Cian Ireland could be elected to the Senedd before he even finishes his history studies at Stirling University. That would make him the first serving Labour politician to openly support independence for Wales and Scotland.
Ireland, 20, said: “It’s about putting power into the hands of the people themselves.”
The Welsh-speaker has lived in Stirling since leaving the village of Llanaelhaearn for university. He now hopes to represent that community as the new Member of the Senedd (MS) for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, a seat in the Plaid Cymru heartland of north west Wales.
The constituency has been held by Dafydd Elis-Thomas since 1999. The former Plaid politician, now an independent MS, will stand down at the next election.
Ireland says the area’s long-held socialism and socio-economic problems have shaped his world view. His village is home to the UK’s first community cooperative and the wider area is amongst the most deprived in Europe. Rates of pay are lower on average than elsewhere in Wales and there’s a shortage of affordable housing. These factors, Ireland says, threaten the sustainability of the communities and are damaging the use of the Welsh language as younger people move away and second home owners take their place.
He’s standing on a platform promoting “rural socialism” and support for “self-determination” for the people of Wales through worker-owned businesses and more after losing faith with Corbynism: “I thought it was possible to transform the UK as a whole. I’m quite a new convert to the independence argument.
“Seeing the way the Welsh Government handled Covid compared to England and seeing the Internal Market Bill – with the democratically-elected Government having to take the UK Government to court over its own rights and sovereignty – really made me re-evaluate my politics.
“There are quite radical ideas about how we can do independence.”
He went on: “It applies to Scotland as well. The people of Scotland do want independence. The only way independence is going to work is if they get full self-determination and control. It should be the people running their futures.”
Support for change has shot up in Wales over the past year and now sits at around the same level seen in Scotland in 2012, when the two-year preparation period for the 2014 ballot began.
As with Scottish Labour, Welsh Labour isn’t in favour of independence, but two other hopefuls have also declared their support. Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru has promised an independence referendum if it wins the Senedd election. Speaking on BBC Radio Cymru last week, Elis-Thomas said: “I don’t know if it is wise to hold a referendum on independence here in Wales at the moment but it’s obvious that the discussion on devolution for Wales is not going to subside.”
Ireland – who hopes to complete his degree remotely if he’s elected – says the Welsh indy debate is very different to that in Scotland: “The thing that’s driving independence support in Scotland is the EU. In Wales, we voted to leave the EU, it’s a radically different situation.
“There’s a much stronger socialist tradition. There was a point in our history when almost 50% of people worked in coal mines. Such a large amount of the population have that tradition. That has had a long term ideological impact on Welsh people.”
Ireland’s socialist politics have seen him establish a student tenants union that’s been copied on several other campuses. He’s learning remotely as Covid cancels classes and campaigning in the same way.
He was last in Wales during a brief Christmas break but says continuing restrictions on household mixing mean his online campaign will be no different from those run by Wales-based candidates. He said: “I have to wait for things to get better before I can travel down. I have been meeting people online and they have been very positive.”
— to www.thenational.scot