Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
I’ve heard more than one Welsh unionist say that if Scotland leaves the union then the whole shebang will become untenable.
What we’d be left with is a rump state of EnglandandWales, because let’s face it, at that point Ireland may well decide to unite too.
According to certain unionists, the rump empire called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is, if not perfect, at least tolerable. However, a rump union – now that’s just too much.
They may even admit that the union in its current incarnation is bad. But now quite bad enough for us to jump ship. No, we should wait for the ship to sink further and make sure we’re the last ones on it first. Only then can we head for the lifeboats before it sinks unceremoniously to the bottom of the ocean.
At that point Wales’ erstwhile loyalty to Westminster would reach breaking point. The hitherto unsnappable would finally snap. The seemingly infinitely accommodating would accommodate no longer.
Yes, we put up with Thatcherism, austerity, obscene childhood poverty, the MPs expenses scandal, rampant corruption, the class system, the drowning of Tryweryn, the unravelling of devolution and attack on Welsh democracy that is the power grab bill, and much more besides. But we can’t put up with Scotland not putting up with it anymore – oh no.
‘Balance of power’
The argument goes at that point the balance of power then would be weighted far too heavily against Wales without a Scottish counterbalance.
Wales currently has 40 out of 650 MPs, which is around 5 per cent – soon to be reduced to a mere 30. Scotland has 59, which will be reduced to 57, while Northern Ireland has a measly 18, which will remain unchanged. Though we should remember that a decent chunk of those MPs is from Sinn Féin, who refuse to take their seats in the House of Commons on a matter of principle. They do not recognise the authority of Westminster. The ideological disposition of the other Northern Irish MPs is to back the Westminster establishment.
Nevertheless, the idea is that a combination of these MPs is able to block things that it doesn’t like. It checks and balances. There’s just one tiny flaw. The counterweight doesn’t actually counter the weight. These MPs were not able to stop Thatcherism, austerity and so on.
They have not been able to stop Westminster from passing its anti-democratic power grab bill. Yes, Scotland leaving would make this problem even worse. But it’s a terrible problem already, and not one that is easily fixable within the centralising and lopsided framework of the British constitution.
They don’t deny there is a problem here. Their answer is federalism, which admittedly has its merits. They just don’t have the power to make it happen because of the aforementioned problems with the nature of the British constitution.
The other flaw with this cunning plan of just waiting to see what happens is that the ‘if’ Scotland leaves is becoming less of an if all the time.
Opinion polls have been showing a majority in support for independence in Scotland for months on end. The Scots have not taken too kindly to being taken out of the EU against the democratic will of its people. They aren’t particularly impressed with the way Boris Johnson has handled covid either.
Things have gotten so bad for unionists up there that they cheer when a poll shows it to be at a 52 per cent. I’m old enough to remember when such a poll would have been greeted with dismay, not glee.
The SNP is also on course to win a majority in the upcoming Holyrood election, at which point First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will inevitably demand a referendum. Now Boris Johnson has said he would block one. But that does not seem like an optimal strategy for shoring up support for the union. It is not the response of a man entirely confident that the Scots would vote to stick with him either.
Is Scotland departing the union an absolute certainty? No. But it is moved much closer to the ‘when’ end of the spectrum. It would therefore seem prudent to at the very least plan for such an eventuality, even if it is not your preference.
If Scotland does leave, what is left of the union won’t be that much more lopsided than it already is. On that basis it does not seem unreasonable to assume that it is a disposition, even a bias, in favour of the status quo that is maintaining their support for the union. You might even call it a form of conservatism.
Only when that status quo no longer exists, and the Joneses have moved on, can they contemplate supporting independence.