‘To take a short-termist economic perspective on Wales, we have to go back to 1298’.
So joked Professor Calvin Jones at our Labour for an Independent Wales [L4IW] event but in every joke there is a grain of truth.
He followed it up by making his point very clear: we in Wales suffer the consequences of an economic structure built on colonialism.
Professor Jones highlighted how Wales, Scotland, and Ireland’s place in the UK is as resource peripheries, there to be exploited by the central economy of London and South East England.
This article is an answer to one question Professor Jones asked during his talk, which is: ‘How can you build prosperity if you are continually sending over… the best of your young people, the best of your natural resources?’
The blue-sky thinking put forward here is just the beginning of my thoughts on #WhenWalesIsIndependent but I hope it encourages discussion and adds to the debate.
I’ve divided my response into three parts: identity, infrastructure, and internationalism.
It isn’t up to me to articulate other future Waleses. It’s up to the young Tories and the young liberals and whoever else wishes to fight their corner to articulate those other future identities – my future is a socialist future.
A future where extreme inequality like we see now, is no longer possible. Where no one lives in fuel poverty while Wales produces twice as much electricity as it uses.
To me this means being both the red of Labour and the green of a sustainable future because I think valuing those above all else, cares for society best.
What does this mean in practice? It means building on the work that Labour is already doing but also being prepared for the future.
The foundational economy is an example of the good work already being done that could do with a further focus on revaluing those sectors while bringing foresters and carbon sequesters into the grouping.
Being prepared for the future means two things: the first is Universal Basic Income and the second is a Welsh Engineering Corps [WEC].
The Welsh Engineering Corps would conscript the young people of Wales to work for a common goal for two years.
Why? Because we have a nation-building problem: there are already 3 Waleses within the Wales we have and they hardly talk.
From my own Maldwyn/Montgomeryshire perspective, I found the notion of ‘British Wales’ both painful & painfully accurate when I first heard it.
We must bring the Gogs to better understand the Hwntws, the Marcher Men to understand the Over Theres – simply through learning, planting, and working together.
Wouldn’t a compulsory Engineering Corps solve two nation-building problems? One, understanding our fellow Cymraeg [thus building a cohesive national identity] and two, actually building the infrastructure we’re so lacking.
Both are as valuable, as essential as the other. The WEC could not only bring all walks of life together but could act as a political voice for necessary changes of direction.
Some believe that we can skip over the need for train infrastructure in favour of electric planes but those planes are unlikely to be ready to take over 10 people until 2080.
To build a truly prosperous nation, we need to give our young people a taste of all their country first. We need to literally, physically join up the north and south.
This means reopening the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line, yes, but it also means building a fast north-south line.
By L4IW’s [conservative, rough] calculations, a line from Cardiff to Caersws would cost £3.3billion. Let’s double that to get from Caersws to Llandudno Junction and then let’s round it up, just in case: £7billion to connect all of Wales.
Yes, it’s worth it. £10 billion would be worth it. No, it’s not a pipe dream – it’s damned affordable to ensure that a student from Bala chooses our capital or Aberystwyth over Liverpool or Manchester.
To ensure that our Caernarfon businesses can trade as easily with Cardiff as they can with Chester; to ensure our politicians are on the trains we use.
When a Welsh Engineering Corps plants the layers of trees, pletches hedges around it, and continues to observe & improve habitats then we’ll have Green Corridors for our wildlife, too.
The second most important thing we need to do is part-nationalize our sustainable electricity, rail, intra-Wales planes, and water production.
We must do this to reap the same benefits as any shareholders but also to stop the presumption that Welsh Government’s focus is on the next jobs report. Government must focus on the long-term future as well as manage the present.
Then there are options like:
- abolishing private schools
- triple-tax 2nd homes everywhere and prohibit turning them into businesses
- introducing graduated corporation tax on turnover in Wales irrespective of where the company is registered
- Robin Hood & windfall taxes
- 4 or 5 new income tax bands
- personal allowance up to 17k
- make public buses free
- scrap tuition fees & school league tables
- end military recruitment of under-18s
- the mass building of social housing
- ban privatization of prisons – be more like The Netherlands in our approach to crime & prisons
And that’s just the beginning!
In the preceding three paragraphs is a literal & social infrastructure which gives the future a strong chance.
We already have world-class art, talent, and produce so when I say a future economy of Wales should focus on internationalism, I’m not talking about trading goods.
No. I’m talking about using Ynys Môn as more than just a port, about using the Brecons as more than just the British playground.
Let’s use our spaces for future-facing projects: let’s make Ynys Môn a spaceport and let’s hire out our no-fly zones and our rough terrain to NATO militaries.
It goes without saying that our culture and creativity brings the world here but could the earlier suggested WEC go out into the world and help build infrastructure?
We could develop a WEC+ that enables our young people to stay there for another 3 years to get a degree, learn future-preparedness from all over the world, and do good work, internationally.
The simple truth is that we need to work as both a part of the UK – even with England in its current temper tantrum – and free to do our own thing on the international stage.
Perhaps this is the beginnings of a business plan, perhaps it isn’t. It’s a start on a future.
We will be a weird, wonderful corner of the world so long as we embrace our identity, infrastructure, and internationalism. Soon.