Welsh independence ‘on the table’ if relationship between UK nations breaks down says minister
Independence is “on the table” if the relationship between the nations of the UK breaks down to the point where people no longer see a purpose to the Union, according to a Welsh Government cabinet member.
Mick Antoniw, Minister for the Constitution, told Sunday Supplement that “we are facing a situation where the structures of the UK are not fit for purpose”.
He added that Downing Street’s “heads were in the sand” and there was a belief that “if you just wave enough flags the problem goes away – it won’t go away”.
He was asked by presenter Vaughan Roderick whether “from your point of view, and from Welsh Labour’s point of view, independence is on the table, even if it’s not your preferred option?”
Mick Antoniw answered: “I think independence is always on the table if you get to a situation where the relationships between the nations of the UK break down to such an extent that people start questioning what is the purpose of the UK,” he said.
“I remember when the Scottish independence referendum took place in September 2014 the big question was, what is the purpose of the UK? There wasn’t really a very good answer to that, and we’ve got to come up with those particular answers.
“Because what we do recognise is that there’s a very significant degree of inter-dependence we have. Whether it be issues of currency, whether it be issues of trade, whether it be issues of movement.
“We’ve got to cut through to some sort of collective agreement. What are the most important things that we’ve got to do collectively, and what are the things that are best handled as close to the people and as close to communities as possible.
“That really is what the nature of the debate is about.”
Mick Antoniw added that if the UK Government didn’t engage there were “real risks to the long term existence of the United Kingdom”.
“The dilemma is that because central government isn’t tackling, isn’t actually engaging with or responded to the calls for a constitutional convention,” he said.
“If you have a problem, the first thing you have to do is actually recognise that you have a problem. And then you have to engage with all the participants to try and solve that problem.
“And that’s where the dilemma is, and Boris Johnson is the biggest cheerleader for the independence movement, whether it be in Scotland or whether it be in Wales.”
He was later asked by Vaughan Roderick whether he could foresee a situation where Welsh Labour would support something most people would regard as independence.
“Independence for me is about the people of a country being able to choose the sort of governance they want and what their relationship with other countries is,” Mick Antoniw answered.
“Others will say that independence means separating from, or breaking away from, or different forms of economic arrangements.
“For me the key thing is that we have to have a conversation within Wales, to discuss what our future is going to be, to discuss what we think the best relationship is between Wales and the rest of the UK.
“What are those things we really have in common and what are those things we need to reserve to be as close to people as possible, through constitutional change.”
He added that people should stop talking about “independence, or federalism, or devo-max” and start discussing how Wales wants to change and improve things that impact on people’s lives, and what sort of powers and regulations do you need to deliver that”.
Mick Antoniw was also asked whether people really cared about questions relating to the constitution.
“He’s absolutely right about it not being on people’s doorstep when you talk about the constitution in those technical terms, but when you start talking about the policies you want to deliver,” he said.
“For instance, policing isn’t devolved – we think policing should be devolved. But when you start talking to people about how safe is their community and how their community can become safer.
“Suddenly things like how do you engage with the police, what control do you have over the way the police operate, suddenly become more relevant.
“These constitutional questions are really important in terms of our ability to deliver in terms of agriculture, environmental change, the sort of legislation we want.
“And what is recognised across the UK – and across political parties – is that the arrangements we have at the moment aren’t working.”