Why doesn’t Westminster just ditch Wales?
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
The First Minister has recently suggested that successive UK Government have viewed Wales as “ungrateful and ever-demanding subsidy junkies”.
If Mark Drakeford’s analysis is correct, and I suspect that it very much is, then it raises an interesting question, which is why doesn’t Westminster just ditch these burdensome Celts?
Why doesn’t it unburden the English taxpayer and kick these uppity little scroungers from the Celtic fringe to the kurb? What incentive is there at all to keep Wales in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
Forgive me if I sound too cynical when I tell you that I don’t believe that it is out of an overwhelming sense of generosity. No, it is not an overflow of the milk of human kindness, in my estimation.
So if these aren’t the reasons then what are they?
Many of these answers to this question can be found in Strength in Union, a collection of essays by an array of Conservatives on the rather touchy subject preventing the UK from breaking up.
It is a fascinating cocktail of pomposity and anxiety. Oh boy do they know they’re in trouble. But they can’t stop themselves from being ridiculous as well as patronising towards Wales despite it being a hindrance rather than a help to their ultimate aim.
Theresa May comparing being Welsh to being a Yorkshireman was a highlight. But my favourite claim in the magnum opus was that Wales benefits a great deal from Kensington travel agents.
The nub of it is this. They are frightened of losing their status on the world stage.
Essentially they believe Wales exists to augment, to buttress, to enhance England’s power and influence. A loss of Wales would be a loss of face. They do not say that of course. But that is the subtext.
UN Security Council
There is much talk of the UK’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council. They fear losing the UK’s permanent seat on the body and the veto that comes with it.
It is framed as something Scotland could lose in an essay by Lord Hague of Richmond. But then we get to the rub. He said: “So too would the rest of the UK’s influence at the UN wane in the event of Scottish independence.”
That seat, which let’s face it, Wales and Scotland have pretty much no control over, makes the UK feel like a big player on the world stage. It is not merely a practical instrument for shaping world affairs, though that it is. It is a status symbol. The UK sits on the Security Council alongside the US, France, Russia, and China.
The body was formed in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the British still controlled a vast empire. At that time, Britain could reasonably claim to be a world power. There are now newer and bigger kids on the block such as India. A reduction in Westminster’s territory would enhance their claim to the seat.
The UK clings on to it as a bankrupt aristocrat might hang on to a hereditary title. It is vestige of former its former glory. If the title is taken away, then what else is left?
Nuclear subs is also framed as something the Scots could lose despite the SNP trying to actively get rid of them both for moral reasons and because of the substantial price tag.
But again, Westminster is not worried about Scotland losing its nukes. Westminster is worried about Westminster losing its nukes. These are also a status symbol. The Westminster establishment rather likes being part of the nuclear club and would feel it keenly were to lose its membership because it could no longer afford the fees.
‘Saying the quiet bit out loud’
In an astonishing instance of saying the quiet bit out loud, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley suggested loss of Welsh troops “would diminish” the “military capabilities” of England.
Wales contributes a disproportionate amount the British Armed Forces and gets very little in return.
The First Minister told the Senedd recently that Wales provides nearly twice its population share in terms of armed forces personnel “yet we have half our population share in terms of the basing strategy of the armed forces.”
He said Wales has 5% of the UK’s population, provides 9% of the UK’s service personnel, but added that only 2.5% of them are based in Wales.
We put more in and get less out.
The trick that is pulled in this collection of essays is to conflate Westminster’s interests with that of Wales and Scotland. They do not necessarily align and are quite often in direct opposition.
Westminster may well wield more influence because it controls Wales. But in whose interest is that influence wielded? Is it ours, or theirs? Should we exist merely to make them feel more important?
Westminster may not care about Wales, but it does care deeply about its own status on the world stage. Were we to leave, it knows that it would be diminished.
The status of Wales on the other hand could be greatly enhanced at its expense.
They couldn’t allow the Welsh to do that, could they…?