With May’s Welsh assembly elections looming, senior Cabinet ministers believe Labour’s Mark Drakeford, the current Welsh First Minister, could be bounced into calling a vote on the issue by Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price. And Mr Price has made it clear he is planning to put the issue at the forefront of his Senedd campaign, claiming there had been “an incredible surge of support for independence”.
With Welsh voters due to go to the polls on May 6, it seems highly probable that there will be a three-way split between Labour, the Tories and Plaid, with no party securing a majority in the 60-seat assembly.
Mr Price has already dismissed suggestions that his party could enter into a coalition with the Tories.
He is expected to say he will only prop up a minority Labour government if Mr Drakeford agrees to a referendum.
Tories fear Mr Drakeford will agree in order to remain in power, raising the prospect of a Welsh breakaway – and adding to the problems Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also facing with separatists north of the border.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already made it clear she intends to treat the Holyrood elections being held on the same day as an attempt to obtain a mandate for a referendum of her own.
Speaking to the Times, one minister said: “The electoral maths could well mean the only way Drakeford and Labour cling onto power is by reluctantly agreeing to a referendum.
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“If Plaid insist on it, it’s going to be the only way they can govern with any working majority.”
Speaking to Times Radio yesterday, Mr Price said: “We’ll be promising a clear timetable and a referendum on independence within the first term.
“That reflects an incredible surge of support for independence over many years. Politics in Wales is moving.”
Meanwhile Mr Drakeford, asked whether he would accept Plaid’s demand, told BBC’s Andrew Marr yesterday: “If a party that proposes such a referendum wins an election, then of course such a referendum should be held.”
Mr Drakeford has voiced his concerns about his prospects next month, with a poll suggesting 51 percent of Labour Party members in Wales back independence.
Some Labour candidates are even supporting calls for a referendum in their campaigns.
Backing for independence has increased significantly over the course of the last eight years.
In 2013, just 10 percent of the population backed the idea – but a Savanta ComRes poll for ITV News this month indicated 39 per cent of Welsh people would vote “yes” – the highest level yet recorded.
Sion Jobbins, chairman of pro-independence campaign group Yes Cymru, has suggested the UK’s decision to quit the EU was a factor, even though Wales voted Leave by 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent five years ago.
Speaking to Express.co.uk in today, Mr Jobbins said: “The issue of Wales becoming its own nation state and creating a true family of independent nations in Britain – like Scandinavia – is one which has captured the imagination of an increasing number of people.
“Many people in Wales, including Labour supporters, see how the Tories, through the Internal Market Bill, are trying to take away the powers Wales voted for in two referenda.
“Supporters of devolution also see Scotland making plans for an independence referendum.
“With that pincer movement, many people in Wales want, at the very least, the option of an independence referendum in Wales otherwise Wales as a nation will cease to exist.
“After seeing the Tories support independence from the EU and champion the independence of successful small nations like Switzerland or Singapore, we in YesCymru would ask them (and all parties) to be true to their principles and support the principle of an independence referendum for Wales too – especially once Scotland leaves.”