Tories’ war on devolution ‘waste’ is really about a fear that Wales could take its place as a nation in the world

Paul Davies. © Russell Hart/Alamy Live News.

Rhodri Williams

The Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies attempted to give readers of the Blog Gwydir a “flavour” of what would be in his Conservative Conference speech. However, what he wrote about “unpicking” Wales’ International Relations department left a bland and bitter flavour in my mouth.

“Devolution Revolution” and “delivery” were the chosen political buzz words. Yet the greatest tragedy of this Welsh Conservative “devolution revolution” is that instead of promising to ‘deliver’ a Wales of the future standing on the international stage, its end goal is patronising and humiliating. One that undermines Wales’ existence as its own national and political entity and undermines its fight for more international recognition.

The Conservatives argue that abolishing Wales’ International Relations department is about saving money. This can be taken with an enormous pinch of salt as they show no similar interest in saving money at Westminster, where Boris Johnson has just created 30 new peers to join the already over-stuffed House of Lords.

But their choice of target is telling. This isn’t about waste but rather their intolerance of Wales being allowed to speak for itself and co-operative with other world partners without Westminster’s control and influence on discussions.

Instead of intending to ‘deliver’ an emboldened Wales that has already made international connections with other central, devolved and autonomous government legislatures around the world (Catalonia, the Basque country and the Republic of Ireland to name a few), Paul Davies intends to roll back all this progress in favour of a backward and regressive centralised position that will put Wales in a corner.

 

Ambition

Paul Davies states in his previous writings that he is a “proud Welshman” and that ”it hurts too when you’re told that as a Conservative you shouldn’t believe in devolution” but seems to have a hard time believing that Wales is up to doing anything without Westminster’s oversight, even talking to other nations. In his eyes Wales isn’t a modern nation of 3.2m people with its own distinct voice but an embarrassing family member that must be locked in the attic in case it undermines Westminster, the self-proclaimed patriarch, when the neighbours are visiting.

This point of view would no doubt confuse the thousands of people who come from around the world to attend the yearly Eisteddfodau (especially Llangollen) to experience and participate in Wales’ musical Linguistic Heritage and Culture.

They would be left scratching their heads to know that a Conservative Welsh Government, who say they are proud of Wales, consider it nothing more than a peripheral region to be draped in a Union Jack and made to sing Land of Hope and Glory.

This pledge of “unpicking” Welsh international relations while also declaring their intention of creating a “Global Britain” post-Brexit is inconsistent if not entirely hypocritical for a number of reasons. On the one hand, Britain’s international ambition and relations is seemingly worth all the financial cost and chaos of Brexit. But they would seek to deny Wales even an office to discuss theirs.

They seek to justify any negative consequences to Wales of their handling of Brexit on the basis that Wales (narrowly) voted to leave the EU. But Wales also voted twice for further devolution, hasn’t voted Conservative for 150 years and certainly didn’t vote for any progress the Senedd’s International relations department had made to be binned so that an insecure Westminster could feel more in control of things.

Fear

The stark reality is that the Welsh Conservatives have no vision for Wales’ international future. The concept that Wales should have its own international ambition is foreign to the Welsh Conservative because they are afraid of what they cannot and will not comprehend, which is that fundamentally Wales is its own nation which wants to reach out the hand of international co-operation and friendship to others.

Despite the claim that Wales is wasting money on such an endeavour, the real fear is that Wales succeeds and that the nation realises that its influence expands far beyond these shores and beyond their control, without the British State as a bureaucratic block to progress.

Ultimately, they are afraid that if it tastes the fruit of cooperation on its own terms it will seek a better future outside of the United Kingdom and want to enter the international community as an equal.

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