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Opinion

Westminster is not working for Wales

03 Mar 2024 5 minute read
the Houses of Parliament from the London Eye, as an inquiry to determine how well the UK Government understands and considers devolution has been launched by a Westminster committee – Image: Anthony Devlin

Beth Winter, Labour MP for Cynon Valley

We can see it from the UK government defining English rail projects as ‘England & Wales’ so they don’t have to send billions of pounds in consequentials to Wales.

We can see it in the refusal to fund the hundreds of millions needed to make coal tips safe on South Wales Valleys hillsides.

We can see it in how former European funding has been replaced with pale imitations, short-changing Wales to the tune of over £1bn.

In my short time in the House of Commons, it has often felt like Westminster is actively working against Wales. In doing so it jeopardises the very future of devolution.

Archaic

The British state is one of the most centralised and archaic in the Western world. There is a democratic black hole with political power and control tightly held by the UK Parliament and the continuation of an unelected House of Lords and monarchy.

And in recent years we’ve witnessed an unprecedented series of power grabs from a Conservative UK Government seemingly determined to trample all over the devolution settlement which would otherwise let Wales approach things differently.

The Conservatives have driven through a series of laws that conflicts with the position of Welsh Government and the people of Cymru. From the Internal Market Act (2020) which undercuts standards set by Welsh Government, to the Strikes (Minimum Service Level) Act (2023) which undermines Welsh Government’s management of industrial relations in Welsh public services.

It is little wonder that the Welsh Government withheld legislative consent from both Acts.

This re-centralising of power is part-and-parcel of the prevailing economic orthodoxy. The shift in recent years towards a more centralised state imposed from Westminster has been used to stifle regional and local divergence where there might be a different approach to the provision of public services. In doing so it secures the preservation of the status quo and enables neoliberalism to continue to thrive.

It has aided the expansion of the free market and the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few, at the expense of the many, gutting public services of funds and funnelling public money into private profit. And we in Cymru are left suffering the consequences.

The Future of Devolution

The Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales’ (Comisiwn) final report concluded that ‘the status quo is not a viable option for providing stability and prosperity for Wales’.

This report marks a landmark moment in the history of devolution. It also sets out 10 recommendations to protect the existing devolution settlement. If we are to protect devolution, yet alone enhance it, UK parliament cannot be allowed to continue riding roughshod over the Senedd.

I support the Commission’s proposals as a step in the right direction as this would secure a duty of cooperation and parity of esteem between the four UK governments.

But devolution is not just about political power, it is about economic power. The constitutional debate must be situated in class-based politics and social justice.

It is only by doing this that it becomes possible to understand the current system but crucially identify opportunities for reform that will advance a move to a fairer, greener Cymru that will benefit the many, not the few. The Barnett formula doesn’t work for Cymru and must be replaced with a fair, needs based funding system.

The most important proposals contained in the Comisiwn report are the three “viable option[s] for the governance of Wales in the long term” – (i) enhanced devolution; (ii) a federal UK structure and (iii) independence.

The report is correct not to recommend which of these three options should be adopted because it is for the people of Cymru to decide.

That decision-making process will be one that the next First Minister of Wales must play a leading role in.

The Next First Minister

The two leadership candidates in the race to become the next First Minister of Cymru have expressed support for devolution which, to different degrees, they state should be extended. Their positions generally correspond with that of UK Labour and the proposals of the Gordon Brown report.

The vital report cannot be consigned to history and forgotten. The candidates’ stated commitment to devolution are welcome, but there is little sense of the appetite needed to drive this conversation forward.

Cymru needs the power to manage our services as we see fit and a system of government funding which puts people before profit and enables us to eradicate child poverty, run a 21st century health service, and provide an integrated transport system.

The status quo cannot and will not deliver that.

So my message to the Leadership Candidates is this; Cymru is at a critical juncture, this is not the time for tinkering.

The next First Minister must step up and lead a national conversation about the options proposed by the Comisiwn as we seek to build a truly democratic, fair, just and green future for all in Cymru.


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Gareth
Gareth
1 month ago

One of the best statements supporting independence that has come from a unionist party. Highlighting how we are being, not just ignored, but deliberately denied funding, and what we do get is inadequate. When even the unionists can see and admit this, it must be time for a total rethink in Labour in Cymru, of how useless this union is for us, and how we get to independence to achieve what we need, and deserve.

Meurig
Meurig
1 month ago

Very interesting article from Beth Winter. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that this was written by a Plaid Cymru MP, not Labour. The questions I ask is that, when (if?) labour win the general election, how vocal will it’s MPs be on the issues of re-writing the Barnett formula? How vocal will it’s MPs be on redressing the Europen funding black hole? How vocal will it’s MPs be in coming up with the cash to clear the coal tips? How vocal will it’s MPs be on redressing the woeful and embarrassingly shallow excuse of not matching… Read more »

Gareth
Gareth
1 month ago
Reply to  Meurig

Just to reinforce your post, remember Labour MP Carolyn Harris, she opposed devolution of policing and justice, and her reasoning, when asked why, ” I just wouldn’t “.

Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
1 month ago

Westminster and Whitehall have completely failed – period.

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
1 month ago

To try and get more powers out of Westminster will be like trying to get blood out of a stone, practically impossible. Starmer too is showing little interest. A federal UK simply won’t work, Westminster just doesn’t want to relinquish the power it has and spread it equally around the country. Even it did, could it be trusted to keep to the agreement? No. Ultimately, there is only one option proposed left, independence. I’m sure Beth secretly fully knows this working in the corridors of power. It’s the only way forward for Cymru if there’s any chance of eradicating poverty… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Look how close that building is to being flooded, should the Thames Barrier fail on a spring tide it could wipe out their wine cellar…

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago

Beth – of our Welsh MP’s, who voted on the HS2 bill in which it was made an “England and Wales” project, thus at a stroke handing over billions worth of Welsh taxpayers money to capitalise an English infrastructure build that has a demonstrable economic cost to Wales? Were any of them Labour? You may wish to check the record. That notwithstanding, it is encouraging that you recognise that the UK is dysfunctional and is detrimental to Wales. However the penny has not yet dropped for you. You are still wedded to the UK as a National State. For some… Read more »

Mark
Mark
1 month ago

It’s true Westminster is not working for Wales, this is because the people of Wales continue to vote for The Conservatives and Labour in elections. If they voted for Plaid Cymru then Wales would be better represented in Westminster.

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark

If they voted for Plaid Cymru or any other party who endorses independence for Cymru.

Andy Williams
Andy Williams
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark

We would certainly, get more attention and respect, ask the SNP.

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
1 month ago

If Labour M P,s and A M,s Loved their country Wal they should start the wheels in motion to det us out of the DISUNITED KINGDOM

Andy Williams
Andy Williams
1 month ago

With a FM, that seems, in capable of listening, a party that has been in government, for twenty four years, in capable of sorting out the doctor’s strike, hands back 155 million pounds of unspent money, to the UK Treasury, I don’t think Cardiff Bay is working for Wales either. Basically, Wales is in a political mess.

Mark
Mark
1 month ago

I don’t believe independence for Wales is a good idea. We may be able to decide the speed limit in Wales but the real big decisions that affect the pound in your pocket are made by, or at least partially influenced by, the people sitting in the House Of Commons in Westminster. If you remove Welsh, or Scottish, politicians from Westminster then we will have absolutely NO say, as opposed to the little we have now, in the decisions that effect us. What we need to do is vote for politicians who are not either part of the Labour or… Read more »

Gareth
Gareth
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark

I think you are a bit confused here. There are no Spanish French German, or any other European countries represented in Westminster, but it has not seemed to affect how they have better infrastructure, GDP, or more holidays than we have. I wonder why. Russia and the USA are world superpowers, no MP’s in Westminster though.

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark

We would have our own Sovereign Democratic State. We would set our own fiscal, monetary and capex policies. If Iceland can do it and thrive, so can we.

TomTom82
TomTom82
1 month ago

Westminster doesn’t give a toss about us. I can understand that, we seem insignificant to them. What I can’t comprehend is the assembly equally doesn’t give one. Don’t get me started on the whimps at Gwynedd council. Raising tax by 9.5% at a time like this!? How about cutting funding or axing it completely for the terminally unemployed?

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