On Monday, the Western Mail published an English version of an article previously written for Barn by Professor Richard Wyn Jones, in which he called for Plaid Cymru to embrace republicanism in the light of the debacle over the renaming on the Second Severn Crossing.
One of the points that he made was that “Plaid Cymru may not be a republican party but it is a party of republicans”. In my own experience, that’s entirely true; Plaid’s members are overwhelmingly of a republican bent. It’s not unanimous though; there are some who, for various reasons other than short term pragmatism support the continuation of the current monarchy, and a few who want the restoration of a Welsh monarchy. Prof. Jones’ basic point, though, is sound. Despite the lack of complete unanimity on the question, the logic of seeking independence under a system which continues to locate sovereignty, even symbolically, in the capital of another country has always escaped me.
And a second point which he makes, which is that “…it’s more than likely that most of the Welsh electorate (mistakenly) think that this [republicanism] is already the party’s stance” is also probably true, although I’m not completely convinced that many electors (other than those already persuaded one way or the other about republicanism) have given enough thought to the question for me to be as certain about this second point.
Let’s accept, however, that both points are valid, the question that obviously arises is ‘why be so shy on the issue?’ I can think of two apparently good reasons, and they are reasons which led me over many years to be equally shy on the issue; the question now is whether, as Prof. Jones suggests, the time has come to be less shy.
The first reason is that whilst Plaid’s membership may be, by and large, instinctively republican, the same is not true for those electors who support the party in elections, let alone for the wider electorate as a whole. And given that retaining the English monarch as head of state has not significantly restricted the independence of countries such as Canada, why conflate the two issues of independence and republicanism? It’s easy to dismiss the replacement of the monarch by an elected head of state as an unnecessary complication of an argument for autonomy, when it is the autonomy which matters more.
And the second reason is the way in which the UK establishment and media have managed to attach the word ‘republican’ so firmly to Sinn Féin and the IRA. It gives the word a connotation which I can easily understand any constitutional party wanting to avoid. Whether independentistasshould allow words to be defined for them in such a fashion is an interesting question in itself; but it’s easier to debate than to change.
Prof. Jones sees the bridge renaming fiasco as being a catalyst which could enable a committed party of independentistasto challenge what is, as he identifies, a clear attempt by the state to promote a particular view of the world, and to present a clear alternative. I agree with the need to present a clear alternative vision, and with the reign of the current monarch inevitably drawing towards a conclusion, I suspect that support for republicanism is likely to grow across the UK, not just in Wales. The time to make the case for the current monarch to be the last is now, not after the next one has been installed. It would be a curious situation were the argument for republicanism to make greater progress outside the independence movement than inside it.
I wonder, though, and not for the first time, whether the problem is not that Plaid, as a movement of independentistas, is failing to adopt republicanism as a clear and stated goal, but that it isn’t really a party of independentistas; because if it isn’t, then the expectation is wholly unrealistic. It’s a point which has struck me more than once listening to people talking about the name of a bridge – much of the criticism has been on the lack of consultation over the naming, rather than over the role of the person selected as a basis for the new name. It has often sounded as though people are trying to make a point without actually making it. Reinforcing the idea that people might be secret republicans who are afraid to come out and say it is probably the worst of all worlds.