In a keynote speech, titled ‘Benelux Britain: Re-casting relations in the post-independence era’, at the Centre on Constitutional Change at the University of Edinburgh, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has said that the nations of Britain should adopt a model of cooperation based on the Benelux countries once they achieve independence.
The speech – Mr Price’s first major speech on independence since taking office as leader of Plaid Cymru –set out Mr Price’s vision for Wales, Scotland and England to “live alongside each other in equality, and as a result, in greater harmony.”
Mr Price argued that independence, and cooperation, would benefit England as much as Scotland and Wales, and refered to the centralisation of power and wealth in the south east of England, to the detriment of the north.
He set out how Wales, Scotland and England could each be strengthened by pooling their respective sovereignty as independent nations, and drew on the example of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, who have done just that.
In the speech, Mr Price said that his vision for the future of Britain and Britishness is “one where its constituent nations come together to create a new civic sensibility and a new partnership of equals.”
After independence, Mr Price argued that a Britannic Confederation between Wales, Scotland and England would enable more equitable cooperation between the parliaments, governments and judicial systems of each nation.
Crucially, Mr Price said that such a Britannic Confederation would be compatible with membership of the European Union – and would be “much more pressing and necessary” if the United Kingdom were to leave the EU.
YouGov polling data published last week supported the assertion that there is an upward trend in support for independence, with mean support growing from 3.8 in 2017 to 4.4 in 2019. The poll also showed a marked growth in ‘indycuriosity’ among Labour and Liberal Democrat voters – particularly in the event of a no deal Brexit.
Writing of the poll, Dafydd Trystan said: “the direction of travel is clear – many more electors are willing to consider the possibility [of independence]. […] The Welsh electorate is becoming indycurious and curiouser, and that shift is most pronounced amongst Labour voters.”
Other polls conducted in 2014, 2016, and 2018, have indicated that support for independence has risen at a rate of around 2% per year since 2014. Another poll for Sky in December 2018 put support for Welsh independence at 20% in a yes/no question.
In the speech at the Centre on Constitutional Change, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price AM said:
“We want to renew politics on this island. And we want to change the way its constituent nations are governed and relate to one another. Because, in any event, Britain is already broken. Even if we wanted to, we have no need to break up Britain. Brexit is doing that for us.
“Brexit has put Britain on hold, and while it stands still – rudderless, without effective government – it is fraying, not just at the edges, but right through its body politic. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is moving on, technological change advancing, and climate change speeding up.
“I would suggest that a stronger model for future relationships between the nations of Britain is the close collaboration that has developed between the Benelux countries – Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
“It’s a matter of finding new, more independent but also more equal ways of living together, ones that I believe will prove to be more comfortable and certainly more congenial.
“We want to create a new Wales, to be sure. But this won’t be possible unless at the same time we are part of making a new Britain. This will be a Britain in which its three nations live alongside each in equality, and as a result, in greater harmony.”
Of the Benelux model, Mr Price went on to say:
“I would argue that by pooling their powers within both Benelux and the European Union, the three countries have enlarged and strengthened their sovereignty. By operating closely together they have obtained greater flexibility and reach in the exercise of national power, grown their economies, and enhanced their presence on the world stage.
“So, I would argue, the analogy is readily made of what could be possible with a Britannic Confederation between England, Scotland and Wales.
“There could be political co-operation with a British-wide assembly or parliament, made up of representatives from the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Senedd, and what would, by then, be an English House of Commons. This might meet in Cardiff.
“There could be a Council of Ministers, which would be an evolution of the present-day Joint Ministerial Committee of Ministers in the Cabinet Office, but reconstituted on the basis of equality between the confederal partners. This might be located in London – but why not Liverpool? That most Anglo-Celtic of all English cities.
“And there could be a reconstituted court structure, with the present Supreme Court acting as a higher, confederal court, above the High Courts of Wales, Scotland and England, but below the European court system. This could be located in Edinburgh.
“All this would be entirely compatible with Britain remaining a member of the European Union, but I would argue, it will be made much more pressing and necessary if Britain were to leave.”