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Opinion

Might a ‘Celtic union’ be one route to shifting the balance of power within the UK?

12 Jun 2022 5 minute read
First Minister Mark Drakeford. Picture by Ben Birchall / PA Wire. Sinn Fein’s Vice-President Michelle O’Neill. Picture by Liam McBurney / PA Wire. Nicola Sturgeon by the Scottish Government (OGL v1.0).

Ifan Morgan Jones

One of the criticisms aimed at the Welsh national movement from the left is that, while it correctly identifies that Wales is economically and politically neglected by Westminster, it fails to recognise that much of the rest of the UK is in the same boat.

And this criticism is fair enough – the UK’s economic periphery includes large parts of England as well, not just Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Even the UK Government, with its campaign to ‘level up’ large parts of the UK, recognises this is so. In a speech this time last year the Prime Minister said that the UK “has a more unbalanced economy than almost all our immediate biggest competitors in Europe”.

Ironically, it could be that by making ‘levelling up’ a slogan but completely failing to deliver it the UK Government have only succeeded in moving the issue of regional inequality to the centre of the political debate in a way it wasn’t before.

That in turn could boost calls for devolution and independence, rather than bring the Union closer together as was the original intention.

However, while much of the UK outside the South East of England has been ‘left behind’, this hasn’t led to any kind of joined-up opposition to Westminster’s political and economic centralisation.

The reason for this is simple enough – the economic periphery of the UK has no institutions in common. There is no Parliament of The Nations and Regions Neglected by Westminster.

While criticism of Westminster from the North of England has ramped up since cities such as Manchester and Liverpool got their own devolution deals, the region as a whole has no unified political institutions to give it a single voice.

This is why any movement for more independence or further autonomy has naturally fractured along national and regional lines – within Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and their respective parliaments.

Ties

However, while there is no non-Westminster institution bringing together Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, their own individual domestic politics are moving in such similar directions that there may be more scope for them to work together.

Since the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in May, all three have for the first time as their largest party a left-wing, pro-autonomy party that is critical of Westminster’s lack of economic investment and wants closer economic ties with the EU.

Wales is the odd one out in that the largest party doesn’t want to break away from the United Kingdom altogether. But Welsh Labour in a cooperation agreement with a party that does, and has set up a commission that will explore independence as an option.

And while Mark Drakeford’s Labour v Conservative fight aligns along exactly the same geographical boundaries as Plaid Cymru’s Wales v Westminster one, it’s hard to differentiate between the two left-wing parties.

The SNP and Sinn Fein meanwhile have little motivation to make the UK work, but they may find leaving a harder task than they may have hoped.

Despite everything, a sustained majority for independence remains elusive in Scotland, and there is no clear legal route to another independence referendum without Westminster’s say-so.

Northern Ireland meanwhile faces two challenges – not just to leave one country but to join another, which may not necessarily want the economic and political aggravation that would come with incorporating the six additional counties.

They may, in the near turn, have to learn how best to live within the UK for the time being while wielding as much autonomy as possible over their own affairs.

Collective bargaining

If that is the case, a short-term fix for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland might be a greater degree of cooperation with each other, as a union within a union.

Apart they make up a fraction of the UK but together they have over 10m people – 15% of the UK population. After boundary changes, they will have between them 107 seats at Westminster.

If they could find a way of working together in their mutual interest, that’s a fair degree of combined influence, particularly if the next General Election produces a hung parliament.

And even if Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland do opt to leave the UK, some kind of collective bargaining could be beneficial for all.

As the UK is realising after Brexit, sovereignty alone doesn’t make you the master of your own destiny. We live in a globalised economy and so a nation’s neighbours, especially if they’re part of a larger bloc, continue to be able to exert a great deal of influence.

Being able to jointly negotiate such a relationship would lead to a better deal for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland than fighting their corner against the UK and EU individually.

And taking that step towards greater autonomy or independence together as an union, either formally or as allies, might feel like less of a step into the unknown.

And if parts of present-day England – the north, or perhaps Cornwall – want to disentangle themselves from Westminster’s influence, there would be nothing stopping them from joining the club either.


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Y Cymro
Y Cymro
5 months ago

Cooperation is vital between the Welsh, SNP Governments and the Sin Fein led NI Assembly, especially seeing the toxic Tory climate toward devolution and how the English block vote and Labour red wall constituencies are highly likely to elect Boris Johnson idiocracy again.

Richard
Richard
5 months ago

It’s the nations working together is the main thing . Gwynfor Evans and his Celtic League and inter Celtic Congress had great vision on this. The Cultural links are working and even Celtic sports which link Cornwall and Brittany in wrestling should be joined by us plus Celtic gig rowing 🚣‍♀️ etc. The Celtic Film Festival and Pan Celtic Arts and Song 🎵 contest need to be joined by other links around Second Homes policy and Community initiatives. So much to learn from each other in so many ways and elected members from Tynwald, An Consel Kernow plus the Breton… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by Richard
Matthew Webley
5 months ago

The Tory party are a bunch of crooks. They’re transferring power and wealth from the working and middle class to the 1%. How anyone voted for this lot is unreal.

Llinos
Llinos
5 months ago

Don’t want to shift the balance. That time is past. I want us out. A “Celtic” (we are not Celtic) Alliance once we are all free of the Union sounds like a great idea. But for as long as we are trapped in the dis-Union an internal alliance is a means to an end. Not an end in itself

CJPh
CJPh
5 months ago
Reply to  Llinos

100% on point – how would forming a union of disperate nations to prove that we should end a union of disperate nations work? Well to appease (and ultimately destroy) our movement. I love Scotland and Ireland, the culture, the history, all my friends there or from there. Edinburgh and Dublin are two of my favourite places. I also love Quito in Ecuador. And the cuisine of Louisiana. And Appalachian music and folk ways. And the Cairo dialect of Arabic. There are lots of different places that we would like to be friends with. Can’t start that relationship properly until… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by CJPh
Jack
Jack
5 months ago

I can see why this would be appealing to Welsh Labour but I’d be surprised if Sinn Fein and the SNP would be keen for this.

Ultimately their aims are to leave the Union all together, and if this were successful it could be used as an example of “Look, the Union works!”. (Whether or not that’s true isn’t relevant, as long as it’s perceived to be true)

Llinos
Llinos
5 months ago

I think a union with Russia would be a good idea. We could include the Ukraine once it becomes fully Russian again. Z!

Llinos
Llinos
5 months ago
Reply to  Llinos

Yes very funny Phil.

Phil
Phil
5 months ago
Reply to  Llinos

I’m sorry Llinos. I’m a self-loathing incel creep who gets off on spoiling other people’s days by copying their names and posting childish nonsense. I hate all women because my mother never loved me. This is also why many of my alternative identities are female.

Last edited 5 months ago by Phil
CJPh
CJPh
5 months ago

The persistent anti-Westminster angle may be a bit of a loser for us. A “better alternative” angle may be the way to go with messaging – a lot of people (present state of the institution aside) have a great deal of admiration for the parliamentary system invented over there. Indeed, many nations pro-indy people bring up to highlight best practice that we can model our own nation on use a system based on English common law and the Westminster model. The adverserial approach that is currently used can come across as bitter and overly radical. As justified as the passion… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by CJPh
Popsie
5 months ago

Flying a kite when the wind isn’t blowing.

Poopsie
Poopsie
5 months ago
Reply to  Popsie

So long as it is an English kite it is the best kite in the world powered entirely by hot air

Phil
Phil
5 months ago

I like bum stuff

arthur owen
5 months ago

Fantasy island.But why?

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
5 months ago

Very good idea

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
5 months ago

”One of the criticisms aimed at the Welsh national movement from the left is that, while it correctly identifies that Wales is economically and politically neglected by Westminster, it fails to recognise that much of the rest of the UK is in the same boat.” I don’t see why this should prevent people in Wales wanting to do the best for Wales. Do people in poorer parts of London or in parts of France not try to improve their situation because the situation is worse in say Bangladesh? Would Gandhi have thought India should not be independent because other parts… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by Stephen Owen
SundanceKid
SundanceKid
5 months ago

The author fails to grasp the fact that Westminster cannot prevent independence if there is a consensus for it. The United Nations recognise every nation’s right to self-determination and if Scotland hold an independence referendum, without Westminster’s approval, and win it. What then? How long could Westminster cling on as it would surely only be a matter of when, not if, Scotland were to leave. Another thing he fails to grasp is there is certainly no appetite for a union as he proposes, nor for a federal UK, that would grant Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland equal power to that… Read more »

Jac
Jac
5 months ago
Reply to  SundanceKid

Respectfully, cf. Catalonia, SundanceKid, or Kosovo, or Taiwan, etc. Westminster most certainly can prevent independence, even if there is consensus for it. Understandably, the UK hasn’t the same written constitution that conspicuously doesn’t allow for secession from within, but what’s most apparent is one of the key components of a successful transition to independence is international recognition. International diplomacy is closed-door club, and the UK’s current allies will align their views with the central government, that much is certain. A central government that is on side, therefore, and a willing partner in independence transition, is absolutely necessary. With regards to… Read more »

Alun
Alun
5 months ago

To me it’s absolutely blindingly obvious that Wales needs to work more closely with Ireland and Scotland

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