by Julian Ruck
In the second part of my interview with Neil Kinnock a great many issues were discussed, indeed far too many to go into detail here on Uncut. I have therefore tried my best to distil things down to bit-sized paragraphs whilst keeping an eye on the matters that I feel may be of particular interest to Uncut readers.
On devolution and independence:
“JR: I must quote from Martin Westlake’s ‘Kinnock, The Biography‘ where the author states, ‘From the beginning, Kinnock opposed these moves to devolution with a vehemence hard to appreciate today.’ Do you still hold this view?
NK: I was against a form of devolution, not devolution in itself. No democrat can be against de-centralisation, it’s just that we made a bloody mess of it back in the 70’s.
We’ve got it and we’ve got to make it work. But it still begs the question that we had always anticipated back in the 70’s, in Whitehall and Westminster as well as Wales, and I repeat it without fear but with realism : There is or can be, a government that owes nothing politically to Wales or Scotland or a party, say UKIP or elements in the Conservative party, that can impress English voters with the slogan ‘If we didn’t spend so much, certainly more than we gain, from Wales and Scotland, we would have billions to renovate Yorkshire, the Midlands, Merseyside, Inner London, wherever.’
Now, this is one unresolved question and it will continue to be until we have a great deal more force and growth in the economy, where Wales is concerned anyway. This is the real danger implicit in the potential for antagonism, especially when you get a combination of ant-Conservative governments, be it in Wales or Scotland, and governments that are anti-Welsh, or politically dismissive about Wales, in London.
They might not be overtly anti-Welsh or Scottish but a government dominated by ‘do we really need them? Politically they’re a bloody nuisance to us; they are a constant drain on public resources, we can get votes by saying, ‘well, if you want to go off by yourselves, you do just that,’ especially if they nominally accept the monarchy.
There is no case for independence – for secession – in Scotland and the same can be said for Wales It’s just plain daft. We live in the permanent era of globalisation, where size does count. We must be effectively engaged in the European Union because this is the way the world is heading, and the same argument applies to sustaining the UK.
To come back to Wales, if you get an almost permanent drudgery of insecurity, low economic advantage, low incomes, a sense of exclusion socially, it’s not difficult for a populist to say ‘we have never accepted this government in London; let’s elect our own government; let’s accept that our own poverty may be marginally deeper, though not that you’d notice, and make the break.’
I’m not saying this is probable or anything so defeatist. I’m saying that it’s not impossible that the argument can be postulated and get some support if there’s a sense that, in the centre in London, at the core of power, there’s not much enthusiasm for retaining the union, particularly if the message got through that a Conservative government owes Wales nothing politically, in other words, ‘you go off if you want to, you’ll save us a lot of money.’
JR: You must accept that a vibrant and flourishing democracy demands change. We’ve had 90 odd years of Welsh Labour in Wales, this cannot be a good thing, surely?
NK: Yes it does. I agree. The function of an effective politician, especially on the left, is be ahead of the curve, what we’ve got to do is respect the past, make the present better and design and build for the future.
JR: Yes, but that isn’t quite answering my question. You must know that Wales is now run by a Welsh speaking elite, intent on an undemocratic and unaccountable Welshification process, regardless of what the majority in Wales want.”
There was a classic Kinnock smile to this one.
“NK: You can say that but I couldn’t possibly comment. Look, I remember the late Leo Abse who got into terrible trouble over his views on the Taffocracy, the Taffia, whatever you want to call it. I advised caution then, and said ‘make sure your concerns are backed up with evidence’. Having said this, if you are going to use public money you must be accountable for it. In some cases that you’ve highlighted the opposite appears to have happened.”
I proceeded to set out my evidential stall and whilst there was no out and out denial, I did observe a certain reluctance to out and out condemn. Welsh roots perhaps, and who could blame him? Loyalty again.
During the course of the interview it did become apparent that Neil was quite close to some Labour AM’s and this was a little disconcerting. I suppose I was after some passionate opprobrium, fat chance. As I said in my last column, Neil is a valleys boy through and through and he hasn’t forgotten his roots.
On immigration Neil was all for it, on the grounds of basic economics, diversity and the long term future of the UK.
In the final analysis and whether one likes it or not, one cannot help but wonder where the Labour party would be today, without its Kinnock’s? The Labour party owes a huge debt of gratitude to the man for saving the party from a far left onslaught and this should never be forgotten.
To conclude then and following in the footsteps of Martin Westlake again, I can only quote from one of Neil’s favourite poems:
“Though blighted be the valleys
Where man meets man with pain,
The things my boyhood cherished
Stand firm, and shall remain.”
Gwalia Deserta, by Idris Davies
Julian Ruck is a novelist, broadcaster and columnist. His most recent novel is ‘The Silver Songsters’ (pub. April 2014)