Westminster won’t deliver equality – it’s time for Labour to support Welsh independence

Ben Gwalchmai speaking at the event

Ben Gwalchmai

This is the text of the speech that opened the inaugural Labour for Independent Wales event on Friday, 6 October.

I’d like to take a moment to tell you about a phrase my taid – my tadcu – taught me. He said, “Where there’s muck, there’s gold” – only he did not use the word “muck”.

This week has been an absolute muck-show in politics, to put it lightly, but the best roses grow in the strongest muck and the Labour Party’s symbol is, after all, a rose.

I dare not think how long this week in politics has been for the leader of the UK government and their party.

But it is incumbent on us, members of Welsh Labour, to think about what the weeks, the months, the past year has done – not just to politics – but to reveal the truth of the relationships between the nations of the UK and to discuss both the threats and the opportunities of the immediate future.

Labour for an Independent Wales was set up in January this year with just a few of us. We’re now at roughly two hundred supporters from the party and we suspect that there are many more who have briefly considered the questions we’re considering but have not yet stepped across the threshold toward openly discussing it.

We see our group as building a network, forwarding the discussion, and encouraging our party to get ahead of the dangers we’ll all face in the next 18 months. We believe this can be achieved through independence.

How we get there is up for debate and precisely why I’m so excited to have everyone here today.

We’ve all seen the struggles Carwyn Jones and his team have faced when dealing with Westminster since the EU referendum. We’re also now seeing the struggles of the world dealing with the UK’s embarrassment of a Foreign Secretary.

Those struggles will only continue.

We see our work as adding to Carwyn’s arsenal – day by day it looks more likely that the UK will face the cataclysmic shock of a “No Deal”, Hard Brexit.

If that day comes, Carwyn will be able to point to our growing network and name a body within the party that supports the need for us to take a different path to England.

There’s already evidence of a growing desire for this path.

A YouGov poll of Welsh voters taken in May showed that, if a Tory government returned at this year’s general election, 47% of Labour supporters would consider independence to be a genuine option.

That’s half the party.

I’ll say it again: half the party now considers independence to be a genuine option.

We’re here to give a voice to that half – to let them know that, in the big tent of the Labour family, they are welcome, and their questions are being discussed. Today and in the future.


To give a more anecdotal but indicative example: this week, we in Labour for an Independent Wales got the backing of legendary Big Nev or as he’s known to the rest of the world, Welsh footballer Neville Southall.

This came about because a football podcast asked him if he supports Independence for Wales to which he tweeted, simply, “Yes”.

Leanne Wood even encouraged him to join Plaid Cymru on Twitter but he said, “Much as I like and admire what you are doing and have done, I am Labour through and through”.

Well, this made me punch the air because, not only does Big Nev sport the same moustache as my taid, this showed that our message of a better, more prosperous future for Wales can reach the rafters to a lot of people who are – like me – Labour through and through.

Aside from the clear and present dangers mentioned, there are a great many positive reasons for our work. As we all know, Wales has approximately 6% of the seats in the House of Commons and has consistently voted Labour. England, with 86% of the seats, has not.

Whatever the outcome of our work, even the threat of independence gives Wales leverage.

If we want a progressive platform for continued growth and the redistribution of the wealth created therein, we need all the levers of power & taxation under our control.

Smaller states make for stronger democracies – more agile, more responsive, and a healthy democracy can make for a prosperous populace.

If we in the Labour party want a fully Federal UK or Wales to have dominion status, we must be innovative, we must push at barriers untested, we must have the great debates and we must have them quickly.

Old power

My position is one of a political utilitarian: if Wales is seen to be divided, will we be conquered anew.

The Labour party values of equality, a fair social-democracy, and international fraternity are all we’re asking for but Westminster has proven time and time again that it will not deliver them without a fight.

So, I argue we must swing for independence and we must be united when we do it – an old power does not give up its power lightly.

And the British State – that great machine that crushes radicals and moderates alike – is a very old power.

As we’ve been in power for 20 years in Wales, some in political circles now accuse Welsh Labour of becoming an “old power” in the Senedd.

Though we don’t believe this to be true, we see our work as a corrective to this narrative: in discussing new ways forward, we’re not just discussing new ways forward for Wales but for Welsh Labour as a whole.

On a personal level, I’ve always thought of myself as a European, an internationalist. An Independent Wales would give us and ours the option of deciding if we want to be part of the European Union anew.

We’re very lucky in the Labour Party – few other parties allow for such diversity, such discussion, such sparks of creativity. Today is a lucky day, a day for creative discussion and active listening.

There are many other great reasons that I’m looking forward to discussing today but it’s almost time we begin.

Before we do, I’d like to end this introduction with words from one of my favourite writers. Like me, he lived on the border of Wales.

Raymond Williams, the author of Border Country, said ‘If we seek to separate it is only to join together again on a better basis’.

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