On closer analysis ‘Independence’ was hardly in the vocabulary of Saunders Lewis and Gwynfor Evans.
The National Party (as Plaid Cymru was originally called) talked of Dominion Status and later Gwynfor wrote about Confederation.
So from Dominion Status, to Confederation, and in recent years Independence!
I can’t claim to be a specialist on the history of Plaid Cymru, but I have some degree of knowledge and understanding because of the intense decade of struggle I was involved in from mid 1960s to the mid 70s.
When the book on ‘Gwynoro and Gwynfor’ is published, people will read of the incessant attacks on Plaid Cymru and Gwynfor Evans over their aim, as most of us had perceived, for an ‘independent Wales’.
A couple of weeks back when I wrote ‘it’s time to to debunk the ‘I’ word’ and went on to comment on the concept of Dominion Status and Confederation, I received a tweet from Mabon ap Gwynfor saying, and I paraphrase, ‘my grandfather never spoke of independence’.
Now that intrigued me, since in the decade I mentioned above he never disowned the word in speeches, the local papers and the like because if he had – I suggest – it would have deflected a lot of the vitriol that was flying about in Welsh politics at that time.
Be that as it may, I endeavoured to do some research and to my great surprise I have to admit, what Mabon claims seems correct.
It starts in a book entitled The story of Saunders Lewis by Gwynn ap Gwilym 2011. In it he quotes Saunders Lewis writing in 1926:
”Do not ask for independence for Wales. Not because it is impracticable, but because it’s not worth having ….we want not independence but freedom and the meaning of freedom in this respect is responsibility. We who are Welsh claim that we are responsible for civilisation and social life in our part of Europe”
Gwynn ap Gwilym asserts that ”The National Party’s aim was ‘Dominion Status’ under British Sovereignty…and that its true ideal was for Wales to be one of a league of equal European states”.
As an aside one has to admire the vision and foresight of Saunders Lewis he wrote of a ‘league of equal European states’ in 1926 – over 30 years before the founding of the EEC and nearly 50 years before Britain joined in 1973.
In a 1975 lecture on the ‘Principles of Nationalism’ Saunders Lewis repeated his words of 1926 – that independence is not practical and it’s not worth having. His central point was that independence is a materialistic argument and that there were higher principles than material rights.
Soon after, in 1976, Pennar Davies wrote a Book on Gwynfor Evans, His Works and Thoughts, where he explained how Gwynfor envisaged that Dominion Status would mean freedom from the rule of others and that “it is not independence in the form of ‘unconditional sovereignty’ that is Plaid Cymru’s aim but an essential freedom to cooperate and work with other nations”.
Then in 1981, in one of his many books, because he was a prolific writer, Gwynfor Evans elaborated the concept of a ‘confederation’ where he essentially repeated the words of the Imperial Conference of 1926 envisaging nations within the UK in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs.
I was rather taken aback reading it since it was precisely what I recommended in my post of October 5th:
“A commitment to ensure increasing self-government for Wales as part of the wider nation-building process and to greater sovereignty akin to Dominion Status.
Although there was no formal definition of dominion status, a pronouncement by the Imperial Conference of 1926 described Great Britain and the dominions as “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs.
It was the term chosen to describe the position of the self-governing member states of the inter-war Commonwealth. The need to arrive at a similar position is much more urgent now in light of the United Kingdom’s possible departure from the EU”.
Although I am not sure of its publication date, Gwynfor Evans published a pamphlet entitled ‘Self Government for Wales and a Common Market for the Nations of Britain’. This pamphlet, claimed Rhys Evans in his comprehensive book on Gwynfor (2005) Portrait of a Patriot, brought difficulties for Gwynfor since, without consulting anyone in the party, it sought to change party policy in his attempt to reduce the level of attacks from the Labour Party that independence for Wales was an economic disaster.
The intention was, writes Rhys Evans, to ‘dispel the notion that Plaid Cymru wanted to separate economically from England but with so doing the aim of Dominion Status was debunked – a move that was opposed by several leading figures in the party.
I reproduce all this to indicate my central point as I wrote in the previous post that:
“The reality is that the word ‘independence’ was and is a dirty word in many circles and has been used to create divisions and fear, enabling our detractors to raise questions as to how an empowered Wales with greater responsibilities for shaping its own future could survive.
May I suggest we reframe the question along the lines of what relationship Wales wishes to have with its neighbours going forward, rather than how separate we should stand”.
Finally I do find it ironic that, along with myself, Lord Elystan Morgan, who has been arguing for Dominion Status, and Glyndwr Cennydd Jones, who has written about confederation, that we were closer to Saunders and Gwynfor than I at least appreciated.
Then it is a source of sadness to me that in all the years Gwynfor and I went ‘toe to toe’ we never discussed these things because there was so much bitterness in the politics of Wales and Carmarthen in those days.
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