Is the here and now in Wales as good as it gets for us? It’s hard to find anyone arguing with enthusiasm that the answer is, “Yes”. A clear majority are dissatisfied with the current political system in the United Kingdom as a whole.
This is evidenced by the World Values Survey finding that only one in every six members of the British public is “very satisfied” with how UK democracy operates. To put this in perspective; that’s on a par with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. So it’s only natural to be asking, when it comes to a democratic model, “What next for Wales?”
That question seems to have been near the forefront of debate over the last couple of weeks. A raft of arguments have been put forward by a diverse array of activists, commentators, and journalists in a string of articles and other output, some from as far afield as Australia.
One democratic model put forward for a future Wales is ‘confederalism’. This is a system in which a union of states sees each member retaining some independent control over both internal and external affairs. However, for international purposes each state is treated separately. Now, you might argue that persuading the majority of Wales to vote for independence is a challenging enough prospect. So how do supporters of confederalism think persuading the majority of voters in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England to back this idea is a more realistic prospect?
In short; it isn’t. Westminster, whether blue or red, has made it clear it’s not in favour of any more substantive devolution. That is not likely to change. Both shades at Westminster are content to ignore the democratic mandate given to the SNP by the Scottish public. What chance is there of Westminster agreeing to surrender power in order to enter into an equal confederation with the Senedd, Holyrood, and Stormont (provided the three devolved nations are even willing, of course)?
A federal UK
Confederalism just isn’t going to happen. In my view, this is another attempt by soft-leaning Unionists to keep the Union going. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the ideals behind it are genuine and heartfelt, but I don’t think they are realistic. Let’s not forget that England is by far the largest country in the UK, by population. Will England choose to put itself in a position in which it could be vetoed by Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland? I doubt it.
Another democratic model put forward for Wales is that of a federal UK. You can see variants of this system in Canada and the USA, for example, where governing power is shared between national and provincial or state governments.
This idea hinges upon England being carved up into smaller regions, along the lines of the old regionalised system for the European Union elections. Would England agree to this? Again, I doubt it. My scepticism is backed up by the fact that North East England voted against a devolution deal in 2004 by a massive margin. And ultimately, would there ever be a government elected to Westminster on a manifesto pledge of breaking up England? Of course not.
For me, independence provides the most favourable route to securing a future in which Wales can thrive. Look at Slovenia for inspiration. Yes, some of you may scoff at that. But, Slovenia has just surpassed the UK in terms of average standard of living.
The most democratic model
Slovenia gained its independence in 1991. At that time, Wales was significantly better off than Slovenia; now the opposite is true. Independence gave the people of Slovenia the freedom to adopt policies that worked for them specifically, proving that a smaller economy is more agile and better equipped to serve its population. Slovenia spent the decades prior to its independence as part of Yugoslavia and, prior to that, centuries as part of the Austrian Empire. As with Wales, Slovenia had been ‘unified’ with its much larger neighbours for centuries. But in the end, was it too small? Was it too poor, for independence? Evidently not,
Wales too could take this path, decoupling itself from a union that simply isn’t working in its best interests. Some 200,000 children in Wales are living in poverty; 90,000 of those children are classified as living in absolute poverty. By that measure alone, is this a union that’s working for us? My answer is emphatically NO.
I believe our energies are better utilised in pushing for independence and securing for Wales the powers it needs to thrive, rather than a desperate (albeit well-meaning) attempt to save the union. Neither confederalism or federalism offer a solution. I think the time has come to put our hands up and say; the Union isn’t working. Westminster doesn’t work for Wales. Park it.
Westminster is all about clinging to a past that no longer exists. Independence for Wales is about the future, and the positivity and potential that could be brought about. We’re neither too small nor too poor.
Editor’s note: it is the editorial policy of Bylines Cymru to publish all arguments and opinions for, against, or agnostic about Welsh independence as long as they are within the bounds of civil discourse. In this way we hope to provide an open platform for discussion of the subject from all perspectives.