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Opinion

Out of the frying pan? Why Welsh autonomy may not be entirely safe under a Labour UK government

09 Jul 2022 5 minute read
Labour leader Keir Starmer. Picture by Kirsty O’Connor / PA Wire

Ifan Morgan Jones

For the first time in this parliamentary term, it looks like Labour may have a better than 50/50 chance of winning the next General Election.

After a hammering in 2019, the odds were that it would take them at least two or three electoral cycles to come back within a shot of winning.

However, a mixture of Conservative self-combustion over partygate and a worsening economic outlook means that a Lab-Lib coalition could now be on the cards.

Those who support Welsh autonomy may think that this would be something of a  ‘get out of jail’ card for the Welsh Government and Senedd.

After years of Conservatives chipping away at the devolution settlement, we can expect Welsh autonomy to not just be respected, but to be boosted too.

After seven years of want there could suddenly be seven years of plenty.

I think this would be Welsh Labour’s honest wish as well – but I think there’s a real danger that UK Labour’s attitude to devolution would be more lukewarm than some may think.

This would in the main be due not to Labour’s attitude towards Wales but their attitude towards Scotland.

Reform

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer knows going into the General Election that the SNP in Scotland is one of his electoral Achilles heels.

The Conservatives will pull out all the stops to suggest that voting Labour will produce a Lab-SNP pact – a ‘coalition of chaos’ that will see England run from Edinburgh, not London.

To win the election Keir Starmer needs to win middle England and will therefore bend over backwards to give the impression that the SNP will hold no sway over him.

He has already said this week that Labour will not make a deal with the Scottish National Party before or after the next general election

He also pledged to block an independence referendum even if the SNP wins more than 50 per cent of the popular vote at the next general election.

Elsewhere, we hear that the UK Labour party has rejected Gordon Brown’s interim strategy to reform devolution across the UK.

Knowing Gordon Brown, these proposals were unlikely to be particularly radical, and yet now face being watered down.

Apparently, the leadership of the UK Labour party also opposed the Scottish Labour party changing their logo from the UK-wide rose to the thistle.

This points to the Labour leadership not being particularly comfortable with autonomy for the constituent nations and regions of the UK.

In fact, in an effort to impress voters from Nuneaton, they may aim to flex their own ‘muscular unionist’ muscles to match the Conservatives.

Legislation

We have already seen this approach with Keir Starmer’s outright rejection of rejoining the EU, or even the Single Market.

The attitude at the moment seems to be that, however popular something is within the Labour party, if it’s any obstacle to winning the next election, it can be thrown overboard.

With that mindset, how unlikely would it be to see some kind of commitment to bind Wales and Scotland once and for all to the Union in a Labour manifesto, in order to impress voters in England?

We got a preview of this in the last week when Scotland Labour leader Anas Sarwar promised legislation to “require joint working between governments in areas of shared interest”.

But how do you guarantee joint working between governments that fundamentally disagree, as the Welsh and UK Governments have done on occasion?

Any kind of legislation would ultimately have to ensure that one government has a legal duty to agree with the other.

And it’s fair to say that Westminster would not legislate to bind itself to the views of the devolved parliaments.

This would ultimately require the devolved governments to ‘work with’ No 10 and Whitehall whether they wanted to or not.

Inevitable

The danger here from Wales’ point of view is that the Welsh Labour Government happily go along with the UK Government’s plans, because it is a Labour government.

While there is a Labour government in Wales and a Conservative one at Westminster, emphasising Welsh autonomy makes sense as a means to expand Labour’s own power and autonomy.

But once there are Labour governments at both ends of the M4, that motivation to seek distance themselves from Westminster fades also.

But any constitutional tinkering that binds Wales to the UK Government would also then be in place after, inevitably, a Labour government is again replaced by a Conservative one.

In the run-up to the next General Election, and after it – if Labour wins – Welsh Labour, therefore, need to take care.

They need to ensure that any plan that is created to deal with Welsh devolution is one created to suit Wales, not Gordon Brown’s attempts to bind Scotland to the union.

They need to ensure that UK Labour does not make promises to voters in England that are not in Wales’ interests.

And they need to ensure that a devolution settlement is created that would also give Wales wiggle room when there is a Conservative government back at Westminster.

As there will inevitably be before long.


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The original mark
The original mark
4 months ago

Those of us that have been paying attention, know Starmer is no fan of devolution and the lib dems, especially the Welsh flavour have even less interest in devolution, Dodds has even stated she’s worried an independent Wales wouldn’t be able to get BBC TV, what an endorsement for Welsh politics🤯

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
4 months ago

The problems is the Welsh Lib dems are unable to attract liberal minded people into their party while the main problem facing Wales is the over-centralised UK.

Most liberal people want to join Plaid Cymru which engages into the issues facing Wales.
Leaving Welsh lib dems with people whose priorities are defending the UK even when it has questionable leaders – which is so different from the English Lib dems where it is the
best party for progressive policies.

BBC broadcasts worldwide on the internet, so does DW, France24 and Al Jazeera.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
4 months ago

One could superimpose Oswald Mosley onto that photo.

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
4 months ago

The only way we can be safe is by being independent of the vile system of Westminster.
Westminster politics can’t be reformed, its not a case of “who is running the show” but the whole sorry pantomime being a toxic and unfair tragedy for all who have ever been unfortunate enough to come in contact with it.

Annibyniaeth

Arwyn
Arwyn
4 months ago

I’ve commented on this problem on another article. What hasn’t been mentioned in this article is that independence supporters in Welsh Labour have some thinking to do. Can Welsh Labour deliver a Welsh Nation State? The “Don’t knows” also have some thinking to do. I would imagine that they would largely comprise the indy-curious pro-devolution constituency. Can UK Labour be trusted to deliver a fair devolution settlement? As mentioned in a recent op-ed, the idea that we’re better governed by Westminster has clearly been debunked by the Johnson circus. But there’s another myth that needs debunking … that what Wales… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by Arwyn
Y Cymro
Y Cymro
4 months ago

UK Labour has never wanted Wales autonomy. Look no further than the 1997 devolution referenda where Tony Blair & New Labour gave Wales a talking shop Assembly with no powers, gave only Wales the derogatory title of First Secretary, parachuted Labour loyalist in Alun Michael using the Labour block vote overruling members first choice Rhodri Morgan. Scotland on the other hand were given a Scottish Parliament with numerous powers, Northern Ireland, a legislative Assembly, and both had First Ministers unlike Wales who had a First Secretary as mentioned. This is what UK Labour thought of Wales. As a lesser nation… Read more »

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
4 months ago

Westminster is Westminster no matter which colour is in power, none of the parties have done Cymru much good. We all know our best option is independence. It is time Welsh Labour woke up to that fact too.

Rob
Rob
4 months ago

I’ve always thought that once Labour return to power their enthusiasm for further devolution will wane. Labour in England would have much more to lose than the Tories would if the Union broke up, and although after the next election there will be more Labour MS than MPs in Wales, you will expect the likes of Bryant and Kinnock to voice their opposition to further powers, concerned about their own self interests. But the electoral systems in Westminster and the proposed one in the Senedd means that Labour MPs are much less likely to have to work with other parties.… Read more »

Arwyn
Arwyn
4 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Ideal for me would be the only route to a majority involves the SNP.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
4 months ago

Fact : Labour MPs at westminster (including many from Wales) have consistently resisted the devolution of criminal justice and broadcasting to Wales.

hdavies15
hdavies15
4 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

Spot on. Any reliance on a UK Labour government is an utter delusion. May be slightly better for the English regions but I have my doubts about that although some Met authorities may do better. Not very promising as anything other than replacement of the Tory mess.

Doctor Trousers
4 months ago

If Welsh Labour did go along with this, I do not believe that the people of Wales would continue to vote for them. They would have the choice of severing their ties with Westminster Labour and becoming an ostensibly pro-independence party in alliance with Plaid Cymru, or see their support base collapse and lose their voters to Plaid, probably even more rapidly and drastically than Scottish Labour lost theirs to the SNP. There is a large element of the Scottish working class for whom unionism is strongly tied to their sense of cultural identity. Labour in Scotland at least can… Read more »

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
4 months ago

Welsh Labour are convinced that UK Labour are the answer to all our problems. As great a recruitment tool as the Tories are for Welsh independence, I’m beginning to think a UK Labour government would actually be the golden goose. Boris, for all his threats to expand the “Western gateway” via M4 expansion, or to build a Holyhead to Dublin sea “bridge” was just full of bluster. UK Labour on the other hand, sound more sinister if they want to bind Wales, Scotland and NI to the union without at least promising something in return, such as further devolution. You… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by SundanceKid
Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
4 months ago

This is a further reminder – as if we needed one – that the Labour Party’s concern is ultimately about winning in England. It is a unionist party!
And NEVER EVER forget Gordon Browns so-called rip-roaring speech (covered by every media outlet) just before the referendum vote. Untold riches if you voted no……and then didn’t have the courage to defend his Westminster seat

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
4 months ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

Also remember Carwyn Jones flying up to Scotland to boost the No vote, don’t let that snake off the hook.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
4 months ago

One of the “niceties” of a referendum here is to see Carwyn Jones squirm when he shares a platform with Hart et al

Llefain
Llefain
4 months ago

As long as power in Westminster is based on pandering to England’s needs, wants, and attitudes (which it will always inherently need to be due to simple maths) we are never truly safe from anything or anyone in Westminster. Our parliament, laws, assumed rights, can be overruled, ignored, or abolished on a whim to win seats somewhere else and there is nothing we can do about it. It is not merely a problem of who England votes for but of the whole system itself, in its entirety. We deserve a system we can rely on existing, and at least have… Read more »

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
4 months ago

Any constitutional “tinkering” that does not have majority support within all four constituent nations is not legitimate and is a recipe for potential disaster.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
4 months ago

English people are 49% for England alone, as they feel it will get them the best deal.
It is the warhawks and supremacist egotists who want a “UK” or “Great Britain”, which they feel sends a power message to the world. Tiresome.

Popsie
4 months ago

Welsh Labour is nothing like the traditional Labour party.

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