Monday, 10 October 2011

Scotland's referendum and Wales

Alex Salmond and compromise are not two words that often go together. But he all but acknowledged this weekend that he would put a second question on the independence referendum ballot paper. 

The second question would offer Scotland economic autonomy without leaving the UK.
The canny Scottish leader is well aware that this option is likely to get majority support. It is often called  “devo max”. 
If this option was won in an referendum, the Scottish parliament would raise all its own taxes and run its own welfare system the only thing not under its control would be defence, foreign affairs and international aid. Real home rule.
Not only would such a vote alter profoundly the relationship between Westminster and Holyrood. It is difficult to see such a system working without the United Kingdom becoming a Federal state. 
This would open up a very serious debate in Wales about its relationship with the London Parliament.
Many have argued that Wales is not Scotland and there is no appetite for such a radical change here. Those with that view may be seriously misreading the runes.
Whilst they are right to point out that the polls have shown a very small number wanting outright independence. What they seldom comment on is the very same polls have consistently shown a very large majority of those polled are of the view that the Assembly and not the UK, government should be Wales's most influential political institution. Yes, Wales and not Westminster. 
It doesn’t take much imagination to envisage that passive feeling becoming more assertive and demanding the same as Scotland as the arguments rage in the national media as they undoubtedly will if there's a threat to the Union.  
More and more of the people living in Wales have embraced devolution and it is difficult to see the process being put into reverse. So if not backwards where then?
Clearly there is an expectation that our politicians will stand up for the interest of Wales in their dealing with the London Government. Labour tapped into this expectation at the last Assembly election its manifesto title was “standing up for Wales.” But what exactly does that mean? Is it more than a slogan for an election?
If the Scots feel that “standing up for Scotland” demands full economic autonomy many will want the same for Wales.
Let’s not kid ourselves this argument will be heard again and again in the lead up to the Scottish referendum. Now whether our politicians want it or not it will also become an agenda item in Wales too.
Oh yes, the canny Scottish first minister may not only move devolution forward  in Scotland but carry Wales forward in its wake.


  1. At the recent Bevan Foundation seminar Gerald Holtham cautioned that 'Devo Max' for Scotland would be the worst of all worlds for Wales. As he put it 'Our population is 1/2 Scotland's but our tax base is 1/4". A federal system will be 'difficult' for us, he concluded.

  2. Difficult questions lay ahead...but would it be a case of the grass maybe/is/would look greener and then this gives political and public momentum?

  3. They had better increase our tax base then.

  4. There comes a time when every "budding" Country has to take the first faltering steps towards its destiny. We are already on that journey and the fact is that to get where we want to be we have to take some risks.
    Part of the process of gaining the rights associated with being a free Country is accepting the responsibilities that go with it. As you so rightly point out Gareth when asked the vast majority of Welsh people want the same settlement as Scotland and want the Senedd to have the most influence on their lives.
    As far as I am concerned bring it on!

  5. 'Devo Max' is the most popular option according to the latest Scottish opinion polls. It would seem the most likely outcome. Therefore Wales should steel itself for this. What 'steeling ourselves' means in this case I don't know. We are in a possibly rare position where there isn't a Ron Davies figure laying out markers of how the devolved settlement will evolve. Instead we've got independent figures like Holtham doing it. Within the Welsh Labour group i'm not sure Carwyn Jones is doing anything other than reacting to whatever happens, which does suit his capable but cautious style. This does make me feel safe and that Wales will have an unexciting but stable constitutional future without too many shocks. Plaid laid much of the groundwork for the Holtham commission but are now focussing on independence, and once Ieuan Wyn Jones has gone will probably be distancing themselves a little from the whole federal nature of devolution. As for the Tories, since David Melding has become DPO and Rt Davies has become leader they've not contributed to this debate. Where is the leadership, from any party?

  6. It seems to me, as Gareth alluded to, that this is not and issue that anyone in Wales would willingly face at the moment, but within 5 years, it is going to be thrust upon us! And the question will be - do we want to take charge of our own destiny, or do we want to be re-absorbed as a poor region of England?

    If we gain a status equal to that in Scotland in the Devo Max scenario, then we would gain control over our natural resources - water, energy, the oil and gas passing through our land to England - and many more potential sources of income so far denied us.

    I for one do not fear it, even if it means I will be worse off for the first few years.

  7. Unlike Scotland, a country with a rather proud and distinguished political history, Wales is a country of divisions, a collection of peoples divided by language, by culture, by ethnicity and by modernity.

    A march towards independence would be good for Wales but catastrophic for the 'Welsh'.

    As such, let's bring it on.

  8. Why would independence be "good for Wales but catastrophic for the Welsh"?

  9. The 'Welsh', predominantly working class, low income level, low education, low aspiration, introverted, inward looking, mightily proud of 'Welshness' (encapsulating and being defined by the above characteristics).

    Wales, to survive as an independent nation, requires none of the above. It needs to embrace a new 'Welshness' which, in turn, despises the old.

    It can be done, but are we ready for it?

  10. Are you kp by any chance?

    The Welsh people are many of those things but they are just circumstance, we are not defined by those characteristics. Welshness is not poverty and ignorance. We've existed for thousands of years and been transformed several times (our sense of continuity is kept through our land, language and mythology).

    I'd agree that we would have to give birth to a new kind of 'Welshness' (this is already happening) but surely it would help unite our nation and would benefit everyone in the long run?

  11. As Gwyn Alf Williams said, Wales survives by reinventing itself time and time again. Common traditions that make us who we are endure through that process, but being ignorant or poor is not one (or two) of those traditions.

  12. Anon: 22:48

    "The 'Welsh', predominantly working class, low income level, low education, low aspiration, introverted, inward looking, mightily proud of 'Welshness' (encapsulating and being defined by the above characteristics)."

    I'm not sure I understand the point that you're making, but if the Welsh people are as you describe us, then we are what we are because of our history - 700 years a colony of our dominant neighbour.

    It's significant that powers over our own native language, which our neighbour has tried its utmost down the centuries to destroy, was handed over, somewhat begrudgingly, to Wales' Assembly only last year.

    I don't agree that we are introverted and inward-looking, these are characteristic of many people in England - Euro-sceptic and monolingual with a deep suspicion of anything foreign accompanied with a sense of superiority.

  13. We don't need a troll to point out that as with all Countries we have a variety of parts that make up the whole. The fact is we have much more that unites us than divides us and we are moving ever forward to greater freedom. I would be happier if we were in charge of the speed of our journey toward independence.

    However if we are given, as looks increasingly likely a turbo-boost by Scotland, or indeed England then bring it on! Fact is the journey is in progress and only die-hard unionists would try to deny the destination we are so certainly heading for. Of course efforts will be made to slow the speed of the journey but I have no doubt the tide of history is running in our direction.

  14. How do you define what 'the Welsh' is? Everyone's Welshness will be and is different to differing degrees, as soon as you make such a sweeping statement like that based on nothing than another's opinion you yourself shoot your argument in the foot.