Future of the Union 1: The tides of history

Jill Evans describes a growing desire for self-determination within the European Union

In the past months, we have witnessed the tides turning against dictators and in favour of democracy as the Arab Spring gathered momentum. What unites the people of the Arab states is a desire for self-determination, freedom and dignity.

This desire was also seen in South Sudan where its people voted emphatically in favour of independence, becoming the United Nation’s 193rd member state on 14 July. Palestinians will take their bid for statehood directly to the UN this month, potentially becoming its 194th member. 2011 is officially the UN year of forests but what has clearly taken root globally is the call for self-determination, whether from people oppressed by dictatorial regimes or from sub-state nations seeking statehood.

In Europe this desire is no less strongly felt. In Wales, of course, we voted by a large majority to give the National Assembly law-making powers within its twenty devolved areas of competence. Polls now show that people want more powers for the Assembly. Whereas in 1997 it was a struggle to win the referendum on devolution, the difficulty now is satisfying the electorate’s demands for greater Welsh freedom.

Future of the Union Special

Tomorrow: John Osmond looks at the devolution dilemmas that will confront Wales depending on what Scotland does.

And we are not alone. In fact we are very much a part of the Europe-wide trend towards greater autonomy for stateless nations. Plaid Cymru is a member of the European Free Alliance (EFA), a European political party. Its members also include Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), the Scottish National Party (SNP), and the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA).

As EFA group president, I closely follow developments in other countries. We support the progress towards autonomy made in Catalunya, yet its people confront particular obstacles to statehood. The Spanish Constitution does not permit any part of the state to secede. Its Constitutional Court prevents Catalunya even describing itself as a nation in its Statute of Autonomy. For us, the lack of such constraints is one of the few advantages of the UK not having a constitution.

To bypass these obstacles, Catalan civil society took the unprecedented step of holding unofficial referenda on independence across its municipalities between 2009 and 2011. I was asked to observe this democratic process and was pleased to see that an overwhelming majority of respondents voted in favour.

The political stasis of the Belgian state has been simmering for decades and reached boiling point last year. In the 2010 Belgian federal elections the N-VA emerged as the largest party in the state and refused to capitulate to the usual demands from economically poorer Wallonia. Flanders and Wallonia have been growing apart for decades but the inability to form a new Belgian government for well over a year after the elections is a sign that it may be the time for their relationship to come to an end. An interim agreement seems likely, but in the medium term it seems difficult to imagine that Belgium will not, as the N-VA says, “evaporate”.

In the UK, Plaid’s sister party, the SNP, won a sweeping victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections. There is now no obstacle to the SNP holding a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future. The Scots may now be only one vote away from taking their place on the world stage as an independent state. I recognise that this referendum poses many questions for Wales, not least what our position would be in the United Kingdom if Scotland were not a part of it. Would we be happy to live in a residual United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland while seeing Scotland forge ahead? I have no doubt that Scottish independence will give a huge boost to the national movement here.

It is, of course, my conviction that as a state we would be more prosperous and a more desirable country to live in. The report I commissioned from Adam Price & Ben Levinger and published in July The Flotilla Effect – Europe’s small economies through the eye of the storm confirms this. As part of the United Kingdom we continue to get poorer under both Labour and the Conservatives. We must take responsibility for our own economy and for our own future. We have the resources to do that. We just need the power.

Flanders, Catalunya, Scotland, Wales and other ‘sub-state’ nations will become what has traditionally been called ‘independent’ by a new political process we call “internal enlargement”. Legally, we will become member-states of the European Union with, of course, seats in the United Nations. People will be familiar with the ‘external enlargement’ of the EU, expanding its external borders as existing states join. That is what happened with the UK in 1973. The largest act of external enlargement was the accession of ten states in 2004.

Internal enlargement happens when existing member states – in this case Belgium, Spain and the UK – reconstitute themselves as more than one state and their new, component parts apply to (re-) join the EU. Of course, the rumps of the former states will also have to reapply. The term was coined by Prof. Torbjörn Larsson in 2002 and developed with gusto by the late Prof. Sir Neil MacCormick MEP (SNP) in his submissions to the European Constitutional Convention (2001-2003). One of my first acts as President of the EFA group in 2009 was to raise the issue directly with Hermann van Rompuy, the President of the EU Council, who declared he “liked the name and concept”.

Plaid Cymru’s constitutional goals have moved with the times. The ‘gold standard’ from the 1920s onwards was Dominion Status. Self Government and Full National Status were the buzz words towards the end of the 20th Century. Now, we clearly proclaim our aim as Independence in Europe. Constitutional changes across the European Union have opened up a new passage for Wales, this time as part of a growing flotilla of nations.

Jill Evans is a Member of the European Parliament and President of Plaid Cymru and the European Free Alliance. For a hard copy of The Flotilla Effect, contact Jill Evans MEP on [email protected]

18 thoughts on “Future of the Union 1: The tides of history

  1. “Of course, the rumps of the former states will also have to reapply.”

    Is this actually true? As I understand it, Denmark did not have to re-apply when Greenland left the EU.

  2. Perhaps Scotland will become UN member 195, with Wales at 196. Then we can have our independance too. England coming in at 197

  3. What Jill Evans doesn’t say in her article is that in the unofficial referendum the turnout was just 30%. As for Plaid’s partners the ERC, in the November 2010 elections of the Catalan Parliament they obtained just 219,173 voters out of a potential electorate of over 5 million. It amounts to 7% and it got them just 10 seats. This really is fantasy politics from the third party in Welsh politics. To improve on its awful performance in this year’s Assembly elections Plaid really needs to start looking at the world from the perspective of ordinary voters and developing the scrutiny functions of the Assembly to improve any legislation from the minority Labour government.

  4. If Scotland were to leave the ‘Union’, you can be pretty sure that the government of the ‘United’ Kingdom of England, Wales and Northen Ireland (call it that, for argument’s sake) won’t bother to hold a referendum on the ‘U’KEWNI’s membership of the EU. Even though the ‘U’KEWNI would technically be a brand new state, the government and the EU would consider it a continuation of the present ‘Union’, and tell us that the process of (re-)applying would be too costly and time-consuming. It might also involve an element of democracy, which must never be allowed.

  5. I think it is instructive that British nationalist, Jeff Jones, advises Plaid Cymru to desist from important comparisons with other, successful European sub-state national parties and only play the British devolutionary game. In the immortal words of Pontyates girl, Mandy Rice-Davies, “He would say that, wouldn’t he?”

  6. It’s good to read this article. It’s high time that Plaid put Independence in Europe to the forefront of it’s agenda for Wales and get the message across that control of our economy and resources is absolutely vital to our future prosperity. England must be compelled to end it’s dominion and exploitation of Wales once and for all, and as a bottom line we should accept no less self-government than Scotland.

  7. I would be more sanguine about Neilyn’s prospectus if Welsh politicians had shown any capacity for leading a joined-up government. We have policies and initiatives by individual ministers or government departments but no sign of a strategic or corporate approach. Rhodri Morgan was happy to preside over a cabinet where everyone did her own thing, budget shares were what they were the previous year and no-one rocked the boat. Public services were in the hands of the producers and those boats weren’t rocked either. Leighton Andrws is having a go now in education but so far there is little sign of more strategy from Carwyn Jones. Ieuan W-J points to the success of pro-act and re-act, which were a modest success but they didn’t require more than two departments to co-operate. Welsh first ministers have been good at presiding in an avuncular way and offering reassurance but where does the drive to get things done come from? So far, in the words of the poet Roy Cambell, it’s a case of “where’s the bloody horse?”

  8. Trying to weave R. Tredwyn’s comments into Jill Evans’ analysis, I agree with his criticisms of the Welsh government’s failure of “joined-up government” and lack of a “strategic or corporate approach”. But what’s the underlying reason for this? Apart from the almost universal criticism of the standard of political management in Cardiff Bay – a function of British devolution – his comments confirm the ‘regional’ or ‘provincial’ nature of devolved governance.

    The default position of the British parties is that ‘real power’ and political advancement (still) lies at Westminster, so why be original and creative here? Much too risk and dangerously ‘separatist’. I have heard respected experts in the devolved areas bemoan the fact that many / most Cardiff Bay policies are merely variants of UK or even English ones. In most cases that’s just not appropriate. Many quangos and NGOs masquerade as ‘Welsh’ but are just bilingual branches of England & Wales bodies, e.g. the Environment Agency. The civil service is still resolutely British. So it’s a structural failure at all levels.

    Which brings us back to Jill Evans’ alternative. If we were an EU member-state, our game totally changes. We would ally with other small and medium size nations, which have increased power under the Lisbon Treaty, to our mutual benefit. We loose the ridiculous burden of UK military expenditure. We would gain direct control of our enormous natural resources on land and sea. We would urgently need to reformulate all our policies across all competences to match them with the needs of a nation of 3 million not a state of 60 million. Such a change would release enormous energy, creativity and self confidence. What a prospect. Speed on the flotilla!

  9. Syd, you cannot say that most Cardiff Bay policies are variants of English ones. Successive Welsh governments have pursued a distinctive agenda: introducing the foundation phase, abolishing school league tables, ending prescription charges, rejecting choice and competition reforms in public services. Remember ‘clear red water’? Whether you support or oppose these policies, you have to admit that they’ve been different to Westminster.

  10. Enormous natural resources?
    Far be it from me to decry a desire for responsibility but military expenditure is irrelevant. Annual public expenditure in Wales is over £25 billion, excluding the military, roughly £5 billion being social security. I believe the total tax take in Wales is £18-19 billion. So we have a deficit of some £6 billion or 25 per cent of public spending in Wales. “Enormous energy, creativity and self confidence” would indeed be necessary just to close that gap. But if we have those qualities why can’t we release a bit of them now?

  11. “But if we have those qualities why can’t we release a bit of them now?”

    A very good question R. Tredwyn, probably the central issue in fact. Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Welsh are in a state of ‘psychological subservience’ to England, a very unhealthy, virtually crippling mindset developed over centuries following conquest, colonisation, annexation and imposed anglicisation. Surely, the greater political self-confidence of the Scots as a nation can only be a result of them retaining their legal, educational and religious institutions within the Union, together with their strong home grown press that gives a distinctive Scottish worldview to daily life. Pre-devolution Wales was virtually sucked body and soul into England as a very part of the same, and is only now beginning to re-emerge as a country and a nation in it’s own right. With greater devolution and the establishment of further proper Welsh institutions will come that energy, creativity and self-confidence that we so badly need, based on the emergence of a nation that is determined to secure a future for her own people in her own image and in her own right, as an equal to the other nations of these islands and Europe.

    Frankly, if the Welsh don’t want that why bother at all?

  12. “It is, of course, my conviction that as a state we would be more prosperous and a more desirable country to live in. The report I commissioned from Adam Price & Ben Levinger and published in July The Flotilla Effect – Europe’s small economies through the eye of the storm confirms this.”

    I’m sorry to burst your bubble Jill but there is nothing in the “Flottilla effect” that can logically “confirm” that Wales would be a “more prosperous and a more desirable country to live in” were we Independent.

    The fact that other small countries which became independent many years ago have been economically successful cannot be extrapolated to any other country, nor, in truth, to how those countries would have fared had they not become Independent

    It would be valid, on the other hand, to look at areas of governance devolved to Wales and ask how we now compare with the rest of the UK. Take Education for instance; not doing as well as England but Scotland is doing as well or better… It’s not freedom to govern that leads to success; it’s the wit to govern well.

  13. In answer to R. Tredwyn, military expenditure is highly relevant. They occupy far too much land here, taking it out of production, and what do we get in return? An EU member state would be able to get much more benefit for our people. As for natural resources, where do we start? Water for export over the English border at a fair price plus use on our agricultural land. After all eastern England is drying up. In the light of global food shortages, our farming industry can provide much more work. Then there’s offshore wind, oil, gas and tidal. Currently the Crown Estate gets that; sovereignty makes it ours but devolution doesn’t. We could even charge transit costs for LNG gas; normal elsewhere. Onshore, we’ve hydro power.

    In reply to Rhys, I said “many / most”. Two examples to prove my case. All incinerator applications here are being determined in England. Rail electrification was only seen here as a ‘London’ thing. No reference to connecting us to the mainland, or even Ireland (via a ferry, of course).

    What Jill Evans proposes changes the whole paradigm. What she suggests is creating a Welsh national interest, which is vastly different from the UK one. That’s her very point.

  14. There is one answer to the defence spending issue. In the 1980s the Freedom Party in Denmark suggested swapping its armed forces for a telephone and answering machine. The message: “we surrender” … in Russian. I am sure there is a modern equivalent.

  15. Fear of independence is a Welsh psychological issue, somewhat akin to ‘cultural cringe’ in Australia 50 or 60 years ago. Australia’s sense of self has subsequently emerged. As Wales looks north and sees what is happening in Scotland, the sense of self-loathing and innate inferiority is likely to wane.

  16. Jill Evans is correct. Its a question of growing the confidence of the Welsh people in themselves to take further steps towards independence. The idea that the government of a Welsh state could be any worse than the sorry procession of U.K. Prime Ministers we have been subject to over the last thirty years is absurd.

    Indeed Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones have been competent if not very exciting leaders of the country. The problem is they are members of the Labour Party. The Labour Party in Wales has no ambition for the progress of devolution. Labour have no vision, Carwyn Jones is a prisoner of Labour MPs. The Labour Party exists to protect jobs for the boys not advance the cause of the Welsh people and nation.

    Plaid Cymru should be campaigning on independence. We should enjoy the same status as Eire or Denmark. An independent state within the European Union, where the Welsh government has control of our economic and foreign affairs. Then we will see the economy of our country recover.

    Plaid Cymru’s task as it has been for many years is to defeat Labour not prop it up. The One Wales Government delivered on a Welsh Language Act and the Powers Referendum. But there is little we can get out of the current Labour Government. We should be exposing them and preparing to topple them. We need a Plaid Cymru government in the next Sennedd prepared to campaign for and force the issue of further powers and independence. The Tories may be in power in London for decades we will have to force independence out of them.First though Plaid Cymru must campaign on the issue.

  17. “The Labour Party exists to protect jobs for the boys not advance the cause of the Welsh people and nation.”
    You may be right that Labour, in common with other parties, tends to protect its own and promote within a restricted circle. In a small country this is inevitable but undesirable. However the notion that Plaid is LESS parochial in appointing “Jobs for the boys” is laughable.
    As for Plaid becoming MORE of a “Culture and Language Nationalist” party. Bring it on!

  18. Sion Jones may be blasé about Labour’s “jobs for the boys” tradition but it is one of the causes of their 10 years of failure to regenerate our economy using EU funds. Jill Evans has begun to expose this national scandal – http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/10/10/mep-claims-wales-poorest-are-getting-poorer-91466-29567234/ – but the Labour establishment here and in Bruxelles is selling the ‘honest Brits, cheating foreigners’ line – http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/10/13/eu-chief-defends-welsh-govenment-regional-investment-policy-91466-29586945/. Funny how Cornwall and the Highlands & Islands became richer and only Wales didn’t, n’est-ce pas? I suppose we had the ‘advantage’ of the Kinnocks in Bruxelles.

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