Could Welsh Labour elect a pro-independence First Minister?

The Labour leadership race in Wales is already being lined up as a bit of a dull, two horse race which will see little change. Neither Vaughan Gething nor Jeremy Miles would look out of place in a Keir Starmer cabinet. Both are calm, capable, and statesman like. Neither would excite nor offend many.

However, its Panto season, the stage is set, and the crowd are ready for something which could energise and galvanise the nation – cue a pro-independence Labour candidate!

Labour Polls

In recent polls, over 40% of Labour members in Wales are convinced by the arguments for independence and it seems inevitable that there are Labour members of the Senedd that want to go further than the Labour policy of Devo-Max, which sees more powers for Wales but stops short of calling for full independence. 

Thursday is the deadline for leadership hopefuls and any candidate who puts their hat on an independent Wales would gain significant support from Labour members. At present, there is no clear candidate willing to put themselves in the race but with politics, we know that discussions will be going on behind closed doors and a week (or 3 days) is a long time.

Welsh Labours dilemma

Front runner Vaughan Gething, (now Minster for the Economy) is best known for being the Minister for Health during Covid. Both he, and Jeremy Miles (Minister for Education) face questions over failing departments.

Education in Wales is the worst in the United Kingdom and the stats for the Welsh NHS show no better. Labour have been in power since devolution began, so the question Labour inevitably face is why are we performing worse than the rest of the Union? Is it because of the decisions made here? (by Labour and such ministers) or does the answer lay in Westminster? 

The First minister recently blamed the growing child poverty rates in Wales on the “Tory government in Westminster”. Citing that child poverty had declined in the first half of devolution under the UK Labour party but had suffered since.

He also noted that the people of Wales are naturally more to the left than in the UK as a whole and that Keir Starmer is therefore right to position himself more to the centre (to attract voters of Middle England).

Westminster Tory Rule

If the First Minister is right and the Torys at Westminster are to blame for child poverty (plus schools and health) in Wales, then it leaves Welsh Labour in an odd position. While Labour is expected to win the next UK election, the UK have had a Labour government for just 36 out of the last 100 years. The rest have been either a predominant Tory majority, or one ruling with support of either the DUP or the Liberals.

If what Drakeford is saying is that two thirds of the last hundred years have been against Wales – then what is likely to change over the next century?

And this is a discussion which Welsh Labour are having internally more and more often. Can its members be happy in a union that only works for them a third of the time?

Former leaders Carwyn Jones and Rhodri Morgan were both against independence in office but became far more open to the idea once allowed to speak openly after it. As First Minister, Mark Drakeford has always been far more critical of Westminster than his predecessors, and should he speak more openly in the coming weeks and months then he could even back independence himself.

The opportunity is there for a candidate!!

It is often assumed that Scotland or Northern Ireland will be the first nation to break away from the United Kingdom. In many ways, this makes sense; the SNP in Scotland are in power and enjoy far more support than Plaid Cymru do here, while Northern Ireland have historic issues. However, Wales could be on the cusp of something extraordinary and gain significant momentum. 

Should a candidate come forward, and should they gain the brave support from enough colleagues, then come Spring, they would have a very realistic chance of gaining the support of members and being the next First Minister of Wales. Should a Labour government win the next UK election, then it is difficult to see how they would be able to object to a Welsh Labour request for a referendum.

There are a lot of ‘ifs’, but we have never been closer to an independent Wales. Whether that is something that you agree with or not, it would certainly spice up the next few months!