There is an appetite for more independence in Wales – we know Westminster doesn’t work for us
Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru leader
Today, March 3rd, marks the anniversary of the 2011 law-making powers referendum.
As an AM who voted to trigger that referendum, and later as part of the Yes for Wales campaign committee, it was good to see that half a million of our citizens came out and said ‘Yes’.
They said ‘Yes’ to reducing Westminster’s control over Wales, and ‘Yes’ to making more decisions for ourselves.
The ‘LCO’ system in place before the referendum had delayed Welsh decisions being made on school transport, mental health, fire safety, and affordable housing.
Getting rid of it with a referendum was a major achievement of Plaid Cymru in the One Wales government.
Many Labour MPs wanted to stop it happening. If it had not taken place then, we would probably have had to wait at least another five years.
The 2011 referendum confirmed that there was no going back to direct rule. It opened the door to future devolution of tax-varying and borrowing powers, and the ability to create a Welsh Parliament.
But this slow drip-feed of responsibilities has not satisfied people in Wales.
Seven years on, and the BBC’s latest St David’s Day poll suggests that when it comes to the constitution, 51% of people want either further powers or full independence.
Polls can’t be fully trusted of course. But time after time, whenever consulted, people in Wales say that more decisions about Wales should be made in Wales.
The reason for this is that Westminster does not work for Wales. The UK is the most unequal state in Europe and Wales is at the bottom of the pile.
People know that we are getting a raw deal. The impact of this is seen in our daily lives and in our economy.
Years of under-investment, antique trains and infrastructure, decisions being fudged or put off, and poor representation by a Wales Office that seems more interested in what’s going on in Bristol than it does here.
We have put vast natural, financial and human resources into the UK over the course of a century, but have been deliberately de-industrialised and left unable to compete.
The devolved Labour Welsh Government has a history of mismanaging public services. But at no point do people conclude that powers should be handed back to Westminster.
This is because for many, governing ourselves is now a matter of principle.
So how can this preference for greater Welsh self-rule be turned into reality?
A lesson from the 2011 referendum is that there is not much enthusiasm about devolution and the constitution.
One way we can bridge this is by making it more real to people. In a recent publication I have argued that;
“A core principle of decentralisation, for us, is that people in Wales are best placed to take decisions in the best interests of Wales.
“If those decisions are taken outside of Wales, then there is a risk that those decisions will not be in our best interests.
“Currently too many decisions affecting Wales are taken in Westminster by people who have little knowledge or interest in Wales or the needs of the people who live here.”
I have already begun a series of public meetings to openly discuss these concepts and more.
Making more decisions about our own lives is central, but this is not set out as a mere constitutional policy.
Instead, I talk about empowering people in Wales; as individuals, as communities, and as a nation.
People from all walks of life, ages and backgrounds are turning up and engaging in this conversation.
I will eventually speak to several thousand of people through these events.
Whatever happens in the coming years with the Brexit process, the need for Wales to become a state, with full self-determination and the right to choose our own status, will become impossible for governments in London and Cardiff to ignore.
The 2011 referendum did not represent the “settled will” of people when it comes to where decisions about our country should be made.
There is an appetite for more autonomy and independence, demonstrating that many people have a full understanding of how Westminster doesn’t work for us.
Let’s make sure that no one is under any illusion: we want less Westminster control over our lives, and more decisions about Wales to be made in Wales.
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