Westminster being able to overrule Wales ‘not democracy’ says former First Minister Carwyn Jones
Wales’ former First Minister Carwyn Jones has said that the UK needs to be reformed as having one sovereign parliament that can overrule other parts of the UK is “not democracy”.
Speaking at the University College Dublin, in remarks recorded by the Hiraeth podcast, he said that he did not consider himself or Welsh Labour unionist or nationalist and that the debate had not polarise in Wales as it had in Scotland and was “deeper because of it”.
“We have the situation in the UK where there is a supreme parliament elected by a minority of the people that is not subject to the jurisdiction of any law or any court,” he said. “That’s not democracy, in my view.
“The tragedy would be if we were in a situation where the process of creating constitutional change in the UK only happened because there was a threat to the existence of the UK itself.
“It’s too late at that point. It needs to be done. The thinking needs to be done now. And in terms of my party, Welsh Labour, that is where we are.”
He added: “Unionism tends to be associated with a desire to remain within the UK no matter what it looks like, and to accept the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament, which is not something I do.
“In the middle, you have probably the majority of people who are happy to look at something in between those – people who want to see as much self-government as Wales can get without actually becoming an independent, sovereign state.
“But the problem with devolution from ’99 onwards in the UK, is instead of looking at how the UK works as a whole and what it means for England particularly, it’s basically been a question of Westminster saying, how many powers can we lend to various groups of Celts in order to keep them quiet?
“I use the word lend, because parliamentary sovereignty dictates those powers are lent because they can be legally taken back at any time.”
He added that Welsh Labour was “an autonomous party” rather than “a Unionist Party” or a “nationalist party”.
“We believe in seeking the greatest most appropriate amount of autonomy for Wales that is possible,” he said.
“And the reason why Welsh Labour has been so successful over the years, is because we saw what happened in Scotland were to my mind, Scottish Labour moved away from Scottish identity.
“And as a result of that, the SNP moved on to that ground and people who were very Scottish, but not in favour of independence, moved towards being pro-independence, and there was an abandonment of the ground to my mind. We never did that.
“There are candidates who stood in the last election who openly backed independence who are Welsh Labour candidates. So you don’t have the same kind of polarisation as you’ve got in Scotland.
“And the debate in Wales is I think deeper because of it.”
He added: “I think it’s hugely important to understand that the debate now has to move on from being quite a sterile debate between you are either a Unionist, or you are a nationalist.
“There are gradations between the two positions that need to be looked at, and it’s particularly true in Wales.”
‘Wales should not exist’
He added that there were advantages of being part of the UK such as the welfare state.
“But that doesn’t mean you have to be part of a unitary state,” he said. “And that’s where to my mind the UK has to change.
“One of the models that you could look at is to say right, what we need really is to say that England, Scotland, Wales, and I suppose Northern Ireland, are sovereign.
“They decide whether they want to be part of a union. And if people decide to be part of that union, fine, then we agree on the establishment of a union parliament that has defined powers, not a supreme parliament that can do what it wants.
“At least then we know we have four entities with equivalent powers, legally – economically, not, let’s be honest. And then of course there is an agreement to be part of something bigger, where powers are given to that to that union parliament.”
He added that looked at from a historical perspective Wales “should not exist” but there was now a “far greater assertion” of Welsh identity.
“We were incorporated into the Kingdom of England in 1536 and left to become part of Britain. Our language was banned at the time when everybody pretty much spoke it as their only language. Our legal system was abolished,” he said.
“The last courts that we would have a separate word in 1830. Our currency disappeared in 1908. We had nothing. We had no trappings of statehood. We were never a state.
“And Wales should really have just been part of England and thought of as part of England it was for a long, long time.”
He said that it was the Welsh language and the 19th century Welsh media that had kept the flame of national identity burning until the 20th century.
When Wales did eventually vote for devolution in 1997 it was “for a pretty weak assembly that looked more like a county council if I’m honest”.
“It squeaked through and in 2011 with another referendum for a primary lawmaking parliament, and it flew through by a mile – two to one.”
He added: “The UK is a very odd state, in the sense that it’s multinational. We know that, but it’s also probably the only state in Europe where if you ask people what their nationality is, they will not give as their first answer the nationality of the state that they live in.
“If you ask me my nationality, I’m Welsh, that’s the answer I always give you because that’s what I feel. Britain has moved on from what it was in the 1950s and 1960s. You have a far greater assertion of Scottish and Welsh identity within Britain.”
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