Independence involves a process

Leanne Wood explains why she is supporting a constitutional convention for Wales

We live in a time of change. Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and social insecurity, the relationships between nations and between governments and the governed are everywhere in a state of flux. Democracy is in crisis as our existing institutions fail to inspire confidence. This year for the first time in the Edelman global survey of public trust, people in the majority of countries didn’t trust their governments to do what is right. As the political class across the whole world flounders, we have no choice but to let the people back into the heart of the political process.

This process of empowerment is taking different forms in different places. In Scotland an independence referendum is being held. In Ireland, a constitutional convention is to revise the Republic’s Constitution for the first time since 1937. In European Union, too, the continuing crisis within the Eurozone has triggered calls for a new convention process, which could lead to political union and fiscal integration. And here in Wales, of course, we have the cross-party Silk Commission which is currently examining the case for greater financial powers for the Welsh Government.

It is crucial to stress that constitutional change and political reform are not abstract, legalistic issues, but are fundamental to how we live our lives. Governance matters. The outcome of constitutional change affects all aspects of domestic life. The architecture of decision-making in the Eurozone will have a determining effect on the performance of a Welsh manufacturing company. An independent Scotland would hardly have thrown disabled workers on the scrapheap as Westminster has done with Remploy. And even in Wales the relatively limited devolution settlement here has resulted in a National Health Service pursuing substantially different policies to its English counterpart.

That is why I am willing to support the idea of a broad ranging constitutional convention which will look at the arrangements between the constituent nations of the UK following the Scottish referendum on independence. The timing of this is crucial. A convention prior to that date would be impractical because we will not know whether the UK in its present form will continue to exist and Scottish minds will be in campaign, not convention, mode. A convention after the vote is not only sensible, but necessary, to discuss either the arrangements for a successor state or the UK-wide implications of devolution-max.

Plaid Cymru is committed to empowering the people of Wales which is why we believe ultimately that Wales should be independent. We would want the opportunity to put that case in the context of any future Convention. But we also realise that our journey towards an independent nation – to coin a phrase – will be a process, not an event. Every opportunity to discuss ways in which the Welsh people, through their elected Parliament, can achieve greater independence in the context of a changing set of relationships on this island is surely to be grasped. Carwyn Jones has suggested strengthening Wales’s voice at Westminster. We would argue that it’s not our voice that needs strengthening but our hands as Welsh people on the levers of power – not just those in London but in Brussels too.

A properly structured, inclusive convention could be a real opportunity for broad public participation in constitutional reform. This is why I will be calling for any convention to be as open as possible – like Iceland’s recent experiment in constitutional ‘crowd-sourcing’ – with a real role for citizens in suggesting how we reshape our governance. Power, after all, in a democracy is meant to be bestowed by the people on politicians, though the language of devolution seems to get the flow mixed up. It’s time to turn our constitution the right way up, and return the power to where it belongs.

Leanne Wood is leader of Plaid Cymru and AM for South Wales Central.

5 thoughts on “Independence involves a process

  1. It would be good to hear politicians – of all persuasions – demonstrating a more realistic, balanced view. Rather than promote party interests or voice pre-occupations with constitutional matters perhaps they should get on with the urgent need to tackle our failing health system, poor educational standards, teetering economy and thinning social fabric. I don’t know who is writing Leanne’s speeches, but I would suggest they try to redress the balance in favour of a more realistic world view. What we have heard so far smacks of high-minded rhetoric, of little meaning or interest to ordinary people on the high street who look to their elected members to dedicate the majority of the time to key matters affecting their current and future well being. More doing, less posturing please.

  2. Plaid Cymru is full of romantics who live in a fabulous Wales that will thrive under independence. Meanwhile the real Wales keeps returning to power a Labour Party that rejects all new ideas, pays lip service to enterprise while suppressing it in practice and perpetuates a culture of victimhood. Scotland since devolution has seen its relative economic and educational performance improve while in Wales both have deteriorated. Still the situation has not got bad enough to get our politicians to raise their eyes from a nit-picking blame game focused in the short run on the 10 o’ clock news and in the long run on the next election. The electorate is likely to remain indifferent to constitutional issues while politicians show such little ability to get to grips with the economic and social problems we face. If you want more powers why not say which powers exactly and why, i.e. what concretely would you do with them? Leanne is as vague and vacuous in answering that question as all the others. Any politician asking for more power now needs to set out the programme such powers would facilitate.

  3. “Plaid Cymru is full of romantics who live in a fabulous Wales that will thrive under independence.”

    Those of us who desire independence for Wales cannot guarantee that our country will prosper as a result. What we do know, however, is that Wales is relatively poor, and getting poorer. Successive UK governments have neglected Wales and its infrastructure. There is a marked North-South divide in the UK, as accepted by Cameron and Clegg this morning.

    I see no prospect of Wales ever prospering within the UK. It never has. The structure of the UK guarantees that it never will. It finds itself in the Catch 22 situation of having been made dependent on fiscal transfers, but without a means of regenerating its economy. It’s a bit like Oliver Twist in the workhouse – he was expected to be grateful for the little he was given, and berated for asking for more. His only hope lay in escaping from that suffocating and humiliating institution and to fend for himself.

    There are indications that future UK governments, certainly the Tories, intend to address the issue of fiscal tranfers to Wales, by bringing in regional pay, benefits and pensions. This will truly confirm Wales’ status, but ironically make independence a more attractive proposition.

    Cracks have already appeared in the UK’s flawed constitutional make-up, and fundamental change is inevitable, the Scots will ensure that it happens. It’s only a matter of time, regardless of the lethargy of the Labour Party in Wales. Even the First Minister is waking up to the stark reality that the status quo is unsatisfactory.

  4. I am repeating myself but your case would be a lot stronger if Plaid Cymru explained what it would do with “independence” that cannot be done now. In the absence of any indication that our leaders could rise to the challenges of autonomy the electorate will continue to cling to the hand-out.

  5. Yes, there is a real Wales and yes, there is an ideal Wales. Engage with the real to seek the ideal. Business as usual has failed, is failing and will continue to fail. There is nothing to be ashamed about if you desire a better, more inclusive and sustainable future. When coal is squeezed hard enough, you get diamonds. Personally, I don’t think the Bob Diamond management model, no matter how admired it may be elsewhere, is the one that fits Wales’s needs.

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy