The Big Issue


By Jill Evans, MEP and President of Plaid Cymru.

The big issue in the UK over the next few years will, undoubtedly, be Scottish independence. It is now an integral part of our politics. Voters here will get to hear the arguments for and against via UK radio, television, newspapers, magazines and the inter-net. And there will be interest from other European and global media – like EuroNews, France 24 and Al Jazeera - which many of us watch.

Plaid members want the case for independence properly put. It is not an optional add-on to UK devolution. It is central to the regeneration of national life. It has been a constant party mantra that we need and deserve equality with Scotland. The UK’s Scotland Bill 2011 in its present form will increase that country’s autonomy. If the SNP succeeds in expanding the scope of the draft legislation, the Scottish parliament will gain further, additional powers over borrowing to invest in jobs, control of the ‘Crown Estate’ (i.e. public lands and seas) and the ability to vary corporation tax.

Another major potential of the SNP victory is the prospect of no more UK nuclear weapons, also a core Plaid policy objective since the 1940s. Alex Salmond has confirmed his party’s commitment on the British Trident submarine fleet: “It has to be gone from Scotland”, he says. This, and the UK-wide realization that nuclear weapons are merely an expensive fig-leaf for jaded British nationalism, raises the tantalising prospect of their total abolition.

Plaid Cymru is fortunate that, although our 2011 general election was a disappointment, the party is in reality very well equipped to support the Scottish National Party in its renewed bid for national freedom. Working through the Green / European Free Alliance group in the European parliament, Plaid, the SNP and our sister parties are already preparing the groundwork.

Last November, we hosted a conference - “Independence in Europe” - in parliament on stateless nations seeking equality with the member states of the European Union. Emblematic of our resolute approach to 21st Century equality is the fact that Welsh was one of the seven working languages in that gathering - and with simultaneous translation. We have, of course, the huge advantage of developing our thinking beyond the insularity and straightjacket of British devolutionary politics.

Many UK residents, not to mention the media, will be surprised to learn that Scotland’s and our aim is already common currency in other nations like Catalunya, Euskadi (the Basque country) and Flanders. Last year too, EFA’s European political foundation, the Centre Maurits Coppieters – on the initiative of the Fundació Josep Irla - commissioned an analysis of the legal and political consequences for the EU in the event of secession or dissolution of a member state.

The economic case for the independence of small nations has been well made since the very foundation of Plaid Cymru. Last year, I commissioned Adam Price to reinforce the argument. He has already published some findings based on that research in Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government 2011 Review. I will present the full report at this year’s Plaid Cymru Ysgol Haf.

It’s not just the important economic case, of course. In co-operation with the Centre Maurits Coppieters in Brussel, I am also working to demonstrate the institutional advantages the nation would gain from having our own, direct voice in all EU bodies: parliament, the Commission, the secretive and powerful Council of Ministers, etc. Our research report, provisionally titled ‘Wales: An EU Member State’ will be published this year.

There is absolutely no substitute for Wales becoming a member state of the European Union. ‘Internal enlargement’ is the modern and realistic word for independence. People would find it intolerable if we were to be left behind those of Catalunya, Flanders and Scotland, when we have worked in solidarity with them over the years.

Not the least part of this package is our right to pursue our own course in international affairs. SNP or no, the immorality and waste of UK nuclear weapons have no place in our national future. There is no doubt that Wales would never have been part of the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq nor the stalemate over the war in Afghanistan. We may have much to gain from the development of a more independent EU ‘external action service’, working with the other non-aligned member states, with the emphasis on conflict prevention and resolution. To that end, I am supporting the work of independent experts and others to up-date the party’s international and defence policy.

The political conditions and intellectual building blocks are already in place. It is now up to Plaid Cymru to seize the opportunity. 45 years after Gwynfor Evans’ election to the UK parliament, 2011 could prove to be another major turning point in Plaid Cymru and Wales’ advance to freedom.