Lessons of the pandemic for our post-Covid future
1. It’s up to us
There is nothing we cannot do together as a nation. By following our own path – a path that’s right for our communities and a path that’s right for Wales – we’ve seen some of the most effective action. The Covid crisis has reaffirmed the value of the limited measure of self-government we have, and shown the importance of acting independently from Westminster.
From Ceredigion’s early contact tracing system to the local primary care teams who, fed up of waiting for a centralised health system far removed from their communities to organise the vaccine rollout, came together and did it for themselves. We’ve seen that the people who live and work in Wales are best placed to keep us safe. The solutions to our problems will come from all of us, collectively, not from the distant power of another parliament in another place or from a government which we did not elect meddling in our affairs.
2. The services and goods we all depend on are priceless
We’ve come to recognise and appreciate how much we depend on basic services that are crucial for our survival and the value of the providers such as our food producers. We cannot afford not to invest properly in the most basic necessities. However, Wales is trapped into a Westminster political system that is increasingly based on selfishness and greed. It does not reflect our values, nor guarantees our most basic needs. Public services outsourced and stripped to the bone by Westminster’s decade of austerity left us exposed and underprepared in the eye of the storm.
Closer to home, we’ve also seen a system that has gone seriously wrong – a higher education system which is driven not by education but by the market, which puts profits before students and public health. We’ve seen the con that is the notion of providing care – one of our most fundamental needs as humans – for profit. In Wales, like in England, we have also fallen into the trap of spending public money to lure in companies from the outside to provide jobs, rather than growing our own small and medium sized businesses. We’ve offered generous government subsidies for the transport network – which is there to serve all of us – to be run as a business, only for the business owners to walk away when there is no longer a profit to be made. In the end, it’s the Welsh taxpayer who has to foot the bill and pay the price of towing the Westminster line and following Westminster’s mindset.
3. Anything is possible, if we want it to happen
The pandemic has forced change and shown what is possible when politicians and public service leaders had to change, and change quickly familiar and comfortable ways of working. There has been much talk of ending homelessness over twenty years of devolution, but the political will was lacking. When Covid struck, the tired status quo was forced into action and homelessness was ended overnight on the streets of Cardiff. We can’t go back to how things were before.
4. Britain is broken
Over the past months, we have seen the best and the worst of humanity. The best – in the unfaltering, unstinting work of our local key workers and volunteers. The worst – in the Westminster politicians in power who reacted too late and brought us extreme inequality, and with it the highest death rate in Europe.
Indeed, the pandemic has exposed the reality of modern Britain: a state defined by crushing poverty, ruled by a corrupt élite that gives contracts to its friends and denies furlough to its neighbours, spending billions on a failed contact tracing system run for profit by the private sector. We saw beyond any doubt that Westminster provides no ‘insurance policy’ as it didn’t pay out when we needed to extend furlough to have a longer Firebreak in November last year.
In developed countries, it is those with deeper inequalities that have the highest number of deaths – the United States and the United Kingdom – as societies not united but divided by class, geography, race and wealth. But Wales, by 2021, had suffered the worst death rate even in the context of Britain. We also saw that Westminster is no vehicle to advance the interests of working people or improve anyone’s lives – like Wales, the effects of the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on post-industrial communities, in northern England too, and exacerbated the longstanding regional disparities of the British state. In contrast, as an independent country, we could have paid people to isolate properly and get ahead of the virus.
5. The people of Wales must take charge of their future
As if there was ever any doubt we can now say categorically that Westminster does not work for Wales. Whichever London party is in charge, Wales will never be Westminster’s priority and our priorities will not be guaranteed by Westminster. Wales and Westminster are increasingly two different universes in which:
- There is a 1 per cent pay rise for nurses and a 44 per cent increase for nuclear weapons.
- There is historic underfunding in our country’s railways, whilst more than £100 billion is spent on HS2 which will connect the country next door with no consequential for a high speed railway between the north and south of our country.
- £12 billion is spent on renovating the Palace of Westminster, whilst Wales’ directly elected parliament is bypassed and stripped of its powers, undermining the devolution that the people of Wales have voted for on no less than 14 occasions, through two referendums and delivering pro-devolution majorities in every election since 1997.
The time has come for Wales to choose its future – a future in our hands or a future determined in and by Westminster.