I felt compelled to put finger to keyboard because I’m tired of hearing arguments for the EU but against the totality of Europe. The kind of people guilty of this are now taking an increased interest in Welsh independence.
To re-state my position – in June 2016 I voted to leave the EU. My reasons for doing so were set out in ‘EU Referendum: Why I Want Out!’ and a few days later, after the result was known, I followed up with ‘Brexit, Wexit: Things Can Only Get Better!’
What I hope to explain is that despite being a Brexiteer I regard myself as a European, and that’s because I see Wales as part of a wider European civilisation. This being so, Wales cannot leave Europe, we can only exit the European Union.
THE LEFT AND EUROPE
For me, there are two main variants of the left. On the one hand we have the hard left, or old left, some of whom may even be ‘tankies’, still mourning the demise of the USSR. Then we also have the soft or new left, who like to view themselves as ‘progressives’, but who I often view as the ‘butterfly’ left, flitting from one colourful issue to the next.
Another difference would be that, unattractive as it was, the old left, the Marxists and the Trotskyists had a coherent ideological basis in the writings of assorted philosophers and political theoreticians.
By comparison, the new left is almost without form or ideological substance, being made up of those who believe that what’s important to them, or the latest popular issue, is of vital importance to humanity (whether humanity is interested or not). Which often makes the soft left appear to be nothing more than a loose alliance of single-issue groups – ‘We’ll support you if you support us’.
The Labour Party contains both varieties, with the old left perhaps in the ascendant under Corbyn, but Plaid Cymru is very much home to the latter.
In the good old days of the Soviet Union the hard left had an example to hold up as an alternative to the Western model. An idyll exemplified for me by Peter Sellers’ shop steward in I’m All Right Jack, who dreams of Russia as, ” . . . all them corn fields and ballet in the evening.” A line that never fails to make me smile.
The economic collapse of the USSR discredited the hard left’s alternative model, and opened the door to the soft left, with no obvious political agenda beyond changing the West from within through social and cultural pressure.
Even in the good old days of the Soviet Union, among elements of the left, hostility to the capitalist model spilled over into a rejection of the achievements of ‘decadent’ Europe and its offshoots.
As with the old, so with the new, which often dismisses centuries of human achievement as being all about ‘dead white men’.
Yes, these achievements often went hand in hand with colonisation, exploitation and even slavery, but millions of Europeans were also enslaved, by Turks and North Africans. How many today have heard of the Sack of Baltimore in west Cork? Communities from Cyprus to Iceland suffered from Muslim slave-raids.
The Crimea, the fate of which now so vexes Western governments, was taken by the Russians in 1774 to stop the peninsula being used by its Tatar population to export thousands of captured Russians and Ukrainians into Turkish slavery every year.
By even using the term ‘European civilisation’ I will have had a few leftists reaching for their smelling salts (or whatever they use), for it will have conjured up images of wicked capitalists, oppressors and colonialists, pith helmets and shackles.
Their chosen interpretation of Europe is as distorted as their view on almost everything else. It’s chiaroscuro without the light. In its distortions the touchy-feely left can ignore the genocide being practised by China against the Uighurs yet hold up something said by a politician of the right as a crime against humanity.
For them, crimes can only be committed by white men. When it comes to global warming it’s rapacious white men destroying the planet, never developing economies with their coal-fired power stations, or third world countries destroying vast areas of forest every year.
This ‘blame Whitey’ approach betrays another dangerous failing of the soft left, and that is the refusal to accept that the past is another country, they did things differently there; which results in them judging people from previous eras by contemporary mores.
The fact that someone in 1887 was homophobic makes them a creature of their time, not a monster to be vilified by immature individuals who are easily outraged. I’ll let you in on a little secret – back in 1887 most people were homophobic.
To conclude: I’m proud to be a European. I reject the European Union.
THE LEFT AND BREXIT
The hard or old left has usually been hostile to the Common Market and then the European Union, the ‘Rich Man’s Club’ as Marxists were wont to call it. But the real reason for the hard left’s hostility was the same as my original enthusiasm – we both saw the EU as a bulwark against the Soviet bloc.
Three decades after the demise of the USSR the comrades of the hard left still have a lingering affection for Russia. The fact that Putin is viewed as a threat by the West goes some way to explaining the hard left’s ambivalence towards the EU, and Corbyn’s refusal to take a stand on a second referendum, or anything.
The other consideration for the hard left, and Jeremy Corbyn, is that Labour voters from Sunderland to Stoke to Swansea voted for Brexit. They also voted against out-of-touch elites, so Labour really can’t afford to be perceived as aligning with the metropolitan elite.
Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters need to hold on to their middle class support, their ethnic minority support, and their white working class support if they are to form a government. And the largest of those three constituencies remains the white working class in post-industrial areas.
Generally speaking, the soft left wants the UK and Wales to remain in the European Union. This they regard as the only option for ‘progressives’. This is why we hear them berating Brexiteers as ‘gammons’, ‘racists’, ‘Nazis’, and calling for a ‘People’s Vote’.
The soft left can afford to be openly hostile to Brexit and those who support it partly because these ‘progressives’ are free of electoral concerns and partly because they have ‘disengaged’ themselves from the white working class they regard as irredeemably stupid and reactionary. For the reasons already given, Labour and the old left behave differently.
Whether or not they had achieved this status before the Brexit vote, the new left, the ‘progressives’, have certainly become the patronising metropolitan elite those who voted for Brexit wanted to punish.
I outlined earlier the soft left’s largely negative view of Europe and its history, culture, and contribution to humanity, so why is it supportive of the EU? I can only assume that in their minds there must be some disconnect between the Europe of the Borgias and Wagner with the European Union. For isn’t the European Union Napoleon’s (even Hitler’s) dream realised?
And that’s because the soft left regards the EU as ‘progressive’. The EU is perceived as breaking down national barriers, welcoming migrants, and generally being a force for good in the world.
Which is fair enough, and entirely consistent with the soft left’s wider – dare I say, globalist? – outlook, but perhaps inconsistent with support for Welsh independence.
THE LEFT AND INDEPENDENCE
As I hoped when I voted for Brexit in 2016, the utter cock-up that politicians are making of the process has both increased the demand for Scottish independence and the likelihood of Irish reunification.
Wales has not been immune to this counter-London shift in public opinion, and now we see a marked increase in support for Welsh independence. This has taken a number of forms including the formation of Ein Gwlad, a new, Wales-focused nationalist party, and also YesCymru, a group campaigning for independence.
YesCymru now seems to have been joined by other groups. One being IndyCymru and, more recently, Undod, and it’s on the second of these I wish to focus. Undod is a socialist grouping, perhaps formed following a failed takeover of YesCymru.
I have no problem with Undod being socialist, as far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier, with just one proviso – the desire for independence must transcend all that divides us.
Which is why I was disappointed to read on Nation.Cymru the old-style sloganising about, “international solidarity . . . unfettered capitalism . . . foreign capital . . . rising threat of the far-right in Wales and beyond . . . excesses of Tory rule . . . “.
A disappointment compounded by seeing no reference to the Labour Party that has mis-managed Wales for two decades. Admittedly, in its conclusion, the article says, “Devolution has shown itself to be incapable of protecting us against the excesses of Tory rule”, without mentioning that devolution could have done more – as it has in Scotland in recent years – had it not been for the Labour Party.
And the dismissal of “foreign capital” I find odd. Given the traditional neglect of Wales from London (whichever party was in power), and the cowardice and incompetence of the English Labour Party in Wales in its managing of devolution, had it not been for companies and capital from Germany, the USA, Japan, France and other countries investing in Wales we’d have been in an even worse mess.
I’m at a loss to understand how a socialist Wales, which I assume would be hostile to both indigenous entrepreneurialism and foreign investment plans to sustain us. Answers on a postcard, please. (But for God’s sake, don’t tell me it’s state-owned industries!)
Even so . . .
I have said it before, and I will repeat it here – I would accept a Welsh socialist republic if that was the route to independence. I say that because for me, independence is the priority, everything else can be worked out later.
Obviously I would not be happy in a socialist republic and I would seek to make changes, but after we had won our independence; and in the meantime I would defend that socialist republic against all external threats.
Finally, we must consider Catalonia. Over the past year or so I have noticed members of the soft left advocate independence for Wales, remaining in the EU, and support for an independent Catalonia. I’m unclear how such a position can be intellectually rationalised, but some obviously have no problem with it.
From where I stand, anyone belonging to a small European nation within the EU, and seeking independence for that nation, should have been disgusted both by the Spanish state’s treatment of Catalan political leaders and also by the EU’s silence.
You can read here what the great Breton singer Alan Stivell recently said. I feel the same. (For those too young to remember, here he is singing Tri Martolod.) Like me, Stivell wants a Europe that respects all identities. Not a Europe that promotes homogenisation and tolerates or encourages state terror.
The new/soft/touchy-feely/butterfly/’progressive’ left is wrong about lots of things. Certainly wrong about Europe, and the European Union. Despite this unpromising start we can only hope that its approach to independence is more clear-headed, and sincere.
But I want to make this absolutely clear: anyone imposing ideological preconditions on the kind of Welsh independence they will accept is clearly more concerned with ideology than with Wales, and therefore does not truly believe in Welsh independence.
♦ end ♦