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Opinion

The chaotic last 48 hours has exploded the myth that Westminster can run Wales better than we can ourselves

07 Jul 2022 4 minute read
Boris Johnson. Picture by House of Commons

Ifan Morgan Jones

Just last week, the now-former Welsh Secretary Simon Hart was sitting in the Senedd making the case that the UK Government should be able to interfere in areas devolved to Wales, such as education.

Just last week, the UK Government was clawing back funds from devolved areas to pay for commitments in areas already paid for by Welsh taxes.

And just last week the UK Government stated its intention to scrap Welsh law – without even telling the Welsh Government.

A week later this ‘Westminster knows best’ attitude seems faintly ridiculous after what has probably been one of the most chaotic 24 hours in the institution’s 800 year history.

The Wales Office, Levelling Up and Intergovernmental Relations offices, who wanted to snatch back control over Welsh powers, have been left leaderless and rudderless by political infighting.

The best argument against devolution – and the argument still made against independence – was that Westminster knows better how to run our affairs than we do.

That there is a level of competence and expertise in that square mile of London forged over centuries that is beyond anything that Wales can muster.

Wales and Scotland had over the last 20 years already begun to chip away at this perception, thanks to stable devolved governments in both countries.

Even voters in England rated the Welsh Government’s handling of the Covid pandemic above that of Boris Johnson’s No 10.

And with the chaotic last 48 hours, culminating in Boris Johnson’s announcement that he will belatedly resign, the final veneer of that idea that Westminster is uniquely ‘strong and stable’ has been stripped away.

There is now no reason to think that Wales, or Scotland, can’t do as good a job – or better – of running a country than Westminster can.

Off the rails

It may be tempting therefore to think that Welsh devolution has been saved by the bell, and that we can all take a breath of relief.

Just as the UK Government was finally set to start tearing chunks out of devolution, it collapsed for completely unrelated reasons.

But it’s worth remembering that the Westminster elite’s belief in its own superiority has always been ideological, rather than based on fact.

Whatever UK Government rises out of the ashes of Boris Johnson’s reign is likely to be imbued with that same instinct towards the recentralisation of powers.

The sad reality for Wales however is that the future of devolution now probably rests, not on the will of the people of Wales, but on the internal machinations of the Conservative party.

We may end up with a Conservative Prime Minister who wants to forge a better, more constructive relationship with Wales’ political institutions.

But we may just as well end up with another one that treats us with more contempt than Boris Johnson had.

The point is that it won’t be our choice.

Despite the fact that Wales has voted twice to extend devolution and hasn’t voted for a Conservative government since all men were given the vote, public opinion can be overruled at the whim of a minister that knows next to nothing about our country.

While devolution can be given and taken away at Westminster’s whim, it is built on sand and decades of progress could collapse at any moment.

Some will say that this is a good argument for independence, but even if most people don’t support that option, the majority in Wales do support devolution and want to extend it.

We will have to wait and see what happens now – and we may yet face months more of a Boris Johnson government before he makes way for a new leader.

In the meantime it’s time to think about how we can set Welsh autonomy in stone, to protect what the people of Wales want but also to protect ourselves from the chronic instability of governments at Westminster.

It can’t be right that Wales suffers just because a Westminster government we didn’t vote for goes off the rails – leaving us with no choice, no power, and no democratic means to put things right.


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South Wales
South Wales
4 months ago

The sooner we leave the better, if this is the Union working FOR Wales then God help us.

Gareth
Gareth
4 months ago

This myth is only peddled by unionists who want to maintain the status quo. Others have had a very different view of how Westminster has ruled Cymru, and held it for many many years. I would hope that the actions of Westminster in the last few years would have opened more eyes to how it is not fit for purpose, and does nothing for our country and its people.

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
4 months ago

Westminster’s time is over. We “Can” effectively govern ourselves in Cymru. I’m looking forward to the day !

Androw Bennett
Androw Bennett
4 months ago

Wastemonster!

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
4 months ago

It’s not about morals. It’s about failed economic/geopolitical policies. Sadly, Cymru has leaders who are very similar in outlook, only provincially so. There must be talented patriots in Cymru, but they are yet to emerge. So we need a national party which has the same outlook as the majority of our people, who are conservative in the main.
Smart, neutral, with solid economic policies, and a light safety net for the poor.

hdavies15
hdavies15
4 months ago
Reply to  I.Humphrys

Well said. I suspect that what lies ahead in the near future at Westminster will not be any kind of improvement as the place is full of posturing sound bait merchants unable to deliver any kind of policy initiative to plan and on time. You are also on the mark regarding our lightweights in the Bay. Just need to have a major change among our political class away from the current crop of dilettantes to people who can improve the lot of our communities across the country.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

‘Dilettantes’ was the word I was thinking about in relation to a certain bypass…all about being linked-in for their own sake…

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
4 months ago
Reply to  I.Humphrys

And it’s that conservative outlook that will keep Wales firmly under the boot of Westminster oppression.

Richard
Richard
4 months ago

I agree! Go for independence. But before it happens could you just wait for me to move all my money to a Swiss bank and buy a home in Herefordshire or Shropshire before they take from me all that I have worked for. That’s what all the S4C millionaires have told me to do! Yma o hyd, Gormes y Sais, blah blah.

Dafydd
Dafydd
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard

Just look at the Repiblic of Ireland and all the former Warsaw pact countries (many of which are smaller than Wales) are doing now that they are free from the control of their former overlords. Short term pain , long term freedom and prosperity. We have to stand on our own two feet, only then will we be prosperous!

Llefain
Llefain
4 months ago

We need to stop pinning our hopes for our future on the voting intentions of people in another country with different needs and goals to us, and on the political ambitions of their parties and leaders. Oh, a Labour government would be better. Sure, that isn’t hard. But we only get that if England wants it and then what? Will they be in power forever? No. Of course not. We are not well served by Westminster or the “UK” under any government. It is the whole set up that is the problem, not this government, not this First Minister of… Read more »

Jonathan Gwyn Mendus Edwards
Jonathan Gwyn Mendus Edwards
4 months ago

You say “….it won’t be our choice.” Well, it won’t if we don’t assert ourselves. I worry about the Labour/Plaid wet blanket which in fact stops Wales spreading our wings. We in Wales are going to have to challenge the status quo, there is no short cut. Now we have the additional worry that the Drakeford/Sturgeon/Trudeau model of government seem not to give much scope to our individual rights, a worry I could do without.

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