Let’s have confidence in Wales, let’s walk the road to independence
Adam Price writes for the Sunday Times
This article was published in the Sunday Times, 18 December 2022
The way that Wales is governed is not sustainable. We’ve said it time and time again in Plaid Cymru, and last week it was confirmed by a Welsh Government commission.
The Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, chaired by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, and Professor Laura McAllister of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, was established as a result of the Co-operation Agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government in November 2021.
The commission was given two broad objectives. Firstly, to consider and develop options for fundamental reform of the constitutional structures of the United Kingdom, in which Wales remains an integral part. Its second objective was to consider and develop all progressive principal options to strengthen Welsh democracy and deliver improvements for the people of Wales.
Last week, the Commission presented its interim report, which concludes that “there are significant problems with the way Wales is currently governed.”
In order to resolve this impasse, they say that there are three viable options for the way forward for Wales – entrenched devolution, federal structures and independence.
This is a significant development, as it is the first time that an official, taxpayer-funded report has highlighted Welsh independence, not just as a choice, but as a viable, credible option for the future of Wales.
Contrast this with another report published in the same week: Gordon Brown’s timid, damp squib commission on the future of the UK.
Gordon Brown’s report showed clearly that the Labour Party are paying absolutely no attention to the Welsh Government, the only national government that it currently runs within the UK. It signalled a lack of understanding of how Wales works on a basic level, at one point referencing ‘The Welsh Assembly Government’ – a term that has been null and void since 2011.
More worryingly, the Brown report shows an ignorance of where the debate is at in Wales on several issues, many of which the Labour party’s Welsh wing has been campaigning for over several election cycles.
It completely ignores the call for devolution on issues like energy, rail and broadcasting, and its only specific proposal is to devolve youth justice and probation. The case for the whole of policing and justice to be devolved has been made and accepted in the Senedd and even backed by a clear majority of the electorate. However, it’s clear that to the Labour Party, Westminster remains sacrosanct.
Only hours after the publication of the Welsh Commission’s report, Caroline Harris MP, Welsh Labour’s deputy leader, placed herself in opposition to Welsh Labour’s policy, stating that she preferred that ‘some issues like policing’ stay in Westminster.
In contrast to this ‘can’t do’ view of Wales, Plaid Cymru are confident that in Wales we can set our own path. In the same week that the Brown report was finally released, Plaid Cymru published our evidence to the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, titled ‘The Road to Independence’.
In our opinion, the status quo of devolution in an unequal UK is not sustainable. Gordon Brown’s proposals – even if they were enacted in full by the hyper-cautious Mr Starmer – far from entrenching devolution, perpetuate Westminster supremacy. And federalism can never work in a multi-national state in which the Celtic nations will always be out-numbered, out-manoeuvred and out-voted.
Evidence we commissioned by Professor John Doyle, of Dublin City University, has provided us with a new and liberating approach to the fiscal starting point of an independent Wales. Professor Doyle debunks the argument that we are too small and too poor to thrive as an independent nation. Time and time again, we have heard wild estimates about the likely fiscal gap that would exist if we were to become independent that bear no relation to reality. Our evidence shows, once and for all, that ‘fantasy economics’ are peddled by those who are against, rather than for independence.
However, we acknowledge that independence will not happen overnight, or as fast as we may hope. As with our experience of winning the National Assembly in the 1997 referendum, and then gaining a law-making Senedd in the 2011 referendum, we will build the road to independence with the political resources to hand, be they building-blocks, stepping-stones or bridges. Our interim proposal of a Free Association Wales, may be, as the Independent Commission agrees, such a bridge to independence. This is the same option that the United States House of Representatives as just voted to present to the people of Puerto Rico – international sovereignty in free association, alongside independence and becoming an integral part of the US.
A long-time professor of economics at the University of Puerto Rico, Leopold Kohr, inspired the global small is beautiful movement and, when he moved to Wales in the 1960s inspired a new generation to believe that Welsh independence was not just viable, but desirable and necessary.
Despite other telling us that we ‘can’t do’, or that we can only manage with the constitutional crumbs from Westminster’s table, Plaid Cymru has remained true to his vision of a Wales that is flourishing in the fullest sense. The road to independence may be long, but the prize is surely worth the wait, a Wales that is healthier, wealthier, greener and fairer. That progress that will only come when we learn to walk our own path. We’ve learned to sing a song of defiant survival: Yma o Hyd (We Are Still Here). Now it’s time to move our nation forward, or as we say in our language, ymlaen!