A Welsh independence Labour group has strongly criticised Keir Starmer’s “Anglocentric” speech to the party conference yesterday.

Labour For an Independent Wales, which says it has members in every Welsh constituency, spoke to The National Wales last night following the UK Labour leader’s keynote speech, in which he accused Scotland’s SNP of walking “in lockstep” with the Conservative UK government, and declared Labour “the party of the Union”.

Mr Starmer asserted that UK nations were “more progressive” and “more secure” as part of the British Union, and rephrased recent comments by Gordon Brown in a way that appeared to suggest xenophobia among Scottish and Welsh independence supporters.

He said: “When a Welsh or a Scottish woman gives blood, she doesn’t demand an assurance it must not go to an English patient”.

Rachel Garrick, a spokesperson for Labour for an Independent Wales, said that the speech showed that the UK leader is not “seriously interested” in appealing to Welsh voters.

She said: “Starmer’s speech today was, as expected, an Anglocentric pitch to the English voter.

“Clamouring over patriotism and ‘British values’, however, ignores the reality that the UK is, for every nation, unfair at best - and in truth, broken.

“It’s time our party looked the issues in the eye rather than blindfolding ourselves with flags.”

Harriet Protheroe-Soltani, a vocal independence supporter and a Welsh representative on the National Coordinating Group of Labour's Momentum group, worries that the UK party's attitude toward the independence debate will alienate Welsh and Scottish voters.

She said: "Whenever speeches like this are made by UK Labour, that lack an understanding of devolution and the Welsh nation, it pushes many people in Wales and Scotland to question whether the party understands devolution, or if they even want to understand.

"It's no wonder that more and more people support independence, when it feels like the Tory government has zero understanding of Wales.

"It's saddening for many Labour members to feel as though the UK leadership office doesn't either.

"It's a very alienating experience."

Ms Garrick added that the lessons of Mark Drakeford’s electoral success in Wales “are there for the taking”, pointing to the Welsh party’s commitment to pursuing further devolved powers, such as policing, justice, tax and the Gender Recognition Act.

“How the Welsh Government’s proposals marry with Gordon Brown’s commission remains to be seen,” Ms Garrick said.

“But if Starmer’s bizarre reference to blood services – which are devolved - is indicative of what is to come, perhaps our party in Wales is better suited avoiding the uncomfortable ‘patriotism’ of ‘British blood for British people’ all together.”

The Welsh Blood Service, which collects blood donations and distributes them to hospitals within Wales’s borders, was established in 1997.

Starmer’s comments come at an uncomfortable time: This week the Welsh Government said that, while Welsh Labour remains in support of remaining in the Union, its upcoming constitutional commission will be free to “reach its own conclusions” on the future of Wales in the UK.

Public support for independence, meanwhile, has surged over the past year – thought to be linked with increased awareness of devolution and continuing mistrust of the UK government brought on by their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Membership of the independence group YesCymru rocketed from around 2,000 to more than 18,000 in 2020, and polling suggests that a significant proportion of 2019 Labour voters would back independence in a referendum.

Starmer's speech also comes amid calls for Welsh Labour to split off from the UK party and seek sister party status.

Ms Garrick added: “Welsh Labour understands the country it serves; UK Labour can choose to learn from our party in Wales or not.

“So far, there’s little to suggest they’re seriously interested.”

If you value The National's political journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.