Brexit denial in Cardiff Bay is reducing Wales’ soft power

Brexit denial in Cardiff Bay is reducing Wales’ soft power

As part of the United Kingdom, Wales benefits from the hard power projection of the British state. Wales also gains from the UK’s soft power which since the EU referendum has consistently been ranked the second greatest in the world by Portland Communications’ ‘The Soft Power 30’.

Wales also has its own soft power assets. Sportsmen like Geraint Thomas, Sam Warburton and Gareth Bale; singers like Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Bryn Terfel; and actors like Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen all go to show Wales can produce leading cultural icons and soft power assets. And TV shows like Dr Who, Sherlock and Hinterland broadcast Wales to the world.

Yet despite Wales’ urgent need for a post-Brexit soft power strategy, Welsh Labour is too busy flirting with the politics of a second referendum. Along with the Welsh Labour Government’s squandering of Wales’ devolution dividend, this is undermining Wales’ soft power.

Geraint Talfan-Davies OBE, Chairman of Wales for Europe, wrote in his Unfinished business: Journal of an embattled European: “The Vote Leave view of the world … is a view of the world and our future that on 23rd June will be rejected decisively by a Wales that will show itself once again on the progressive side of history”. Wales disagreed.

Yet instead of embracing Brexit, Wales’ left-of-centre political establishment itches for a rematch against the Welsh public. Talfan-Davies now campaigns for a ‘Peoples’ Vote’ and says there is a “cross party mood building in favour of another referendum”. He believes “if anybody is going to stop Brexit it is going to be the Labour Party”.

When 44.70% of Scots voted “Yes” to independence, Scottish Labour signed up to The Vow. But when Wales voted to leave the EU, Welsh Labour politicians want a second referendum. Cue the continuity Remain ditchers jostling to succeed First Minister Carwyn Jones: Mark Drakeford, Eluned Morgan, Huw Irranca-Davies and Vaughan Gethin. All favour a second referendum despite House of Commons estimates suggesting 53.44% of voters in Labour’s Welsh Assembly constituencies voted Leave, more than the 52.53% Leave vote across Wales and the 51.89% Leave vote across the UK.

Brexit denialism has led the Welsh Labour Government down a cul-de-sac. It officially has ‘no policy’ on a second referendum and Carwyn Jones has called for another General Election on Brexit. When Economy Minister Ken Skates blocked Cardiff’s bid to host the 2023 Commonwealth Games, he absurdly blamed Brexit. Welsh Labour politicians prefer expensive and ineffective EU regional aid policies to a Shared Prosperity Fund we control. And in the land of Nye Bevan, Labour would rather see vast payments into the EU’s unaudited budget indefinitely than a Brexit dividend benefiting the Welsh NHS.

An estimated 60.45% of Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood’s Rhondda constituency voted Leave, yet she told a BBC Question Time audience in Caernarfon there is no mandate for Brexit. She said “I’m not arguing for a second referendum, I’m not arguing for a re-run, I’m a democrat,” before adding :“People should be asked to endorse or not the final deal… it should be done in the form of a referendum”.

The elitist nullification campaign in Wales otherwise known as a ‘Peoples’ Vote’ is pure doublespeak. Who do the ‘Overturners’ think voted in the EU referendum in Wales other than the people of Wales? Perhaps they think the ‘wrong’ type of people. One is put in mind of the dissident playwright Bertolt Brecht’s satirical poem Die Lösung about the 1953 uprising in East Germany in which he wrote: Would it not be easier; In that case for the government; To dissolve the people; And elect another?’

‘Brexit Derangement Syndrome’ is percolating into the wider culture with negative consequences for Wales’ soft power. The head of the National Museum of Wales, David Anderson OBE, recently claimed Brexit was “collective delusional madness” and exhorted the industry to “cease to peddle falsehoods of British ‘greatness’”. Shamefully he even said he never wants to stand beneath another banner that says ‘Britain is Great’ again.

Nations that successfully exercise soft power do so partly through the attractiveness of their political values. This should come naturally to Wales with its political heritage of radicalism, reform and progress.

Yet it is hard to exercise soft power through values and demonstrated behaviour if your nation’s elite would sooner overturn a clear democratic mandate, ‘dissolve the people; And elect another’. It is no small irony that many of those calling for a second referendum are the same people who in the 1980s and 1990s said Wales was a ‘Quango State’ which needed a ‘Welsh defence’ in the form of devolution.

It is therefore disappointing that the British Council’s Wales Soft Power Barometer 2018 ranked Wales’ soft power sixth out of ten comparative regions (Quebec, Scotland, Flanders, Catalonia, Hokkaido, Wales, Corsica, Northern Ireland, Jeju and Puerto Rico) and four places behind Scotland, which gained devolved institutions in the same year as Wales.

Moreover, the Welsh Labour Government’s inertia has depleted Wales’s soft power assets. The Scottish Government has a Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs supported by a Minister for International Development and Europe, covering creative industries, the Scottish diaspora and bringing major events to Scotland. By contrast the Welsh Labour Government has created no equivalent portfolios in two decades.

In 2006 the Welsh Labour Government abolished the Welsh Development Agency. Wales lost an arms-length institution with serious expertise that created hundreds of thousands of jobs and secured billions in investment. Such was its success that when the Emperor of Japan last visited the UK the only two places he attended were London and Cardiff. A merger dispersed the WDA’s resources into the ether. Wales is still without an effective economic strategy from its devolved institutions.

And the track record of the Welsh Labour Government on education is little short of catastrophic. Cutting Wales off from the benefits of the classroom revolution taking place in England has stalled social mobility and blocked the educational pathways which should create the soft power assets of the future.

Former EU Commissioner Lord Mandelson spoke for the Welsh Labour establishment when he said: “The people of south Wales will always vote Labour because they have nowhere else to go.” Yet their political entitlement is misplaced. ComRes’ Brexit Express poll of voters in Labour-held Leave supporting seats in Wales found more people think their neighbourhoods support Brexit. 53% think Labour doesn’t support Brexit, 51% think Labour MPs oppose Brexit and 46% think the same of Jeremy Corbyn.

And while continuity-Remainers cling on to the safety blanket of a second referendum, 61% of Welsh voters think the Brexit vote should be respected. At right angles to the Welsh public on Brexit and refusing to think seriously about Wales’ global future, Welsh Labour’s elites are one perestroika away from a reckoning with the voters.

‘Brexit Derangement Syndrome’ is bad for Wales