Wales goes Red and Green

[Saturday]

Clinging onto (Plaid) Cymru
The Labour Party in Wales voted to share power with Plaid Cymru in the National Assembly on Friday night.

The Welsh Communist Party writes:

The vote came despite strong opposition from some Labour MPs, AMs and party members, including leading names such as former party leader Lord Kinnock and ex-Welsh Secretary and Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy.

The final figures were 78.43% in favour, with 21.57% against.

There were two parts to the vote, with half shared between 40 constituency parties, 14 county parties and 17 women’s forums, and the other half between 16 trade unions and other affiliated organisations.

The unions and affiliates were most in favour, with 95.83% in favour 4.17% against.

Supporters of the deal had feared the biggest threat would come from the constituency parties and other groups. But in fact they backed it with 61.02% and 38.98%.

The BBC reported that

unions and affiliates were in favour by a margin of 19-1. The deal’s supporters had feared the biggest threat would come from constituency parties and other groups, but they supported it by 2-1.

Mr Morgan said: “That gives a very good indication that the party will unite now behind this overwhelming vote.”

This is quite a big boost for the First Minister, who faced being toppled by his own party. Morgan has survived because of the collapse of the “rainbow coalition” and Plaid’s willingness to deal with Welsh Labour – the two events are intertwined, of course.

In dependence, independence?
Plaid’s struggle for Welsh self-government has led them to choose to come to power with bitter rivals (Labour) rather than ideological enemies (the Tories). Welsh Labour’s struggle rather depends on who you are talking to, but I am sure that the membership is pleased that the agreement with Plaid has provided a more radical programme than that of the Labour Party.

Peter Hain MP, Welsh Secretary and failed contender for British Labour’s deputy leadership (he came last) had this to say:

This was not a vote for nationalism nor was it a vote for independence: it was a vote to keep Welsh Labour at the heart of government.

Yes, but that’s not quite how Plaid will take it. If the stronger devolution in Scotland looks like a better option and there is a growth in public support for full law-making powers in the Assembly, Wales will be set on the road to independence.

Kim Howells, who last came to my attention during last year’s Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, wrote a letter to his constituency party to urge rejection of the “Our Wales” agreement. The MP is reported to have said that

“By inviting this coalition, we will be helping to deliver our communities into the hands of nationalist incompetents and separatists.

[…]

It is ironic that the very same party that for so long held at bay the separatists and cultural and political nationalists is prepared, now, to provide for their former enemies an assembly vehicle that transports those same nationalists to the gates of independence.

Ah, British nationalism rears its ugly head again. Howells follows the party line passionately: I expect he’ll be flying the Union flag in his garden, as Gordon orders.

Lord Kinnock was also enraged at suggestions Labour could empower the nationalists by inviting them to join the minority government. I do hope old Kinnockio is able to take the shock…

Four of Labour’s twenty-six Assembly Members broke ranks to oppose the deal, citing the possibility of a referendum on Scottish-style legislative powers within the next five years. This would divert from the struggle for social justice, supposedly… And going into opposition while the Liberals and Tories form a coalition with Plaid would lead to social justice?

More than a footnote in history
Plaid don’t think appear to think Labour are off the progressive radar, though there is historic enmity. The deal marks Plaid out as a party of the left, willing to go for the more socialistic option. On the other hand, it might be seen in terms of expediency – the “rainbow coalition” did not offer a referendum within the next term of office, whereas the Red-Green pact does guarantee this.

A momentous event in the history of Wales? Certainly. It marks the end of one of the most drawn out periods of seemingly inconsequential crisis in modern political history. I apologise if this belittles the whole affair – but it is hardly of the same order as the stalemate in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, for example.

However, this new government will be the site of a struggle that is of great importance to working people in the UK. Will the Labour Party in Wales side with the unions and Plaid, or follow the lead of Brown’s British Labour Party?

One hint of the possible direction (aside from the nice words in “Our Wales”) came yesterday:

Edwina Hart, the Welsh Health Secretary, has already damaged Brown’s wage restraint policy by paying NHS staff a 2.5% salary “increase” upfront. In doing this, she followed the Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, but not for the same reasons. Sturgeon is now being pressured to enter pay talks on a UK-level by Unison, who are pushing for more than the pitiful 2.5% rise – which is well below the level of inflation – and I suspect that Hart will also be receiving requests to get involved. Industrial action is being threatened…

PS
Plaid’s national council has today voted overwhelmingly to back the Red-Green coalition: 225 votes to 18, or 92%, I’m told. This means that, eight years since devolution began, there are nationalists in power in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland…

A brief summary of the “Our Wales” proposals from the BBC website:

To increase affordable housing

Improve road and rail links between north and south Wales

Referendum on full law-making assembly powers “as soon as practicable” in or before 2011

Labour and Plaid agree “in good faith to campaign for a successful outcome” to a referendum

Moratorium on existing plans for community hospital changes

A commission to tackle climate change

As Welsh Labour Grassroots pointed out in a bulletin produced for the Special Conference, the agreement offers:

• A clear rejection of any further PFI schemes in the NHS, along with moves to end, once and for all, the internal market and NHS use of private hospitals;

• greater public consultation on hospital reconfiguration and stronger accountability for NHS trusts;

• moves to ensure more affordable housing by suspending the right to buy council houses in areas of housing shortage and allowing councils to insist on 100% affordable housing in development schemes, as well as providing grants for first-time buyers;

• radical reductions in primary school class sizes;

• the establishment of a Climate Change Commission for Wales.

I also note the commitment to greater public participation, short of backing for citizen-initiated referenda – which would allow an alignment of extra-parliamentary forces to push for greater democracy and enable trade unions to campaign for a restoration of workers’ rights at the devolved level.

And finally, Adam Price includes a few voices from history in his latest post:

“Many who used to think of Wales as a British region, and of themselves as British Labour, think now of Wales as their nation, as their country, and of themselves as Welsh. If this change develops then it is bad news for the British Government and the British Labour Party, for it may presage a fusion of the national and the labour movement in Wales into such a powerful force that a free and just Wales may emerge”

Gwynfor Evans, 1980

“The possibility exists of a radical alliance between the left and the national movement. The Left must recognise the radical potential of the submerged nations of Europe and we must recognise that the case for national freedom is to transform societies according to the principle of community socialism.”

Phil Williams, 1982

“Within the Party of Wales there is a recurring debate as to whether an essential prerequisite for self-government is that Plaid Cymru replaces the Labour Party as the mainstream, dominant party in Wales. Alternatively, it is possible for a single-minded and uncompromising Plaid Cymru to create the conditions whereby other parties deliver self-government, albeit step-by-step and with some reluctance. Progress over the past forty years, and especially the establishment of the National Assembly, point to the latter strategy.”

Phil Williams, 2003

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