The National Question in Wales
21st January 2012
The following letter is a written in response to a question in 2007 from someone interested in finding out the position of the Socialist Party on the national question in Wales.
We reprint it here as a useful outline of the position of Socialist Party Wales on the issues of devolution and independence.
I am writing to you in response to the letter you sent the London office of the Socialist Party regarding our position on Wales.
I think I can put your mind at rest. We certainly do not regard Wales as just a region of England. We have a vibrant and active organisation in Wales that has made a real impact in the Welsh labour movement.
As a party based on the ideas of Marxism we have always had a position supporting the rights of all nations to self-determination up to and including the right to independence. We also support the right for autonomy within existing states.
Concretely in Wales we put forward the demand for a Welsh parliament with law-making and tax-adjusting powers, the same powers as the Scottish parliament, with the powers to initiate a fundamental social change in Welsh society. We put the same position during the devolution referendum in 1997, when we campaigned for a "Yes" vote, but called for real powers for the Assembly. And our predecessor, Militant, put forward the same position in the 1979 referendum.
I have looked through a number of manifestos to find the extract you quote in your letter, but I cannot find it so I don't know in what context your quote is framed. Normally we would not call for "a Socialist government in England and Wales" in that way although when we stand in elections to Westminster we do call for a socialist government in the UK parliament. Our precise formulation on the national question in Britain is contained in the Manifesto for Socialism (2004) where we call "For a socialist confederation of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland". In Wales we call for "A socialist Wales as part of a socialist confederation of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland".
Our approach is based on the idea of maintaining the maximum unity of working class people, both within Wales and across Britain, to further the struggle for socialism. This means recognising the legitimate national aspirations of the nations that currently constitute the UK and supporting the right to national self-determination.
The special conditions in Wales and in Scotland in which the working class have a heavy specific weight within society also present opportunities to further the cause of socialism in Britain as a whole. We believe that a socialist government in the Welsh Assembly could initiate a socialist transformation in Wales, alongside a mass movement of working class people in Wales linked to the working class in England, Scotland and ultimately the rest of Europe.
Even now it is possible for the working class to use the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish parliament to win a few concessions not granted by the Westminster government. The effects of student fees have been lessened a little by the measures agreed by the Welsh Assembly under pressure from working people in Wales. Similarly privatisation of public services has been slowed by pressure on the Welsh Assembly government. This in turn can be used by working people and socialists in England to argue for reforms there.
In Wales and England we are organised as the Socialist Party. Whilst being a part of the Socialist Party, in Wales we are organised as Socialist Party Wales, with a Wales conference, Wales Committee and Wales Executive Committee and two full time workers for the party. We produce a Socialist Wales supplement to The Socialist and a Socialist Party Wales website (www.socialistpartywales.org.uk) where if you have access to the internet you can see more about our ideas and campaigns.
We have made a significant impact in working class communities across South Wales as well as members in Mid and North Wales. I think it would be true to say that we are the biggest left party in Wales now. In particular we have gained important positions in the trade unions in Wales leading struggles especially in the civil service and the Visteon car plant in Swansea but also in local government. We are regarded as the left opposition by the leaders of the Wales TUC and are currently playing a leading role in setting up the Wales Shops Stewards Movement.
You refer to the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) which is not the same organisation as the Socialist Party in Wales or England. Our members in Scotland were involved in the establishment of the SSP which involved a wider layer of socialists in Scotland than just our members and also a significant layer of trade unionists and community activists. In 2003 it succeeded in getting six Members of the Scottish Parliament elected led by Tommy Sheridan. Unfortunately the SSP split in 2006 when the majority of the SSP leadership sided with the News Of The World against Tommy Sheridan. Our members in Scotland supported Sheridan who formed Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement which gained the largest left vote in Scotland, but unfortunately this was not quite large enough to re-elect Sheridan for a third term. The SSP got a fraction of its 2003 vote and has slipped into relative obscurity.
We do not think that Plaid Cymru can be used as a vehicle for socialist change. There are some good socialists in Plaid who we have worked with in the anti-war and anti-capitalist movement, but Plaid's leadership is more right wing. In the North, Plaid tends to be quite conservative whereas in the South Wales Valleys they position themselves to the left of Labour. The Plaid leadership attempted to form a coalition government with the Tories which was prevented by activists in the South who realised that helping the Tories into government in Wales would be the kiss of death in the valleys. But even in the South when Plaid have won control of councils by posing as a left alternative they have acted very much like Labour councils when in power and have been voted out at the next election.
I hope this clears up any reservations you have had about our position on Wales. We do not adopt a "nationalist" approach, supporting unity between workers across all countries especially within the trade unions in Britain, but we support national self determination and autonomy for Wales.
Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions or would like to read any of our material on these questions.
August 24th 2007