Wales has often been called the New Zealand of the Northern Hemisphere, and with good reason.
The geography of both countries are quite similar, and both have a similar population – 3.2m in Wales’ case and 4.8m in New Zealand’s.
Both live in the shadow of a larger neighbour (Australia and England), and are the butt of their farm jokes as agriculture makes a great contribution to their individual economies.
The economies of Wales and New Zealand both benefit from tourism as it annually generates billions for each country. Additionally, both countries have extensive ties in green and renewable energy.
The people are also similar – welcoming, hospitable, friendly and hard-working – and of course: the national sports of both countries is rugby.
That is perhaps where the comparison ends, as the All Black’s dominance on the rugby field isn’t the only advantage New Zealand have over Wales.
While Wales remained wedded to Westminster’s rule New Zealand took a different historical turn – developing throughout the 20th century from a British Colony into a rich first world country that is one of the leading nations in the happiness index.
Meanwhile, Wales has struggled as one of the poorest countries in Europe, with one in three children living in poverty, despite existing within a nation-state that is among the richest.
New Zealand’s example, however, shows that Wales has the ability – we just need the direction, leadership and self-determination to forge our own path.
The advantages of independence and disadvantages of depending on the over-centralised power at Westminster has been demonstrated clearly in both nations’ contrasting handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, a confident and strong leader who leads her people in an empathetic way, put New Zealand into complete lockdown.
This meant that only grocery shops, pharmacies, hospitals and petrol stations remained open, while vehicle travel was heavily restricted along with tough restriction measures – and all this after only six cases were reported in the country.
Without the need to defer to any higher constitutional power and adopt a ‘four nation approach,’ New Zealand locked down early and firmly and has near-eradicated the virus.
New Zealand had 1,154 Coronavirus cases and only 21 deaths, while Wales, a country of over 3 million has 13,415 Coronavirus cases and 1,274 deaths.
Yes, Wales with a smaller population has had 60 times as many deaths. The contrast in effectual governance on a matter of life and death has been completely stark.
However, the blame isn’t entirely on the Welsh Government as they have been dependent on the over-centralised and flawed approach of Westminster, which has insisted in interfering with the process of securing PPE kits and tests but have done and an objectively bad job of both.
The NHS service in Wales, dependent on a grant from Westminster, has been underfunded for years, and with the low stocks of PPE in a centrally controlled stockpile, we were not prepared.
This was despite Westminster having a five-week head start to prepare as they watched the virus wreak havoc across the world and in Europe.
The Welsh Government have since then improved slightly on the situation – but only by refusing to ‘fall into line’ with the UK Government and doing their own thing, particularly on messaging around the lockdown.
The empty beaches in Wales compared to heaving sands in England over the bank holiday weekend demonstrated that Wales can do better when we take an independent stance. If only we’d do so, and have the ability to do so, more often.
A better Wales
The spread of coronavirus has provided a tragic and stark example of the advantages of national independence.
But even beyond that, if we look at the economy, industry, quality of life and happiness New Zealand is ahead of us in the leagues table in every way.
This is despite being an island 1,200 miles from any other nation rather than on the doorstep of the richest continent in the world as we are.
The Government and the people of Wales should look towards New Zealand as what we could be if given independence, or at least the self-determination to control our own future here in Wales.
Wales could move from the poorest nation of Western Europe to a world leader in innovation, engineering, agriculture, energy and environmentalism.
We have the potential, ability and resources to create a better Wales. Who knows, they may well one day talk of New Zealand as the Wales of the Southern Hemisphere!
And we might one day even beat them at the rugby…