Mark Drakeford’s Labour-Plaid deal moves towards independence: No point in Westminster

Sion Jobbins discusses Welsh independence campaign

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Plaid Cymru this week said its members “overwhelmingly” backed the party’s Senedd cooperation agreement with the Welsh Labour Government. After a private debate at Plaid’s virtual conference, 94 percent of members supported the deal. Adam Price, the party’s leader, said it was a “huge step forward for Wales and our democracy”.

The three-year agreement was unveiled by Mr Price and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford on Monday.

They are now expected to sign the deal next week, bringing its contents into effect.

The two parties have agreed on giving all primary school children free school meals and expanding the Senedd from its current 60 members to around 80 to 100.

The proposals also involve plans to get independent advice on bringing Wales’ net zero target date forward from 2050 to 2035.

And, there is an aim to “work towards the creation of Ynni Cymru, a publicly owned energy company for Wales, over the next two years, to expand community-owned renewable energy generation”.

While many have received the news well, the Welsh Conservatives claim it is a scheme to push Wales towards independence.

The party claimed that Mr Price was “using Labour to move Wales towards independence” and that “Labour cannot be trusted to protect Wales’ place in the United Kingdom”.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for the Constitution, Darren Millar, was also critical of the lack of detail in the deal about steps to lighten the burden on Wales’ NHS, saying that the “deal fails to deliver on the priorities of the people of Wales”.

He told Nation Cymru: “It does nothing to address the crisis in our NHS, nothing to improve our ailing Welsh infrastructure, and nothing to fire up our sluggish economy.

“Prioritising more politicians and constitutional reform over action to secure treatment for the one in five on an NHS waiting list or improving take-home pay for the low paid is appalling.

“Yet again, Plaid has betrayed its voters with another deal that cements a failing Labour administration into power for years to come.

“The message to voters is clear; vote Plaid, get Labour, and vote Labour, get Plaid.

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“Only the Welsh Conservatives can deliver the real change that Wales needs.”

Welsh independence is no new thing, with figures like Sîon Jobbins, chair of the independence campaign group YesCymru, having pushed for a breakaway for years.

Earlier this year, he told about the explosion in membership YesCymru had experienced over lockdown, jumping by 15,500 members between February 2020 and February 2021.

He argued that there was “no point in Westminster” and that Wales should be free to do its business independently.

Mr Jobbins said: “We don’t see the point in Westminster.

“We see the point in an independent Wales working free and closely with England, with open borders and free movement of goods and people.

“But I don’t see the point of having the Westminster middle man.

“In the Sixties, Wales’ economy was double that of the Irish Republic.

“Today, the Irish Republic’s economy is four times the size of Wales.


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“It’s something Wales has got really badly wrong.

“An independent Wales would develop a different type of an economy; the communities that have been ravished since the Eighties, inevitably they’ve since recovered, but we now want to look at getting them back on their feet properly.

“We’d have the powers to do those things rather than subsidising big projects like HS2, which are happening by and large in London and southeast England.”

The conversation about Welsh independence has increased since the debate for a second Scottish independence referendum emerged.

Many in Wales, like Mr Jobbins, fear that if Scotland leaves, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will soon reunite, leaving Wales as England’s “bit on the side”.

Before 2018, the proportion of Welsh voters in favour of independence ranged between 10 and 20 percent.

But, in recent years, this figure has significantly increased.

Polling this year indicated that between one quarter and one third of Welsh voters who express a view say they would vote ‘Yes’ in a Welsh independence referendum, according to the Institute for Government.

In a March poll, this figure peaked at 40 percent.

It is worth noting, however, that Wales is still a long way off Scotland.

Around a quarter of Welsh voters who were asked earlier this year said they either did not know which way they would vote in a future independence referendum or would refuse to vote altogether.

There is also little appetite for independence in the Senedd.

Plaid is the main party that backs a withdrawal from the UK, with several smaller outfits like Propel and the Welsh Green Party following in tow.

In July 2020, Mr Price tabled a motion in the Senedd on Welsh independence, calling for Welsh ministers to seek from Westminster the right for the Senedd to legislate for an independence referendum .

Welsh ministers rejected it by 43 votes to nine.

Entering the 2021 national elections, Plaid also committed to holding a referendum on Welsh independence by 2026 if it won a majority in the Senedd.

But, the party gained just one seat on their 2016 total, now having 13 sitting MSs, and in fact fell behind the Conservatives to become the third largest party in the Senedd.

Welsh Labour has made clear that it wants further devolution, but believes Wales is stronger in the union.

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