As part of his campaign to lead Plaid Cymru, Adam Price announced a â€˜seven step planâ€™ at the weekend, setting out the route to independence as he sees it. Itâ€™s pleasing to see someone making an attempt to set out how we get from here to there, but when I read the detail, it looks more like a rehash of Plaidâ€™s existing position (that independence is an aspiration for the future and anyway Wales is currently too poor) and a plan for a political party to seek power within the existing institution without frightening the horses than a realistic assessment of the next steps.
The plan places a dependence on Plaid winning two Assembly elections before holding a referendum. That is a wholly artificial dependency. For sure, it took two elections â€˜wonâ€™ by the SNP before Scotland held a referendum, but that was because they formed only a minority government in their first term and there was no majority in the Scottish Parliament for a bill calling a referendum. The real dependency here is that question of a parliamentary majority â€“ it requires only one election victory for a party or group of parties committed to holding a referendum to be legitimately able to call one. It could be, of course, that Adam is assuming that any election victory by Plaid in 2021 would be as a minority administration rather than a majority. Itâ€™s not an unrealistic assumption, and if that were to be the case, then it would, of course, be necessary to postpone any referendum bill until there were a majority. And itâ€™s equally true that a minority government committed to a referendum would probably reflect, at best, a lukewarm public attitude to independence. But if a party commits to not holding a referendum until it has won at least two elections, then it ends up with no legitimate mandate to hold such a referendum even if it were to win the first election overwhelmingly.
Thereâ€™s nothing to disagree with in the suggestion of â€˜building new Welsh mediaâ€™, although itâ€™s something which is easier said than done, and there is an inevitable lack of detail about the â€˜howâ€™ at this stage. And whilst itâ€™s clear that the lack of such media at present hinders any meaningful debate about independence, placing a dependency on building that media before moving to argue for independence looks like placing an unnecessary obstacle on the route. The real obstacle is that people in Wales are unpersuaded; simply blaming the media for the failure of independentistas to convince people of the case is disingenuous. Itâ€™s the responsibility of independentistas to find the means of convincing people, not to blame others.
Nor is there anything to disagree with in the desire to â€˜grow the Welsh economyâ€™ as such. However, placing a dependency on â€˜closing the fiscal gapâ€™ is another matter entirely, and is my main point of disagreement with this â€˜planâ€™. In the first place, the so-called â€˜fiscal gapâ€™ exists only as a result of a particular set of calculations based on a particular set of assumptions, one of which is that Wales remains part of the UK. Not only is that not a good starting point for any independentista, it demonstrates a subservience to UK-based thinking and the sort of economic theory which gave us â€˜austerityâ€™; and itâ€™s completely the wrong way of assessing how wealthy Wales is. A much better basis is to look at an international comparator such as GDP per head and assess where Wales stands compared to other independent countries. Iâ€™ve posted on that before, but without going through the detail again, an objective assessment of Walesâ€™ relative wealth puts us in the top 30 world wide (out of around 190 countries) and right in the middle in terms of member states of the EU. Thereâ€™s work to be done in terms of setting alternative policies, creating the institutions and so on, but economically, there is no obstacle to independence other than those created by following a UK mindset.
We can be independent any time we want to be â€“ the only real obstacle is that we independentistas have not created that desire for independence. And I donâ€™t see how the seven step plan addresses that.