Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Support for Welsh Independence Rises - A Change in Attitude or "The Texas Effect"?

Y Ddraig Goch flies beside two flags. One of these will soon be gone, but what of the other?
Photo: Anna Fruen, Flickr
Fifty years before all of this drama unfolding because of Brexit a smaller but significant poltical earthquake happened in the town of Carmarthen. Gwynfor Evans' shock victory for Plaid Cymru in a 1966 by-election changed the face of Welsh and British politics forever by achieving victory for a nationalist party on mainland Britain for the first time (excluding the SNP's victory in the 1945 Motherwell by-election, but as all other major parties were abiding under a war-time truce this didn't mean too much). Both Plaid and the SNP would become serious challengers in certain seats following this, therefore it is no surprise that hundreds of people gathered in the town's Guildhall Square to mark the 50th anniversary of this important moment.

Following the result of the referendum to leave the European Union, Plaid Cymru finally decided to come out firmly in favour of Welsh independence within the European Union, and a special conference was held to ratify this. It was fittingly held in Carmarthen at the same time as the 50th anniversary of Gwynfor Evans' victory. But has support for independence increased since the referendum?

A recent YouGov/Welsh Political Barometer Survey decided to ask that very question. The poll went into detail in multiple specific areas but I shall be focussing on the three questions which concern the levels of support for Welsh independece. The last time YouGov asked a question concerning Welsh independence was during the run-up to the referendum on Scottish independence where 17% of people said they favoured Welsh independence if a referendum on the subject were to be held. In the straightforward version of the question, support for Welsh independence in the latest poll is at a slightly lower 15%. The second question asks if the respondents would support independence if Scotland were to leave the UK, with nothing more than a modest increase in support to 19%. This is all within margin of error since the last poll so it could be interpreted as if no major change in attitude towards the question has happened in the last 2 years.

Nothing spectacular so far. However, the interesting bit happens when we look at the next question. The question asks "
please imagine a scenario where the rest of the UK left the
European Union but Wales could remain a member of the European Union if it became an independent country. If a referendum was then held in Wales about becoming an
independent country and this was the question, how would you vote?" 28% answered yes, which rises to 35% when the "don't knows" and "would not votes" are factored out. This is a far higher figure than I can ever remember in my lifetime. 

Understandably, supporters of Welsh independence are very encouraged by this figure. However, there are potential dangers with constantly quoting these figures, which could see their euphoria crashing back down to Earth the next time a poll is commissioned on the subject.

Firstly there is the fact that the question was asked in close proximity to other questions on independence. Nationalists will gladly point out that the recent poll's figures are more or less in line with the polling regarding Scottish independence right up until the early months of 2014, though there is a lesson to supporters of independence in a poll commissioned by the SNP themselves. This was only one of the few polls that showed a lead for Yes, but before the question on whether they favoured independence was asked they first asked whether Scotland could be successful as an independent country and whether the individual trusted the Scottish or UK Governments more. This got people into thinking more before they answered the question; therefore it could be argued that as the question on independence within the EU was only asked as the third of three questions the same effect could have happened here.
The second point could come down to what I have decided to call "The Texas Effect" (and no, I don't mean this!). Upon the re-election of Barack Obama as President of the United States a petition of more than 100,000 signatures was presented to Obama calling for the secession of Texas from the union. This is not to say that a large number of Texan nationalists do not exist of course, but it would be more likely for support of the idea in the staunchly conservative state to increase following the re-election of a democratic president. They would view all their options in this scenario. The same effect could be happening in Wales, as pollster Roger Scully said in a recent blog on the matter: 
"The poll showed considerable support in Wales for continued EU membership. And for some respondents, at the time the poll was conducted, that support for EU membership appears to have been sufficiently strong that it would pull them towards supporting Welsh independence if it were the only way of remaining inside the EU. Whether such strength of sentiment on the EU will fade over time is something that we can’t currently know. Our results perhaps suggest some potential for supporters of Welsh independence to build upon. But the results also show, even in this most favourable context, that support for independence remains very much a minority position in Wales."   
So there are genuine signs of encouragement despite these potential problems. It shows that a significant proportion of Wales' population values membership of the European Union higher than it values membership of the United Kingdom, showing that support for the UK is soft among many based upon economic reasons, and this is before either side has truly tried to make their case. While said in a different context former advisor to the Welsh Government Gerald Holtham said "I think as a country we do need to decide where our loyalties are. If the only reason you are in a union is because you think you’re better off in the union that union is always provisional." 
Speakers at a pro-independence rally in Carmarthen
Photo: @YesCymru

One of the other striking things about the poll is the number of supporters from all parties who would be willing to support Welsh independence within the EU. A plurality of Labour voters (44% for, 42% against) support the idea, and while only 5% of UKIP voters would, 10% would support independence outside the EU which shows not everyone who answered yes to one of the questions overlaps. A number of figures from parties ranging from Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have come out in support of the idea. One of them is current Lib Dem Gwynoro Jones (second from the left in the above photo), a former Labour MP who ironically reclaimed the seat for Labour from Plaid Cymru at the election following Gwynfor Evans' famous win. He spoke at a pro-independence rally held on the 50th anniversary of the 1966 by-election, and on his blog he wrote:

"I have been a Federalist since the end of the 1970’s but it is time to consider Wales’s relationship with England in a post Brexit world.
"Over the last 20 years Wales has faced many a cross road – but nothing like what it is coming up against now.
"We must be very careful that Wales does not end up as an annexe of England – or ‘For Wales see England’"
If people who have been federalists for decades are willing to search for alternative options, then this could mean we are beginning to see a change in attitude from the people of Wales towards independence. We will have to see more polls with a consistent trend to be sure but it is much more of a possibility now than it ever was during recent years. If the movement keeps the momentum up they could well attract more supporters to their side.  

picture credits

Anna Fruen, Flickr
@YesCymru twitter page: https://twitter.com/YesCymru

No comments:

Post a Comment