This article was first published on Conservative Home.
As the Scottish National Party shamelessly exploit the strong Remain vote in Scotland in the EU Referendum for their ideological goal of independence, Plaid Cymru have been trying to follow in their footsteps in Wales. Their problem, however, is that Wales voted for Brexit.
Plaid Cymru are now attempting to subvert the will of the people of Wales. They voted against Article 50, are pushing for a watered-down ‘soft’ Brexit, even suggesting they might advocate the SNP’s Remainer version of independence. Plaid cannot claim to speak for Wales any more. This opens the way for the Conservatives to become the new party of Wales.
The Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood – in characteristically incomprehensible fashion – has decided she speaks for the whole of Wales when it comes to its relationship with the EU, and its constitutional settlement with the UK. This is despite the fact Wood has nothing even verging on a mandate to do so. She wants Wales to stay inside the EU. Failing this, Wood wants Wales to stay in the EU’s Single Market. If this is not delivered, and Scotland becomes independent, she wants Wales to have its own independence referendum.
It needs to be made clear – Plaid Cymru do not speak for the people of Wales. They have only three out of Wales’ 40 Westminster seats, and now only 11 of the National Assembly for Wales’ 60 seats, behind the Conservatives – due to Mark Reckless’ defection from UKIP to become an independent sitting with the Tories’ Assembly grouping. But the mandate does not matter to them. They prefer to be the SNP’s poodle – campaigning against nuclear weapons, austerity and now even changing their official colours to yellow to match the SNP.
Plaid have even tried to justify their calls for a second referendum with the SNP’s own rationale. The SNP’s argument for a second referendum is on the basis of staying in the UK outside the EU was not on the ballot paper during the Scottish independence referendum. Wood argues: “A ‘remaining’ England and Wales entity was not on the ballot paper during the previous EU referendum.” Well of course it wasn’t – it was a referendum on the UK’s EU membership as a whole. The SNP’s argument is spurious at best, but Plaid’s argument borders on the absurd.
What makes the Welsh nationalists’ argument even weaker is its misleading nature. It is premised upon Wales voting to remain in the EU – something which didn’t happen. Wales voted 52.5 per cent to 47.5 per cent to leave the EU – a similar result to the UK as a whole. And yet Plaid refused to accept the result in voting against the triggering of Article 50 in the House of Commons recently.
This stance, and their stance during the EU referendum is also entirely at odds with Plaid’s own philosophy. The argument for Welsh independence has always been “laws which impact the people of Wales should be made in Wales” – an entirely reasonable concept, if it wasn’t for the financial implications. However, either EU or Single Market membership results in laws which impact the people of Wales being made in Brussels – a fundamental contradiction.
This contradiction is not lost on the Welsh public. Devolution gives Wales power over its own laws, without suffering the financial burden of independence. To put this in context – Wales relies heavily on the kind-heartedness of Westminster, as Wales only raises £23 billion of the £38 billion it spends every year. As a result of this disparity, the majority of the Welsh people are sensible enough to have always rejected the siren call of the nationalists.
To counter this argument, some have reported opinion polls suggesting 23 per cent of Welsh people would vote for independence following the Brexit vote. I would urge you to treat this with a pinch of salt. This idea emerged when Brexit-tensions were at their highest, and is not reflective of established opinion. The most recent poll puts independence on only six per cent.
Low support for independence was blamed in The Guardian on “no national public discourse”, and people “focused primarily on British issues”. But this puts the cart before the horse. Independence is not unpopular because of this. Instead, the Welsh people do not want independence because they do not see an insurmountable difference between England and Wales. This is then magnified when the harsh economic reality is revealed.
Plaid Cymru, by aligning themselves with the SNP, may see Brexit as an opportunity to fulfil their goal of independence. But it will not succeed. The only impact this policy will have is to alienate the Welsh public and highlight once and for all, that Plaid Cymru is not the ‘Party of Wales’ – it is the ‘Party of Political Opportunism’.
Wales voted to get Britain out of the EU. That is exactly what they will get – whether Plaid Cymru like it or not. The Conservatives have pledged to fulfil Welsh desires, and there is a sea of patriotic Welsh voters who are only too willing to lend the Tories their vote.