Over the past week the British tabloids, Conservatives and anti-devolutionist have been giving the Welsh Government both barrels over their decision to break the ‘lockdown lockstep’ with the UK Government.
But in doing so they’ve completely misjudged the public mood – which has been behind the Welsh Government’s ‘stay at home’ message all the way.
According to the latest YouGov poll 51% across the UK thought relaxing the lockdown in England went too far, while only 11% didn’t think it went far enough.
People are wise to the fact that what we’re seeing at Westminster is an attempt to put profit before people. They recognise as absurd the idea that it’s OK to have a cleaner over to your house but not your own mother – just because the former stimulates economic activity.
The devolved nations have refused this calculation. This seems to have shocked Westminster. Of course, this is partly because those at Westminster often have little or no knowledge of what goes on outside South East England.
But it’s also because we’ve seen the Welsh Government, perhaps for the first time in 20 years, stand up and give Westminster a firm ‘no’. What happened to the Wales of old that seemed to think, despite centuries of evidence to the contrary, that it would be rewarded for good behaviour?
Imagine if Wales wasn’t ruled by Westminster at the start of this pandemic. We wouldn’t have been dependent on the ‘expert scientific advice’ of the UK Government, which continued to advise people to attend big sporting occasions weeks after other countries had cancelled theirs.
We wouldn’t have ignored the situation in Italy, confident in our British exceptionalism that we could naturally do a better job of tackling the virus.
Our 5,000 Covid tests a day wouldn’t have been taken off us, and only 900 later handed back.
And our Welsh Government wouldn’t be coming under constant pressure from a British press desperate for them to conform with a country with the worst coronavirus death toll in Europe.
Perhaps we could be a New Zealand, Iceland or even Australia instead – countries which are now slowly getting back to normal because they locked down early and firmly, and put people before GDP in the first place.
But with all devolved nations now taking their own stance and officially extending the lockdown before the separate announcement for England, this pandemic has provided us with a glimpse of what a Britain made up of equal, independent nations would look like.
It has shown us that the UK Government doesn’t necessarily know best. With clear messages from both Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon, Johnson’s big moment seemed to miss the mark. From announcing the new ‘stay alert’ slogan without consulting any of the devolved nations, to then not clarifying that the briefing on Sunday night was only to England, Boris Johnson has left nothing but unclear messages with not very much significance. Public confidence in his leadership has plummeted.
Perhaps it’s time for the Unionists attempting to use the pandemic to attack devolution realise that, with the public behind the Welsh Government’s stance, their attacks will rebound completely?
Without the Welsh Government and Senedd, we would not have seen an independent Welsh approach to tackling the pandemic at all.
We would be in the same position as Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester, left to decry how the north of England has been ignored in the pandemic.
If history has taught us anything, if Westminster is in charge, then Wales is ‘out of sight, out of mind’. This crisis has proven what was always true, and obvious: we’re better off being run by people who understand and care about Wales.