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Commission recommends more powers for Wales – but hedges its bets on independence

18 Jan 2024 7 minute read
The Senedd. Picture by Senedd Cymru.

Wales should get extra powers in the fields of justice, policing, energy, broadcasting and rail infrastructure, according to a Commission that spent two years looking at options for the nation’s constitutional future.

The UK Government should legislate for the transfer of justice and policing to the Senedd, with a timescale for all parts of the justice system to be agreed, starting with policing, probation and youth justice.

The Senedd should be given full responsibility for rail services and infrastructure, ending the kind of funding injustice that has seen Wales miss out on funding because the HS2 rail project was classed as an England and Wales project, even though no part of the route will be in Wales.

Crown Estate

On energy, the UK and Welsh Governments should set up an expert group to advise urgently on how the devolution settlement could be reformed to prepare for rapid technological innovation in energy generation and distribution so Wales can maximise its contribution to net zero.

On broadcasting the Welsh and UK governments should agree mechanisms for a stronger voice for Wales on broadcasting policy, scrutiny and accountability, with robust work on potential routes to devolution.

The report also recommends that the proceeds of the Crown Estate should be devolved, as is the case in Scotland.

But the cross-party Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales failed to recommend which of three options the nation should opt for, saying that is a matter for voters to make their own minds up on.

The Commission, jointly chaired by Professor Laura McAllister of Cardiff University and Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said there were positives and negatives in all three options: “enhanced” devolution, a federal UK and an independent Wales.

Considering the merits of the options, the report says: “In terms of accountability, agency, constitutional stability, joined-up government within Wales and appropriate economic policies, independence would in principle offer a significant advantage over protected or enhanced devolution, and would provide greatest clarity on who makes the decisions. But, in an interdependent world, formally taking control is not the same as having complete freedom to shape policy.

“Any independent country, particularly one with a small population and small economy will face significant constraints from the expectations of global markets and the trans-nation nature of many of the most significant issues, particularly climate change and sustainability.

“In contrast, in terms of capacity and cost, coordination of the planning and delivery of services across the currently internal borders in the UK, economic stability, flow of people and goods across borders and, since the negotiation of the Barnett floor [which ensures that the funding of the Welsh Government does not fall below a specified percentage of funding in England], public finances, the current settlement protected and enhanced would offer significant advantages over the other options. These would maintain economic integration within the UK, and as we are discovering with Brexit, this would be extremely difficult to replicate in negotiations between two independent states. At the same time, financial markets invariably react negatively to constitutional change and instability, and this reaction would be exacerbated by the uncertainty about the currency and the share of UK sovereign debt inherited by an independent Wales.

“Independence would require a redesign of the internal governance of Wales, including rebalancing responsibilities and capacity between the Welsh Government and local authorities..

“Many new national bodies would need to be established and recruited to operate functions previously run by the UK Government on behalf of Wales. These risks need to be considered alongside the severe disadvantages of the current settlement overall, which have led us to conclude that the current model of devolution is not a stable basis on which to move forward.”

“Middle way”

Discussing the merits of a federal UK, the report says that it might seem to offer a desirable middle way, based on a written constitution defining and guaranteeing the powers of the sub-state governments, which would be a major step forward compared with devolution. However, it would require fundamental constitutional change in the way England is governed, for which it appears there is little appetite at present, and would require Scotland and Northern Ireland to make a much stronger commitment to a long-term future in the UK than seems likely in the foreseeable future.

The report concludes: “We make no recommendation as to which long-term constitutional option is best for Wales. Choosing between the options depends on  the relative weighting given to the criteria in the analysis framework – and the level of risk and uncertainty people are prepared to accept. This is not a judgement that the Commission can make. Choosing between the criteria and evaluating risk is a choice to be made by citizens and their elected representatives. In presenting this analysis we hope it will help inform a reasoned and measured debate with citizens about both the opportunities and risks that constitutional reform or even constitutional stagnation can bring.”

On the basis of detailed polling undertaken on behalf of the Commission, the report says: “On balance, the majority of people in Wales support devolution, and many would favour greater autonomy, though their aspirations vary on the extent of that greater autonomy. Support for independence and for abolition of the devolved institutions are currently minority but strongly held views. Support for each has grown significantly over the past few years. The growth in support for these positions appears to reflect a higher level of political polarisation in the population at large.” Tory Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies said: “The Labour Welsh Government’s commissioned report was only ever going to reach one conclusion.

“It’s a national scandal that, while Wales suffers the worst PISA and waiting lists in Britain, the Labour Welsh Government is wasting time and taxpayers’ money in wanting more powers and Senedd Members. Their focus should be firmly on helping the 27,000 people who have been languishing on an NHS waiting list for over two years and improving children’s education.

“Wales needs more nurses and teachers, not more politicians and powers.”

He added: “I would like to remind the Welsh Government and committee members that the United Kingdom has a proud, shared history and is not simply a “voluntary union of nations”.

“The future of Wales”

Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Jo Stevens said: “This report is an important contribution to the Welsh Government’s considerations on the future of Wales and how its institutions can best serve its people.

“Labour is the party of devolution and we are committed to reinforcing the status of the Senedd, strengthening intergovernmental working and pushing power out of Westminster and into the hands of communities.

“A Labour government in Westminster and Cardiff Bay will work together in a true partnership, driving change across the UK after 14 years of Tory decline.”

“Path to independence”

Plaid Cymru Leader Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said: “This is a very significant piece of work and sets the tone for the discussion to come on the constitutional future of Wales and I’m excited about the possibilities that are explored in this groundbreaking report.

“It is crystal clear that the status quo and the limited devolution we have is not sustainable. Steps need to be taken immediately to build on the current settlement and as a party we will be urging the implementation of the series of recommendations on strengthening Welsh democracy settlement with immediate effect.

“As somebody who has always believed in our ability to take all the levers of change into our hands, to have a report of this stature spelling out unambiguously that independence is a genuine option for us as a means to realise our potential is a very significant step forward in terms of the constitutional debate in Wales.

“While we in Plaid Cymru will always embrace the ability to take on more powers, this report paints a clear picture that neither an enhanced devolution – and certainly not federalism, will provide the long-term answers we really need. While seeking that path to independence inherently comes with challenges, we balance that against what the report tells us about the rewards.”


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blcollier
blcollier
6 months ago

Predictable response from TC Davies. Bleating about waiting lists when his government is pressing ahead with ideological austerity, short-changing almost every public service and devolved nation in the process, while bunging contracts worth billions to their mates and supporters.

He’s right about one thing though: when it comes to Cymru and England, it most certainly is not a “voluntary union of nations” – Cymru was conquered by English kings. The exploitation didn’t end with Edward I or Henry VIII, for centuries our natural resources have been plundered and pillaged in order to benefit England and its empire.

Last edited 6 months ago by blcollier
Riki
Riki
6 months ago
Reply to  blcollier

No it wasn’t conquered! If you believe the Principality of Wales (Gwynedd) spoke for all of Wales then yes, it was conquered. But anyone with an iota of knowledge knows that’s never been the case. Wales was only controlled by England from 1284 to 1409. And then in 1485, England was conquered by Wales at Bosworth field. This ofcourse was an absolute disaster for The future of Wales thanks to Henry VIII. and the Brits fully believing in the Mab Darogan.

Richard E
Richard E
6 months ago
Reply to  Riki

An intersting view of our history Riki though sadly not bourne out by the facts.

You kay wish to dig out your GCSE History book and look up “ Gyndwr OWAIN in references ?

A Prince for all of Wales. Born in Powys, buired in Gwent , married to a girl from nortu eastern borders ; with a parliament in what was then where Dyfed, Gwynedd and Powys joined @ Machynlleth.

Seems to tick most of the boxes for me….:)

Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
6 months ago

One of the aspects of independence that cannot be accurately measured in terms of budgets, taxation, government spending and a host of economic policy levers is the self confidence/self efficacy of the population in Cymru. Cymru was and to a certain extent still is a colony. We suffer from a lack of self belief. If you mention independence to people they’ll instinctively reply “we couldn’t do that.” The impact on the collective Welsh psyche would be huge and over a number of years would significantly help grow the economy and make us all better off.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago

This will be the third commission recommending further powers for Wales. Who can forget the Richard’s & Silk commissions both kicked into the long grass , yes, by Labour, the so-called self-proclaimed “architects of devolution” , end quote. And the irony is. Although UK Labour rubber-stamped the legislation to give Wales the power to hold a legislative Assembly referendum, and that only happend because Plaid Cymru was in coalition with Welsh Labour and part of the Government of Wales Act 2006 agreement was to seek turning Wales from a Vassel state to a legislature after a 618 year hiatus. Do… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
6 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

I agree with the general thrust of your arguments, but I think making comparisons with Ireland isn’t exactly the best comparison that could be made. The Republic of Ireland was an economic basket case until it joined the EU in 1973, virtually an economic colony of the UK from independence onwards, with the currency tied to the pound sterling. Even today, the economic performance of Ireland is skewed hugely by the presence of the European headquarters of major global corporations. Take those away and the picture looks a lot less rosy. Nor are Andorra and the other statelets you mention… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
6 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Norway’s surge in economic stability was founded ( funded?) by oil and mineral extraction, both of which will soon be prevented by global initiatives in response to climate change and other environmental concerns. To their credit they will have an ample supply of hydro generated electricity, but will have to find a significant new direction to sustain their prosperity. I believe they also have a robust sovereign fund.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
6 months ago

Further devolution of powers to Wales is of course to be welcomed – but its now growing increasingly clear that independence is the only way to ensure the future well being of the Welsh nation. Indeed, given the constant assaults on Welsh devolution by govt’s at Westminster we’ve endured in recent years, independence may be the only way of ensuring the long term existence of Wales as a nation and as a distinct polity. There are dozens of countries across the globe both smaller than wales and poorer than Wales that manage their own affairs perfectly well – its a… Read more »

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
6 months ago

Coming back from Cardiff listening on the car radio on radio Wales on this very subject everybody who phoned in saying Wales should be independent the people emailing and texting in saying no the old things saying too small or get rid of the present of the Senydd one man who phoned in saying these people who say we cant afford pointed out all countries borrow money that the U K was just under £3 TRILLION in debt As someone said Wales is treated as a colony of the english no better than an english county we need to govern… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
6 months ago

The further devolution of powers to Wales is of course to be welcomed – but it’s now growing increasingly clear that independence is the only way to ensure the future well being of the Welsh nation. Indeed, given the constant assaults on Welsh devolution by govt’s at Westminster we’ve endured in recent years, independence may be the only way of ensuring the long term existence of Wales as a nation and as a distinct polity. There are dozens of countries across the globe both smaller than wales and poorer than Wales that manage their own affairs perfectly well – its… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
6 months ago

What does the “TC” in his name stand for? One can but speculate … As for his reality defying assertions, he should remember that Wales was forced into the English kingdom by military means and later politically annexed by a monarch who never once considered it (huge understatement incoming) unethical. Moreover, your party continue to behave as imperialists, overturning Welsh law without mandate or consent, witholding capital expenditure and holding our Nation back on account of your ludicrous British Nationalist pomposities. Wales deserves so much better than to be horribly misgoverned by a vile Toraidhe Party it has never voted… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Annibendod
Riki
Riki
6 months ago

I’m sorry but nothing has ever been run on behalf of those in Wales. They destroyed or stole our institutions and then centuries later gave them back, only to expect gratitude. The English museum for example is incorrectly called British! Independence is the only self respecting and Grown up choice!

Crwtyn Cemais
Crwtyn Cemais
5 months ago

[ PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ENGLISH ] Mae angen ystyried y 3 opsiwn yn yr adroddiad [ar ddyfodol cyfansoddiadol Cymru] gyda llond pen o ‘Realpolitik’. Dechreuaf gyda’r opsiwn o annibyniaeth; pam lai yn y pen draw? – a dyna yw fy hoff opsiwn personol i – ond dim ond yn y pen draw y mae e’n bosib i wireddu’r opsiwn hwwnw. Ond credaf y dwylwn ni dechrau’r gwaith hynny ar frys. Bydd angen flynyddoedd o waith paratoi yn gyntaf – a dweud y lleiaf – a chredaf y dylem ni ddechrau’r gwaith hynny ar frys. A beth am yr ail… Read more »

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