Live Blog: The Senedd debates independence for the first time

Welsh flags outside the Senedd buildingwith 45 for,  in less socially-distanced times. Picture by: National Assembly for Wales (CC BY 2.0)

8.32pm

So there you have it. The vote went as expected with Plaid Cymru’s motion being amended out of existence but it was the debate itself as an event which may have been “historical” as Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price put it. Time will tell whether it will merit a chapter, a paragraph or a footnote in the historical record when it comes to be written in many years’ time.

The debate will no doubt continue as we look forward to next May’s Senedd elections in which the constitutional future of Wales is likely to play a prominent role.

8.23pm

Labour’s amendment – Senedd “believes that Wales’s interests are best served by its continuing membership of a reformed United Kingdom” – sails through as expected.

29 for, 24 against.

8.22pm

Neil McEvoy of the Welsh National Party had two amendments, one calling for Wales to have its own constitution and bill of rights, and one calling for the use of binding referendums through a public right of initiative.

Neil McEvoy and Plaid Cymru voted for the first and McEvoy alone for the second, with both defeated by the majority.

8.21pm

Neil Hamilton’s amendment on getting rid of devolution: 2 for, 2 abstain, 49 against.

Same for Gareth Bennet’s amendment saying essentially the same thing.

8.19pm

The Conservative amendment to “support devolution” but also to “recognise the benefits to Wales of being part of the United Kingdom”: 13 for, 40 against.

8.17pm

The Plaid Cymru motion on independence: 9 for, 1 abstain, 43 against.

8.16pm

Meanwhile, a Senedd motion to introduce a default 20mph speed limit in residential areas has just passed with 45 for, 6 against and two abstaining.

8.13pm

The Welsh Conservatives have published a graphic on Twitter saying that Welsh independence would cost everyone £300 a month. I’m not sure how they can be that specific…

8.04pm

The content of that debate was mostly quite predictable for anyone who has been following the discussion about independence. We heard the usual arguments for Wales’ needing the powers to turn the economy around after years of stagnation, and the usual counter-argument that Wales would have too large a budget deficit to do so. As Mick Antoniw pointed out without a set vision of what independence would look like it was quite difficult to get into specifics.

What was most interesting perhaps was Labour’s arguments for not supporting the motion which was that a Welsh Government needed a pro-independence mandate before seeking the go-ahead by Westminster for a referendum, and if a pro-independence government was elected there was a constitutional convention set by the SNP and the UK Government in 2014 that a referendum could be held anyway so the Senedd didn’t need to vote on it.

The other highlight was Conservative Darren Millar’s call for members of Labour for an Independent Wales to be expelled from the party which will no doubt be a handy publicity boost for that particular group.

7.59pm

There will now be a short break before the vote. *extended drumroll*

7.58pm

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price calls the debate “historic” and says that Wales had the right to determine its own constitutional future and that this should be enshrined in law.

Democracy is by definition government by the people, he says. The people are the people of Wales, he said, and it was a basic tenet of international law that they should be able to decide their own future.

He said that under devolution, powers were loaned to the Senedd by another parliament declaring itself supreme even as it was “crumbling into the Thames”.

The Labour amendment talking about the reform of the United Kingdom was pursuing a unicorn, he said. The First Minister himself had described the UK Government as “shambolic”.

“Westminster makes Godot look positively punctual,” he said. “We can never make change by waiting for others to make change for us.”

He says it is important for Welsh democracy that debates in the Senedd reflect debates being had outside the institution, in the country.

Covid had given us an understanding of what we truly value, he says. “The people of Wales are on the move, in the driving seat, leading the debate,” he says. The present crisis of Brexit and Covid will loom large when the story of independence is written, he says.

7.51pm

Jane Hutt, speaking for the Labour Welsh Government, said the debate had highlighted the advantages of devolution, especially the Welsh Government’s handling of coronavirus.

She said that the Welsh Government did not currently have a mandate to seek out an independence referendum from Westminster. The view of the current Welsh Government was that the UK was stronger for having Wales within it.

Viruses did not respect borders and the pandemic called for closer collaboration between governments, not less, she says. It was the UK Government pulling away from the four nations approach, she added.

First Minister Mark Drakeford had shown the advantages of “assertive devolution” she said.

7.44pm

Mick Antoniw says that devolution has had its day and that reform was needed. He said that a constitutional convention was needed in order to tackle the vital English question.

Wales was already independent, he says, in that it decided to be in the UK. All nations had the right to self-determination and  Wales’ place in the UK should be decided by the people.

He was not a nationalist or a unionist, but a socialist and the current constitutional arrangements was not fit for purpose and power should be as close to people as possible, he said.

7.36pm

Delyth Jewell of Plaid Cymru pointed out that the First Minister has not spoken to the Prime Minister since the end of May. She says that the UK Government were ready to overrule the Welsh Government in paving over the Gwent Levels. That is the future of this beleaguered union, she said.

Independence was the only political answer to the question of how we build a nation that allows us to achieve our dreams and build something better, she says. There is nothing intrinsic about Wales’ poverty, it is a poverty of ambition, she says.

She says the UK’s debt is £2trillion pounds so arguments about what Wales debt would be aren’t relevant. The important debt was that to the future, and Wales could take responsibility and lead the way as a beacon of an enlightened economy on matters such as the environment.

She says a number of MS of the Labour benches share her vision but without independence and as long as they remain part of an union they would never reach their potential. ‘Our future cannot be decided in the ramshackle ruins of Westminster,’ she says.

7.33pm

Former First Minister Carwyn Jones, Labour, said this debate was not needed as there was a constitutional convention that if a pro-independence party won a Senedd election there could be a referendum, based on what had happened in Scotland.

He says Neil Hamilton’s Conservative Government spent decades destroying the Welsh economy. He also says Gareth Bennet was making the case for another Brexit referendum in saying that there was no such thing as the settled will of the people. He points out he is sitting for a party he was not electing to represent so should stay out of arguments about democracy.

Independence is a cataclysmic event, he says, very often it is achieved by war and bitterness. He says there is an alternative, which is a sovereign Wales within the UK. It doesn’t have the same resonance as ‘Free Wales’ or ‘Rule Brittania’ he says.

He tells Darren Millar that this is not constitutional tinkering but was fundamental to the future of the UK. In 10 years if it is not solved the UK will be a memory he says.

7.26pm

Dr. Dai Lloyd of Plaid Cymru accuses the UK Government of putting Welsh interests during the coronavirus crisis second to England’s. He refers to the issues surrounding testing and PPE.

It’s only a matter of time until Wales has to decide what is best for itself after Scottish independence. Wales would have to decide between Wales and becoming part of England. This motion would give Wales the right to decide its future for itself, he says.

Dai Lloyd said Wales had been pursuing national freedom for 2,000 years and that could not be stopped by those that wanted to scrap the Senedd.

7.25pm

Neil McEvoy of the Welsh National Party has said that devolution needs to be separated from the “political cartel” running it so far. In a healthy democracy the government changes, he says.

He says direct democracy should be introduced into the Senedd. Rather than votes every five years, direct democracy would mean the people of Wales can hold local or national referendums – “government run by the people”.

He also calls for a constitution for Wales. We could discuss as a country what we are and where we’re going, we could discuss the right to a home and a right to a free education, he says. If you signed up to this constitution, you would be Welsh, he says.

He wants to put sovereign power back into the hands of the people of Wales, he says.

7.22pm

Labour for an Independent Wales has responded to Darren Millar’s call for Labour to expel them from the party.

7.19pm

Gareth Bennett, the sole Abolish the Assembly member says they need to hold referendums every 15-20 years. (It has been nine years since the 2011 referendum.)

He says his ideas are not more important than the Welsh people and we should do what they tell members to do.

He says people are confused by having four governments in the UK. He says if Wales is not part of the UK there would be no one for Wales to take its “begging bowl” to.

7.15pm

Neil Hamilton of UKIP who has put forward a motion to abolish the Welsh Parliament says he is in favour of Plaid Cymru’s approach to having a referendum on independence.

But there is no great affection for the Senedd, he says, as turnout at the elections have never reached 50%. There is no such thing as the settled will as the people of Wales are constantly changing, he said.

He says Plaid Cymru do not really want independence because they still strive to constrain Wales within the European Union. He said that without an independent currency Wales would have no infinite borrowing powers, as Rhun ap Iorwerth suggested.

Hw says devolution could have been a success if Labour had used their powers to put Wales at a competitive advantage to the rest of the UK, rather than turning it into a nanny state.

Temporary Presiding Officer David Melding brings his speech to an end.

7.09pm

Darren Millar says he is surprised to see Plaid Cymru put the debate forward. It is ‘naval gazing’ while the Senedd should be debating Covid-19, he says.

He says it is ironic that Plaid Cymru after years of arguing for one union, the EU – and against Brexit – was now calling for Wales to go it alone.

‘Let’s use the powers we have got and improve people’s lives with them,’ he says.

He says the Labour First Minister said that socialism is incompatible with nationalism. He calls on Labour to expel Labour for an Independent Wales, which he says has 600 likes on Facebook.

He says that he is a staunch supporter of devolution, and it is the settled will of the people of Wales. It is the Labour party and their ‘little helpers’ Plaid Cymru who have failed Wales.

7.06pm

Rhun ap Iorwerth is referring at the moment to this discussion between Andrew RT Davies and Lee Waters:

We need to have this debate proactively, Rhun ap Iorwerth says. It is not good enough to wait to see what everyone else is doing.

7.05pm

Rhun ap Iorwerth says that the UK has borrowed massively to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. ‘That is our debt too’ he says, pointing out that the UK’s need to rack up debt to spend on Wales is a flaw in the argument that Wales is too poor to be independent.

He says that other independent countries with a similar population to Wales such as New Zealand have death rates a 10th the size of Wales’.

‘Doing things differently can save lives,’ he said.

7pm

Rhun ap Iorwerth of Plaid Cymru, opening the debate, says he is not asking for independence but rather for the Senedd to agree that the Welsh Parliament should be able to hold a referendum if it wishes to.

He says he is pragmatic and wants independence not as an end in itself but rather to challenge dependency, stagnation and lack of investment within Wales now. He says Wales is full of good people but they are not reaching their potential.

He says he has been critical of the Welsh Government’s response to the pandemic but says it has been strongest where it has diverged from the UK Government.

He says that the biggest mistake the Welsh Government made was to stick too closely to the four nations approach. He says the UK Government also undermined the Welsh Government approach on testing, PPE supplies and communicating different rules to the people of Wales.

6.57pm

David Melding who is presiding on the independence debate says that there are a number more speakers wanting to speak in the independence debate than he has time to call.

6.56pm

Some on Twitter have speculated that this may be the highest ever audience for Senedd TV. It may not beat May 2016 when the channel crashed due to the huge number of people logging in to watch the tight vote between Leanne Wood and Carwyn Jones on becoming First Minister.

6.52pm

Although this is the first proper debate on independence in the Senedd, it is not the first time they have taken a vote on the matter.

In October of last year, the then Assembly voted to reject an amendment calling for a referendum on Welsh national sovereignty in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The amendment, introduced by independent AM Neil McEvoy, said that ‘if the Withdrawal Agreement Bill leads to a no-deal Brexit, there should be a referendum on Welsh national sovereignty.’

The amendment lost by 8 votes to 43. One Assembly Member abstained.

Plaid Cymru had also previously introduced a motion that called for “looking at all options for Wales’s constitutional future, including independence” in September.

6.37pm

The start of the independence debate is running late as the Senedd discussed the important matter of the effect of Covid-19 on children and young people, and is now expected to start at 7pm. Speaking of which I’m going to take advantage of the delay to tell my own children and young people to go upstarts to read before bed…

As with other debates at the Senedd at the moment the contributions for the independence debate will be a mix of politicians in the Siambr and contributing from their studies, kitchens and living rooms over Zoom.

6.25pm

Responding to the “historic debate” in the Senedd today, the Chair of YesCymru – the campaign for an independent Wales – Siôn Jobbins said that “life and politics in Wales is changing very quickly”.

He was keen despite the likely outcome of today’s vote to emphasise the cross-party nature of the support for independence.

“Today sees the first-ever debate on independence in the Senedd and the right of the Welsh Parliament to be able to decide on the future of Wales,” he said.

“The issue of an independent Wales is becoming more mainstream as people from different backgrounds see that the Welsh Parliament can do a better job of running Wales’ affairs than Westminster.

“YesCymru’s membership has more than doubled since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis to nearly 6,000, and we have seen a huge increase in support on social media.

“The independence debate is not confined to Plaid Cymru. The Welsh Barometer Poll (June 2020) showed that 37% of Labour voters in Wales support an independent Wales, and a delegation from YesCymru recently met Labour MS, Jane Hutt, for a general discussion on the need for the Senedd to have the powers to defend and promote Wales and also to chose its own future.

“With a Scottish independence referendum to be held in the next few years, and a likelihood of Ireland reuniting, Wales must grab its future and not be at the mercy of it.”

6.23pm

Neil McEvoy, formerly of Plaid Cymru and now of the Welsh National Party, has proposed an amendment that goes slightly further than Plaid Cymru’s original one.

It calls for Wales to have its own constitution and bill of rights, and believes that Welsh sovereignty should be exercised at a community and national level, including use of binding referendums through a public right of initiative.

McEvoy, who began learning Welsh at the age of 32, also spoke it “off the top of his head” for the first time in the Senedd today.

6.13pm

If the motion is going to be defeated anyway, then why are Plaid Cymru holding this debate?

Well, of course, Welsh independence is largely the party’s USP and what differentiates them from the other left-wing and pro-devolution parties in the Senedd.

In the run-up to the Senedd election in May of next year, Plaid Cymru will be keen to show that by putting a cross next to their name on the ballot paper voters are choosing something different.

The 25% who support independence is a higher percentage than voted for Plaid Cymru at the 2016 election, so forcing Labour and the Lib Dems to vote against the motion will signal to pro-independence voters in those parties who the only solidly pro-independence party is.

Other reasons might be that it will attract a lot of media attention, keeping the sense of momentum established by YesCymru’s rapid rise in members and the increase in support in opinion polls.

That already seems to have paid off with articles in a number of British news websites and mentions on radio stations for this first independence debate.

Journalists and pundits love a narrative and the idea that coronavirus is speeding up the break up of the UK is one such narrative. This first debate seems to enforce that idea, so it’s not surprising that some have bitten hard.

For Plaid Cymru, who struggle to get media attention, that may well be reason enough to put forward this eye-catching motion.

There are political risks, however. Opponents of Plaid Cymru, and independence, will ask why they’re focussing on this in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

6.02pm

Realistically the independence motion today is unlikely to garner many votes beyond Plaid Cymru’s own ranks.

Labour and the Conservatives have already a put forward their own motions backing the union.

The Conservative motion “supports devolution” but also “recognises the benefits to Wales of being part of the United Kingdom”.

The Labour motion similarly “believes that Wales’s interests are best served by its continuing membership of a reformed United Kingdom”.

The Lib Dems have said today that while the “UK Government mostly governs for England” they would prefer a federal union with much more power for the Senedd over full independence.

The Brexit Party, UKIP and Abolish the Assembly, the latter two of which have a member each, want to take devolution in the opposite direction, handing powers back to Westminster or scrapping it.

5.55pm

The Welsh Parliament will at around 6.15 pm to 7 pm today hold its first-ever debate on Welsh independence.

The motion has been put forward by Plaid Cymru, who say that Wales’ handling of coronavirus shows that Wales can do better than Westminster when it acts alone.

They point to the growing YesCymru movement and polls showing that 25% of the population would now back independence.

Their motion calls on the Welsh Government to seek the constitutional right to allow the Senedd to legislate on holding an independence referendum, as was allowed for Scotland in 2014.

The motion put forward by Plaid Cymru proposes that the Senedd:

1. Notes that the people of Wales have welcomed the ability for Wales to act independently during the coronavirus crisis.

2. Recognises the success of independent countries of a similar size to Wales in dealing with the virus.

3. Believes that independence would give Wales greater agility and resilience in responding to future challenges.

4. Notes the increased support for an independent Scotland and a united Ireland.

5. Affirms the right of the people of Wales to decide whether Wales should become an independent country.

6. Calls on the Welsh Government to seek the constitutional right to allow the Senedd to legislate during the next term to hold a binding referendum on independence.

Stay with us and we’ll let you know how it all goes down!

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