Note: This speech at the XR Cardiff Rising Tide event was delivered on 2nd September 2020 before the publication of the Internal Market Bill, which only underscores everything said below, whilst adding a deliberate attack on devolution and the right of Welsh people to self-government to the Westminster government’s aims.
My name’s Siwan and I’m talking here today on behalf of Undod, a movement for radical independence for Wales. For us, independence – and indeed the climate crisis – will never be apolitical.
Independence is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and will not be of value unless it is part of a struggle for a better, more just Wales. One of the ways in which an independent Wales must be better, one of the most crucial ends, is that we must be a committed player in the fight against environmental degradation, exploitation and injustice.
According to our principles:
2) (i) We stand for the protection of our natural environment as it is essential for all our futures as Welsh citizens and inhabitants of this planet to ensure a worthwhile life for ourselves, our children and generations to come.
(ii) The means of economic production and Wales’s natural resources should be owned by the people of Wales. Justice, care and sustainability are the cornerstones of the economy and the basis for a flourishing nation, not profit and capital.
Nothing shows the Westminster government’s disregard for and unaccountability to the people of Wales more starkly than the vandalism they are currently threatening to visit on our countryside, our communities, our safety and our values than the Agriculture and Trade Bills currently making their way through parliament. Despite a global pandemic making the importance of food security and sovereignty more evident than ever, the UK government has decided to put them at risk through its pursuit of a hard Brexit that will profit the wealthiest and recklessly deregulate our economy.
In May, MPs rejected an amendment to the Agriculture Bill which would have ensured imports complied with our food standards in any future trade deal. The amendment had extremely broad support: from farming unions to environmental campaigners, from tenant farmers unions to landowners associations, and from every major political party except the Conservatives. Though several Conservative MPs rebelled, the bill was passed. Among the rebels, there was not a single Welsh Conservative MP. Their excuse at the time was that import standards would be dealt with in the Trade Bill – they were not.
As a result, future trade deals can – and almost certainly will – allow imports that do not comply with Britain’s standards for food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection. Donald Trump’s government have made it clear that this – and a veto on compulsory labelling of food origin – would be a condition of a trade deal.
You are seven times more likely to get food poisoning in the US than in the UK, but the animal welfare implications are more dire: has anyone heard of chlorinated chicken? It is one of the few implications of a US trade deal that has cut through to the public. What is less widely understood is the reason that chicken in the US is chlorinated. It is because birds are kept in such confined and unsanitary conditions that their bodies are so caked in faeces and microbes by the time they are slaughtered that they must be essentially bleached in chlorine to make them fit for human consumption. US agri-monopolies are also some of the most significant polluters and sources of environmental degradation.
Specifically, the government’s plans represent a systematic attack on small Welsh farming. With each passing day, it seems more certain that Boris Johnson’s government are pursuing a No-Deal Brexit. This will harm Welsh farms in particular, as lamb exports will be some of the most severely affected markets. The combination of the unamended Agriculture and Trade Bills and a No-Deal Brexit will amount to what is essentially a British NAFTA. It will create an environment that hands over our food production to the most extractive, exploitative agri-business both at home and abroad.
This, in turn, will devastate rural communities. As a group fighting for environmental justice, not simply a vague “environmentalism”, Undod sees human communities as part of the ecosystem. A previous speaker stated that famine was the greatest threat facing humans as a consequence of climate change. Whilst I do not disagree, I most fear the political consequences of increasingly scarce resources and insecure environments.
The theme of today’s event is Rising Tide. There is a rising tide of sea levels across the world, but there is also a rising tide of fascism. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the fact that migrants, often fleeing the effects of climate climate change, are currently drowning in the Mediterranean and the English channel and our government sees fit not to help them, but to deploy the armed forces against them.
I am not the first to say that – as the effects of climate change become impossible to ignore – the turn in our elites’ rhetoric from climate denial to ecofascism will be so fast it will give you whiplash. Indeed, it has already begun. The manifesto of the El Paso shooter, who opened fire on all those he viewed as “immigrants” in the US border town and killed 23 people, noted that he wanted to protect the US environment from degradation by migrants.
We must not let fascism co-opt our movements: right-wing extremists are not the only people indulging eugenicist rhetoric. Many revered environmentalists continue to blame climate change on “excessive” birth rates in the global south, when we know that the climate emissions of people in poorer countries are a fraction of those in the global north and that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions. During the coronavirus crisis, many environmentalists have joined with the far-right in espousing anti-semitic conspiracy theories, often insisting that the virus is somehow not dangerous because it tends to claim the lives of the elderly, the sick and the disabled (whilst disproportionately affecting poor people and people of colour). These strands of environmentalism must not be tolerated in our movement.
One of the greatest defences against fascism is community: those who know, care for, and feel solidarity with their neighbours are less likely to be silent when they are taken away. I recently came across a podcast called City of Refuge, which tells the story of a Le Chambon, plateau of French villages who resisted both the Vichy government and the Nazi occupation. When a Vichy official first visited the village, a group of local teenagers gave a speech announcing that Jewish people lived among them in the village and that they would never hand these people to the authorities. When the official demanded a list of the town’s Jews from the local pastor, Andre Trocme, the pastor replied, “We don’t know what a Jew is, we only know human beings.”
Throughout the occupation, Le Chambon’s reputation as a refuge spread. Over the course of WWII, the village sheltered and facilitated the escape to Switzerland of between 3000 and 5000 Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution. This was not the act of any individual: a rescue on this scale was only possible because the whole community participated. The whole community was compelled to participate because they lived in a web of interdependence and mutual aid, and because many of them were themselves the descendants of persecuted Huguenots who sought refuge in the mountains.
Welsh rural villages share so many of these qualities with the village of Le Chambon. I was helping on my mother’s family’s farm when lockdown came into effect. Immediately, a network of community care sprang up and I was amazed by my aunt’s total confidence that everyone in the village was being cared for – yet they were. The connections of community were already in there. Welsh rural villages also retain the tradition for direct democracy and “messy” community deliberation that Euros Lewis so beautifully outlines in his description of the lost village of Epynt. As Welsh people, we all have some understanding of what it means to be excluded and demeaned by a greater power. As fascism ascends, these communities are not something we can afford to lose.
A spirit of community and democracy has evolved in Welsh villages partly because of Welsh farming’s peculiar history. While industrialisation saw the rate of land ownership decline in England and Scotland, with land concentrated in the hands of large landowners and the rest of rural society divided between tenant farmers and labourers, in Wales (particularly the North West) the rate of land ownership actually increased. An economy of subsistence farms emerged, often run by women while their husbands went out to work in quarries or mines. The legacy of this remains, with farms in Wales half the size of those in England on average. These small farms are precisely those that will be decimated by the government’s Brexit plans and with them the communities and language they sustain: we are on the verge of the destruction of Welsh communities on a scale that calls to mind Thatcher’s closure of the mines in the 1980s.
Undod is not prepared to let these communities collapse. On the 19th of September, we will be partnering to hold tractor demos and supporters’ rallies across Wales. While farmers and environmental campaigners have not always been the best of friends, there is no choice but to work together. Our greatest weakness in opposing fascism is our inability to unite around a common cause. At Undod – a movement for Welsh independence – we would not have anticipated uniting with an organisation called Save “British” Farming. But these are unprecedented, possibly desperate times and we must find our allies wherever they are.
See you on the 19th, fighting for our farms, our food standards, our communities and our future. Diolch yn fawr.
- National event: https://www.facebook.com/events/607189909946157
- Cowbridge rally: https://www.facebook.com/events/767573794057598
- Builth Wells rally: https://www.facebook.com/events/612049456340562
- Ruthin, Anglesey and Cardigan rallies – TBA
- Sign up to “Save British Farming” – https://savebritishfarming.org
- Write to your MP – https://sbf.onldspk.cc/MP