Why Welsh Labour Should Embrace Autonomy for Wales

From Planet 239

by Sophie Williams

Sophie Williams traces the fluctuating attitudes within the Labour Party towards Welsh autonomy from Keir Hardie onwards. Drawing on her research on the Basque Country, she discusses the myriad forms of constitutional change that could achieve stronger self-governance for Wales with two advocates for reform: Mick Antoniw MS and Mike Hedges MS.

Attitudes toward Welsh national identity and the related question of devolved government have undergone significant evolution throughout the history of the Labour Party. Keir Hardie was an early supporter of Welsh devolution, as were some later politicians such as S.O. Davies. From the time, however, that Labour began to achieve electoral success in Parliament, mainstream opinion within the party saw the British state as the principal mechanism for change and any idea of Welsh self-government as something of an irrelevance. Concerns about economic decline and national slights like the drowning of Tryweryn fuelled the success of Plaid Cymru in the 1960s and prompted some serious consideration of devolution via the Kilbrandon Commission. Opposition from leading Labour figures like Leo Abse and Neil Kinnock, however, helped to ensure the rejection of the proposed Assembly in the 1979 referendum. Thatcherism was a decisive factor in shifting the balance within the Labour movement; many sceptics now favoured devolution on pragmatic grounds and by the 1990s the party was setting out concrete proposals for the Welsh Assembly, which were implemented after the 1997 general election and subsequent referendum.

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