by Cadan ap Tomos
There has been much hype in recent weeks over the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence, but less attention is being paid to the potential impact it will have on the rest of Britain, in particular Wales. At a time where the United Kingdom’s (unwritten) constitutional future is up in the air, this is something we need to be considering more seriously.
Discussion surrounding devolution and its practicalities have reached a new height recently. In addition to potential Scottish independence, the Westminster government have set up the Silk Commission to explore possibly devolving both fiscal responsibility and powers in other areas to the Welsh Assembly. Debate on the ever-repeated West Lothian question has also returned to the surface, and another commission has been formed to explore whether non-English MPs should vote on English-only matters.
Naturally, as a constituent nation in a similar position as Scotland, Wales has been watching developments in the Scottish independence discussions with great interest. So much so, in fact, that BBC Wales Today sent their political editor up to Holyrood on Thursday to present about quarter of an hour’s worth of programming on the matter. I don’t think there was much else happening that day. There are many, however, beginning to ask the question of independence here in Wales. I think it’s time we started to ask – is a referendum on Welsh independence possible?
Plaid Cymru seem to think so. Elin Jones, the bookies’ favourite to become their leader in March’s leadership elections, has suggested that the party should make Welsh independence its primary campaigning topic. This might sound strange, coming from a nationalist party, but Plaid has attempted to publicly distance itself from their primary constitutional aim in order to seem more appealing to the Welsh electorate. It’s not hard to see why, either: polling conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Institute of Welsh Politics last year suggested only 9% of Wales’s electors supported a Welsh state independent of England – not even a majority of those who voted Plaid last May.
Elin Jones also suggests that, if Plaid were to win the next two elections to the Welsh Assembly, that that would give them the mandate to hold an independence referendum in Wales. For Plaid to be able to even contemplate commanding a majority in the Senedd and defeat the seemingly permanent Labour dominance, it will need to radically reinvent itself like the SNP have done in Scotland. Many people may dream of nationalism in Wales reaching the heights it does in Scotland; however, I find it hard to see how Wales can reach the same point.
However little an appetite for independence the Welsh populace has, it remains paramount that Wales, along with Northern Ireland, aren’t sidelined in the constitutional discussions brought up by this referendum. I’m not at all suggesting that the rest of the UK should get a vote in deciding Scotland’s fate – that is a decision for the Scottish people alone – but if Scotland were to go their own way, it will put Wales and Northern Ireland in “an impossible position”, as former First Minister Rhodri Morgan states.
And as for the Scottish referendum itself? We as Liberal Democrats must seize the chance to propose our own federal vision for the United Kingdom, and campaign for the formation of an English Parliament. This is the best option, not only for us in Wales but for the UK as a whole (even a Tory says so).