In Wales, bitter rivals embrace

[Sunday]

Just to update you on the situation in Wales, Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour are considering going into coalition. More correctly, Welsh Labour has invited Plaid to join the government.

A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
On Saturday, Plaid’s National Executive Committee held a meeting in Aberystwyth and unanimous support was given for further negotiations with Labour to form a coalition government in the Welsh Assembly. The “rainbow coalition” option was not discussed, and a conference involving the party membership will be held on July 7, the day after Welsh Labour holds its own special conference.

I have suspected for a while that Plaid would deal with Labour and that though negotiations with the Tories and Liberals were probably in earnest, perhaps the intention was to remind Labour that they could be forced into opposition. After Labour’s loss of the Scottish parliamentary elections, losing in Wales would embarrass the party’s incoming leader, Gordon Brown.

A “rainbow coalition” led by Plaid would involve the third largest party in the Assembly, the right-wing Tories, loathed among Plaid and Labour voters. Labour would make a meal of Plaid allowing the Tories into power, and many Plaid voters would be angered by the action. Already, five Plaid Assembly Members have spoken out against a rainbow coalition, citing a “clash of values and principles” between the Plaid and the Tories.

Data with destiny
After the elections in May, the numbers in the Welsh Assembly are:

Labour, 26
Plaid, 15
Tories, 12
Liberals, 6
Independents, 1

A Labour-Plaid government would have 41 seats, a two-thirds majority; a rainbow coalition of Plaid-Tories-Liberals would have 33 seats, a slight majority.

Both Welsh Labour and Plaid are to hold conferences to allow their members to approve the coalition. Barring any major disruption, it seems likely that there will be a Labour-Plaid coalition this summer with the prospect of a referendum on full assembly powers within the four year term.

For a workers’ Wales?
Good news, then, I suppose. As you will notice, I have come out in favour of Welsh independence (not without first consulting with Marx and Lenin, via a medium) and so from that perspective, a vote on full Assembly powers would be a step closer to the stronger devolution that exists in Scotland.

Please do not infer from this that I am giving uncritical support to Plaid. The party is the largest left-wing force in Wales, if you discount Welsh Labour as a progressive force. Plaid is funded by its membership rather than millionaires; though Labour still receives funding from unions, their influence over policy is minimal in comparison with the party’s capitalist sponsors, whose interests are skilfully served.

Plaid is pro-independence and pro-socialist, but these definitions are contested territory. Socialists should ask of Plaid, what kind of independence and what kind of socialism? Does this mean working class power? Certainly Plaid favour greater mass participation in politics (who doesn’t?) and they back up this commitment with support for citizen initiated referenda.

It is well known that Labour’s electorate and membership is to the left of the party hierarchy and if Plaid can play to this in an effort to nudge Welsh Labour leftward, all the better. Halting the march of neo-liberal reform is very important, and in some respects the privatisation of public services and attacks on workers have been stalled in Scotland.

For example, nurses in Scotland will get their 2.5% wage increase upfront, in contrast to the rest of the country where the increase will be staggered – meaning it is not a full 2.5% increase. Welsh Labour may follow the SNP/Green government in Scotland in breaking the Treasury’s attempt to impose wage restraint in the public sector.

Quick questions
As a Marxist, I do not approach the question of Welsh independence from the perspective of nationalism, but rather, what would secession do for the working class to aid its struggle against the capitalist class?

It is not that I discount the nationalist argument for independence entirely; I just feel that it has theoretical limitations. Namely, that political independence would not allow for full national sovereignty: the economy would still be in the hands of a minority, precluding true democracy.

This minority would be both within Wales and outside it: the country would be dependent upon the investment of foreign capital. It is wrong, then, to imply that independence ends at self-rule and secession from the British state.

However, full political independence for Scotland and Wales would allow the working class to win claw back some of the gains of the post-war period. And the break-up of Britain would also be the break-up of British imperialism, another advantage, and a big one: a split in Anglo-American imperialism would put leave the US on its own in fighting wars of conquest in the Middle East.

I’m sure I will return to this issue again, but for now: may peace be with you.

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