It is small, independent nations that will best weather the coronavirus crisis

Picture by: David Jones (CC BY-NC 2.0)

John Ball, former lecturer in economics at Swansea University

No doubt when the current crisis is past, there will be any amount of analysis, not least on how the crisis affected Wales, how it was managed by the political system and what lessons may – or may not – be learned. That’s for another day.

What the crisis has shown is that the present political system is unsustainable. The Welsh Government, unclear of its actual powers and consequently unable to act unilaterally, with the governing party indulging in political capital (whilst glancing furtively to party headquarters in London) and whatever the truth, Wales somewhere in the queue for support and equipment.

Enter Hefin David, ever keen to score political points with blatant disregard for the facts. In a recent tweet – ignoring the substantial failings of his party and government – he seeks solace in attacking the growing independence movement. Interesting then that he should choose the week when a damning report by the University of Southampton showed that it is the Welsh economy that will be hardest hit by the current crisis.

Apparently he is not in favour of independence because (as he puts it) splitting the world into ever smaller units is the opposite of what we need right now. Really?

Evidence from around the world showed – in stark contrast to the UK – that small nations were alert to the danger and agile in response, using their political power to ensure the safety of their people. I leave the comparison with the UK to the readers.

 

Resistance

He then suggests the way forward is a Codified Constitution which in practice means a federal system. As a democratic device to bring democracy and decision making closer to the people, federalism has some attraction. Whilst many powers might be embedded in the federal states, the reality is that substantial power is retained at the centre, and that can be used to change the relationship, invariably in favour of the centre – strikingly illustrated by the current crisis: confusion between governments giving contradictory advice, instructions and bumbling interference from the centre.

The UK would remain a unitary state and it, therefore, follows that even with substantial federal powers, the most important functions of government and levers of power will be retained by the centre: the Central Bank, fiscal and monetary policy, main sources of and rules on taxation, currency, the judiciary and any legislation interpreted as relevant to the UK as a whole. These powers would mean that the centre (London) would have an advantage over the states. The reality is the evidence of existing, grudging devolution clearly shows any serious attempt to establish a federal system will meet with resistance from the centre. The British political system is unshakeably centrist and will always remain so.

Nations

Federalism may have advantages, but there are a number of inter-connected and irreversible basic failings.  The first is obvious; the centre ultimately remains the final decision maker, retains power and can amend or revoke powers previously devolved:  look at the current crisis.

The second follows the first; the centre retains control over macroeconomic policy; taxation, currency, interest and exchange rates, without which no decentralised administration is truly in control. Thirdly, notwithstanding each federal state having much the same powers, there may well be competition between them for resources: look at the current crisis.

There is however an irrefutable and fundamental weakness behind the argument for a UK federal structure. Countries with a federal structure such as Australia, Canada and Germany are by definition single nations. The UK state is not: it is made up of three constituent nations with their own distinct cultures, social values and language, all of which would be of lesser importance in any form of federalism.

There is a further deficiency which is perhaps the most important, and potentially the most dangerous. A Codified Constitution is a written document that stipulates powers, responsibilities and relationship between the federated states and the centre; once that document is written it is unalterable. If changes are needed by one of the states – a response to a serious crisis such as the current pandemic or a serious economic downturn – the ability for individual states to respond would be virtually impossible.

Just think. Despite the questionable response of the Welsh Government to the current crisis, or indeed plans to stimulate the economy afterwards, federalism and a Codified Constitution would make any individual response impossible. Is that really the way forward?

No doubt as the Assembly elections draw nearer and questions will be asked about his party’s record in power and its attitude toward independence, a favoured smoke screen will be federalism. Don’t be misled!

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Ceri
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Ceri

This article makes a vital point regarding our movement. The move to federalism in the UK would make the prospect of a fairer, freer, better Cymru all but impossible. Indeed, it would take a few generations, but could well spell the death of whatever we know regard as Cymru/Wales. It’d be an administrative region, devoid of anything above numbers on a page. For all the worry of Anglicisation, for all the worry of the decline in our language, for all the worry of an anti-Cymru government clamping down on our liberties from Westminster, none of those would spell an end… Read more »

John Evans
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John Evans

sovereign state please. Only independence will do.

huwc y diwc
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huwc y diwc

there is a preconception that YesCymru / Indy is all about borders and balkanisation – Hefin David amongst them (but others as well) you do not get defined by a border, only confined Indy is about governance – starting at our own feet – ‘how do we develop ways of action that are equitable, inclusive, healthy, sustainable and makes us happy and wealthy?’ … (and by implication) ‘… that we have not been able to do until now’ and then collaborating to the benefit of ourselves, our neighbours and the wider world YesCymru, as far as I can see, is… Read more »

Ceri
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Ceri

huwc. All peripheral options should be considered if a separate, independent Welsh state is the result. ‘You do not get defined by a border, only confined’ is a nice, pithy soundbite but not an argument. We may prefer a border. I’m not 100% against your position but let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment. There is a border between Sweden and Norway, Latvia and Estonia; they seem to get on well, even thrive together. Not ever border is a Trumpian wall or a razor-wired military checkpoint. Without a defined border that we can secure as in most sovereign states, Cymru… Read more »

Plain citizen
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Plain citizen

I get the impression the sub text on these responses is the inability without independence to unilaterally close the border with England. I can’t think of any other policy response that John Ball refers to in the cv context the Welsh government could want to implement that it can’t currently.
I accept his criticisms of a federal system insofar that sovereignty remains at the centre but it would be interesting to know in the wider economic context not just limited to the current cv situation what independent economic policies would he favour.

Dr John Ball
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Dr John Ball

I’m grateful to Plain Citizen for his question on the economy. I have written and spoken at length on the economy; too many to list here. Among others, I refer him to articles on the economy by me in Nation Cymru, Click on Wales, Agenda and the Western Mail. In 2008 I wrote a monograph on policy published by the Institute of Welsh Affairs which laid out in some detail economic policies that could be pursued within the Assembly’s current powers. Readers will not be surprised to learn it fell on deaf years.

Jonathan Edwards
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Jonathan Edwards

Reply to John Ball on the Welsh Economy. I have ordered your book from Amazon. While I’m waiting, can you tell us – why the deaf ears? What did “they” object to in your effort to get the (dismal) Welsh economy going?

Dr John Ball
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Dr John Ball

Hi Jonathan. Please note that the book was in written in 2008 to suggest ways in which the present powers of the Assembly can be used; it was not written as an independent plan – I wrote on that later. Copies were limited but a copy was sent to each MP on the Welsh Select Committee and each AM on the the Assembly Economics/Business Committee (or whatever it was called then). I am not suggesting that the book was some magic silver bullet, but it did contain ideas (and evidence) for the way forward. With the single exception of a… Read more »

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

Cywir! The issue of the border is fundamental. It wouldn’t mean armed guards at checkpoints on the M4 and A55 and all roads in between; we have to trade with our nearest neighbour, and visit relatives who may live there. But it WOULD mean Welsh control of such matters as residency rights, the ending of what is in effect transportation of those whom English local authorites are currently able to dump on Welsh towns and villages, an end to the third sector homelessness racket, an end to the blatantly-wrong house-selling system which prices out those locals in need of a… Read more »

Ceri
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Ceri

Any decision would be ours, if we didn’t like it, we vote accordingly. Anything short of full sovereignty will not allow for your version of Cymru Rhydd, my version or anyone else’s.

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

Dw i’n cytuno cant y cant.

Ceri
Guest
Ceri

Wyt ti’n ‘reiddiol o Wrecsam? Being from Swansea myself, I really enjoy hearing waaaay more pro indy voices coming from outside the Fro. Hyd yn oed os ‘nes i ffoi i’r cefngwlad n’hunan!

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

Ydw. Mae ‘na hefyd sawl pobol eraill yn wreiddiol o Wrecsam syn sgwennu sylwadau yma, dw i’n meddwl. Cadw’n ddiogel.

Ceri
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Ceri

Tithau ‘fyd

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

An earlier generation of pseudo-socialist defenders of the Unionist status quo bandied around the term “Balkanization” at a time when the horrors of the fragmenting Yugoslavia were fresh. It was the default position of “keep everything as they are” mob, a crazy mix of hardcore Loyalist Tories and obsessed centralist Blairish Labourites. Dear Hefin seems to have inherited that fixation with keeping things under the one roof despite the obvious issues arising. Federalism might have been a solution once upon a time, like pre-1914 when the Irish question might have been sorted, but this type of solution is always a… Read more »

Ceri
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Ceri

I’m not sure a federalist system would ever work when the populace of different regions hold a separate national identity that is antithetical to the unifying or ‘super-national’ identity. Welsh Labour seem to be for ever twisting in the wind, fighting invisible enemies and playing political team sports. The Tories have clearer principles which unfortunately tend towards allowing and even endorsing corruption and an unwavering support for the UK model. The Lib Dems seem to have an identity crisis here in Wales, constantly playing catch up and stubbornly holding on to support for a union that, logically, they should oppose.… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Living in a small independent country certainly awakened me to our possibilities. But, we really must UNITE!

Mathew Rees
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Mathew Rees

It’s not going to happen. Just watch the Tories get 27-29 seats in Wales next year.

Ceri
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Ceri

Mathew – this is Political Poekmon playing once again. Think beyond just party politics. Our freedom may not (but may) come via initiating political change but given the hundreds of years we’ve been subjects, it’d be hard for us to break free from their game anyway. Cultural/social movement is the way to go.

Conventon.Cymru
Guest

Reply to John Ball on “Nation”/Federal – careful with the word “Nation”. I’d love Wales to be a “Nation, once again!” But the term is not helpful. We need to consider whether or not Wales is a State in international law. If not, what can we do about it? We have a “Nation” emotion but what we need is a State. Wales is not a State. Its not that we can’t control our currency or tax. Our failing is that we have not met in a Convention, made a Declaration and adopted our own Constitution and put it into effect.… Read more »

Ceri
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Ceri

clywch clywch

Dr John Ball
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Dr John Ball

Time is not our side.
I worry that Wales is a nation without a state; unless things change quickly we will be a state without a nation.

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

The federal division of powers should be within Wales. There’s little benefit in moving from being ruled from London, a city two and a bit hours away to Cardiff, a city three and a bit hours away unless the latter sees powers residing at a local and regional level except when there are good reasons for them to be centralized. The Swiss approach would be worth exploring.

Ceri
Guest
Ceri

I would prefer a Swiss (or USA or Estonian) modeled free state here, but if you offered me the exact same model as exists in the UK but scaled down for an independent Wales, I’d bite your hand off, then seek to lobby and vote in favour of the type of government I’d like to see, because we’d have control of our own nation. Yes, Caerdydd and London are not that far away from each other. There is one big difference though, which I think undermines your position – One is the capital city of Cymru, the other is not.… Read more »

Mawkernewek
Guest

The current UK model of devolution only makes sense for the UK. Where else in the world has a partial federalism where several of the smaller nations have a devolved government like states in a federal union would, but the largest one doesn’t? I suppose it would be too much of a rival if a single England government was created in addition to the UK government, and it suits some for the UK government to just double as the England government. Creates a useful sense of confusion i suppose. Alternatively they could give it regional governments, and then you get… Read more »

Ceri
Guest
Ceri

I agree, there will always be unsolvable power imbalances in our current system. Just for clarity, I think federal model may work for an independent Welsh state, not in the UK as it exists now.

convention.cymru
Guest

Very lively and thoughtful contributions, Ceri. Diolch. Lets sort out the ‘federals’ here. UK – federal? Seems this will not work because the UK has kind of tried it. None of the historic regions of England seem to have much interest. We like the White Rose Society, but there’s no Yorks for Indy. NE of England looked at a ‘Wales 1978’ plan for the NE, but said ‘No’. Mercia ought to be a strong candidate to run its own health & education, say. But no Mercia for Indy. Liverpool could be a City State like Hamburg, but no real campaign.… Read more »

Sian Ifan
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Sian Ifan

NEVER MIND ALL THIS POLITICAL/CULTURAL NATIONALIST ANXT – WE NEED TO CONCERN OURSELVES MORE WITH OUR ECONOMIC FUTURE AND HOW WE WILL SURVIVE CORONA CATASTROPHE , I STRESS ECONOMIC WELL BEING! Gethin.

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

Shwmae Gethin – Could you say that again I can’t hear you !

Sian Ifan
Guest
Sian Ifan

IF YOU INSIST but not to upset internet conformism. To continue my thoughts on welsh economic revival, forget YES CYMRU & Under One Bus, Jac EIN GWLAD, GWLAD GWLAD & WNP et al. Thinks Basque MONDRAGON, an Economic National Movement. You Take It From There? Gethin.

Ceri
Guest
Ceri

Here we go, political ideology masquerading as economic theory. Mondragon has proved to be good in some respects, disastrous in others. The main champions of the system/corporation seem to largely ignore criticism and claim it has total support from the Basque people (it doesn’t). We may have broad support in Wales to start such a worker-led corporation, but without our own state we end up doing as the Basque people do – own a corporation that still benefits (props up, you may say) a country we do not have an equal relationship with. How close to independence are the Basques?… Read more »

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Economic wellbeing? In a colonial economy?

Anthony Mitchell
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Anthony Mitchell

I won’t for anyone not pro independence.

Jase
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Jase

Sorry to burst your obsessive bubble but the separatist vote peaks at around 12%

Ceri
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Ceri

Another gem.

Jase
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Jase

Care to show me evidence otherwise clever clogs?

Ceri
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Ceri

Given the nature of my previous comments, which clearly outline my position, and the general character of this thread, votes and opinion polls thus far are pretty irrelevant, showing you either are not folwing the discussion or don’t understand the points being made . We’re looking to build a movement, support seems to be growing, interest seems to be growing, multiple political theories, economic preferences, cultural outlooks are welcome, we all just want a free Cymru. I welcome the opposing view (in fact, we can’t win the argument without a good opposition); what you seem to offer is broken/short sentences… Read more »

Eifion
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Eifion

Da iawn Ceri caead ar ei biser o gobeithio