Another Wales is possible

LeanneproseneddheadshotSocialist Resistance interviewed Leanne Wood (pictured), leader of Plaid Cymru, on what she thinks are the implications of the Scottish independence referendum.

SR: You were a very high profile and active supporter of the Yes campaign in Scotland. Why did you think it was important to do that?

LW: Scotland’s Yes movement had a clear aim – they wanted the future of their country in their own hands. They wanted to end Tory rule they didn’t vote for and they wanted to be free from the shackles of the broken Westminster system. Had people in Scotland voted yes, an opportunity to break with the 30+ year long neo-liberal consensus would have opened up for many of us outside of Scotland too.

While the vote was a matter for people in Scotland, there were wider implications. When I went to Scotland I was able to talk to people about the potential impact for Wales.

SR: Everyone was impressed by the depth, breadth and radicalism of the Yes campaign. What do you think made is so successful?

LW: Two things – it was a grass roots movement and it offered hope that an alternative to austerity and compassion-less, greed and hate based politics.

Because it offered an alternative, the campaign was able to engage empower those who had previously felt marginalised and ignored.

The public meetings, the street work, door knocking, online activity and the wide range of creative / artistic active activity made the yes campaign visible and exciting.

It was striking how well informed people were informed and how everyone I spoke to on my visits there had an opinion.  I’ve not experienced anything like this in politics before. It was the polar opposite of the disillusion, disenchantment and disconnectedness that has been growing in politics outside of Scotland for many years.

SR: The Tories’ class instincts kicked in immediately. They reneged on their promises to Scottish voters and used the result to humiliate Labour and steal some of UKIP’s English nationalist ideas. Do you have any views on what a democratic settlement for England might look like?

LW: It was not a great surprise to see “the vow” being backtracked.

Promises of “devo max” for Scotland seem to have been kicked into the long grass, yet there has been plenty of talk about “English votes for English laws” – something that was not on the table during the referendum campaign, yet was magicked up an a crucial issue afterwards.

The Westminster establishment is now more concerned about those key marginals in England that will deliver the result in next year’s general election than they care about Scotland, Wales, Ireland or the constitution.

On the face of it, the principle of English votes for English laws (EVEL) should be supported. However, it is not as quite clear cut a question as it is presented. The health service in Wales is devolved as it is in Scotland. Under EVEL, Welsh MPs would be prevented from voting on all matters relating to the English NHS. However, the two health services are linked through budget allocations so that a decision to cut the NHS budget in England would result in a corresponding cut to the Welsh block grant, from which the Welsh NHS in financed. Decisions on financing of the NHS in England are of direct relevance interest for Welsh MPs, so how would the line be drawn?

The future constitutional settlement for England however must be a matter for the people of England.   Likewise, the future constitutional settlement for Wales must be a matter for people here.

SR: Wales has arguably been worse affected by Thatcher’s legacy and neo-liberalism than Scotland has. Where do you think most Plaid Cymru voters are when it comes to the issue of independence? Would they be happy with more devolved powers for the Assembly?

LW: There is demand for greater powers for the National Assembly of Wales, as confirmed by numerous polls.

Whichever party is in charge in Westminster, austerity will continue, services will continue to be lost, people on benefits and immigrants will continue to be scapegoated, divide and rule will carry on.  Whoever wins, Westminster will have a right-wing government in change hell-bent on selling off our public assets. Both the Tories or Labour as signed up to austerity politics and a neo-liberal agenda. In Scotland, where the devolution settlement is much stronger, the Government has been able to afford more protection to its citizens. For example, people there have been shielded from the dreadful bedroom tax.

Wales needs to work towards ending our fiscal dependence so that we can be in a position to have decent public services and social security in the long term.  To do that, more powers combined with and a plan to create decent jobs will be necessary.  Plaid Cymru has been saying this for a long time, but I believe that more people will see the potential merits behind this thinking as austerity bites deeper, as they did in Scotland. The alternative is more austerity and more neo-liberalism via UKIP-type right-wing / Thatcherist politics.  How could it make sense for people harmed by such politics to back a harder line version of it?

SR: The swell in support for Scottish independence surprised even those of us who have always supported it. Are there any lessons from the Scottish campaign and you and Plaid Cymru will apply to Wales?

LW: The yes campaign showed what the power of people can achieve with hope and positivity against the might of the entire British establishment and corporate media. They achieved their impact due to painstakingly building a network of people in communities and online and using large numbers of people to bud and disseminate the arguments. YES was a campaign of the people, by the people. It captured the imagination, it inspired and it gave people hope. The biggest lesson is that no matter how grim politics can seem when we suffer from the over-exposure of the right, what happened in Scotland has shown me that another Wales, indeed, another world is very possible.


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