Dai Lloyd, Plaid Cymru Senedd Member for South Wales West
“Wales is too poor and too small to be independent. It has no industry to rely on. Its deficit is too high. It’s just not realistic. It simply needs Westminster.”
Each of these are reasons I’ve heard at some point or other from people about why Wales shouldn’t or couldn’t be independent.
They’re all wrong. And I’ll tell you why.
Wales’ GDP in 2018 was £74.9bn, and our GDP per head was £23, 866, putting Wales amongst the richest 25% of countries in the world.
These statistics are also, of course, based on the Wales we have now. The Wales whose economy is dictated by Westminster.
But by taking matters into our own hands these figures can be improved even more.
Professor Mark Barry of Cardiff University recently wrote that if Wales was really “too small or too poor to be independent” then that would make it a total anomaly – a globally unique case where an independent country with a population of three million would not be feasible.
The UK Government does not focus its efforts on developing Wales’ economy. We know this. Rather it emphasises the prosperity of London and South East England on a wildly disproportionate scale at the detriment of other parts of the UK.
Examples of this neglect include the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon in my region in the south west of Wales, in which no investment was made.
And what about the electrification of the railways? Only 1% of the UK spending on rail infrastructure was in Wales – despite 11% of UK tracks and 5% of the population belonging to Wales.
Wales is in a deficit, yes. But that isn’t a reflection of anything but of the broken fiscal model being used by the Westminster Government.
There are other ways of doing things. Other economic models that would work better, that would make for a fairer and more equal Wales. But we can only adopt them if we have the power to do so.
The ‘Sustainable Growth Commission’ by the Scottish Government suggested that Scotland should adopt a model based on Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, all countries with small populations. Elements of this model include a focus on innovation, immigration friendliness, maintenance of a highly skilled workforce and the use of the taxation system as a tool for economic development, and is based on quality governance and long term cross partisan strategy.
A similar model could be applied in Wales too.
The Independence Commission’s report, published two months ago, includes a number of suggestions on the economic improvement of economic performance possible for Wales, and the role independence would play in its delivery.
Investment in its economy is key for Wales – it can then make greater use of its natural resources to develop a strong food and agriculture sector, and developing its creative industries, its financial and professional services, its biosciences, tourism, and leisure activities, benefiting the economy immensely.
An independent Wales would not have to wait for the UK Government to fund our ‘green’ projects.
We would be free to take advantage of record low interest rates to pump prime our economy, and invest in green energy projects. We could take full advantage of our wonderful natural resources (15% of Europe’s tidal power) which could deliver significant tax revenues and income to the Welsh nation.
Wales’ borrowing powers as it stands are dictated by Westminster. By taking Westminster out of the equation, we can make borrowing decisions that make sense for us, that benefit us.
Something else we could do in an independent Wales, as recommended by the commission, is set up a new agency or agencies should be established to promote small business growth, medium-size business development, inward investment, productivity, and export activity.
In the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis a window for a much greater emphasis on local production and procurement will open and this should be seized. Support could be given to businesses seeking to re-shore products currently made elsewhere, and further efforts made to ensure Welsh food producers contribute a bigger share of the nation’s food purchases.
With the growth of the grassroots non-partisan movement Yes Cymru accelerating exponentially, a post-Brexit Westminster power grab set to seriously undermine Wales’ future autonomy, and the Coronavirus pandemic giving a greater awareness than ever before to the self-government of Wales, now is a pivotal moment for us to take our own affairs into our hands, and to create a better, more equal Wales, one that works better for us.
Wales is not an anomaly in its independence prospects, there are no reasons why it isn’t feasible for us to embrace independence and function properly like other small countries across the world such as Ireland, New Zealand, and Iceland.
We are big enough, and we are rich enough, and what we have now is a golden opportunity, a pivotal point which we can choose to seize – we can choose to change Wales for good.