As the lunar calendar clocked up another notch, a new Welsh Political Barometer poll was released writes Crispin John.
There ensued a small flurry of media articles on the question of Welsh independence. It was rather like the snow we saw the other day in my area of Cardiff. Wet, weak, and it didn’t last long. In some ways, this is almost like Groundhog Day. The news coverage picks up on a minority of people who, if balloted, would support Welsh independence, and seem to ignore those who would seek to roll back devolution, and gloss over the majority who simply have no strong opinion.
One of the key points in all of these media articles was how the Yes Cymru campaign have picked up support over the last few months, growing to 17,000 Members. It’s certainly a valiant effort by a team who undoubtedly have great passion for what they believe in, and some decent marketing knowhow. But when you start from a base of zero, isn’t exponential growth somewhat easier? It reminds me of a Ponzi Scheme, but one with innumerate breaches of Section 224 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, given the amount of Yes Cymru stickers that seem to be adorning bins and lampposts in Cardiff Bay and elsewhere.
“Should the UK Government in Westminster be worried?”, screamed one article. After all, it wasn’t a question, it was a statement.
Well, I don’t agree. And nor should the Welsh Conservative and Unionist Party. Any Nationalists reading this will now think that the nasty Tory author is going to launch into some sort of diatribe about how Wales is too small to stand on its own two feet in the World. I’m not. In fact, I think that argument is flawed and disrespectful to a Nation with great potential. Abolitionists will now think that said author is fervently pro-devolution, and reckons that devolution has done a great job for Wales. I’m not, and I don’t. My thoughts on devolution have been published in the article I wrote for this website when I came back to the Conservative Party. It’s Labour and the Welsh Government that haven’t been working for Wales. You simply can’t blame the machinery when it’s the operator who is incompetent.
The march to independence is inordinately slow, and the Charge of the “Enlightened” Brigade is little more than a game of snakes and ladders. For all of the press posturing, the numbers of potential pro-indy voters out there remain fairly constant, and in the minority. But whilst this may be true, and the alarm bells shouldn’t be ringing just yet, we would be wise to be cautious.
In Wales, we do not see the voters returning Nationalist Governments to the Bay, or pro-independence MPs to Westminster in droves, unlike in Scotland where the SNP is now the dominant party. But North of the Anglo-Scottish border, this wasn’t something that happened by accident. It’s all too easy to turn a blind eye to Plaid, but with Welsh Labour performing badly in public opinion polls, and with pro-independence campaigners garnering support, in many cases from those who wouldn’t previously have engaged with politics at all, it would be dangerous to write off the prospects of those who seek to divide our Union. It happened in Scotland, and we came perilously close to constitutional carnage.
Plaid’s Leader in Westminster has already said that the next Senedd election will be about independence. It’s a ludicrous claim, but this is the great lie about both the independence and the abolition arguments. If it isn’t working, get rid of it – but whilst the two extremes may be poles apart – they share one thing in common. They don’t have a plan for what happens next.
As the Conservative and Unionist Party in Wales, we cannot afford to let the flawed argument that devolution’s failings are the fault of Westminster prevail. We do have a plan, and we must stand firmly together and offer a real alternative to the People of Wales. That change will not be found with the Nationalists, nor with the Abolitionists either – for both ends of the spectrum cannot possibly garner enough support to win through at the ballot box. Presenting a real alternative to the People of Wales is our job – and with fewer than 100 days to go until the scheduled Senedd Election, it’s time for us all to stand united and campaign – together – to present that programme to the People of Wales.
Crispin John is a political commentator and analyst, and former Chief of Staff for UKIP in the Welsh Parliament.