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Opinion

It’s time for the Welsh independence movement to present a compelling vision of a brighter future

12 Mar 2023 3 minute read
YesCymru independence march in Merthyr Tydfil. Lluniau gan / Pictures by Lluniau Lleucu

John Ball, former lecturer in economics at Swansea University

Whether support for independence in Wales has really declined, as suggested by the recent poll, or is simply a blip, remains to be seen.

But, surely the time has come for the movement to stop endlessly bleating about the problems and – as the CEO of YesCymru put it – present a compelling vision of a brighter future?

Start with the economy.

Small, independent European states have been the economic success stories of the past thirty years. The measure invariably used is Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.

This is an arbitrary measure based on dividing the nations productive wealth by its population but is a measure used by all countries and agencies.

The six nations with the highest GDP per capita are Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. The fastest growing economy in Europe pre-covid was Ireland, outstepping all the other EU member countries. Ireland was once the poorest country in the entire European continent, as a free nation it has flourished.

Perhaps a more interesting measure is to look at personal incomes, the nations with the highest personal incomes are Luxembourg, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

Four European nations outgrew EU average economic growth by a factor of 5%; Slovakia and the three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Just thirty years ago these were backward, subjugated soviet states. All are small and each has a population smaller than that of Wales, and their combined population only just exceeds that of Wales!

Quality of life

However, it is not all about the economy, it’s also about quality of life. The Human Development Index, essentially a quality-of-life index, examines factors that encourage a high standard of living.  The six highest scoring nations by this measure are Norway, Sweden, Ireland (again!), Iceland, Sweden and Finland.

Medical care is always an issue. This relationship throws into hard focus the link between economic and personal care. Nations with the lowest ratio of doctors to population are Austria, Finland, Norway, Finland and Ireland.

All these have successful, growing economies and demonstrate that a nation’s health is driven by its wealth, the richer the nation, the more healthy the population. Mental and physical health is determined by wealth and education. It is no coincidence that these nations have a healthy population.

Which raises in turn the role of education. The nations with the highest standards of education are Singapore, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, reflecting their high level of spending on education.

There are other, perhaps more humdrum factors at work in the small nations. The happiest nations are Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland, and apparently, the best places to raise children are Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.

Things are not going to change overnight. But other small nations, many on the periphery of Europe or former soviet satellites (or both), have shown what is possible; a vibrant economy and an enviable standard of living for their people.

Above all, these nations have a high degree of social cohesion, are culturally, politically and economically strong and are proud of their success, language, culture and place in the world. We must join them!


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Richard
Richard
11 months ago

It is all very well to simply point out other small nations that are prospering as independent states but proponents of independence need to point out how we in Wales could make it a reality here. Every country is different and what has worked in other countries may not necessarily be the answer here. On the other hand if there are lessons from other countries that can be successfully applied here they need to say what they are. Then the independence campaigners would need to explain why a complete break from the UK would be necessary to secure that economic… Read more »

Dail y Goeden
Dail y Goeden
11 months ago
Reply to  Richard

Iceland is another example of a small nation (population 375,000, so about twice that of Flintshire, or half that of north Wales) which went from poverty to prosperity during the twentieth century. (And, yes, with the 2008 financial crash its “Nordic tiger” growth suffered severely.) [See Economic history of Iceland – Wikipedia ]

I cite it only as one more comparison with Ireland and with Wales. Others are better than me at analysing the economics. But, as Dr Ball suggests in his article, the comparisons between small countries (like those between larger ones) are valid ones to consider.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
11 months ago
Reply to  Richard

I am not suggesting that Ireland has “always prospered.” What I am suggesting is that a poor, small nation can become prosperous, as indeed has Ireland. Interesting though. For much of the twentieth century – and for that matter the twenty first – Wales has been a very poor country and remains so. Ireland has not. Your comment on grandchildren remaining in poverty is sadly a reflection of the present economic situation in Wales. Please read the article with an open mind. Things will not change overnight, but the evidence form the small, previously poor nations, especially the former soviet… Read more »

Richard
Richard
11 months ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

Where did I say that I wanted Wales to remain a poor country?

hdavies15
hdavies15
11 months ago
Reply to  Richard

It’s implied in your initial comment pouring negative doubts about Ball’s brief analysis. The old ” ah,but” “ah,but” reluctance to examine the proposition. We are in the gutter, colonised by the Tories and facing the prospect of that condition being continued by a Westminster Labour regime which will find the Bay Bubble crew to be willing accomplices. Too many people in the nationalist camp who will happily settle for a few more crumbs instead of taking control of the table and entire menu.

Richard
Richard
11 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

So since when is it “negative” just to ask legitimate questions?

Iago Prydderch
Iago Prydderch
11 months ago

I can tell you what’s going to happen. The same as what’s happened for over the last 100 years. At the next general election people in Wales will vote Labour to kick the Tories out of government because their hatred of the Tories is stronger than their belief in Welsh independence. They will vote for a Labour Party that doesn’t support independence for Wales because they are a Unionist party just like the Tories. Only yesterday, as reported on Golwg360, Mark Drakeford says only Labour can save the United Kingdom. Has Nation Cymru reported this? Are people really serious about… Read more »

Dail y Goeden
Dail y Goeden
11 months ago

A detail: when Dr Ball writes “Nations with the lowest ratio of doctors to population are Austria, Finland, Norway, Finland and Ireland…”, I think, from his context, that he must mean the _highest_, not the _lowest_. [The highest number of doctors per 1,000 population.]

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
11 months ago
Reply to  Dail y Goeden

I think it can be read either way. What I meant was, put another way, is the number of patients per doctor is much lower.
Thank you for the comment.

Frank
Frank
11 months ago

Quote: “Whether support for independence in Wales has really declined, as suggested by the recent poll, or is simply a blip, remains to be seen.” Does anyone really conduct these mysterious polls or is it just propaganda by people who do not want Wales to succeed and be in charge of itself? I believe that support for independence is stronger now than ever but I do agree that we need a cast iron plan for our future.

Last edited 11 months ago by Frank
Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
11 months ago
Reply to  Frank

Interesting comment!
Just for the record, if the (statistically acceptable) trick of excluding don’t knows, support is actually about 24%

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
11 months ago

Ultimately, if we wait for the perfect economic conditions to become independent – it will never happen. Ireland has been quoted here on a number of occasions – did it stop the fight for independence fearing it was too poor? No. It believed in itself and look where it is today compared to the Welsh economy. With belief, courage and perseverance we too can make Cymru a very successful, prosperous country and we are stronger now than many of those countries listed in the article were when they set out. If we stay in the Union we will remain a… Read more »

Hayden
Hayden
11 months ago

It would be great to be able to read more articles like this with more detail. Could you look closer at Slovenia, maybe? It’s a very close match to Wales in terms of geographical area and the topography isn’t too dissimilar either. I was wondering about their economy; it seems to be doing fine and it’s a socialist democracy too. Their population is smaller though.

CJPh
CJPh
11 months ago
Reply to  Hayden

How is Slovenia a socialist republic? I thought it was a parliamentary democracy that has just had a government of Conservatives (who, by comparison to UK Conservatives, are slightly more right wing) and a currently headed by a liberal/Left/neo-liberal coalition? Is there something I’m missing here? Or are they a ‘socialist’ system as is often erroneously attributed to the Scandinavian nations? Ireland is (imho) the best contemporary exemplar for lots of reasons, but there are so many potential models that we are best served by looking closely at our own extant, historical and ineffable (culture, ‘national character’ etc) than trying… Read more »

Hayden
Hayden
11 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

Hello again. I wasn’t suggesting copying Slovania but think people can be encouraged by seeing countries of similar size, landscape and politics make good, so people can see independence isn’t just a pipe dream or something which could bring a lot of scary, unknown negatives. It’s something many countries have already done successfully, and without going to hell in a handbasket. Slovenia was socialist leaving Yugoslavia, now it’s a liberal social democracy. I don’t know about any right-wing conservative government there.

CJPh
CJPh
11 months ago
Reply to  Hayden

Ah, got it. Agreed – so many examples of European nations emerging (often from a worse overall position than we’re in today) that prove that we would be fine. Prosper, even. I also think, to reiterate, that we can actually aim to do ‘better’ than many of these nations – a big benefit from going it alone after these places is that we can learn from their missteps.

Last edited 11 months ago by CJPh
Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
11 months ago

Hear hear John – very well put!

Lib Dem YesCymru Ilfiltrator
Lib Dem YesCymru Ilfiltrator
11 months ago

Your nation is your property.
Acquiring freedom means taking responsibility for your own property and treating it like you have a duty to keep it.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
11 months ago

Too right we should join them, so let’s start with a list of all the things about Cymru we should be grateful for…

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
11 months ago

Thanks John for writing this article. This is possibly one of the most important articles this newspaper has ever published and each case has been made clearly. Now, We have to get Yes Cymru to get this publication to every person in every household in Wales. Nothing will happen until we, in Wales, elect a majority in our Senedd that will put the case for independence. Electing Plaid Cymru will guarantee that independence is total of the agenda. Labour has been a disappointment for Wales. It hasn’t solved the poverty problem. It is letting the UK (with their Tory regime)… Read more »

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