YES CYMRU BRIDGEND launch meeting address.
I was born in Kent, but moved to Wales 26 years ago; I was a geography teacher for twenty years, and then an adult literacy and numeracy tutor about 10 years.
I was heavily involved in the Green Party for quite a few years, even standing to be leader of Wales Green Party in November 2014
I have since parted company with the Green Party in order to get on the Corbyn bandwagon, in the hope that he may actually bring about some socialist change, although in recent years I have found it easier, as a socialist, to vote for Plaid Cymru than some Welsh Labour candidates.
I am here, therefore, in order to outline an ecosocialist’s view of the potential for an independent Wales.
It is my desire to create a fairer, more equal, safer and healthier society that motivates me and leads me to want to get involved in the Yes Cymru campaign. Let me try and explain why in a bit more detail.
Firstly, let me make a few points about environmental issues. In general, independence has to be about long-term questions rather than short term ones, but with regards to climate change, they are pretty much indistinguishable.
Coal from Wales has played its part in creating the crisis we face, but in the global race to reduce emissions, Wales has huge potential to not only do its bit, but to also be a pioneer and leader in renewable technologies, especially the water-based technologies of tidal, wave and hydro power.
Currently energy is a reserved matter, with just planning policy devolved. The new powers over energy policy coming later this year, while welcome, still have a Westminster veto in the small print and it remains to be seen whether the Welsh people can exercise their will and have fracking and nuclear power banished from Wales, or see the necessary investment in giving Wales, not only complete energy security, but virtually free domestic energy to boot.
My son is a Mechanical Engineering graduate of Cardiff University, so I know that Welsh universities currently struggle to get adequate funding for their pioneering work in wave and tidal technologies. With the right backing and support, Wales could, indeed should be at the forefront of these industries of future global importance.
Independence would take control of decision making in these vital areas into the hands of the people living here, but it would also benefit our precious and distinct ecosystems.
With 3 National Parks, and many Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, including the UK’s first ever AONB, along with other precious environments across the land and around the coast, it may be tempting to think that the UK does a good job of protecting Welsh landscapes.
However, the picture is far from rosy. National Park priorities are more attuned to the needs of wealthy city dwellers, especially Londoners, and/or the MoD, than the needs of local people and wildlife.
Sheep farming and conifer plantations decimate biodiversity. Draconian planning restrictions may have their place, but allied to free markets in land and housing, locals are priced out of their communities and off the land.
Too many of the relevant powers still reside in Westminster or with Crown Estates. With full control over its land resources, Wales can become a better home for both its people and its wildlife.
Welsh resident, George Monbiot hopes that independence can decentralize land ownership and be a key to restoring our wilderness. There is every reason to believe that Wales’ distinct ecosystems, from coastal seas to mountaintops, will flourish more in an independent Wales.
Ultimately, however, it is looking after the people better that matters most and why I identify as a socialist even more than as an environmentalist. And this is where I feel the strongest arguments for independence lie.
For socialists, the central question regarding self-determination and independence has to be ‘What is best for the vast majority of the people – the working class and middle class people of Wales?
This has to set in the context of the economic decline of British imperialism and the un-remitting neoliberal class war that we have come to know as ‘austerity’.
The collapse of capitalism has long been inevitable, built as it is on the illogical premise of continuous growth on a finite planet.
In it’s death throes, what we now see is the insidious ‘race to the bottom’ mentality we see in the tearing up of workers’ rights, environmental protection and human rights against the backdrop of free trade agreements that hand ultimate economic control to multinational corporations above even national government’s control. It is all driven by the need to keep the capitalist elite’s gravy train on the rails.
It is therefore understandable why socialists see independence as a potential way out of the capitalist downward spiral.
This viewpoint also informed the so-called Left Exit (or Lexit) position in the Brexit referendum. The rightward drift of social democratic parties across Europe and beyond would have us all believe that there is no alternative to the market and the neoliberal model. I say this is patent nonsense.
It is no coincidence that the demand for independence is strongest among the youth, the radicals, socialists and the most oppressed sections of our society. For us on the Left, then, it is crucial that we do not separate the demand for independence from that of building a mass movement to challenge austerity.
In terms of party politics in Wales, this is complicated. There are supporters and opponents of this position in all the relatively left-looking electoral parties in Wales: Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party.
We therefore need to weigh up every candidate carefully regarding their positions on self-determination AND socialist alternatives to austerity. Either/or simply does not cut it!
Crude nationalism of the ethnic variety has to be avoided at all costs, despite its appeal to the intellectually challenged.
UKIP have successfully used this approach to tap into sections of the population that would be best served by a socialist, independent Wales. Their brand of British nationalism is patently dangerous and needs to be countered and not mimicked.
Inspiration can instead be drawn from the success of left reformist movements across Europe in recent times: Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, Die Linke in Germany, Front de Gauche in France and the Pirates of Iceland.
We have to be seen to be advocating genuinely radical alternatives, or what is the point?
The temptation might be to present independence as “the evolution of devolution”,but this is not a radical move. Retaining the monarchy, keeping the pound, remaining in NATO and, yes, even remaining in the EU, all leave us constrained and unable to change anything truly significant.
Being tied to the pound and the Bank of England, in particular, leaves us tied to UK economic policy, dictated by the City of London. The very best outcome we could wring from this scenario would be ‘austerity lite’.
With a clean break from the UK, virtually from Day 1, we could have: a fairer tax system, a Bank of Wales and our own currency, a decent citizen’s income that eliminates poverty, public ownership of energy, transport and all key utilities and infrastructure.
We could also have proper investment in green technologies and industry providing quality employment; and properly enforce bans on fracking and nuclear power.
The potential is limited only by our imaginations and ingenuity; not by externally imposed restrictions and constraints.
Of course, these freedoms could well be used and abused by groups wanting to drag Wales in a far less desirable direction.
This is has been part of the essentially negative No and Remain campaigns in Scotland and Brexit. ‘Project Fear’ it has been called, and how very appropriate. Fear paralyses and the No campaign is all about maintaining the status quo and supporting the Establishment – none of which serves us well at the moment. Their core message is a self-deprecating one of “We cannot go it alone”.
It is saying that there is no alternative to austerity so we should just suck it up and be grateful for what we get.
In conclusion, ecosocialists would not naturally start from a position of self-determination, but this is the question being posed and it offers undeniable opportunities to end austerity and enhance the lives and interests of the working and middle classes of Wales.
As such, a Yes outcome would represent a serious blow to the corrupt and arrogant UK elite, and could even become a beacon of hope whose impact could be felt across the British Isles and beyond.