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‘Significant problems with the way Wales is currently governed’ says Independent Constitutional Commission

06 Dec 2022 7 minute read
Rowan Williams and Laura McAllister who chair the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales

An independent commission looking at Wales’ constitutional future has published an interim report saying that there are “significant problems with the way Wales is currently governed” within the UK.

The Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, Co-chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and Dr Rowan Williams, has gathered evidence on how Wales is currently governed from over 2,000 Welsh citizens, expert groups and community-led organisations.

The Commission’s intermid report highlights that the United Kingdom is virtually unique in not having a written constitution. The Commission details that an “unwritten constitution” takes for granted the “sovereignty” of Westminster, which adds significant constraints to people of Wales and their elected representatives to determine how they should be governed.

Professor Laura McAllister, co-chair of the Commission, said: “The Union has been allowed to function without fixed checks and balances on power, and this has never been more evident than in the last three years with a UK Government that has a large majority and has been less willing to share power with other institutions.

“Our exploratory work over the last year has given us a sharp reminder that the lack of written constitution does not guarantee stability for Wales nor good governance.

“More than ever, it is clear that the challenges with the way Wales is governed can only be addressed by acknowledging the inter-dependence with wider constitutional issues in the UK. We’re very realistic that two of three constitutional routes we’ve outlined in this report are only achievable with a written constitution.”

‘Structural problem’

In its report, the Commission argues that the ‘status quo’ is not a viable option for providing stability and prosperity for Wales.

The report goes on to conclude that there are three feasible and alternative constitutional routes for how Wales could be run that could improve the lives of the citizens of Wales. These are:

  1. Strengthen and secure the current devolution settlement.
  2. A federal approach with a new UK constitution which creates equality between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  3. Independence, where Wales would become a sovereign country, eligible to apply for full membership of international organisations, such as the UN?

The Commission believes that the current devolution process which began after the 1997 referendum has been a major step forward for Welsh democracy. But its interim report identifies significant pressure on the current ‘settlement’, citing an ‘imbalance of power’ for Welsh people in the ability to influence things that affect them.

The report lays out ten significant pressure points for devolution. The ‘vulnerability’ of the devolution settlement and the supremacy of the Westminster parliament in making decisions about the future of Welsh democracy are stated as critical issues. The persistent weakness of the Welsh economy is also listed as a fundamental issue which, relative to the UK, continues to underperform.

Co-chair of the Commission, Rt. Revd. and Rt. Hon. Dr Rowan Williams said: “Despite investment, the Welsh economy still lags, which indicates there is a structural problem that needs to be addressed.

“It tells us that the Welsh economy isn’t doing well under the status quo. But what, if any, constitutional options would enable Wales to become more prosperous and improve the lives of people in Wales? This is something we have to continue to explore.”

Independence

Through the Commission’s online consultation, Dweud eich Dweud: Have your Say, over 2000 responses were gathered that gave early insight into citizens’ perspectives on how Wales is currently run.

The most popular constitutional preference was independence, favoured by 55% (1096) of the 2000+ respondents to the online consultation.

While this is significant, the Commission has acknowledged that this may be due to pro-independence groups encouraging their supporters to respond.

Rowan Williams continued: “We knew the online consultation was likely to generate responses from people who have already formed their opinion, and as such, we received strong views from either end of the political spectrum.

“In that context it’s not surprising that independence came through strongly. So as a Commission, we can use this to form a picture of who hasn’t engaged with our work yet.

“Whatever your thoughts on the conclusions of the interim report, there is still time to have your say and shape how Wales could be governed in the future.”

Co-chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and Dr Rowan Williams, the group of 11 Commission members covers a spectrum of backgrounds, expertise and political views.

The group was brought together by the Welsh Government in October 2021 but works independently from it.

‘Benefits’

The interim report comes just as day after the Labour party published its own report on the UK’s constitutional future.

That report made little mention of specific proposals for Wales but referred to the upcoming report commissioned by the Welsh government.

“In Wales, our proposals strengthen self-government for a new era, but we are mindful that the Welsh Government has set up an independent Commission to make recommendations on constitutional issues,” it said.

“We know that we can rely on the Welsh Labour Government to publish its Plan for Wales that employs to the full the powers of the Senedd and, at the same time, maximises the benefits from co-operation across the United Kingdom.”

The UK Labour report, led by Gordon Brown, did however suggest some changes to Wales’ devolution settlement including:

  • Welsh devolution should be constitutionally protected from meddling by the UK Government by giving a new Senate of the Nations and Regions – replacing the House of Lords – a role in protecting it.
  • New powers should be made available to the Senedd and Welsh Governments, including embarking upon new powers over youth justice and the probation service.
  • The Welsh Senedd’s members should, if desired, enjoy the same privileges and protections as Members of Parliament in relation to statements made in their proceedings.
  • Enhanced access to economic resources for Wales: the British Regional Investment Bank should maximise support for innovation and investment in Wales, in conjunction with the Welsh Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.

Mark Drakeford welcomed the UK Labour report, saying that it put forward “important ideas”.

“The union of the United Kingdom is under greater threat now than at any other time in its long history as a result of the actions – and neglect – of successive UK Conservative Governments,” he said.

“I want to thank Gordon Brown for all the work he has put into this timely, comprehensive report and set of recommendations for the future of the UK. I am very grateful for the engagement we have had during the development of this report.

“Labour is the party of devolution and this report shows that only Labour is thinking urgently about the future of the United Kingdom. This report puts forward important ideas about how power can be devolved and shared throughout the country to create a stronger union and a stronger United Kingdom.

“I look forward to seeing these recommendations realised as soon as we have a Labour UK Government.”

Jo Stevens, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales meanwhile promised a widespread consultation.

“I’d like to thank First Minister Mark Drakeford, former First Minister Carwyn Jones and Baron Murphy of Torfaen for their work on Gordon Brown’s Commission that has resulted in the report and recommendations published today,” she said.

“As Keir Starmer has said, we will now consult widely on the recommendations as they form part of our wider plan to build an economy in which growth is created by and for everyone everywhere.”


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Arwyn
Arwyn
2 months ago

The “United Kingdom” is the problem. We don’t need a stronger one. We need to dismantle the politico-economic model which is so disastrous to Wales. First establish Wales, Scotland and England as Nation States in their own right and then negotiate what relationship we’ll have with one another.

CJPh
CJPh
2 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

Yn union, dim Union. Once one tracks the Welsh economy for the last 150 years, sees that we are a dismal lateral line that runs in conjunction to rUK, but two standard deviations lower than the average, it is impossible to conclude that we’re going to get meaningful improvements in line with where we could reach if responsible for our own affairs. Ireland, Ireland, Ireland. There really is no counter argument forthcoming either. Don’t stumble at the half measure hurdles of devo max or federalisation, either. There is a precipice the other side. Ymlaen.

Last edited 2 months ago by CJPh
Mike Flynn
Mike Flynn
2 months ago

Laura McAllister seems to have a finger in every pie.

Cynan again
Cynan again
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Flynn

Yes. She is very clever and very influential. We are lucky to have her

Stevie B
Stevie B
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Flynn

I agree Mike, in particular Laura holds dogmatic views about middle aged men in suits. She tends to blame the World’s ills on such people.

Doctor Trousers
2 months ago
Reply to  Stevie B

Well to be fair, now we’re in the era of tech billionaires, a lot of the men responsible for the world’s ills don’t wear suits anymore.

Last edited 2 months ago by Doctor Trousers
Julie Jones
Julie Jones
2 months ago

The Unionists are showing their true anti-democratic colours this morning as they jump to dismiss the Intermid Report. They are scared of change and hug the failed status quo.

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
2 months ago
Reply to  Julie Jones

They clearly feel threatened. That’s a positive sign.

CJones
CJones
2 months ago

#Iwasthere at the report release and I was waiting for Prof. McAllister to say “Westminster doesn’t work for Wales.” She didn’t say it exactly but near enough. The presentation didn’t half stir the soul and wake the hwyl!

WilliamsG
WilliamsG
2 months ago

What Gordon Brown doesn’t say in his report is that the house of lords replacement could become the upper chamber for Wales and Scotland. Any laws passed in Wales would need to be passed by the new ‘UK’ house of lords. We need a second chamber in Wales but we don’t need it to be in England

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
2 months ago
Reply to  WilliamsG

That’s interesting yet highly predictable! Of course, they would still devise a way to put a check on laws passed in Wales!

Gareth
Gareth
2 months ago

Good luck in getting a written constitution. The Tory Unionist party want to maintain the status quo, the gap between rich and poor is growing at its fastest rate, and they want to keep it that way, individual Tory’s have made millions in a short time eg Michelle Mone. You cant even get Labour to change the current voting system, and they wont give unionist Mark Drakeford the limited powers he is asking for, eg devolved justice and policing. Indy it is then, or stay in the corrupt semi dictatorship we have now, where a minority voted for party can… Read more »

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
2 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

We don’t need a written constitution.

Unionists would use it to find a way to bind us to the Union.

The US Constitution for example, stipulates that states need a 67% or 75% majority to secede.

The French Constitution has similar stipulations.

I would be very wary indeed of any Constitution that seeks to bind us to the Union.

Gwyn Hopkins
Gwyn Hopkins
2 months ago

Economists recognize GDP per Capita as a valid measure of a country’s prosperity. The Irish Republic’s GDPpC is now over twice that of the UK (US$99,152 compared to $41,900) and over 3 times that of Wales. This would never have happened if the Republic was still part of the UK –it would be bottom of the UK well-being pecking order as it was before independence, where Wales is today.  

Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson
2 months ago
Reply to  Gwyn Hopkins

It was Robert Kennedy who said that “GNP [GDP etc]measures everything…except that which makes life worthwhile”

It is not growth we need, simply a more equitable distribution of all that our labour has produced.

In fact, we need to degrow the economy. But not our societies. The environment impact of much of the modern economy is undermining the life support systems of those societies, humankind and all living things.

CJPh
CJPh
2 months ago
Reply to  Neil Anderson

I would agree that GDP is an imperfect measure of overall prosperity. Indeed, anything beyond a raw number for gross domestic production is not to be derrived from GDPpp numbers. It’s too broadly applied and extrapolations from Economic data are often just personal bias or the trendy opinion du jour. A “growth focus” is also, as you point out (I think) also a too narrowly focused approach to economic policy. Your prognosis, however, has been tried before. Tried and failed, to the tune of millions of dead, everywhere, every time. You can put a progressive, jargon-laden spin on what you’re… Read more »

Doctor Trousers
2 months ago

Those who say they favour a federal solution over independence really need to start explaining, or perhaps thinking about, what they actually mean by that. A federation of fully autonomous nations, where no one nation has power over the others, sounds very much like the vision shared by most of us in the independence movement. Dissolving the union is the obvious path to achieving that. So if the route to a true federal solution is to dissolve the union and negotiate a new solution as autonomous equals, what, then, is meant by a federal solution WITHIN the union? What can… Read more »

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
2 months ago

Annibyniaeth.

….its as simple as that.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
2 months ago

We didn’t need a commission to tell us what we already know and have known for years. What we need from the commission is a detailed model of the different paths that Cymru could take in the future.The pros and cons of the three possible ways forward – keeping the status quo, more devolution/federalism and full independence. I want full independence as the other two options just do not work for us. However, the people of Cymru need all the information to make an informed decision about their future. It is also up to us, in the independence movement, to… Read more »

Riki
Riki
2 months ago

Any self respecting and Seriously grown up people would choose Independence, No?! But of course we can’t, after all we just aren’t Capable of doing anything for ourselves, We need someone else to do everything for us! They being our betters in London.

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