On Being Nothing Special: A Case for Welsh Independence

When Scottish independence was being discussed in 2014, the economist and statesman, Vince Cable, referred to the plight of Iceland following the credit crunch as an example of the disadvantages facing small nation states and of the advantages of being part of larger units like the UK. In particular, he predicted, the Royal Bank of Scotland would abandon the newly independent state, leaving it vulnerable to a much deeper recession than the recession of 2008 in the event of a future banking crisis.1 The point was well made, but only covered half the story, since Iceland, although smaller than Cornwall in terms of population, has long put the economic crisis behind it, and has done so largely by prioritising the welfare of its people over the needs of its banking industry,2 while the UK remains mired in disaster.

The causes of that disaster also relate to the question of Scottish independence from the UK, and the fate of all four of its Celtic nations. Austerity, which trampled our economic recovery3 and caused the deaths of 130,000 of our fellow citizens,4 arose from a belief in the benign efficiency of the unregulated market which is England’s dominant political position. Brexit, as research by Michael Kenny has shown, relates to English self-pity at the loss of empire, English self-pity at the rise of the Celtic nations, and English self-pity at being bound by treaties and international laws,5 while England’s Covid response expressed the same vapid narcissism of its leaders, the same disdain for science, the same recklessness with regard to life as was shown under the far-right governments of America and Brazil.6

In Wales our comparatively sane response to Brexit (negotiating continued membership of Erasmus and Horizon, arranging our own meetings with European leaders when the UK government refused us access to theirs7 and to the pandemic (reacting to rising infection rates swiftly, first seeking to act in partnership with the UK government before using such powers as British laws had given us to protect the lives of our citizens, rolling out the vaccine in order of urgency and moving education online to protect students and staff,8 arose not because we are a nation of warriors, or even because we are a nation of poets, or because we won the war, or because we were Cool Cymru once, or even because it is only the elites and traitors who are holding us back. It arose because we understand that we are no better than other nations, that nature is indifferent to us, that history, given long enough, will surely forget about us, but that other nations in mainland Europe and beyond are open to being our friends. Our history has taught us not to suppose that the sun shines out of our arse. If we were looking for Article 1 of a Republic of Wales constitution, we could do far worse than that.

  1. Mark Leftly, ‘RBS risks an Iceland-style crisis if Scots pick self-rule, warns Vince Cable.’ The Independent, 6th February 2014. 

  2. Elizabeth Matsangou, ‘Failing banks, winning economy: the truth about Iceland’s recovery.’ World Finance: The Voice of the Market, 15th September 2015. 

  3. Larry Elliott. ’UK economy £100bn smaller because of austerity – thinktank.’ The Guardian, 21st February 2019. 

  4. Toby Helm, ‘Austerity to blame for 130,000 “preventable” UK deaths – report.’ The Guardian, 1st June 2019. 

  5. ‘The Genesis of English Nationalism.’ Centre on Constitutional Change, 30th August 2016. 

  6. Adam Forrest, ‘Inside Politics: Sage scientists wanted Boris Johnson to impose full lockdown.’ The Independent, 13th October 2020. Ian Sample, ‘British exceptionalism undermined pandemic preparedness, MPs told.’ The Guardian, 2nd December 2020. Lawrence O Gostin, Harold Hongju Koh, Michelle Williams, Margaret A Hamburg, Georges Benjamin, William H Foege et al. ‘US withdrawal from WHO is unlawful and threatens global and US health and security.’ The Lancet, 9th July 2020. Maya Oppenheim, ‘Expletive-filled video of Bolsonaro swearing at cabinet meeting released by Brazil's Supreme Court.’ The Independent, 23rd May 2020. ‘Decision not to bring in Wales-style “circuit break” lockdown led to Cummings resignation – report.’ Nation Cymru, 13th December 2020. Jessica Elgot, ‘England’s coronavirus lockdown strategy flip-flops: a timeline.’ The Guardian, 4th January 2021. 

  7. ‘Drakeford stepped up direct diplomacy with Brussels after Downing Street Brexit bust-up.’ Nation Cymru, 25th October 2020. Owen Donovan, ‘Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to be shut out of post-Brexit trade negotiations.’ Senedd Home: Making Sense of Welsh Politics, 3rd March 2020. 

  8. ‘No.10 rejects First Minister's letter calling for travel ban into Wales.’ ITV News, 14th October 2020. ‘FiveThirtyEight data expert Nate Silver backs “rational” Welsh vaccination plan over US equivalents.’ Nation Cymru, 18th December 2020. ‘All schools and colleges in Wales to move to online learning until 18 January, Minister announces.’ Nation Cymru, 4th January 2021. 

News and Opinion

A Portrait of the Artist as a Middle‑Aged Man

The day was dull, rather misty, and wet under foot, but neither too warm nor too cold for walking. I began to think (without being especially aware that I was thinking) about the place of blood in Christian iconography, about the chapel in which I was raised, which seemed mildly obsessed with it...

Read post

Featured Posts