It ‘would be absurd to rule out independence’, says Mark Drakeford
It “would be absurd” to “rule out independence”, Mark Drakeford has said
The First Minister made the comments in the Senedd while debating the Constitutional Commission the Welsh Government has set up to consider Wales’ future.
Drakeford was asked by Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price about whether the commission would look at Welsh independence as part of its work.
He replied that it will “look at the whole suite of potential constitutional futures for Wales” and that it would “certainly allow for independence to be considered as one of these options”.
But he added that he would argue that “entrenched devolution in a successful United Kingdom is the best constitution for Wales.”
Dr Rowan Williams and Professor Laura McAllister will chair the commission and the aim, according to the Welsh Government, will be to develop options for fundamental reform of the constitutional structures of the UK and how it can best improve outcomes for the people of Wales.
Professor McAllister has said that all options would be in the table – including independence.
During a debate in the Senedd, Adam Price said: “Among its objectives, the commission is, and I quote: ‘To consider and develop all progressive principal options to strengthen Welsh democracy’.
“Can you confirm that that will include, for the very first time in the case of an officially established body, serious and substantive work on Welsh independence?”
Mark Drakeford said: “It is hard to think of any Welsh figure who commands greater respect – not simply in Wales, but on the world stage – than Dr Rowan Williams. In Professor Laura McAllister, we have one of the leading experts on the subject matter that the commission will have at its heart.
“I can certainly confirm that, as Professor McAllister has said today, the commission will look at the whole suite of potential constitutional futures for Wales. The terms of reference for the commission certainly allow for independence to be considered as one of these options.
“They allow for any person who has a view as to how Wales’s constitutional future should best be shaped to come to the commission to make their case for that. It would be absurd and I think that that was the word that Professor McAllister used – to rule out independence.
“But, nothing else is ruled out either. If I have the opportunity, I will certainly give my evidence to the commission that entrenched devolution in a successful United Kingdom is the best constitution for Wales.
“But, Plaid Cymru – and I welcome very much what Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson said about constructive engagement and making every use of the opportunity that it presents will be able to set out its stall for a different constitutional future.”
Adam Price replied: ” I’m sure that the First Minister wouldn’t mind me saying that the implicit confirmation by a Welsh Labour Government that independence, though clearly not your favoured option, can be considered a progressive option, will be seen by many in the independence movement as a significant milestone. We do indeed, on our side, look forward to engaging constructively with the commission.
” Whatever the report in the end concludes whether it supports your preferred future, First Minister, of radical federalism, or our alternative future of independence – is not the commission’s starting point as important as its end point, in this sense?
“Because it signifies a new, shared determination that we shouldn’t wait for our constitutional future to be chosen for us by default by decisions in Westminster or, indeed, developments elsewhere in these islands, but that we should decide for ourselves; that we should neither be on the sidelines nor in the shadows of someone else’s deliberations, but that we should place Wales front and centre of our own debate.”
‘Future into our own hands’
Mark Drakeford said: “Well, Llywydd, I certainly agree that that is exactly the purpose of the commission: to take our future into our own hands. I think that this is a particularly important moment for us to do that. During this Senedd term, while we are all sitting here, it is very likely that there will be a further referendum on independence in Scotland.
“I don’t often quote Iain Duncan Smith here, Llywydd – [Laughter.] – but I’ll make an exception today. I think that he said to the Conservative Party conference that the future of Northern Ireland was more uncertain today than at any time in the past, because of the impact of the Brexit decision and the uncertainties over the Northern Ireland protocol.
“The United Kingdom is in a fragile position, and it is very important that, as a responsible Government and as a responsible Senedd, we find a way of mapping out our own future in the turbulent times in which we live.
“Llywydd, can I say that I was very grateful to the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies, for making a number of nominations for someone to sit on the commission?
“Because I want the commission to be something that anybody who has a view about Wales’s future and how best it can be secured, given the uncertain times in which we live, should feel confident that they can turn up to and make their case.”