Unionism In Crisis – A speech by Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards


The following is a speech given by Jonathan Edwards who is the Plaid Cymru Member of Parliament for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.  The speech was part of a conference held last weekend celebrating 60 years of the National party of Cornwall, Mebyon Kernow.

The speech is a demonstration of the links that are strengthening between the different nations of this island Britain as centuries old identities that have lain dormant are beginning to re-awaken and the Westminster dominated political system begins its end.  At the end is a video of the entire speech.

Gyfeillion, mae’n bleser cael bod yma fel cynrychiolydd plaid Genedlaethol Cymru yng nghynadledd plaid Genedlaethol Cernyw.

Friends, it’s a pleasure to be here this afternoon representing the national party of Wales in the annual conference of the national party of Cornwall. And especially to be with you to help celebrate your 60th birthday.

It’s a particular pleasure to be here as a relatively newly elected Member of the Westminster Parliament. I send greetings on behalf of the Plaid – SNP parliamentary group.

We have recently been joined by Caroline Lucas the Green MP. With Scottish independence imminent, we are looking forward to the day when Mebyon Kernow Members of Parliament will join the group to make up for the six SNP Members we are about to lose!

In preparation for your arrival I should offer one word of warning. Westminster is a strange place for any nationalist. It is literally the belly of the beast. Aneurin Bevan used to remark how many a socialist would be seduced by the architecture of the palace – the high ceilings and large windows – how any individual entering that place feels extremely small and finds their core beliefs being compressed out of them. In the end it’s often easier to conform and become a mouthpiece for the establishment. It’s no surprise that many of the forbearers who went before me from the valleys of the South Wales coalfield representing the British Labour party quickly found themselves losing their accents and any sense of political radicalism.

I have invented a safety trigger for myself. I begin every contribution by thanking the Speaker in Welsh – “Diolch Mr Speaker”. Firstly its an act of defiance, despite the plural nature of the British State, the only official languages of its parliament are English and Norman French. Starting off every contribution in Welsh also reminds me why I have been sent there – and that is to serve the people of Carmarthenshire in Westminster and not to serve Westminster in Carmarthenshire.

I’m looking forward to when Cornish patriots also are able to say ‘Miras Mr Speaker’ when they rise to represent their people in Westminster.

My predecessor Adam Price told me following my election, “Just remember you have as much a right to be in that Chamber as any other individual.” And when you accept that mindset the place isn’t half as scary as you think. The great advantage for politicians of the nationalist parties is that we go down there to settle up not settle down – which means that it’s far easier to stay true to our beliefs.

Self preservation is a corrupting influence in politics which resides in abundance in the unionist parties. It was this corrosive influence which led to MPs from across the political divide campaigning against an element of proportionality in the recent AV referendum. If you are a Labour or Tory MP with a ten thousand majority – why would you want to change an electoral system that gives you a safe job for life? It’s not political principle that drives these people but pure self interest. There is little surprise that there is such a disconnect between the political elite and normal people.

As members of national movements – the mission orientated nature of our respective parties means that we are part of a wider cause. In simple terms my colleagues and I are working as hard as possible to be made redundant! If we achieve our aims our people will be fully sovereign and there will be no need to send representatives to an imperial Parliament that works in the interest of the economic elites of the British state.

Friends, we are living in turbulent times. The neo liberal economic order that has caused such damage to our respective countries over the past thirty years is completely discredited. The Thatcher – Regan revolution adopted by New Labour and the Lib Dems saw regional and individual wealth polarisation at an unimaginable scale. The adopted Welshman and Guardian columnist George Monbiot recently reported that Between 1947 and 1979, productivity in the US rose by 119%, while the income of the bottom fifth of the population rose by 122%. But between 1979 and 2009, productivity rose by 80% , while the income of the bottom fifth fell by 4%. In roughly the same period, the income of the top 1% rose by 270%.

In the UK, the money earned by the poorest tenth fell by 12% between 1999 and 2009, while the money made by the richest 10th rose by 37%. The Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, climbed in the British state from 26 in 1979 to 40 in 2009

The economic system has been hijacked by ideological zealots – what I would call ultra capitalists. Looking at these figures, if I was a member of the British Labour party with its supposed objective of social justice I would hang my head in shame. All of the current protestations about impact of the so called age of austerity perhaps are a sign of the guilty conscious of a party that has completely lost its way.

Following the financial crash of 2008 the Banks were bailed out by public funds – effectively the nationalisation of colossal private sector failure. In the British State alone, well over a trillion pounds was allocated by the then Labour government in loans, grants and guarantees – a sum equivalent to 100% of the UKs GDP.

It was inevitable that there would be a public backlash when ordinary working people realised that these bailouts would have to be paid for in reduced living standards; their jobs; homes and public services. The majority of people were quite prepared to put up with the excesses of the super rich if they had stability in terms of income and living standards, even if this meant that in relative terms they were being left behind by the economic elite.

The age of austerity has completely changed the dynamic with more and more people recognising that a business as usual response to the 2008 crash isn’t good enough. There needs to be radical changes and the creation of a new economic order based on fairness and justice.

The arrogance and ignorance of what is now termed the ‘one per cent’ is beyond reproach. They are already raking in their multi million pound bonuses. The square mile likes to call itself the goose that lays the golden egg – but in effect due to the intertwining of the political elite and super rich they are holding a golden gun to the head of every ordinary working person.

The current major political parties in the US and UK have no interest in radically changing matters. In 2008 for the first time since the Great Depression, politicians if they so wished could have turned the tables. Instead what we got was a policy response based on restoring phantom economics as soon as possible – the restoration of an economic order that serves the elite rather than serves the common good.

All three London parties are opposed to the introduction of a tiny correction such as the robin hood tax for instance – a simple measure that would curb speculation and create social good out of high finance.

It’s despicable that effectively speculators are causing major economic turmoil in the euro zone by hiking borrowing rates in the country of their choice and attempting to bankrupt nation states who find themselves primarily in difficulty because they had to bail out the very same financial sector.

Economic Nobel prize winner Paul Stiglitz is right when he says basing economic policy on the markets is like negotiating with a crazy man. You may give him what he wants but he’ll still shoot you. People are becoming increasingly aware of what has been done in their name and are livid.

Friends, I am glad that the national parties haven’t got blood on their hands. During the good years we warned about the excesses of the City and of Labour’s love for the super rich. My party, in response to the recession produced a document named ‘Recover, Reform, Renew – The Road from Recession’ which called for a complete change of approach. Governments across the world should be looking at many of those ideas now such as introducing a genuine progressive taxation regime with incomes above £100,000 taxed at 50%; stimulus packages for the poorest parts of the state to address the consequences of public sector cut backs; a significant levy on banking profits; genuine geographical and sectoral rebalancing of the economy; and the prosecution of those deemed guilty of gross irresponsibility.

In addition we need fundamental reforms of the financial sector. The Vickers recommendations are a step forward, however a complete separation of investment and retail would be more appropriate. The broken system of executive pay and remuneration needs to be reformed. The use of subsidiaries in tax heavens needs to be cracked down.

However, what is the response in Westminster? There are now calls to scrap the 50% tax rate for earners above £150,000; the scrapping of labour protection laws; for the neutering of banking reform. Not content with having their cake and eating it, the super rich now want second helpings – and their willing political servants in the unionist parties stand ready to deliver.

People are beginning to demand a change from ‘business as usual’ – and it is clear that the unionist parties do not want to deliver. Here lies my friends an opportunity for our parties. The national movements within these isles have always been built on more than just the political freedom of our people, but also the creation of a just society built on economic fairness.

Rather than kowtowing to the square mile of London, our objectives aim to create an economic order that enables our people to achieve their ambitions and potential. We reject the dependency model of our political opponents which lets the City let rip and feeds crumbs to our people.

Friends London is bust. The whole economic rationale of the modern British state is discredited. The salvation of our people will not come by replacing the current UK Government with another holding the same objectives. The only real alternative is the growth and development of the political sovereignty of our respective countries.

As nationalists fighting for the freedom of our people we are living in exciting times. The nature of the British State is rapidly changing. My great friend Angus McNeil, the SNP MP for the Western Isles often reminds me that the current British state is a modern creation, barely ninety years old since the Irish free state was declared in 1921.

All the Celtic nations are in different stages of their political development. Irish independence was one of the key factors which led to the creation of my party in 1925 – a dedicated party committed to creating a national future for my country. The SNP followed in 1934 and Mebyon Kernow in 1951.

Our Scottish cousins are leading the way and are steamrolling towards their independence.

The magnitude of the yes vote in the Welsh referendum and the incredible SNP majority victory in the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections has shaken the foundations of the British establishment to its very core. I remember returning to Westminster the week after the Welsh referendum to witness the long faces of Welsh Tory and Labour MPs alike. They knew the game had changed.

The SNP result was an even bigger shock to the system. Winning 53 out of 73 Scottish constituencies, 32 more constituency seats than the historic victory of 2007 was quite an incredible achievement. However it is not the scale of the victory that’s most significant – the key point about the majority is that there will be a referendum on Scottish independence within the next three to four years.

The cynical unionist veto which denied the people of Scotland a voice on their own future has vanished. The very fact that there is a referendum on Scottish independence – regardless of the result – will irreversibly change the British state.

Now I’m not a betting man, however if I was I know where my money would be. The SNP have a group of politicians led by Alex Salmond which are primed for the battle of battles. Salmond is at the top of his game and the unionists don’t have anything or anyone to match him in Westminster let alone Scotland. The SNP electoral machine led by Westminster leader Angus Robertson is a finely tuned, trailblazing in its innovation.

Everything this team of people has achieved to date has been leading to this point. And they have generated a fighting fund that will dwarf the no campaign. Insurgents often find themselves having to embrace guerrilla tactics against far better resourced opponents. This time the tables are turned.

We now know that the referendum will be a multi choice ballot with also an option on what is called devolution max or rather independence light. Essentially this would mean the devolution of all policy fields apart from defence and foreign affairs – policy fields which will increasingly become pan European regardless of the current economic difficulties within the Eurozone. Even if the people of Scotland choose this option – it will demand a wider response for the rest of the state. The momentum is clearly behind change – the people of Scotland have no faith in a Westminster government of whatever colour acting in their interests – and are determined to join the other nations in the world of being able to chart their own course.

The no campaign finds itself clearly on the back foot. It has no obvious political leader – please let it be David Cameron! Its campaign is bereft of ideas dependant upon scare stories and contradictions.

The Labour party in particular finds itself in complete turmoil. Its core message to the people of Scotland is that they would rather have an alien Tory government in London in control of major policy issues such as taxation and social protection – rather than the democratically elected government of Scotland. Labour has lost its way completely – the agenda has moved on.

The most significant consequence of the referendum of course is that for the first time rather than the national parties having to justify their existence – the unionist parties have to defend an arrangement that has never worked in our interests.

Perhaps successive UK Governments over the years should have paid more attention into ensuring an equitable share of the states resources rather than allowing the South East of England and London to milk the rest of us dry. The fact that inner London is the richest part of the European Union whilst our respective countries are left languishing at the bottom of the poverty league is not a reason for the status quo – it’s a stimulus for radical change.

As I look towards Scotland with envy, nobody underestimates the challenge that awaits the Yes campaign. The history of imperial rule informs us that it’s often at its darkest before the dawn and there is little doubt that the British state will throw everything at the people of Scotland. I am confident that the Yes campaign will prevail – their message is inherently positive whilst the no campaign will rely on negativity.

In Wales the march of our country towards its political freedom has restarted less than seven months after the referendum which for the first time gave our people sovereignty over policy fields devolved to the National Assembly. The UK Government has announced a Silk Commission which will look at the transfer of taxation powers and also the devolution settlement in its entirety. The current settlement is clearly not sustainable and it is inevitable that the report will make strong recommendations. The people of Wales will expect these findings to become law – and it would be a mistake for the unionist parties to kick the issue into the long grass.

My party will be constructive in our engagement in the process. We know that we are not going to get everything we want – but the strength of our argument demands progression.

The current Welsh Government should now be preparing for the eventuality of Scottish independence. Led by a lethargic First Minister afraid of his own shadow, I am not holding out much hope. It seems incapable of grasping the huge economic challenges of the day let alone the consequences of the break up of the state. However, following a Yes vote in Scotland for either of the referendum questions there will be a fundamental political realignment in these isles – and the Welsh Government needs to be prepared to make the case for a better deal for our country. The Cornish people will face similar opportunities which only Mebyon Kernew could ever represent.

The response of the First Minister of Wales this week is that a Yes vote in Scotland may herald a change in the Welsh devolution settlement. It’s the sort of pathetic nonsense we expect from the unionist parties. In politics you either shape events or they shape you – and its little wonder that Wales has had such a bad deal over the years led by individuals whose first priority will always be party loyalty.

Across the British state unionism is in crisis. The state can not survive as a unitary structure governed from a remote Westminster. In reaction to events in Scotland and Wales the response of many establishment politician has been to draw up the bridges – viewing any seeping away of powers as a concession to the national parties. This is an insane strategy. Fed up with the centralised nature of the British state and the greed of the London political and economic elite – our peoples are demanding greater autonomy. The Labour party in ruling out any transfer of fiscal responsibility to Wales now finds itself positioned as the most anti devolutionist and conservative party in my country. Kier Hardie, the first ever Independent Labour Party Member of Parliament, representing Merthyr, who wrote the ‘Red Dragon and the Red Flag’ must be wondering who are the current crop who have hijacked his party.

Well, as a consensual politician I have got a message for the unionist parties. The only way to save your precious union is to embrace a fully federal state where the historic nations of the UK are treated equally. The asymmetric nature of the current devolved settlements is unsustainable. Only a new modern British state with significant political autonomy for the celtic peoples of these isles will survive. Personally I’m quite relaxed if my advice goes unheeded – Wales as an emerging state has much to offer the world and many opportunities to grasp.

Addressing the English question is a key element of this process. Here lies the opportunity for the national party of Cornwall. Your message has never been more relevant. In this rapidly changing economic and political landscape your determination to secure political recognition for the Cornish people and a fairer economic deal is ahead of the curve of history.

As the great civil rights activist Cesar Chavez said in a slightly different context

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You can not uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.” Diolch yn fawr

More speeches, including a contribution from Kenneth Gibson MSP, can be viewed here: http://thecornishrepublican.blogspot.com/