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We cannot afford to ignore the nationalist presence in Wales | Tom Giffard MS

I’m very proud to be working with the Centre for the Union as their Welsh Conservative Senedd representative. The work of the Centre for the Union and other related organisations is absolutely crucial to defending our United Kingdom against the persistent undermining of separatist campaigners.

Across Wales, we have a political, media and academic class who simply do not share the attachment to the Union that so many of us feel so deeply; noisy campaign groups like Yes Cymru dominate the online and media spheres. Through organisations such as the Centre for the Union, it’s vital that we, as Unionists, build up our own networks and intellectual framework in support of the United Kingdom that we all seek to defend.

Across the UK, much Unionist attention is focussed on Scotland, with its fiercely nationalist SNP government, and Northern Ireland, where Republican Sinn Fein seeks to separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the country.

But we simply cannot afford to ignore the nationalist presence here in Wales.

And yes, at first, glance, it would seem there was less cause for alarm. The most recent polls show that independence is consistently favoured by less than one in three people in Wales. A similar number of people want to abolish the Senedd altogether, for example. Even though those voices are far less frequent on our airwaves.

And Plaid Cymru, Wales’s main openly separatist party, currently sits at a distant third place in terms of both votes and seats at UK and Welsh parliamentary levels.

But just because there’s no cause for alarm on the surface, it doesn’t mean that something more sinister isn’t bubbling below.

Even if the Welsh public opposes independence, this won’t stop many in the political class from shifting the window of debate.

Just recently, a Constitutional Commission initiated by the Welsh Government explored independence as a “potential future option”, alongside federalism and increased devolution (though not, of course, maintaining current arrangements or halting devolution altogether).

For Welsh Labour, seeking to appeal to Plaid Cymru voters, is turning in an increasingly nationalist direction.

From the selection of pro-independence candidates, to signing a formal Cooperation Agreement with Plaid Cymru, to Mark Drakeford declaring the Union to be “over”, it’s clear that this Welsh Labour Government is no friend of Unionism.

Of course, the day-to-day policy failures are clear for all to see: after a quarter of a century of Labour, on health, education and transport, Wales is among the worst performing out of anywhere in the UK.

And, as Shadow Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, I have led the fight against Labour and Plaid’s job-killing Tourism Tax, which seeks to dissuade people from other parts of the country coming to Wales.

But it’s the Welsh Government’s constitutional agenda which should be of huge concern to Unionists everywhere.

There are frequent howls of outrage from self-described Welsh nationalists regarding the UK Government’s so-called “assaults on devolution” (bearing in mind that as separatists, by definition, many of them do not believe in British devolution themselves).

However, those same disingenuous campaigners are always quick to call for the Welsh Government to take control of more areas of policy, now extending to demanding the devolution of the legal system and broadcasting.

Perhaps worst of all, the decision to increase the number of Members of the Senedd from 60 to 96, at the cost of approximately £100 million, is not just a waste of money but also another step on the road towards independence.

Of course, supporters of the independence movement are aware that they do not have anything like majority support for separatism.

The public have realised the economic, social and cultural damage that the breakup of the Union would mean.

Therefore, independence campaigners know that they must work to promote nationalist sentiment in Wales, and have turned it into a long-term political project.

This project takes many forms. In the Cardiff Bay Bubble, where decisions affecting Wales are made, a huge army of quangos, lobby groups and third-sector organisations, backed up by an academic and media elite, pump out policies and projects which build up an army of politically-aligned networks, determined to push Wales further apart from England.

So, what can we do about this? The UK Government must make clear that they are the government of the whole United Kingdom, not just England. Where devolved governments encroach onto UK-wide legislation, such as the SNP’s Gender Recognition Bill, the UK Government must not be afraid to exercise the powers available to it.

Recently I welcomed our Secretary of State for Wales, David TC Davies, to Porthcawl in my region of South Wales West, to discuss the UK Government’s new £18 million investment from the Levelling-Up fund to improve the historic Grand Pavilion.

This is an example of something the UK Government can do to ensure its visibility; working directly with local councils to provide funding to where it’s needed, rather than simply “devolve and forget”, as the Prime Minister has put it, allowing more and more power to be centralised in Cardiff Bay.

The task is huge: the independence movement is relentless and single-minded. They are more than willing to play the long game.

But as Unionists, we must never stop making the arguments that have maintained our country through the centuries, and must always speak up to defend our precious cultural inheritance.

The people of Wales have been clear that they want to see a strong Wales in a strong United Kingdom.

And, as the Centre for the Union’s Welsh Parliamentary representative, I look forward to contributing to this debate, and fighting to maintain the Union against the forces of nationalism.


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