Can Wales afford to be independent? The question is can we afford not to be?
Rhys ab Owen MS
As the deadline approaches for my party’s submission of its evidence to the Independence Commission, and with one calendar month remaining until the public survey closes, I’ve been reflecting on the perceptible shift of Welsh Independence into mainstream conversation.
While for Plaid Cymru, this has always been a mainstream issue – indeed it’s the first stated aim in our constitution – there has been a noticeable increase in support within other parties.
Most notably Labour – presumably much to the dismay of the Unionist Drakeford. And there are many not affiliated to any political parties that are more than just a little Indy curious.
A recent YouGov poll showed that support for Welsh Independence had increased by 4% – that’s quite some shift in just a space of three months.
Shortly after, thousands marched for independence on the streets of Wrexham.
And many more have been having their say on the public survey on the constitutional future of Wales.
The Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, and the opportunity it presents to take the national conversation forward, tells us a very clear message that more and more people believe we can shape a better future for Wales through independence.
To gather evidence to submit to the Commission, Plaid Cymru held a series of grassroots events across our nation, hosted by Leanne Wood, for members and supporters of Plaid Cymru.
The clearest message we’ve had is that representation of Wales in the Westminster system is wholly inadequate. You only have to look at the fact that Wales has never – in democratic times – voted for a Conservative government, yet more often than not Wales has been ruled by the Conservatives.
This is about more than just which party is in charge, this is also about the fact that Wales is ruled by a party in another country, and that the system is no longer working for Wales.
The attacks on the welfare state by successive UK governments is seen as very negative, as is the fact that the Senedd does not have power to fully tackle these issues.
If Wales had its independence from the UK Government, then we’d have full control over welfare and the benefits system and would be able to stop the privatisation of the NHS – just one example cited in our grassroots sessions for how Independence could help us shape a better future for Wales.
Similarly, our survey responses suggest that, particularly in younger age groups, there is a strong belief that the current social justice system is not working.
There is an anomaly in Wales that the Senedd can create laws, but that Wales shares a legal jurisdiction with England. For Scotland, the justice system is fully devolved.
Soon into any discussions about Independence, the economy crops up.
As it should – financing Independence is one of the most important things to be able to demonstrate if we are to have a serious conversation about Independence with the Welsh public.
The Commission will almost certainly have to address this up front, but evidence from our feedback also suggests that not enough focus is put on the flip side to this: Namely, the financial risk to Wales of saying in the UK. We talk about the cost of Independence, but do we ever talk about the cost of the Union?
The unfairness of the current Barnett Formula is just one example, as is the fact that we do not have control over the Crown Estate, meaning all the profits from leasing offshore land to things like wind farms, disappears into the UK treasury, with 25% skimmed off the top for the Royal Family.
A recent example of the cost of staying in the Union is HS2 – that rail project we’ve dubbed ‘The Great Train Robbery’.
Because we do not control our rail infrastructure we receive no balancing increases in the Welsh block grant to compensate for hugely expensive projects such as HS2 which benefits only England and in this case is harmful to the Welsh economy.
Under the Barnett formula, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be entitled to a proportion of the HS2 costs. This means Wales will lose out by £250m a year while Scotland will benefit by £350m.
Over the lifetime of the project, it means £11 billion for Scotland but nothing for Wales.
A clear example of how Westminster is not working for Wales, and a clear example of the cost of the Union to Wales.
Despite this, the GDP of Wales is approximately £73bn (2018), which makes Wales the 70th richest country in the world.
The narrative is rightly being shifted from speculating about the cost of independence, to the cost of staying in this unequal union, and whether a better working relationship with our nearest neighbours could be forged if we first sought independence? And whether our GDP might increase?
Certainly without a central bank or the economic levers, we will never be able to address structural inequalities in Wales, and the key to these lies in Independence.
Wales cannot have a coherent social justice programme, ensure a preventive approach to crime, tackle issues of overcrowding in prisons, stop women prisoners being sent away, effectively deal with legal aid disappearing, and all the other problems with the legal system without the devolution of justice.
Nor can we ever hope to protect human rights if we stay in this Union, which is currently in the midst of discussions around withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights.
An independent Wales could have its own Bill of Rights to enshrine these into law.
Whatever the next steps taken by the Independence Commission, there is certainly food for thought.
Because for me, this is no longer simply about whether we can afford to be Independent – it’s whether we can afford not to be.
Rhys ab Owen MS is Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson on the constitution and justice and is Member of Senedd for South Wales Central
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We need to communicate how our economy will work post independence. We need to cover a number of eventualities. Will there be a Confederation in which we share the pound? Will there be a hard border and a Welsh currency? Will it be something between the two? The fundamental basis of all economies is primary production – energy, agriculture, raw materials. Will we continue to use the National Grid? How will we connect to external markets? Nationalised or privatised utilities? Do we stick with meat and dairy? Do we make sure Wales is self sufficient in growing food? Next up… Read more »
Is there anything stopping us in Wales from setting up a central bank and issuing our own money, it may need asset backing if it is to stand the financial test but it is possible.
Before actual independence we would still have the BoE £ but a Welsh currency can run alongside keeping the economy and wealth within Wales.
Totnes in Devon, England has already issued a local currency in a small scale mainly within the retail sector, so legally it may be possible now.
The Welsh Government should research this.
There are indeed many questions that need to be addressed.
However, I think it worthwhile to point out that some of these at least have been well answered through articles in Nation Cymru and the Institute of Welsh Affairs publications and on-line articles.
There is a very interesting article on currency on the latest Yes Cymru newspaper.
True enough but for most people the idea of independence is akin to a black hole about which they have a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety. And that is when we here the all too familiar meme … too poor, can’t afford it. We need to get better at putting an “imaginable future” in front of people. That’s what I liked about GCJ’s idea. There were details with which I disagreed but I can see in it an approach that can deliver the X’s we need at the ballot box.
Better read up on degrowth, Rhys. The last thing our planet needs is countries increasing their GDP and hence their bootprint on the planet. And about MMT (Modern Monetary Theory, aka the magic money tree). Neo-liberal capitalism is finished, Cymru needs to look ahead. Financing independence need not be an issue, but we can make it one by focusing on exports or trying to emulate the disastrous and doomed UK economy. There are answers to these issues, nothing would be insoluble to a fully independent country. No, we cannot afford not to be independent.
Increasing GDP and therefore ‘bootprint’ on th planet, are not synonymous.
Denmark is an independent country in the EU.
One of its fastest growing industries are Renewables and recycling.
It has the largest Wind turbine manufacturing industries in the world !
It can be done here in Wales.
If tiny states like Malta can be independent, so can we? It’s rediculous to say otherwise. Wales has an abundance of natural resources, including the most important one being the Welsh people.
We have so much untapped potential as a country either going to waste or benefitting others.. Enough is enough. Britain has failed Wales. Time we were free of Whitehall misrule and returned to being an independence nation we once were.
#YesCymru 🏴. #Ymlaen 🏴 #WelshIndependence 🏴👍 #FreeUsFromWhitehallMisrule 🇬🇧 ⛔
As long as we unite, Left and Right!
Agreed. But all voices for Indy. Not just the political poles. Debated, but not shouted down
Malta has very attractive personal and corporate tax rates aimed at attracting inward investment and creating private sector jobs. I haven’t seen any suggestion of lower taxes in an independent Wales but I’d be interested to read about that if it has actually been put forward at some point
Could someone tell me what England has got that Wales has not got ?? they have stolen All our welth from coal and slate and steal over a hundreds of years and they are stealing our water now plus all that wind energy. and with global warming they will be looking to flood more valley’s for more water and don’t pay for it look out wales.And Wales can feed itself can England?? Wake up Wales before it’s too late we must have Independents for our children and grandchildren
Cymru has been shafted for centuries it is the primary reason why we are so poor. It has only got worse over the last 40 years with Thatcherite right wing policies (pretty much continued under the Blair government) in place. Enough is enough ! Why should our children be poorer than those of the rest of the UK? Why should our infrastructure be inadequate? Why should we put up with little investment from Westminster? Why should we, as a proud country, with its own language and culture, be still dictated to by our neighbour? Our minds should now turn to… Read more »
Whilst I agree that the key goal must be Independence, perhaps we should spend more time exploring the various scenarios in which Wales could be independent. Let us take as exemplars some of the smaller states that have since become independent after the collapse of the USSR. Are they successful, and if so how did they get to that state? What can we learn from their journey? There is probably a great deal of detail to examine but we could probably get some general guidelines. Simple Brexit style Independence where we leave the UK and put up border posts would… Read more »
If you want to cut that link then the only way to guarantee that is with a Nation State. What you’re outlining is a federal UK. That’s the policy of Welsh Labour and the Lib Dems, albeit not the policy of Labour UK who are yet to take the wrapper off the unilateral legislation “to save the Union” that Starmer proclaimed they would enact if they win the next GE. I personally support the policy of a Welsh Nation State within a Confederal Britain that Plaid Cymru have set out. My personal preference is for a relatively light touch arrangement… Read more »
Where is this westminster devo friendly politics going to come from, there isn’t a single party in Westminster that’s in favour of devolution (apart from PC) as it is. Let alone giving Wales more power.
You are right, independence should be as hard as brexit. Brexit is driven by ideological idiots. We can achieve our autonomy and still have very close links to the rest of the UK and for that matter the rest of Europe eventually. Isolating ourselves, as what has evidently happen with brexit – would be a stupid thing to do.
The people who oppose independence are the people who do an honest day’s work, have something to show for it, and who are afraid of the Cardiff socialista. The people who are for independence are those who think there’s something in it for them. Just read Caradoc Evans, please.