they will complain that were "sucking them dry" and useless. Yet when it comes to allowing us to have freedom, they don't let us - they like the idea of "the Union".

Take Ireland- you read how the English viewed the Irish pre-independence, yet they did everything their power to stop them having independence. You see Cameron saying it is unfair the Scots have more in barnett, yet he is fighting to keep them in.

Although they may very well get annoyed with the Celts - I can never, ever seeing the English "chucking us out" - I don't think they've done that with any colony in the past, why should they now?

Unknown said...

Elin's utterance this morning was so timorous and woolly that I fear for the future of Plaid if she wins the leadership. That she felt she needed to say something is good - but why did she have to qualify it with the 2 victories stipulation?

What is certain is that the political landscape by 2015 will be transformed compared to what we see now, and we need a leader with the vision and sure-footedness to guide us through the 'interesting' times. I'm afraid that Elin is not the right lady for that.

Neilyn said...

Isn't it a blessed relief to hear candidate leaders finally utter the unutterable? Who knows, the next leader of Plaid Cymru may very well be an individual determined to keep the issue at the very heart of devolved politics in Wales, and call this rotten deal that Wales has endured for centuries to account. Suddenly 2036 seems further away than before!

Anonymous said...

Incredible how events have overtaken at least two of the candidates. Even more incredible that it was in a Plaid leadership contest. If they didn't see that coming...

MH said...

I'm more inclined to agree with Neilyn than Siônnyn on this. I don't think Elin was being "timorous and woolly". It is hugely positive for a potential leader to be talking in terms of a referendum on independence, and it's certainly a step forward to be talking about it happening in the next ten years rather than by 2036.

I'd go further, and say that I think the most likely date for us to become independent will be in the early 2020's. So if we take what Elin has said as a prediction of when it will happen, I think she's on the money. My only concern was that she was tying it into something that it is in fact not tied to at all. Let's say we get 25 seats in the Senedd in 2016 (or more if we will be electing 80 AMs). That might still not be enough to form a government if the other parties decide to form a "Union Jack coalition" to keep us out of power. But does that mean we cannot bring forward a referendum bill if we win an overall majority in 2020? Of course not. I'm sure that is not what Elin meant, and I'd advise her to make that clear now.

And although I will give my own first preference in the leadership vote to Leanne, Elin is a very close second. I would be happy to see Elin as leader of Plaid Cymru. She has ability and determination by the bucketful.


Turning now to how the political landscape might change, it must surely be obvious from what Carwyn and Rhodri are saying that Labour will not be at all happy with being part of the RUK if Scotland becomes independent. It really will be an "impossible" situation for them, and it will be made even worse if Ireland is reunified, which I think will be a likely consequence of Scottish independence and will happen after Elizabeth Windsor dies. As I read it, unionists in the six counties are primarily loyal to the crown and its guarantee of a protestant succession rather than to the current political unity of the UK. That is going to be severely tested if the Black Spider becomes king.

Labour as a party (in Wales anyway) do not want the break up of the UK because it will mean that Labour in England will have to move more to the right in order to stand any chance of forming a Westminster government. That is the inevitable consequence of Scotland becoming independent. They might well decide that thay cannot remain part of the same party as their English colleagues, and that in order to have any hope of a fairer and more equal society that I think the vast majority of people in Wales want they will have no choice other than to see Wales become independent. If we want the sort of society that Labour tried so hard to build after the second World War, but which is now being systematically dismantled by the wholesale shift to the right that has been going on in England for the past 30 years, independence will be the only option. This time, though, we can and should build a much more decentralized and sustainable version to deliver the same objectives.

So while I agree that the Greens will probably only need a small nudge to be convinced about independence for Wales, it certainly isn't impossible for Labour to come to the same conclusion. It will just take rather more soul searching than will be comfortable for them.

Anonymous said...

I believe Adam Price predicted some years ago that Labour, not Plaid will deliver independence to Wales.

I am not convinced - yet, however Carwyn has already called for something that Labour has never wanted- an (almost) Federal UK. Who knows what will happen in the next few years.

As for if PC had 25 seats, I think LD would form a coalition and allow a referendum on independence. Why? it'd get them as a fairly decent partner into Government and they can sell it to supporters as "they believe the people, not politicians" should decide.

It's awful to say, but I genuinely agree that the death of the queen could trigger a few things. The danger in Wales is if we get another prince of Wales - Wills and Kate are quite popular; this could make "Britishness" popular. And on that MH- do you think there will be another prince of Wales (with all the pomp an ceremony)? it's the elephant in the room that is getting bigger!

Anonymous said...

To go off subject slightly and as we're talking of independence scenorios, I do have d nagging feeling of us gaining independence (or something very similar) and for us to have the Belarus under Lukashenka position. That is, an independent state ruled by a leader, Lukashenka / Carwyn Jones, who does not believe that their country should be independent. The whole state would be conservative, anti nationalist or lukewarm at best to the indigenous minority language.

I'm not comparing CJ to Lukashenka who is a thug, but trying to draw a parallel with a nation which gained freedom unexpectedly governed by a man an apparatus hostile or Luke warm to the independence of that state.

There would hardly be any point in independence in that case.

Plaid therefore need to replace Labour as the biggest party in Wales and to do that need to lead and own the constitutional argument and need d Leader who can accomplish that.


Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

The Lukashenko scenario is one that troubles me too occasionally. Imagine a Wales ruled by the Kinnocks...

Unknown said...

MH - Elin is not a bad person at all, but I doubt her capacity to lead Plaid to a breakthrough in the industrial heartlands, which we need if we are to come anywhere near 25 seats. Only Leanne can do that. In this Leanne's non-Welsh peaking upbringing will be a huge boost for the party, as we can lay the ghost of 'party of Welsh speakers' once and for all. That is why I will be voting 1 for her, and possibly (though not definitely, as I want to see the hustings first) Elin a very feint and unenthusiastic 2. At the start of the campaign, I was quite willing to see her become leader, but every time I see her on TV, or read something she has written, my confidence takes another bump.

Aled G J said...

It's good to see one of the Plaid leadership hopefuls responding so positively to the potentially seismic changes being unleashed by the SNP. However, all Elin needed to say was that she anticipated a referendum on independence in Wales being held WITHIN a decade. That would be a perfectly plausible line to take in view of a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, and a referendum on English independence( who knows?) which could be held in 2017. There was absolutely no need at all to include this proviso about Plaid Cymru winning two consecutive majorities in the Senedd. Why set yourself up for a fall in such a way? Surely one majority for a pro- independence party either in 2016 or 20120 would be enough to set the ball rolling( aka the SNP in 2007)? I very much hope that she will drop this line in any future media comments, since it will just be seized upon by our opponents and used to stymie any potential moves by PC to bring the issue to the table.

Anonymous said...

Another way of looking at things would be to say that we would call a referendum when we achieve the success necessary. It's impossible to predict the future with the current crisis in the Eurozone and finance capitalism. It seems unrealistic to use today's conditions to line up a date. Her intentions were good in setting out an expected timetable and at least it has kept the issue on the agenda during this week.

Anonymous said...

I notice that Simon Thomas has urged people to ignore the Plaid leadership opinion polls and the bookie's favourite:


Apparently he's hoping for a surge in his direction after the hustings. He can live in hope is all I can say.

Anonymous said...

I won't vote for him but he might have a point. Nobody watches Senedd proceedings but Thomas is seriously impressive, clever and witty enough to get by. He will shine at the hustings. However he hasn't built up any momentum and alot of people will be impressed by him but will already have made their first choices. This is why he's going for second preferences. Again, I haven't met any members openly backing him but don't write him off.

Anonymous said...

I am voting for Leanne. However in terms of being electable, I think Simon Thomas is FAR more charismatic than anybody else- he is likeable. Although electoral history tells me otherwise.

However on independence Leanne swings it, and ultimately that is what the party if 'for' and we must stand by that.

But I'd like to learn more about Simon Thomas, he seems like a really likeable man. But you see quite scathing comments about him on blogs, and I don't know why (genuine q- why?).

In terms of voting I've ruled out Elin Jones now. Daf El was never a consideration. Leanne will be no 1, however I may well put Simon as no 2.... unless someone can tell me why I shouldn't. He's a hard man to judge!

Anonymous said...

Daf El was scathing about independence on Wales Today. However he did say we don't want to talk about scenarios that might happen in "10-15 years"..... surely this is an improvement from his previous position!? If we can convince him- we can convince anybody!

Anonymous said...

Simon T is an intelligent and engaging speaker. Better than Leanne and Elin. He's also from a similar background to Leanne except that he actually managed or made the effort or had the opportunity to learn Welsh fairly early on and so speaks it fluently.

His biggest drawback is, or was, not doing the bara brith circuit, or, rather, not seen to be enjoying the small talk and banter of the constitency MP. He'd talk policy and wind farms when a couple of jokes and ribbing about soccer and rugby scores would have been best.

I'm tending towards Leanne, but I'll make this point. Part of Salmond's appeal to many is that he looks like a conservative or local bank manager. People trust their money with him. Simon's mistake on the other hand was to wear an earing. So, Leanne and Simon, don't underestimate nor patronize the importance of conservatism in people's thinking. Work with it, not against it.


Anonymous said...

M. gets it right about Simon's drawbacks. Whoever wins though, they should use his policy expertise. People talk about Mark Drakeford being a leading intellectual AM but Simon Thomas could do the same for Plaid, probably more so. But not really as leader.

Appreciating the small 'c' conservatism that is actually abdundant in Wales is essential. It doesn't mean Conservative policies, but ironically its the old labour-style values of self-help, mutualism, 'family values' even, and also the chapel and religion. Plaid's background and history touches all of those bases and you can see from Leanne's campaign that she has realised that. The Labour vote in Wales is generally conservative, not radical. In these times of rampant consumerism there is alot to be said for speaking up for those values and ethics. Wales progress is not going to look like the Celtic Tiger, for example, so we need a new song to sing.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with Leanne is the "C" word whether it is large or small.

Anonymous said...

I think its a bit disingenuous to say that Leanne Wood isnt a Welsh speaker. While she may not be first language, or a confident Welsh speaker that doesnt mean that she doesnt speak it, to all intents, fluently.

See Alwyn ap Huws piece- http://miserableoldfart.blogspot.com/2012/01/vote-leanne-wood.html

Anonymous said...

"The trouble with Leanne is the "C" word whether it is large or small."

That's correct, anyone who thinks the people of the valleys, let alone Wales, will flock to the banner of a socialist republican is delusional.

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