Six difficult questions about Welsh independence we need to answer

Mike Hedges AM (centre) speaks at the first event of Labour Party group ‘Labour for an Independent Wales’ at Yr Atom, Carmarthen. (Photo: Gruffydd Thomas).

Ben Gwalchmai

Labour is a party of discussion, innovation, and change, and we don’t shy away from the difficult questions.

It’s in that spirit that we held our first Labour for an Independent Wales event in Carmarthen last Friday.

These difficult questions were supplied by Mike Hedges AM, who let us know immediately that he was not convinced of the need for independence. He saw DevoMax as the best option.

He listed six questions that needed to be tackled before Labour could make the case for a referendum on Welsh independence:

  1. What currency should we have?
  2. Do we need a central bank?
  3. How should government agencies be split or replicated?
  4. How do we apportion debt?
  5. How do we continue pensions and social security payments?
  6. How do we divide the Armed Forces?


These are all robust and wise challenges to the question of a Welsh independence referendum.

Though I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I felt many of Mike’s questions have been answered by research collated by Yes Cymru’s Independence in Your Pocket or the State of Wales blogs.

  1. What currency to have? It’s my opinion that we should have our own, floating currency for flexibility. The State of Wales blogs have looked extensively at currency and says that a Welsh Currency, pegged to pound-sterling would provide both a level of autonomy and consistency that would see a structural benefit in the short-medium term.
  2. Do we need a central bank? Yes. We need a central Bank of Wales. For focus, for understanding the Welsh economy better, and for better analysis for the Welsh Government.
  3. How should government agencies be split or replicated? Government agencies will have to be replicated in whichever country doesn’t currently have them: we have the DVLA, England has the DWP. No nation can rely on another nation to operate such an essential, centralized system.
  4. How do we apportion debt? Apportioning national debt should be done by population. Unfortunately, it seems any negotiations with the current UK government might see them making fantasy demands. It’s important to note Gwynoro Jones’ first words at our roundtable, ‘Almost all countries have debt and a deficit. The UK has £1.92trillion debt. No-one asks if the UK can afford to be a state.’
  5. How to continue pensions and social security payments? We transition pensions and social security payments by making new, more progressive and more efficient systems for our newly established country while continuing with the old systems until all those who were born into them have been transferred. A transition phase.
  6. How do we divide the division of the Armed Forces? How was it done in Ireland or India? There are models that can be replicated.

Mike Hedges also argued that contemporary nations need be a part of a larger trading bloc, and then discussed the qualities desired in such a bloc.

This is something we agree with him on, but not necessarily which bloc.

In my opinion, he spelled out the qualities of the EU but, of course, the Brexit vote of 2016 must be addressed and respected.

Convincing new Labour members of the need for a distinct Wales won’t be easy but the numbers don’t lie: the House of Commons is a de facto English Parliament and Labour stands for equality.

We feel that by working with the party, in positive discussions, rather than against it is the best way to bring new members to be interested in independence.

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  1. Richard Jenkins

    Lovely stuff! All very important questions. However, these are not the questions that most people on the doorstep ask. That question is, how will survive? How can we be viable as a nation? The lack of confidence and self belief is a mountainous problem in Cymru. A mountain built in conjunction with the Tories by Welsh Labour. A mountain that Welsh Labour adds to most days. That’s the problem! What is Welsh Labour going to do to reverse this build up of and reinforcing of this disgraceful inferiority complex and the resulting Stockholm complex it causes? All the other stuff is really interesting and very debateable. However, the majority are not ready for any of these questions! As most sadly, because of Welsh Labours hatred of Plaid Cymru has driven and escalated this gigantic lack of national self belief. The twisted interpretation of internationalism that denies nations self determination has driven many on the left to ignore the wisdom of the great Socialist John MaClean, who was clear that you can’t have ‘internationalism’ without self determined nations! Other wise it’s just Imperialist Stalinism
    Despite there being over 18 nations in Europe smaller than us, many with far less natural resource and one of them being the 2nd richest nation on Earth, the people of Cymry still ‘Labour’ under the impression that we are not worthy!

    This is the challenge that Labour for an independent Cymru has to address, not these detailed policies that will work themselves out naturally, once the people of Cymru get their self belief back! And believe me thanks to their fellow members and predecessors, its a massive challenge!

    • Paul Harding

      Come a referendum/debate people on the doorstep will ask questions about the currency they’ll use and what happens to their state pensions.

      Those will be bigger issues than the ‘confidence’ of a nation.

      See Scotland, 2014 for an example.

  2. Capitalist and Welshnash

    Whilst i value and support a Pro-Wales Labour movement, what group we need to draw support for independence from more than any other are Conservatives and liberals. We need Tories, traditionalists and Liberals to come forward as pro-Welsh independence. Only then will the independence movement be able to say it represents all of Wales.

  3. If only Plaid Cymru spent a little time during the last 18 years of devolution actually addressing some of these basic points raised by Mike Hedges. Our independence movement should be able to answer his basic points easily. Pensions, for example, will still be paid by the UK government after independence because people have paid into a pension fund. This was confirmed during the Scottish referendum by the UK government themselves – rather like if a UK citizen moved abroad, they still receive their pension from the UK. The issue I have is that Plaid Cymru are allowing British nationalists an open goal by not even mentioning independence. Time to pull their socks up.

  4. In addition, Labour’s plan for devo-max is a non-starter. Either they have to decide that Wales and Scotland are regions of the UK like the midlands, which basically means that Wales and Scotland are second class nations and not equal to England in a supposed union, or they have to decide that England will have a parliament and this is something they won’t support. Devo Max can’t work as the nations of the UK are too different in size. This is the reason that Labour, even though they use Devo Max as a rallying cry to try and stop independence, have not developed any policy or strategy to implement it.

  5. Dafydd Thomas

    Q1. Currency question not difficult. Floating ok. Mervin King thought the debate on currency in Scotland a bit if a storm in a teacup, or, more of a political spat. He said “despite the positions of the two sides, the currency question does not need to be at the centre of the debate. In other words it’s not a difficult question as you define it.

    Q2. Yes

    Q3. Adopt as necessary.

    Q4. Pro rata. Remember we have more English than they have Welsh.

    Q5. Pensions. When Welsh state set up those at 16 will have pensions allocated to Welsh government. Those at 65 will have pensions allocated from the current govt. those aged between 16 and 65 will have theirs apportioned by their age at independence. Let the actuaries sort the details.Question, what about the large number of English retired to Wales, England would have to pick up the tab, also they would have to take out private health insurance. Remember There are more English over 65 in Wales than the whole of Spain but we don’t pay for them. Welsh who go to England are young
    There is a large number of English in social housing in Wales 100,000 +. Social cleansing means that most on benefit, England to pick up the tab and they will need health insurance. Many vulnerable with serious health issues.

    Q6. As Ireland.

  6. “In my opinion, he spelled out the qualities of the EU but, of course, the Brexit vote of 2016 must be addressed and respected.”

    No. The EU is the only bloc to which we could belong and the only other adjacent bloc is the Russian Confederation. No matter what people say the numbers are that around 26% of out population and 36% of our electorate voted leave. This is not a majority and whilst it should be acknowledged it is both foolish and dishonest to claim this as a mandate fro economic suicide.

    I wish you luck with Labour and independence. Mike’s questions are important but they are answerable. Probably not by a party that refuses to constitute itself as a separate Welsh Party.

  7. 6. Wales does not need a military. Be a modern, pacifist state. Have an emergency rescue service for civil disasters but not an armed force.

  8. Before any of these questions are considered I would argue there’s a more fundamental one to pose. What exactly is ‘Wales’? Is it a shared love of rugby, choirs, Eisteddfodau and Cerdd Dant? If so then I am indifferent to all of them- but yet I was born in Wales. And if it’s down to mere geography then is a holiday-cottage owner in Gwynedd as much of a ‘Welsh person’ as, say, Max Boyce or Cynan? I was born into a Welsh speaking family and a Welsh speaking culture stretching back generations but, even so, I can’t put my finger on what defines ‘Welshness’ any more than I could define ‘Englishness’. I’ve often had more in common with someone from London or Brighton than I have with someone from Aber. (Any ‘Aber’.) I am Welsh but I am many things besides. I struggle to define myself just by where I was born. It’s interesting to know where people come from but I don’t attach any real cultural significance to it any more than I do to which football team they happen to support. The concept of ‘Wales’ is as nebulous as that of ‘England’- both are as slippery as a mackerel. The people of Beddgelert are as different to the people of the Rhondda as a person from Sunderland would be to one from Canterbury. Many may define ‘Wales’ as ‘not England’. But that’s not good enough I fear.

    • You could apply that to any part of the planet though……are you advocating world communism? Because that still needs localism and devolved power.

      Also the many decades of having constant London mass media and a lack of connecting infrastructure and culture in Wales ….means you were bound to have a lot in common with others in Britain

    • you cant define welshness…….??? You could say the same about englishness………..that could lead to arguing for Yorkshire independence…… goes both ways

    • the concept of the UK is also nebulous then…………all nations are social constructs

  9. Tame Frontiersman

    These are not so much “difficult questions” as technical issues which could become political.

    2 other important issues occur to me to add to Mike Hedges list:

    Q7 Nationality: eligibility for Welsh citizenship; reciprocal rights of Welsh and English citizens in England and Wales

    Q8 Trans-border transport (road, air and esp. rail). There would probably have to be some sort of joint commission to oversee this.

    The Labour Party delivered devolution for Wales in 1997. Could it deliver independence by 2027?

    By the early 2020s there could well be a Labour Party in power in both Westminster and Cardiff Bay. If both were persuaded that the future for England and Wales was as separate states, negotiations could begin on the terms of separation. On conclusion, the people of Wales [and England?] would have a chance to vote on the deal in a referendum.

    Many people would argue that the very thought of this is precluded by a strong steak of unionism in the Labour party which certainly didn’t die with George Thomas (though the Labour Party has mostly been a supporter of a United Ireland) and indeed there are those who argue that devolution may be viewed by the current leadership of the Party in London as an irrelevance or hindrance to a Labour government in Westminster delivering a radical agenda. So why might the Labour Party in power in the 2020s be remotely interested in the break-up of the UK?

    Over the broad sweep of the Labour Party’s history its record in winning enough seats in England to form a government has been patchy. There was the 1945 moment and something similar may be stirring support for Labour now. To get into power in 1997 Labour had to rebrand and swing to the right. Mr Cameron called himself the “the Heir to Blair” and indeed one could imagine that both of those men could have served in a cabinet together without a great many issues dividing them. So what is it then about the Conservative and Unionist Party that makes it so resilient? Is it what Mrs May described in her speech outside No10 on becoming Prime Minister as this “Precious Union”. Is it the case that if the Union were to be dismantled support for the Conservative and Unionist Party would ebb as its aging membership passes on?

    70 years ago a quarter of the world was “British” Britishness was an imperial project. A leader, and an English one, is needed who can finally rid the nations of the UK of what is now only a delusional, isolationist, backward-looking British Nationalism and the self-harming illusion of British Exceptionalism. There is a window of opportunity for a Labour leader to do this as part of a radical, transformative agenda. Wales, Scotland and England would then be freed to build on their past, separate and distinctive achievements in ideas, science, technology, arts and sport– “on the shoulders of giants” indeed, with renewed vigour.

    • Of all the strategies to adopt in order to bring about an independent Cymru the Bonnie Tyler one has got to be a contender for the twpest.

      “Where have all the good men gone
      And where are all the gods?
      Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?
      Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
      Late at night I toss and I turn
      And I dream of what I need

      I need a hero “

  10. These are technical issues that as mentioned may be politicised when a debate begins, the fact that such a meeting between labour members is a positive thing as any successful independence movement will need to take Labour with it.

    This meeting however doesn’t mean that the debate has reached the mainstream, but sites like this, and social media mean that more people are engaging with the question of wether Wales should be independent.

    Questions of identity are important as without the a majority defining themselves as Welsh then independence is a non-starter, but this could be a civic nationalism as promoted by Plaid Cymru. The argument that one has more in common with somone in Brighton than Bethesda is banal, and is nothing to do with how people come together to organise society and government. There is enough historical, social and cultural glue to bind most people in Wales together, even if some individuals don’t feel it, there will always be some who feel this way.

    Apart from this it is based on residency, somone English living in Blaenavon can identify as English, and still understand and support independence as the best method of supporting his / her local economy community etc.

    The main challenge is the democratic infrastructure that is sadly almost non-existent, journalism, newspapers TV and Radio are almost all ultimately run from outside Wales. We cannot expect to successfully propose yet alone win a referendum without the electorate having access to some form of indigenous information/media. Welsh Labour (and Plaid as I was reminded lately) have benefitted from this “democratic deficit” being able to operate and govern with little scrutiny, or accountability. 18 years of devolution and not addressing this problem may mean that instead of talking about independence in 10 years we are still justifying the existence of Welsh institutions such as the assembly, the Welsh language and ultimately the reversal of devolution via great repeal bill and Brexit. In 10 years we could look back to now and say how close we were to independence whilst sitting in a county of Englandandwales.

  11. I suspect that these arguments and debates regarding the minutiae of some mythical neo-Narnia may be interesting pub fodder for Plaid supporters as they puff on their (smoke-free) pipes but, in that big real world outside- whilst this debate rages in the snug- most people in Wales are watching Corrie, cleaning their cars, thinking about a possible winter break in Benidorm and struggling with Proust. I’m with them.

    (With the Proust bit anyway).

  12. Every state has difficult and controversial issues to address. It is a tactic of Unionists to lure independence supporters into addressing those questions prematurely in order to try to split the pro-independence movement. There is no need to resolve the currency issue ahead of actual independence, otherwise than on an interim basis. The reality is that indy Wales should start by continuing to use GBP. It would be perfectly viable to continue on that basis until the policy decisions are taken and if necessary institutions created to move beyond that interim arrangement. My view is that we would of course need a central bank and would need to devise a plan for transition to EU and Eurozone membership. But why get ensnared in those debates now?

  13. Apportionment of national debt? By population, OK, but adjusted for the duscrepancy in per capita GDP between Wales and rUK

  14. Armed forces— I favour leaving all of the existing personnel with rUK and simply taking back the estate and installations on our territory. The culture and purpose of a Welsh defence force would be so utterly alien to that of the Brutish Army that it would be better to build from scratch (as I think the Irish did)

  15. Splitting of agencies? Yes, this would be necessary, but as part of an orderly transition plan spanning periods pre- and post-independence. There is no reason in principle why administrative services should not be provided cross-border during a transitional period

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