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Why federalism or more devolution are no alternative to independence

28 Jul 2020 3 minute read
Lluniau gan / Pictures by Lluniau Lleucu

John Ball, former lecturer in economics at Swansea University

One of the interesting knock-on effects of the intensifying debate on independence is the emergence of two suggested alternatives; federalism, a badly thought out idea that has been around for millennia and which has never really achieved any traction; or strengthening the present devolution settlement.

Both, of course, are aimed at shifting the debate away from independence.

In a recent article, Peter Jones has argued for the latter, presenting arguments that on the face of it seem reasonable but in reality do not stand up to scrutiny.

He suggests that an independence referendum is unwinnable and, aside from a liberal interpretation of the facts. there are three fundamental weaknesses in his approach.

The first is the choice of an outdated BBC poll suggesting just 11% would vote “Yes” in an independence referendum; he seems unaware that the latest Cardiff University poll has 25% answering “Yes” to such a question.

Interestingly if the 7% who indicated they would not vote is taken into account the figure rises to 32% and with the 17% “don’t know” potentially being willing to listen to the case for independence,  a referendum is indeed potentially winnable.

Then there’s the old cherry about those residents in Wales who were not born here. The suggestion that they would be disinclined to support independence assumes an unrealistic homogeneity – many are Welsh families returning, many are from the north of England who share with us a similar set of cultural values and would welcome life in a new, dynamic state.

Indeed, there are any number incomers who support Yes Cymru and other aspects of Welsh life and to suggest that all are against independence is not supported by the evidence.



Finally, his argument revolves around widening and strengthening the current devolution settlement before any referendum.

This idea has some attraction but fails totally by ignoring the lessons of the past twenty years, change has been at a snail’s pace; very limited powers grudgingly given; no control over the real instruments of government and relying on what amounts to a handout from central government.

Even to achieve the same powers currently provided to Scotland would take another twenty years: or more. I’m not prepared to wait!

The argument was neatly (and accidentally!) summarised during Boris Johnson’s visit to Scotland. Pointing to the “strengths” of the union he delighted in observing that Scotland “does not have the power” to borrow money to address the Covid-19 emergency.


The choice for all the citizens of Wales where ever they were born or may be from is simple – continuing to live in a poor, decaying former colonial power governed by an incompetent elite living in a fantasy world of past greatness.

Or, a dynamic, exciting and forward-looking nation. For me and thousands of others, that choice is clear.

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