Welsh minister fears Senedd could become ‘Birmingham County Council on stilts’
A Welsh Government minister has said he fears the Senedd could become “a sort of Birmingham County Council on stilts”.
If Scotland becomes independent, Lee Waters, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, believes Wales could get “stuck in a centre-right dominated Union of England and Wales” with a government in Westminster that is “intent on undermining devolution”.
The minister, who made the comments while giving the Tudor Watkins Memorial Lecture, which was delivered to the Brecon Labour Party, said in that scenario “we may not be far behind the Scots” in becoming independent.
He suggested a federal UK as way of stopping the union from breaking up and “as a way of balancing the forces of nationalism”.
Waters said: “But we can’t sidestep the growing force of nationalism. I don’t blame Keir Starmer for trying to reframe it as patriotism, but it doesn’t make the problem go away.
“We need to confront it, and offer a coherent way forward, or left unharnessed these forces will lead to the break-up of the UK and I don’t want that to happen. But if English nationalism is allowed to develop unchecked, and Scotland leaves the Union, Wales faces a very unhappy prospect.
“Without Scottish MPs it’s hard to see us winning a majority at Westminster, so we’d be stuck in a centre-right dominated Union of England and Wales, forever outside the EU, with marginal influence on a Government in London – a Government intent on undermining devolution.
“Jeremy Thorpe famously warned in the 70s that a Welsh Assembly could become a ‘sort of Glamorgan County Council on stilts’. I fear that in that kind of Little Britain it could become ‘a sort of Birmingham County Council on stilts’.
“In that scenario I fear we may not be far behind the Scots, and that’s not what I want to see.
“In Welsh Labour’s successful manifesto we promised to establish an independent, standing commission to consider the constitutional future of Wales.
“I have long favoured a strong form of Federalism as a way of bringing some coherence, and consistency, to the UK as a way of balancing the forces of nationalism.
“I fully appreciate it is not a panacea, and unless England is interested it is a non-starter, but I’m struggling to see other ways of holding the union together in the face of a UK Government acting in ways which make it harder and harder to sustain the case. And what’s worse is they know that, and don’t seem to care.
“They talk of ‘muscular unionism’, but it feels more like unionism on steroids – there’s the appearance of muscle, but as with the anabolic kind the side-effects are causing long-term damage to the rest of the body.
“What worries me is that Welsh Labour seems to be the only part of the body politic that is sounding the alarm – we are the canary in the cage.”