Brexit threatens our Assembly’s future – but Dominion status could protect us

Elystan Morgan. Picture by: Lluniau 77 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Huw Williams

Labour for an Independent Wales’ first event earlier this month seems to have succeeded – at least in catching people’s attention and creating a debate.

One set of arguments presented at the event that created particular interest was the arguments of Lord Elystan Morgan, relating to the idea of Wales’ attaining Dominion status.

Much of the response has focused on questioning the significance of what to some appears an archaic notion.

But before addressing this issue, it is worth pausing to ask why Lord Morgan thinks such a step is required.

The answer, in short, is that devolution could be in jeopardy because of Brexit.

In annulling European Law, it will be the case that Welsh legislation will have to cohere with British law – it will become the final arbiter on Welsh legislation.

In crude terms, this transfer of legal authority will open the door to the Assembly and its laws being overridden by the ‘Mother’ parliament.

In view of the current climate, and the way in which the current British Government have pushed through a new ‘reserved’ powers model for Wales (with an incredible 197 reservations) the threat to the Assembly’s future must be addressed head-on.

One way of putting devolution on firmer ground, therefore, would be to establish Wales as a Dominion.

Elasticity

The knee-jerk response to the concept of a Dominion is that it smacks of the type of colonial worldview that Morgan himself has been so critical of in his critique of the recent Conservative approach to Wales.

However, what he has in mind is adapting an old concept to serve the purposes of today’s Wales. And it is able to do so because of its elasticity.

The key point, to begin with, is the Statute of Westminster in 1931 which ratified the legislative independence of the settler colonies such as Canada, New Zealand – and the Irish Free State.

The status of Dominion was extended to what were effectively sovereign states, that shared a monarch.

Whilst it is a concept that has to some extent slipped out of our political vocabulary, it was, it seems, crucial to debates in recent years between Spain and the UK with respect to Gibraltar.

It was a concept that could satisfy both the Spanish and British claims to the rock, whilst also maintaining the autonomy of the territory.

In this respect, it seems that reforming Wales as a Dominion would provide it with the legislative independence to protect and solidify the status of our soon-to-be parliament.

It would also provide significant scope in terms of the scale of autonomy that the people of Wales might wish to see develop.

One point serves to suggest the practical nature of what is in the balance here: it is Lord Morgan’s claim that to all intents and purposes the Scottish indyref was a referendum on Dominion status, for the intent was to maintain the same Monarch (and indeed the same currency).

Referendum?

Given the elasticity of the concept, how might a referendum on Dominion status proceed? One possibility is that such a vote could have two stages.

The first question would be a straight yes/no – ‘Should Wales adopt Dominion Status?’. The second question would ask, in the case of Dominion status being attained, what extent of autonomy it should encompass.

This second question would be multi-choice, and could offer, for example, three possibilities: maintaining the current settlement, devomax, or full independence.

The immediate response might be that this will be a rather complex vote. However, we need to ask ourselves whether a level of complexity is a reason not to give the Welsh people such a choice given that we are used to two-stage voting at Assembly elections, and more pertinently given the complexity of what we have already been asked to vote on.

The referendum in 2011 was actually relatively difficult to grasp in its complexity; what would mark out a referendum of this nature, of course, would be the enormity of the choice on offer.

It would have the advantage of offering options that many different constituencies in Wales could argue for.

Those who are sceptics could campaign against, knowing that maintaining the current arrangement could even allow the possibility they crave of rowing back on devolution in future.

It would allow those who are happy with the current deal but desiring more stability to choose a suitable option, whilst also providing the opportunity for Carwyn Jones amongst others to press for radical devolution, as well as giving pro-Indy campaigners a chance to put forward their vision.

What it doesn’t allow for, of course, is a vote on a Welsh Republic, but there are good reasons for believing that the question of monarchy –as with the EU- is an issue to be addressed subsequently.

Ultimately, a referendum of this nature would require a debate and educational process mirroring that of the indyref in Scotland.

Given that the stakes are so high in the context of Brexit Britain, and given the need for us to move our democracy forward, there may be much to recommend this prospect.

At the very least, we should be talking about it.

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CapM
Guest
CapM

One day the argument –
_____________*, what’s in it for England.
will be presented. Even then I doubt that many east of Clawdd Offa will buy it.

* insert any constitutional arrangement you can come up with as long as it’s not Welsh independence.

Leia
Guest

Interesting argued. I’m not quite convinced – mostly because my emotional gut-feeling dislikes the moanarchy bit even at a token level. But in terms of legislative power it could come close to independence and would perhaps meet less resistance from those who’s gut swings the opposite way to mine and would prefer a less than total breakaway.

Gareth Tuen
Guest
Gareth Tuen

that’s exactly the point. The Monarchy is marmite, and we don’t want that can of worms entering into our fight for true self governance.
Later we will discuss sovereignty proper.

Capitalist and Welshnash
Guest
Capitalist and Welshnash

His Lordship makes a point. This is a chance for us to avoid the potentially dangerous and immature road of hyper-republicanism (and the bloodshed it usually leads to), whilst keeping what has over the last 700 years become part of our country and culture, namely our emerging Anglo-Welsh legal system and the Monarchy. And this as a buttressed defense against any post-Brexit threats to out devolved powered. With Dominion status we could focus on doing what complete independence will be useless and meaningless without: rejuvenating our Welsh language and ensuring that a majority of us speak it before establishing any… Read more »

Edeyrn
Guest
Edeyrn

Been reading the history of Welsh law and English law. Truth be told..Welsh law of 8th century was miles more advanced and progressive than English right up until the 1960s……shockingly punishing system …..yet many unquestionably think it was amazing

Trailorboy
Guest
Trailorboy

My head buys the arguments here, it’s very pragmatic and rational, but my heart can’t quite get to grips with the word and some of its connotations. .

CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

So in the last election Labour in Wales distanced itself from Corbyn’s Labour… as if to unite the vote of Labour supporters: Don’t like Corbyn? Vote Carwyn. Don’t like Carwyn, vote Corbyn. Now Labour are venturing into the lands of Plaid… Looks like they’ve found a new tactic… “Don’t agree with us? Vote for us anyway!”. I do not envision the future of our nation suffering the indignity of being ruled over by the English crown. It defeats the basic point of Welsh nationalism which started with our own monarchs – that hold such a special place in our shared… Read more »

welshpaddler
Guest

People seemingly didn’t quite grasp the Brexit referendum, what chance understanding a dominion?

Red Dragon Jim
Guest
Red Dragon Jim

I don’t like this. It sounds too different to what Scotland asked for, and would be very difficult to explain to the public.

It is still progress for Labour figures to be discussing these options. Labour and Plaid have enough voters between them to achieve whatever constitutional status they agree on.

Emyr Lewis
Guest
Emyr Lewis

After WW2 Dominion status for Wales was Plaid Cymru policy, supported by none other than Saunders Lewis. Those of a republican bent established the Welsh Republican Movement in opposition to it and many left Plaid Cymru. Some joined Labour, and one of them, Gwilym Prys Davies, became highly influential in his unassuming way in moving forward the causes of Welsh self-determination and the Welsh language within that party. It is slightly ironic, but very welcome, that Elystan Morgan, another who moved from Plaid to Labour (for different reasons at a later time), should now be suggesting this practical solution to… Read more »

Royston Jones
Guest

I’m not sure that the Scots were asked to vote on the currency in 2014. I say that because what currency would be used after independence seemed to be one of the few matters that the SNP and the Yes campaign had not thought through fully. Once this was realised then the Better Together campaign went for it big time. The picture was so confused that I’m not sure most voters knew the position when they voted. Most probably didn’t care, but the uncertainty could only have helped the No side. So to have the position made clear before any… Read more »

Wledig
Guest
Wledig

I like this idea.

It’s pragmatic, it wouldn’t alienate Welsh + British identifiers and would nudge the non-Welsh to develop a greater sense of civic identity as they wouldn’t be able to ignore our existence.

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

Dw i’n cytuno a chi. English settlers and any pro-British Welsh could continue to bow and scrape to Westminster and the royals, while Wales could have as much sovereignty as the people (or the Senedd) choose, just like the Kiwis and Canadians. And I also second those who argue that the time for deciding on a head of state comes later. As a country stuck between colonialism and post-colonialism, Wales is a very divided society; the geo-political division into Y Fro Gymraeg, Welsh Wales and British Wales is further complicated by the fact that a hefty minority in each region… Read more »

Western Welsh
Guest
Western Welsh

Dominion Status is an old Plaid objective, from way back when his Lordship was probably in Plaid himself…

Red Dragon Jim
Guest
Red Dragon Jim

I’m not convinced “this was Plaid policy seventy years ago” is a good selling point, in all honesty. It makes even less sense than ‘devo max’ which has at least been aired in Scotland.

CapM
Guest
CapM

It’s as though there’s a box of tempting constitutional chocolates open in front of us and we just have to choose one. Shall it be Dominion status delight, Confederation creme, Federation fudge, League of the Isles nutty cluster or perhaps a lucky dip one that’s wrapped in shiny red white and blue foil. First, if we get a chocolate it will be one that we are given and not one that we’ve chosen. Second, what’s the motivation for the confectioner to give us a chocolate at all when they can shut us up with a cheap Great British gobstopper. Wake… Read more »

Tame Frontiersman
Guest
Tame Frontiersman

Lord Elystan Morgan has spent much of his political life campaigning for meaningful self-government for Wales. Any proposal he has, deserves serious consideration. As I understand it, he proposed “something of the nature of dominion status” for Wales in response to provisions for further devolution of powers to Wales in the 2016 Wales Bill which he described as “ messy,” “utterly and monumentally trivial” and reflecting Westminster’s “huge imperial mentality”. “Dominion” has long been an obsolete term, even in Canada, the original Dominion of the British Empire. “Dominion status” evolved through convention as much as law and meant different things… Read more »

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

So this is what the Labour party’s current ‘Indyplay’ is all about then. Not Independence. but a mish mash of old concepts and ideas that will confuse the Labour electorate into continued submission to a party that has more a kin with the Tories than any socialist values they purport to have. Dominion status is another form of unionism and the construct of the arguement appeasement to the British. We have just passed the 51 anniversary of Aberfan and there my friends is an example of what Labour are capable of, conspiring against the people and not for. We also… Read more »

Jonathan Edwards
Guest
Jonathan Edwards

Here’s the choice. You have two ways of getting what you want. By consent. Or after a confrontation. Confrontation For this you need guts, backbone, organisation, unity of purpose, a thick skin. Be honest, does this sound like Wales today, with its risk aversion, fear of micro-aggression, dependence on hand-outs from England? I like all these virtues and aspire to them, with incomplete success no doubt. Independence? Doesn’t make me afraid. Federalism including Statehood for Wales (an enormous advance)? Bring it on? But to get them you’d have to confront England. Consent You don’t have to confront England. Stroke them.… Read more »