#WhenWalesIsIndependent: Building the Wales of the future

Ben Gwalchmai

‘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.

This ties into Bleddyn Bowen’s work in both, examining the opportunities and the risks.

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.

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  1. Capitalist and Welshnash

    The kind of Wales you are talking about sounds like one where civil liberties are of secondary importance, and I would spend my life fighting it.

    What Wales needs is to break Labour hegemony at all costs. It is damaging this country more than anything
    since the Acts of Union. Walk around the Valleys, look at the disparagement. That’s what 100 years of Labour has done. Don’t blame Westminster, let’s look in the mirror and take responsibility. Labour’s Conformity is not the answer.

    E. g. Conscripting young people into a corps. It’s authoritarian, and it’s wrong. Also, mass building of anything encourages conformity which creates a plebian mindset and eventually, proletarian anger. The very thing you want to end via the Labour Party.

    • Strongly agree , CapNash!
      Most of us have already thought about the national electricity, rail, water and prison stuff, so that’s possible.
      But a lot of this fist in the air, red scarf in the sunset, gives me the gulag willies.
      Only capitalism will get the wagon rolling. I see small government, lower taxes for industry and even lower for families
      enabling them to live in architect designed, multi income private housing communities with their own primary schools
      and area heating systems. And that’s just the beginning…………………

      • Hey both,

        This is great to see – exactly the kind of responses I’d both expected and hoped for. Thanks for them. That’s why I wrote,

        “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.”

        I’d just like to clarify my WEC suggestion a little: I think it a pragmatic answer to the call for a return to National Service but also something that gives to society for two years which can mean society can give free higher education for 3 years. It’s a question of balance, not of authoritarianism. Where the current Israeli government requires 2 years and 8 months minimum national service, 2 years paid work that enables a green future seems a fair alternative.

        There would have to be an alternative offered to 18 year olds and I’d love to hear suggestions for it. If you then go on, as most have when I’ve suggested this before, to say we need National [military] service, then one might accuse that suggestion of authoritarianism just as much as the WEC.

        With that clarified, I’d heartily encourage you to write your vision for a future identity for Wales. There’s room and the discussions would be fruitful. Why not write something that’s #WhenWalesIsIndependent from your point of view?

        Thanks again.

        • CambroUiDunlainge

          If this was all about Balance we’d be talking about ideas that are more ideologically centrist mirroring the bulk of voter who are not politically aligned. 😉

          Not sure we can pick and choose where and when balance is necessary – it either is or is not. An example being Socialism has a strong support in Wales – but that’s because the system has become so unequal. The voter will bring balance.

        • Okay, Ben. Six days later and maybe a few like ‘self might have bent a little on the WEC, as it might give our youth a
          feeling of fellowship. When I was thinking of this, though, I only saw young men, not women. Don’t Israeli women
          take part to some extent?

  2. A period of public / national service is no more authoritarian than the state claiming part of your earnings and property (aka taxation). I don’t really like “isms” of any kind because they involve the direction of policy by ideological dogma rather than the needs and interests of real people and communities. Nonetheless I find much in this programme that is appealing, whatever the author chooses to call it

  3. And I agree that effective government of Wales and the development of a dynamic economy is not possible without an efficient national transport system. At this point, the focus should be on major rail investments, including the North-South link

  4. Warren Davies

    I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with the proposals, but it is great to hear some specific ideas of what an independent Wales could do. This kind of thing gets people’s imaginations going. Independence for its own sake, or for historic or governance reasons just isn’t going to excite the general public.

    Plaid Cymru ran a website a few years back as part of the their ‘Million Conversations’ campaign. This website was excellent for allowing anyone to post and/or discuss different ideas for Wales. Sadly the website, ‘Million Ideas’ is now closed.

  5. How does the governance of NATO work? Is it one country one vote, such that as a member Cymru would have the same amount of influence in decision making as the USA? Or is it contributionist such that it depends on how much different countries are funding NATO activities. How would this be counted, since to do so would be necessary to separate ‘national’ from ‘NATO’ activities of each country’s military. Being in NATO might make Wales a target for the Russians or Chinese in the event of a war, but in a total war it could be anyway, NATO member or not.

    I am also not convinced that a conscripted corps is a sensible way to deliver major infrastructure projects like a north-south high speed railway in the 21st century rather than a (nationalised or not) company with regular employees. It is a more complex and technical kind of project than it was in the days when most of the work was done with manual labour by men with shovels.

    High speed rail may be overkill for a country the size of Wales, because it could be a waste of money to have one high speed line from Cardiff to Llandudno, but everywhere else must rely on much slower trains to reach it. Better to spend less money on a standard speed north-south line, and then have enough money left to upgrade local services. A high speed line will be more expensive due to the larger radius of curvature requirement which means more tunneling, more difficult decisions and expense in demolishing whatever is in the way of the line etc.

  6. Agree that conscription sounds too authoritarian. There should be incentives for young people to take a career in engineering: I found that career has good job satisfaction.

    As an independent nation Wales (nor Scotland or Ireland for that matter) should not be inviting that USA led imperialist block NATO onto our lands. They have a record of supporting colonial powers in the past 70 years including Against Vietnam’s independence,
    sided with colonial wars of pre-1974 Portugal in Africa, Overthrew the elected government in Chile in 1973, Yugoslavia, and Libya !
    In fact, Libya was one of the richest countries in Africa and able to take refugees escaping from other conflict zones in the region – Then Nato arrived: turned it into a conflict zone base for diash and now those refugees, not wanted there, seek to across the Med sea into southern Europe !

  7. As another mid-Wales based Nationalist but with a bent towards small-government, pro-business solutions, I see things in this article to strongly support and vehemently oppose in equal measure, and I’m glad that Ben has anticipated that response.

    Overall, though, I’m delighted to see the debate move beyond “Should Wales be Independent?” to “What sort of a country should an independent Wales be?”

  8. Capitalist and Welshnash

    Labour has always periodically drifted towards authoritarianism.

    That’s not an independent Wales worth fighting for. It’s an independent Wales worth laying down your life if need be to fight against.

    Wales is better than Left-wing Authoritianism.

    • CambroUiDunlainge

      I’d kind of feel there’s an authoritarianism in there as others have said. I think that’s the real threat to democracy. It can surface from any ideology and and from any form of governance. It may work in the short run but we do not know what tomorrow may bring and how those leading our nation tomorrow may react (this is why I’m so vehemently against a nation built around any ideology – it does not reflect the bulk of the electorate to do this). Independence right now is all about tomorrow – its possibilities but also its pitfalls and the dangers that we should have learnt about by now. That doesn’t just include the rise of authoritarian leaders like Stalin or Hitler… but goes as far back as Caesar and Gaius Marius.

  9. Some good points here from Ben Gwalchmai, but I’m afraid that his vision for a future socialist Wales leaves me cold.

    Especially when one bears in mind that “socialism” has been the defining attribute of the Labour Party which has mis-managed Wales so dreadfully for the best part of a century.

    The challenges of setting up an Independent Wales are such that only a productive, entrepreneurial and dynamic mind-set can ensure that it can be a success. That has to mean a much expanded private sector, and an instinctive drive to turn Wales into the best small country in the world.

    There is no way that an over-arching socialist vision with its ingrained statism, authoritarianism and suspicions about wealth creation can be up to this nation-building challenge.

    I would be in favour of a publically-run rail service, and a wider publically-run infrastructure network to provide the building blocks for a new economy- but then the state then needs to get out of the way to allow a new generation of Welsh entrepreneurs to come up with bespoke business solutions for our country.

    Look at the small independent nations which have emerged in Europe over the last 10-20 years, which are the equivalent to Wales population-wise, e.g Estonia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia: it’s not socialism which has allowed them to develop so quickly and increase their GDP levels so rapidly( from where they were under communism). It’s basically a renewed sense of national purpose allied to common-sense economic policies mainly tailored on the capitalistic model.

    Of course the Corporate Capitalism of the past generation or so has been an unmitigated disaster for people and communities in Wales and most of the rest of these isles. It’s a totally discredited model.

    As Adam Smith,the Scottish philosopher put it succinctly back in the 18th century ” Capitalism can only work when people trust each other”.

    Wales is the right size for us to develop a small-scale and humane capitalism based on trust which can deliver for our people.

    • Dafydd Thomas

      I have to agree with you Aled. What is Ben thinking when he wants “a mass building of social housing”. At present we in Wales are providing large numbers of social housing in response to the needs of England. Where both English Tory and English labour authorities are pushing people out, especially those who have psychological and physical problems who are therefore unable to work and are expensive to keep i.e. High health and social care costs. Better spend money on infrastructure and get the economy going and give opportunities to our young people.

      I have to admire Ben taking on the Labour Dinasours but feel he is slotting in items uncritically, which are counterproductive, to suit the ism to which he subscribes.

  10. To achieve all that would require us to cut all ties with Westminster, something l would fully support.

  11. Along with others, I would be vehemently opposed to the idea of a conscripted WEC. There may well be a need for some kind of national service offering that is voluntary, that offers young people an opportunity to spend some time both working on projects of social benefit to our nation, and also acquiring experience of working life in a safe and supportive environment with others of a similar age. It could become something of a ‘right of passage’ for those transitioning to adulthood. It could be a very positive environment that allows young people to find out about their strengths and weaknesses and perhaps help guide them towards a future career, or as Ben has suggested, to university study. However, it must be completely voluntary, and also transparent, and above all, democratic, (and democracy should also be part and parcel of our education system from day one at primary school). One important role for such an agency could be to assist in the building of the social housing we so desperately need, as I would envisage that, for efficiency’s sake, speed and high standards, a large degree of prefabrication be involved, and if designs were based on Walter Segal principles, a large variation in styles could be achieved using standardised, mass produced components.

    I was also horrified about the suggestion that Wales should continue as NATO’s playground. Shouldn’t an independent Wales be adamant in it’s strict neutrality? Since the age of 15, when I began to realise that NATO was just a US led bloc intended to use Europe as the stage for the USA’s defence I have been opposed to it. There is some need for European co-operation, and co-ordination on military matters, but this must stop short of a power bloc, and must include countries currently more or less prohibited, nay indeed, antagonised by the USA and her European poodles. Particularly worrying is the UK’s sycophantic approach to the USA. As long as England wants any kind of alliance with the USA, then it must be regarded with extreme suspicion.

    As far as military service is concerned, I think that it must be restricted to those above the age of at least 18, (and I’d prefer to say at least 25, as by that time young people are beginning to mature, and realise that fighting wars can seriously shorten your life, and thus be less willing to fight in wars that aren’t directly to do with national defence). Any decision to be involved in ‘foreign adventures’ of any kind, (including UN policing actions) must be decided by national plebiscite, as then we could avoid situations such as occurred over the Iraq War of 2003 where popular will was ignored by politicians.

    As far as the economy goes, it must be socialised as far as is humanly possible, but the state capitalist model must be avoided at all costs. Not only is it capitalist, it also allows governments to privatise it when it suits them and their cronies. So, we are pretty much left with direct worker control of industry, which is only right and proper, as it is the worker, and the worker alone who is the creator of wealth. However, individuals must also be allowed to set themselves up in business as sole traders or producers. So long as they do not have the power to exploit, then their presence would be of social benefit.

  12. I really like this and the tone is really uplifting and positive.

  13. hands up all those who live on a council estate and like it.

  14. Graham John Hathaway

    I don’t find conscription too alien a term. It’s on what basis. It’s important to define what it means and its terms of use. It’s far better than unemployment, or working in a ‘revolving door’ of short term nothing jobs.
    Nothing feeds crime more than idleness. I like much of this report. Work brings association. Identity.
    Let’s not look backwards and point blame. I fear the force of greater alienation of the lower order of achievers as we become more technical and the demands for higher level thinking and competencies of modern working practices.

    Where does AI fit in. What of the of increasing global / international dynamics of bigger and better.

    If only a much shredded version of what has been proposed is adopted I see an agenda for home based innovation. For sure if we remain weded to the conformity of the known, and it has failed Wales, then let’s try the approach of a radical, prescribed agenda that creates enterprises on people centred activities that values equality above all else. It may be called an organismic, bottom up ideology that profits everyone, and fully inclusive. To do do requires substantial funding from central sources of finances and that will decide its fate.
    The requirement of capital.

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