The United Kingdom is not based on consent.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP, says that Mark Drakeford must “stand up to Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer’s denial of democracy – and uphold the right of all nations to decide their own futures”.
The United Kingdom is not based on consent. Membership is not voluntary. That was the message to the people of Scotland and Wales after this week’s Supreme Court ruling.
It confirmed what we in Plaid Cymru already suspected – that Westminster holds all power relating to our nations’ right to decide our own future.
This stark reminder of the antidemocratic streak at the heart of the Westminster system poses searching questions not just for Scotland, but for the Welsh Labour Government too.
Labour politicians in Scotland have long attached themselves to the smug blue and red comfort blanket that Westminster will always know best.
Mark Drakeford, the Labour First Minister of Wales, on the other hand, has been defter on the constitutional question, showing that he understands the nature of power in the United Kingdom far better than his boss in Westminster or his counterpart in Holyrood.
He said of the SNP’s victory in 2021: “The Scottish National Party, much as I disagree with them on the issue, won the election on the basis they would seek another referendum. How can that be denied the Scottish people?”
Drakeford was not making the case for independence, but for democracy and the principle of self-determination. He understands that as soon as the United Kingdom is patched together by coercion rather than consent, the Union might as well already be dead.
The First Minister and his Labour government in Cardiff Bay envisage the United Kingdom as a “voluntary association of four nation which choose to pool sovereignty”.
Fine words – but what weight do they hold when he can’t even convince his Labour boss Keir Starmer to back him up.
Starmer has made it categorically clear that he would not grant a referendum on Scottish independence should he gain the keys to Number 10 at the next general election.
A Labour Government will see no change to the fundamental constitution of the United Kingdom. Red or blue – Westminster will continue to deny democracy.
‘Once in a generation’ has become the tedious rhetoric against a second referendum on Scottish independence. But no such principle is applied to other cases.
Take the case of Northern Ireland. The 1998 Act states that a Secretary of State may not make provision for a border poll on Irish reunification within seven years of a previous poll.
Alternatively, take the 1881 Wales Sunday Closing Act – the first Act of Parliament to treat Wales differently to England requiring all public to close on Sundays. When the Act was repealed in 1961, drinking in Welsh pubs was permitted but local councils had to hold a vote on the issue every seven years if 500 local residents requested a local referendum.
My local area of Dwyfor in Gwynedd was the last to be "dry" on a Sunday in 1989, but voted differently in 1996 when every area in Wales voted for alcohol sales to be allowed on a Sunday.
The ‘once in a generation’ principle isn’t applied to Irish reunification. It wasn’t applied to Victorian era drinking laws in Wales. On what basis is it imposed now?
Eight years have passed since the last Scottish independence referendum in 2014. Young voters who were in primary school during the last referendum are now of voting age, their frustration at Westminster’s denial of their democratic voice growing every day.
Support for independence for Wales is now at the same level it was before the 2014 referendum in Scotland. Some unionists are sharp enough to recognise that an everlasting veto by Westminster on the nations’ right to decide will be entirely counterproductive to their cause.
'Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth / Ry'n ni yma o hyd'. ‘Despite everything and everyone/We’re still here’. As the Cymru team’s unambiguously nationalist rousing World Cup anthem echoes in the streets of Wrexham, Cardiff, Bangor, Newport, a new confidence grows in Wales’s nationhood.
Dafydd Iwan's ‘Yma o Hyd’ was written in response to Thatcherism and the unsuccessful Welsh devolution referendum of 1979. Wales went on to vote in favour of devolution in 1997, and again for more powers in 2011. Because democracy doesn’t end with a referendum.
Mark Drakeford is happy enough to wear the bucket hat and sing ‘Yma o Hyd’.
But if he truly believes in Wales, he must make clear that he, and the Welsh Government, will stand up to Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer’s denial of democracy – and uphold the right of all nations to decide their own futures.