What is it about being part of the UK that the First Minister finds so appealing?
Dr Carl Iwan Clowes
I don’t doubt that our First Minister is sincere in his belief that Wales gains from being a part of the United Kingdom, and that those benefits are reciprocated. But where is the evidence?
Of course, being part of the UK does create employment – when we export arms to Saudi Arabia and facilitate the bombing and death of many innocent women and children in Yemen.
Perhaps building armoured fighting vehicles in Oakdale with the aim of ‘levelling up’ and “strengthening the union” in the Prime Minister’s words, would be a further attraction regardless of the destruction these vehicles might cause.
And then there’s the UK commitment to increase the spend on nuclear weaponry by 40%, just after the world committed to outlawing nuclear weapons through the United Nation’s Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on January 22nd.
Away from the Ministry of Defence, could it be the umbrella of the Home Office that Mark Drakeford finds appealing? The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill restricting protest would never have allowed many of the protests that led to human rights and linguistic gains for our population.
Alternatively, the Ministry of Justice might be the attraction. This is the Ministry which located one of Europe’s largest prisons in Wrexham with over 70% of its inmates from outside Wales – and still includes no provision for female prisoners from Wales.
Could it be Chancellor Richi Sunak’s decision to cut the UK budget to help the “poorest of the poor”, and renege on our long-standing commitment to support the UN aid target of 0.7%, that perhaps won the First Minister over?
Being part of the Union of course has enabled us to pick up the crumbs from the UK’s ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’, now that we no longer have access to the EU’s Convergence Fund.
One of the criteria for the EU fund was that Wales was one of the poorest ‘regions’ in Europe with a quarter of our population living in poverty, and our GVA less than three-quarters of the European average.
After electing the first Labour MP from Wales 120 years ago, parts of this country remain the poorest in Europe. For example, Save the Children have highlighted that there are 90,000 children (14 per cent) living in severe poverty in Wales – that is, households at or below 50 per cent of median income.
What others elements of being part of the UK have brought us benefits? Is it our response to Covid-19 at the outset? Working to an agenda set by the Westminster politicians, Wales initially lost its way by not locking down and ensure tracing all contacts at the earliest opportunity.
When our Labour First Minister declares “Wales’s future is best secured through participating in a successful United Kingdom and I think the United Kingdom is better for having Wales in it” he would do well to look at the remainder of Europe where there are 18 independent nations with a smaller population than Wales.
Many are highly successful economies, with our nearest neighbour the Republic of Ireland having a GDP more than twice that of Wales.
Note that none of the 18 states have asked to return to their former status prior to independence.
It is a lack of vision that is holding us back. And a successful vision creates confidence, the most obvious feature lacking in Wales today!
Dr. Carl Iwan Clowes is a former medical director of NHS Wales, and a board member of Public Health Wales between 2009 and 2018. He is also the founder and Chair of Dolen Cymru – the Lesotho-Wales link.