Saturday, April 19, 2008

But what's going to happen to Wales?

This week's Spectator is dedicated to the creation of a politically 'Independent' England. There is a thread of assumption flowing through the Speccie's pages that there will be a House of Commons Conservative majority representing English seats after the next General Election, even if the Party does not win an overall majority. The astute Fraser Nelson concludes that in such an event, flames of English resentment would be stoked up. From here on, the consequences of the conflagration are impossible to predict with any certainty. Imagine. A Labour Government ruling England (where there's a Conservative majority), led by a Scot, sustained by the votes of Labour MPs from Scotland and Wales - while the Scots and the Welsh have their own Parliaments to deal with the same issues. And don't forget Alex Salmond, the most cunning of manoeuverers, siting astride his 'nationalist' steed in Edinburgh, tossing canisters of high octane fuel over Hadrian's Wall onto the already inflamed passions rising up in the breast of 'middle England'. Does this sound to you like a recipe for constitutional turbulence? It does to me. The Speccie sees a 'coming together' of increasingly noisy demands for the Scots to be given their 'freedom', and a growing enthusiasm by the English to give it to them. But the subject of this post is not about what to what I'll refer to as 'Hadrian's Divide'. Its about what happens in Wales.

Wales and Scotland are not the same. Even Fraser Nelson gets it wrong. He writes that 'the Welsh electorate has decided more or less to expel the Tory Party from its borders'. Er, No it hasn't. The first-past-the-post system may have delivered just 3 Tory MPs (out of 40) in the current Parliament, whereas a PR system would have delivered 9. In last year's National Assembly election, the Conservatives won 12 seats (out of 60), missing several others by a whisker. And the proportion of Welsh voters who want to leave the Union is put by opinion polls at a consistant 15%-20%.

Wales does not want separation from England. There is an ongoing debate about exactly what sort of relationship is most appropriate between the two nations. Nothing new there, and nothing wrong with that. Personally, I feel with a passion that the current contract is flawed and constitutionally unstable, to the extent of it being a threat to the ancient family bond. If an emerging adult is not given freedom to take an adult's decisions, there will eventually follow a blazing row, a suitcase packed, a door slammed and a loving relationship broken forever. Now it may well be that the Scottish youngster and the English parent are heading for a mutually desired split. But lets not suppose that a similar divide should follow the line of Offa's Dyke. Wales does not want it. Wales wants to grow up, flex her muscles, stand on her own feet - but we do not want to move out, or become 'Independent'. At least, not many of us do.


Normal Mouth said...

'the Welsh electorate has decided more or less to expel the Tory Party from its borders'

He might as well suggest that 'the Welsh electorate has decided more or less to reject Plaid Cymru'; the vote shares of the two parties were broadly similar at the last Assembly elections, Plaid have never got anywhere near the Tories in a Westminster election.

Steffan said...

While most of us are happy to be (politically) British and Welsh; if the Scots were to strike out on their own I think that changes the whole ball game. I am unsure that our nation being an afterthought tacked on to a greater England is something I would be comfortable with.

At the very least I would want far more autonomy for our country - not just glorified county status.

The ramifications for Wales are immense should we lose the partial balance that Scotland provides the current settlement. I think a federal form of UK remnant would be the minimum we need.

Anonymous said...

Having lived some 3 years or so in Glasgow, Scotland - and indeed studying at one of their great universities, University of Glasgow and mixing with a LOT of Scots I grew to understand that for many Scots that Scotland is on its own, far away from London.

True, Scotland had its fair shake of Scottish MPs sitting in London, but there was pathos, a hurting if you will. Scotland was not the great country it could be and needed to manage its own affairs.

But I also discovered something else about living in Scotland that separates it from England and Wales in a most unpleasant way. There is sectarism in Scotland, a deep undercurrent of hatred between Protestants and Catholics, which I did find shocking.

The marches including the Orange Day marches were quite an eye opener for me. For a while one would organize itself on a street I lived on (Kelvinhaugh Street in Glasgow's West End), but there’s a fire station at one end of the street and the starting point for the marches shifted elsewhere. While they were starting there the hostility (to Catholics) was palpable, I couldn't believe it – I thought this stuff belonged to Northern Ireland. But I did think for a while that it was great to see the bands and boys line up with their families there to see them off, but the sectarism was a shock. Never felt it so ‘in your face’ before - quite different from the abstract version on TV.

Negrin said...

Glyn - Do you know whether the Montgomeryshire Labour Party has selected a Parliamentary candidate, I've heard its Councillor Nick Coulbourne from Ruabon, can you confirm...this is not a blog entry, just a question...the only way I had of contacting you!!

Anonymous said...

There are historical differences between Wales and Scotland and our relationships with the Union and the sooner the UK press grasps that the better for us all. Fraser Nelson may speak with authority on Scottish matters but he doesn't have a clue when it come to Wales.

Scotland retained its own judiciary and its own finance systems when negotiating its entry into the Union, and then it leaders negotiated much stronger powers for the Scottish Parliament in more recent times, where Nationalists are in power and hardly surprising causing trouble for the UK, we in Wales have a very different history.

Wales was conquered and therefore forced into the Union and since then it has always suited our welsh political elite (from then until the present day) to keep the Union alive to advance their own interests and careers, the question of Independence and Devolution has never captured the imagination in Wales the way it has for Scotland or Ireland. Despite recent advances in the form of the National Assembly as a nation we are still more likely to want the Union than not, not because we don't feel proud of our nation but because of the poor leadership from those who are surposed to be putting the alternative ideas forward.

alanindyfed said...

This may be your opinion and you are entitled to it, Glyn, but you are holding back the tide of history here. The Scots will inevitably achieve independence at some point, and Wales will follow. The outcome will be a rationalisation of the constitution which is fundamentally flawed in its present state. It would result simply in separate nations linked federally as a part of the greater European Union.
Think about it - not a bad or distasteful prospect, is it?

Glyn Davies said...

NM - Quite.

Steffan - I never use the word 'federal' but the British constitution will be a sort of 'federalism' in a few years time, whether as the result of a successful referendum or a hundred Legislative Competence Orders.

anon - I have heard of this sectarianism, usually in relation to Celtic and Rangers football teams, but never experienced it myself - so thanks for the comment.

negrin - No idea. I hope that Labour have chosen a good candidate because it will make a difference to me. Until 1983, there was a strong Labour vote in Montgomeryshire, but it switched to the Liberals in order to eject the then Conservative MP - and have never switched back. The highest vote that the Conservatives have ever had in Montgomeryshire was in the Tory landslide of 1983 - but it wasn't enough to balance the tactical voting of Labour voters.

anon - Agree on all points. It will be interesting for the future to observe whether 'devolution' increases Wales' self confidence to manage more of its own affairs. I believe it will, and that the concern about being overwhelmed by a dominant neighbour will recede.

alan - I would have been shocked if you hadn't disagreed with me. I do find it strange that you (and others) seem content to be a 'federal' part of a largely undemocratic EU, while being so deeply committed to the total destruction of the United Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

Personally I disagree with Alan's comment on Scotland. I don't think that there is a strong feel for that then there is in Quebec. Strong feeling and yes a national identity. They (Quebecois) have voted on it but usually rejecting all out independence.

Devolution has helped Wales form a strong national identity, but people are not interested in political independence. Alan you living in the 21st Century, not the 19th.

I think a federal Britain is far more likely.

alanindyfed said...

It just indicates how internationalist Plaid Cymru and the nationalist movement are (and have aways been).
There is no place for narrow nationalism in Wales, neither is there for jingoistic unionism or misplaced patriotism..

Glyn Davies said...

Morgan - I too think Scotland will reject independence when it comes to a vote on it. The big uncertainty is what happens in England, and how English nationalism develops. There will always be people like Alan, who see the United Kingdom in a negative way - just as there are Europhiles who see the nation state as an obstacle to their vision. But I see some sort of federalism surviving for the forseeable future.

Alan - at least we can agree that we don't like narrow nationalism, or jingoism, or misplaced patriotism.

Anonymous said...

I can't agree with Alan's comments. How can people reject the United Kingdom as an enslaver of small nations and then in the same breath pour praise on the ghastly European Union, something that is akin to a hideous gestalt mixture of a crumbling Habsburg Empire and British Leyland! Wales will prosper as part of the UK, and England and Scotland are richer for being within the UK than separate. HOWEVER, I feel the best way to keep Wales and England within the Union is to give them their own Parliaments (for the whole of England, not sub-regions), and then some form of Grand Senate replacing the House of Lords. And of course, UK to leave the EU and to re-negotiate a purely free trade co-operative treaty.