The seven months since the election have been bleak for Wales – but there is still hope
Liz Saville-Roberts, Plaid Cymru Westminster leader
It is difficult to believe that only seven months have passed since the General Election. In that time, we have faced major constitutional changes, a global pandemic and are now threatened with an economic crisis.
After the election – which saw the largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 election victory – I felt very much as though we were about to enter a fight for the very future existence of Wales as a nation.
Boris Johnson won the election by peddling tatterdemalion dreams of Brexit Britain, only for these to morph into an endless nightmare when hopes of a trade deal with Europe unravelled and pandemic changed how the world worked.
When Mr Johnson announced his lacklustre legislative programme during the Queen’s Speech back in December, it became clear that he would stick to what had fuelled his career so far: slogans to entertain but not sustain.
Indeed, as the UK left the EU on January 31st, the Conservatives claimed that Brexit was finally done; but, in truth, the real challenge of negotiating a deal was about to begin.
After the Brexit celebrations subsided, the morning-after hangover kicked off. The true test of his leadership mettle beckoned to clock in for duty, and Mr Johnson failed to do even the bare minimum of showing up.
As floods engulfed parts of the UK in February, he holed up at his country house in Kent for 12 days before visiting those whose homes and businesses had been destroyed.
Again, as the rapid spread of coronavirus signalled that we were about to face a global emergency the likes of which had not been seen for generations, the Prime Minister was both missing from the helm and unable to deputise an interim lader equipped with the necessary decision-making powers.
Ever since, Boris Johnson and his Government’s incompetence has been laid bare in morbidity figures – from the daily death-count to an economy in freefall.
Their failure to act swiftly enough, their refusal to learn lessons from other countries, their bungling of PPE and testing combine to result in the UK having one of the highest death rates in the world.
The harsh reality beyond the statistics is that thousands of families are now grieving.
It is no wonder that people were angry when Conservative Ministers lined up to defend the Prime Minister’s Svengali, Dominic Cummings, whose breach of the ‘lockdown’ rules undermined their own public health guidance in the process.
This event epitomised Mr Johnson’s exceptionalist approach to leadership – it is one rule for them and another for the rest of us.
We now face a deadly economic crisis, and it painfully clear that the Government have not learnt the lessons of the start of this pandemic. Instead of taking this opportunity to reshape our economic priorities, to spread investment fairly throughout the UK and to move towards a green economy, they have stuck to their quick-fix measures and slogans.
Fundamentally, they have failed to deliver long-term solutions to the structural economic problems that this crisis has revealed.
As a final parting shot, one of the Government’s last actions before recess was to spring a mid-summer four-week consultation for an Internal Market Bill.
This Bill will give Westminster the ability to overrule Wales and force us to accept products made to lower animal welfare or environmental standards.
It is a shameless power grab that threatens devolution like never before.
The picture is undauntedly bleak, but there is hope.
Many people have experienced for the first time how we can do things for ourselves in Wales. Divergence over lockdown exit strategies between Wales and England has thrust devolution – and the ability of Wales to act independently – into the limelight.
Devolution can, of course, do more than simply shield Wales from the dysfunctionality and structural inequality of the Westminster Government. We can choose to govern ourselves.
Hopes of ‘building back better’ are a silver lining around the dark Coronavirus cloud. And the spirit of independence shown in the last few months gives me hope that we are seeing the start of a desire for a new Wales.
Support for Welsh independence is growing, and the people of Wales are waking up to the idea that there is another way, another future, another choice.
We have seen that no longer do we have to be cringing below decks in the foundering ship that is the parliament of Westminster, paying a heavy price for the incompetency of prime ministers and inequitable political systems that scupper the best interests of Wales.