Opinion

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s comments show devolution is dying – it’s now independence or bust

30 Nov 2020 6 minutes Read
Jacob Rees-Mogg speaking in the House of Commons

Gareth Ceidiog Hughes

We keep being told that independence is not the only option.

Yes, plenty of Welsh unionists are prepared to admit that the current system is complete and utter garbage. They say they understand why we would want independence, but that it is not the answer to our travails. They say that would be to crash the bus, as if it were not already upside-down in a ditch.

The answer does not lie with the people of Wales of course. It lies elsewhere. We can leave our fate in the hands of others. The answer they say, lies in something called federalism, where Westminster changes the ingrained habit of several centuries and treats Wales with the merest modicum of respect.

This is not wishful thinking they say. These are not unicorns nor magical beans. This is hard-nosed pragmatism. This pie is firmly planted on the floor they say. It is not in the sky.

It is assertive enough they say to write ever more strident letters to Westminster. Letters that do not receive as much as an acknowledgement, let alone a satisfactory outcome to the small matter of life and death raised within them. This is what constitutes muscular devolution in their eyes. One wonders what it would look like if it were atrophied. When I look at what’s happening, I am not reminded of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, I concede, we have stood up for ourselves a little bit more of late. But when push comes to shove, we refuse to shove back.

Anyway, they will listen eventually rest assured. We can leave control of the situation in the less than capable hands of the Westminster elite. They insist that the best of both worlds is just around the corner, we just need to wait a little longer for the knights in resplendent armour to arrive on the scene and sort everything out for us. A kind of Johnsonian cakeism and eatism can be ours. Fuggedaboutit.

 

Unlikely

Besides, federalism isn’t really an answer because it treats Wales, a country, as if it were something akin to the American state of Alabama. Dim diolch. The current constitutional settlement, the one that is being ripped up by Westminster, the one that some devolutionists call assertive devolution, means Wales has far less control of its own affairs in many areas than an American state. Federalism would merely raise us to that level. It’s amazing how we’ve been conditioned to accept a slice of bread and convince ourselves it were a full loaf.

But there’s another ever so slight problem with this proposal, even if it were desirable. It just ain’t gonna happen.

Three things need to happen for it to come to pass. Labour needs to win back England, where the table is tilted towards the Conservative Party. That table will be tilted even further towards it when the new boundary changes come in. Labour also needs to win back Scotland from the SNP. On top of that, we would need Labour in Westminster to keep its promises. The first two are highly unlikely. They really do lie somewhere in the outer rim of the realm of possibility.

The third, though not entirely implausible, requires a leap of faith that I am just not willing to take. We in Wales have been burned too many times. I’ll keep my fingers out of harms way if you don’t mind.

The attacks on Welsh democracy, both rhetorical and legislative are proof of what happens when you leave the fate of the nation up to others.

The latest of a number of rhetorical salvos comes from the insufferably entitled Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg. He was not particularly subtle in his distain for the notion that the people who actually live in nations like Wales and Scotland should have a say over how they are governed.

Hedge fund co-founder Rees-Mogg said: “The last Labour government decided to take a wrecking ball to our constitution and made a bit of a muddle with it. Some of their most foolish interventions were their constitutional blunders, which were out of step with many centuries of our parliamentary democracy.

“Blairite constitutional tinkering has wakened our parliament and has helped divide the United Kingdom and I hope this Government finds an effective way of restoring our constitution to its proper form.”

On Twitter he added: “Under Labour, our constitution was vandalised and the whole of the United Kingdom suffered. We must undo their foolish tinkering.”

Illusion

People like him think they own us. The intention here is clear enough. These are not empty or idle threats. These people don’t play nice, and they don’t play fair. Remember, under the current constitutional settlement, they have the power to do this, and there isn’t all that much we can do about it.

They’re already doing it, by stealing the powers the people of Wales voted for their national parliament to have in not one but two referendums. Wales has voted for pro devolution governments in every single election for the past 20 years. The mandate for having our own parliament is cast iron. However, the power to protect it is not. The Internal Market Bill is not just outrageous anti-democratic power grab. It is an antithesis to the very idea of Welsh nationhood.

More and more people are coming to realise that there is no compromise, there is no third way to be found with unionists like Rees-Mogg. It’s independence or bust. Yet some still refuse to let go of the illusory comfort blanket of federalism.

I find the insistence that we’re going to get more control of our own affairs within the UK, when the Westminster establishment is in the process of taking away the powers we already have, utterly baffling

Federalism is the hill that many unionists have chosen to die on. Well, they’re dying on that hill, and devolution is dying along with it.

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