Decentralisation needed to tackle North/South divide

Speaking at an IPPR North conference in Manchester Leanne Wood says England and Englishness should not be the preserve of the far right

Those who know me will know that I am not in the habit of quoting Conservative Prime Ministers, living or dead. I want to make an exception. In October 1962 the then Prime Minister Harold MacMillan told his Cabinet: “It was out of the question to allow Scotland or the North-east, or any large area, to be abandoned to decay.”

His Home Secretary at the time was even more direct: “If we do not regard it as a major Government responsibility to take this situation in hand and prevent Two Nations developing geographically, a poor North and a rich and overcrowded South, I am sure our successors will reproach us as we reproach the Victorians for complacency about slums and ugliness.”

England’s Future

This is the last of week-long series examining the emergence of English political sentiment and what it means for the constitutional future of Wales and the UK.

NEXT WEEK we begin a new series, on politics north of the border, as Scotland approaches its independence referendum in a little over a year’s time.

MacMillan saw him himself explicitly in the One Nation tradition of Benjamin Disraeli, who was described recently, somewhat implausibly, by Tristram Hunt as a “working-class champion”. MacMillan failed to halt the decline of the North of England that had arguably begun before the First World War. Perhaps if he were alive today he might argue at least he didn’t accelerate it.

Harold Wilson, the only Labour Prime Minister ever to have come from the North of England, presided over the fastest pit closure programme in history. Just under one mine a week was closed, cutting total UK coal production by a third in just six years and throwing 240,000 miners, mostly in Wales, Scotland and the North of England, out of work. Not even Thatcher could match that record of industrial devastation.

Track forward fifty years – over half of which were spent under a Labour government – and little has changed. Today we see a Conservative Prime Minister who on taking office, again referenced Disraeli by talking about uniting “two nations”. We see an Oxford-educated Labour leader from the south, with a northern seat, elected with the help of the Left – though he doesn’t to my knowledge smoke a pipe. Miliband has also adopted the One-Nation rhetoric. What was a half-useful Conference quip, here in Manchester, has now become the animating narrative, the new brand for ex-new Labour. Though their critics might point out that it’s difficult to see quite how policies like their regional benefit cap can fit into this.

The important point to grasp is this: the political language is identical to that of fifty years ago, because so, too, are the underlying conditions. There has been no progress. In fact, the divide is far worse than it was even then. And it continues to grow. Where you are born has as big an influence on your future life prospects, as whom you are born to.
In this inaptly named United Kingdom the spatial and the social are inter-twined. Geography has as much influence as class. For those who argue that the North-South divide is an over-simplification I would agree to this extent. The compass points of poverty in Britain are marked not just by north but by west too. The line of disadvantage lies between the South-East of England and the Rest, although there are of course pockets of acute hidden poverty in almost all communities in all parts of Britain. There is, nevertheless, a clear geographic divide.

In Wales, our economy has been drowned by wave after wave of de-industrialisation. We could say that this began with the aftermath of the First World War and continued through the Depression of the 1930s. Later came the Thatcherite onslaught and another period of further contraction post-97 under new Labour.

At each successive restructuring of the economy – Wilson’s second industrial revolution, Thatcher’s Big Bang, New Labour’s Knowledge Economy – we have seen income, wealth and jobs concentrated ever further in the hands of what the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change here in Manchester – has called the “working rich”. After years of denial, the North-South Divide is once again on the political agenda.

It seems the role of a Deputy Prime Minister in every Government – Brooke, Heseltine, Prescott and now Clegg – is to speak in vivid terms about how much they are committed to ending the wealth gap between the rich south of England and an impoverished north.
Like the job of Deputy PM itself, such rhetoric has turned out to be little more than a PR job to appease the disgruntled. But as far as actual practical solutions are concerned, we have had eighty years of failed policies – from Harold Wilson’s Regional Development Commissions, which were abolished by Thatcher, to Blair’s Regional Development Agencies, which were abolished by Cameron.

And now we have welfare reform and austerity biting deepest in the North of England. The North-South divide has become a festering wound. And the only mechanism available to redistribute wealth is through the structural and convergence funds from the EU – albeit those funds are not enough to do the job, and they are now under threat from a Tory Party being nudged further rightwards by an ascendant UKIP.

If we really are to address the reasons for this century-old divide, I would argue we probably need a deeper, more fundamental shift in policy and in politics. Scotland has found its own solution to this north-south divide. Whatever the outcome of next year’s referendum there, the ties that bind it as a nation to the rest of the United Kingdom will inevitably loosen, whether that is through independence or through some form of devo-max.

And while an independence referendum is not currently on the agenda for Wales, in the short-term the prospect of more self-government for our country is very real. This is due, in part at least, to the approach taken by Plaid Cymru in setting the constitutional agenda in Wales. We have seen a number of significant advances in Welsh democracy, which will be fully evident by the end of this decade. Wales is on the move. If Scotland and Wales are on the move, what about England? There has been some discussion of an English Parliament in recent years, along with some moves for devolution to the English regions, but again, these debates haven’t yet featured in any meaningful way on the agenda. The clear risk for progressives in England is that UKIP will come forward and embody the ‘existential angst’ about England’s place in the world, as has been pointed out by the likes of Ken Loach.

I’ll come back to Ken a bit later, but first I’d like to share with you some thoughts as to how Plaid Cymru can make a contribution to debates about regional economic policy across the United Kingdom. We would like to see a proper regional policy within the union that would provide clear benefits for the regions and nations.
We are less vocal on how England’s governance should be arranged – with the exception of supporting Cornwall’s right to self-determination, we believe that what happens in England is a matter for people in England of course.

We would like to see an English Parliament emerge, with groups of local authorities forming a decentralised regional level of government beyond this. Whether this will happen will depend on English public opinion, and the extent to which the major parties in England react to the situation. What we can be sure of is that we in Plaid Cymru will engage positively and in a spirit of co-operation with whatever structures emerge.

The party of Wales has great sympathy with the Billy Bragg version of English patriotism. Billy has said that he doesn’t think a specifically English national party is needed, but that an existing party or a brand new party could place progressive Englishness at the heart of its appeal. We will have to wait and see what happens, but my message today is that progressives should not allow the territory of England and feelings of ‘Englishness’ to be the preserve of the far right.

There are big challenges. In Wales, we have learned that we had to claim Welshness for ourselves. We had to turn it into a civic project, not an ethnic or racial one. Our Welshness includes all who live in Wales. This civic identity is important. And our national project has enabled us to create solidarity between different parts of the country, and also to welcome new citizens to Wales.

An independent Wales does not command mass support chiefly because as a nation we have been impoverished to the point of bankruptcy. Not through our own ineptitude, but because of the indifference and negligence of those ruling on our behalf. Our economic position has required us to become radical decentralisers of power and wealth in the here-and-now. It strikes me that those of you here in England outside London and the South East could do something similar.
Isn’t it in all of our interests to work together to redistribute wealth?

To get anywhere we will have to be radicals and realists combined. In Wales, we are caught in a Catch-22 of self-confidence. Our lack of power over own future has rendered us poor and getting poorer. That very same poverty has gnawed away at the belief in our capacity to take power for ourselves. That said, since the political paralysis that engulfed Wales in the wake of the 1979 referendum, we have won two devolution referenda. And when asked if decisions affecting Wales should be made in Wales, a growing majority now say Yes.

Despite this being some sign of a growth in confidence, we still await significant growth in support for an independent Wales. That situation could well change as the context develops in Scotland. But we must also be prepared to work in the here and now, where Wales is today. 
This is time for us to build our confidence as a nation. And while we build that confidence and self-belief we must make sure that we do not allow a generation of Welsh youth to languish while progress waits. The economics of renewal goes hand in hand with the politics of liberation. We must show that we can reverse our economic disadvantage – that our people can be better off. That our poverty is not inevitable and it’s our job in Plaid Cymru to demonstrate that.

So the task that I have set my party is the radical rebuilding of the Welsh economy from the bottom-up. We have greater chance of achieving that if there is a reinvented British State and a rebalanced British economy. The current iniquitous set up makes that job very hard. Of course, what we want will be too difficult to achieve by acting alone. As we are just 5 per cent of the population of Britain, we need to work with others who share our interests; we need new alliances.

Those of us who are marginalised need to work together in order to seize power at the centre.

The de-concentration of wealth first requires the de-concentration of power. In Plaid Cymru, we often refer to the London Parties. This piece of political shorthand is, of course, by no means a political attack on Londoners. Many of them are victims of the same centripetal politics as we are in Wales. Reference to the London parties is an attack on a political system that has enshrined the City of London and spiralling, make-believe property prices at the core of economic policy.

For over a century the City of London has given priority to international trade over local lending and investment. This has been reflected in the mindset of our politicians, and in their policies in investment flows and the allocation of resources. Even where the City of London has supported infrastructure investment it has focused on the needs of London and the South East of England. Transport spending, for example, in the South East of England is double what it is in the North. Another example is that 60 per cent of all of Britain’s tower cranes are located in Greater London, which shows where the bulk of capital investment is taking place.

This exacerbates an over-heating southern property market, compounding the growing wealth gap. The City of London is, in the words of the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change, “the Great Unleveller”. Instead of leading to the percolation of jobs, wealth and opportunity through mythic trickle-down, it has vastly increased inequality, socially and spatially, vertically and horizontally.

So what might be the elements of an alternative trajectory? How can we begin a spirit re-levelling of this island? There has to be a radical, muscular redistribution of economic activity – it can’t just be parts of the BBC that are moved north. This means the redistribution of credit through a network of regional investment banks, but also the redistribution of enterprise and activity through a system of economic incentives akin to the classical regional policies of old.

And as for us, in Wales, this principle needs to apply within our country too. We cannot afford to replicate the British system where the capital region overheats to the detriment of the rest – already people in Wales outside of Cardiff and the south east feel that their needs are being ignored. We must take active measures; we must have a clear plan to make sure we don’t make the same mistake. We have our devolved government, but regional decentralisation within that is vital if we are to make sure no one is left behind.

In England, decentralisation would most certainly mean powerful Regional Government for the North of England. So far, the political signs are encouraging on this front. The Smith Institute has called for a Council of the North Foundation; IPPR north has been consistent in its support for northern devolution; and more recently the Hannah Mitchell Foundation and its president Linda Riordan MP have been making an eloquent case for a new northern democracy. As a principled advocate of self-determination, it’s not for me to tell you where to draw lines upon your map. But I would make this comment: decentralisation should always mean that power cascades to the lowest level possible.

It’s no accident, I feel, that the biggest impact of the Localism Act 2011 was to reinforce London’s pre-eminence by giving the office of the Mayor of London even greater powers over housing and the economy. A greater Manchester and a greater Liverpool as ideas have great merit, but they can never compete on their own with the political might of Greater London.

Localism – whether city-deals or Local Economic Partnerships – can lighten the burden, but only devolution can get to grips with England’s North-South divide. One lesson to learn from the Welsh experience:  don’t allow the experience of one lost referendum consign an idea to history’s dustbin. These days we are all recyclers anyway.

In 1979 people in Wales voted 79.4 per cent against a Welsh Assembly, higher than the rate of rejection by the people of the North East of England in 2004. Eighteen years later we voted in favour. That should mean that a referendum for decentralised government in the north of England is winnable in a few years time. As I’ve said – of course, this is fundamentally a matter for you, people living here in England.
But, if, like us, you are interested in the balancing of Britain now, this would be a good way to go and would be and a step towards what a previous Leader of Plaid Cymru used to call a Britannic confederation. It’s what we might call today a new Commonwealth of Britain.

My party – The Party of Wales – would love to work with an Alliance of progressive forces from all parts of England, as well as those in Cornwall with whom we already have a loose alliance. In 2010, it was Plaid Cymru (and the SNP) who led the calls for a rainbow alliance of progressives, which would have stopped the coalition between the Tories and the Lib Dems. We would be prepared to do that again if need be.

I can understand the temptation but given all we know, does it make sense to put blind faith in a Labour Government governing alone? If we look at the cold evidence, we will see that Labour out of office will always obsess about winning back the South East of England; and when in office it has never addressed the core issue. They never rejected the pre-eminence of the City of London as the only worthwhile bedrock of the UK economy. They never really tackled the concentration of wealth.
The consequences of this, despite all the good intentions of, for example, the Regional Development Policy Commission, was that we in Wales and you in the North were left further behind economically after Labour left office than before.

The only difference is that Labour voters in Wales have somewhere else to go when they want to vent their frustration. 
This time, neither regional development nor devolution feature among Labour’s Policy Commissions, which does not bode well. Given this, there is little wonder the people in the north of England feel disenfranchised – 83 per cent of northern voters believe “politicians don’t understand the real world at all.” Of the ten English seats with the lowest turnout, nine are in the north, and the two lowest turnouts of all were in the central constituencies of Manchester and Leeds.
In the North of England, where Labour lies largely unchallenged, especially since the Lib Dems’ tilt to the right, there is double democratic deficit. A lack of a territorial voice on the one hand and the lack of a natural political home for those genuinely committed to challenging the status quo.

England outside the overheating centre needs a voice, and the Left needs a party. In Wales, our alternative voice regularly gets comments on facebook and twitter saying “I wish Plaid stood in England”. Well, I have an announcement to make – but it’s not quite that.

Plaid Cymru genuinely wants to support those of you in England who want to rebalance political and economic power. The party of Wales is not sectarian by nature. We are not consumed by antipathy to Labour, nor indeed to England. Our party is co-operative, internationalist and of the left. I have and have had close friends in the Labour Party over the years.
I have worked at grassroots level on projects of mutual interest with Labour members and as a party we were in coalition with Labour in the Assembly in the last term.  In Westminster, Plaid Cymru supported the Lib-Lab pact, and voted against the No Confidence motion that ushered in the Thatcher era.

We will work with progressives of any hue in England who want to decentralise, inside and outside Labour. We are also prepared to actively support a new Left party in England. I referred earlier to Ken Loach. Ken’s recent initiative has struck a chord – and perhaps that party could become the nucleus of a broader alliance.

Plaid Cymru has been here before. In 1992, we had an electoral alliance with the Green Party – which included a member of the Communist Party as our candidate in Gwent. This led to the election of the first Green representative in Parliament, in Cynog Dafis in Ceredigion. Pluralism can be the path to progress and there are successful examples to draw on: Syriza in Greece, Le Front de le Gauche in France, the Bildu coalition in the Basque Country, who I recently spent some time with – are all networks not single organisations.

A broad network in England, united behind a core set of progressive values could well include the Greens and other environmentalists.  It could include the trade union movement, many in the churches and other faith organisations, the new People’s Assembly movement, our sister party Mebyon Kernow in Cornwall, refugees from Labour and the Lib Dems and, yes, refugees from Respect and the SWP, too.

The potential for an English left-leaning alliance is enormous – and absolutely critical, for without it, the political void in England will be filled only by the knee-jerk reactionaries of UKIP and their ilk. An alliance of that nature is one that we could support. Utopian it maybe. But today we need our Utopias.

Politics as usual has not delivered. ‘Non-ideology’ or ‘technocratic politics’ will not get us out of the mess we are in.

Think tanks like the IPPR have been vital in helping place territorial justice in these islands on the agenda. But to properly achieve it, perhaps we need to go one step further and start thinking the unthinkable. 
The art of the possible, of the purely transactional, has failed Wales, it has failed in Scotland, and it has failed most parts of England too. There is no doubt that it has failed the Left. We need something different now.

As the old saying goes, if we carry on doing what we have always done, we will only get what we always got.

I have aimed, in this talk, to put the case for turning power and wealth the right side up. To do that we need a rainbow alliance for a radical, rebalanced, reindustrialised future: not one nation but a network of equals. Not the old Britain, but a new island where each of us owns the key to our own futures, in our own community, in our own land – that is maybe the change we all seek. I relish the prospect of working with you and in the years to come to achieve it.

Leanne Wood is leader of Plaid Cymru. This is an address she gave at a seminar organised in Manchester by IPPR North in July.

37 thoughts on “Decentralisation needed to tackle North/South divide

  1. “An independent Wales does not command mass support chiefly because as a nation we have been impoverished to the point of bankruptcy. Not through our own ineptitude, but because of the indifference and negligence of those ruling on our behalf.”

    Generic, rabble rousing nonsense not backed up by reality I’m afraid. The efforts of those ‘ruling’ us from Cardiff bay for over a decade has shown a negative impact in every measured indicator… education, health, the economy, ambulance waiting times, cancer services ad infinitum. You name it! if the bay is responsible for it then by the time they’ve shaved off their cut for nation building, the end result is a reduced performance in comparison to the rest of the UK.

    Leanne Wood is going to get an absolute grilling for mouthing off what she thinks about England, and rightly so! Can you imagine the rabid outpouring from Welsh Nationalists if Geoffrey Bloom decided to voice his thoughts on the future for Wales’ constitution in the Daily Mail.

  2. “Decentralisation needed to tackle North/South divide” When I saw that title, I honestly thought that Leanne was referring to Wales except it isn’t a north south divide but a ‘Greater Cardiff’ and the rest of us divide. We need to look at the beam in our own eye………Of course, I’m not blaming Ms Wood for this obsession with ‘Greater Cardiff’ amongst many of our politicians in the bay.

  3. As a Plaid supporter I ask Leanne to ignore the alliances of Brit Leftism, with their Labour led ‘rebalancing Britain’ project, and cast her eyes to other emerging nations across our continent. Adam Price, I know, has already done this. This is where Wales’ future lies: as a progressive, civic nationalist force working with like minded organisations across the mainland of Europe. Leanne’s meetings with Bildu in the Basque Country should be of far more importance than trying to curry favour with diehard Labour Unionists.
    As for the IWA’s promotion of next week’s series on Scotland, you talk of “politics north of the border”. Which border? Wales has an easterly land border. England has a northern (and western) border but I thought that this website was a Welsh one. Hence, there can only be issues that are “east of the border”. Please IWA realise where you are, and stop this sloppy and banal approach.

  4. “We would like to see a proper regional policy within the union that would provide clear benefits for the regions and nations.
We are less vocal on how England’s governance should be arranged – with the exception of supporting Cornwall’s right to self-determination, we believe that what happens in England is a matter for people in England of course.”

    Ms Wood should have acted on the last clause in that quotation by keeping her nose out of this debate.

    In 1997 the Welsh voted by a narrow margin for their own national political forum to deal with a substantial and increasing amount of their own domestic government. (The word “national” must be stressed here, this was not the regional government that she advocates for England using the weasel formula “nations and regions”) At that point they ceased to have any legitimate interest in the domestic government of England. This is even more emphatically true of those who support a party with the ultimate goal of Welsh independence.

    Nor is it for anyone in Wales to decide whether Cornwall is or is not part of England. It is certainly no part of Wales and this particularly shameless piece of divide and rule meddling does her even less credit than the rest of her speech.

    So please Miss Wood butt out. We do not need your self-interested and ill-motivated advice. We do need a directly elected English National Parliament which, amongst other things, can decide on the best form of devolved government within England.

  5. Leanne Wood might give some thought to the north/south divide in her own country with all the economic activity being concentrated in Cardiff and the south east. Owain Glyn Dwr put his capital centrally in Machynlleth. that would be a start.
    Devolution to the now discredited standard English regions would put Wales on a lower footing than most of them. She should hope at least for Salveson’s super-regions.
    She also needs to be preparing for the possibility, if not probability, of Wales having independence thrust upon it by English nationalism, which is flirting with full independence from both the EU and the UK.
    Plaid Cymru’s support for Mebyon Kernow is strange since Cornwall’s “devolved” government is never going to be anything other than the equivalent of a county council. It’s a bit like supporting independence from Scotland by the Erse speaking Western Isles (which could at least be justified on the grounds of a living language).

  6. “…with the exception of supporting Cornwall’s right to self-determination, we believe that what happens in England is a matter for people in England of course…We would like to see an English Parliament emerge, with groups of local authorities forming a decentralised regional level of government beyond this.”

    After all the build up over the last day or two we finally have it from ‘llygad y ffynnon’ (a rather nicer phrase than the horse’s mouth!).

  7. Same old, same old… When will Ms Wood and the rest of the utopian dreamers in her Party explain how they intend to replace the billion pounds a month that the English taxpayers in the few remaining competitive parts of England pour into Wales?

  8. “Leanne Wood says England and Englishness should not be the preserve of the far right”.

    Is burning houses down in the name of Welsh nationalism far left or far right?

    What business is it of a Welsh nationalist, supposedly wanting Welsh independence, how England is governed?

  9. There is much of merit in this article, both on an analytical level (economic cause and effect) and on an ideological level (the call to arms for ideas over the “purely transactional”). It is a thoughtful and well-written piece.

    However, I am generally uneasy about Welsh nationalists attempting to steer or overly influence territorial debates in England. The ‘spatial’ as Leanne puts it, is entirely a matter for the English electorate. I am however more comfortable with Welsh politicians of whichever party addressing the socio-economic challenges (or the ‘social’ by her nomenclature) common to all in the United Kingdom, particularly whilst that political entity continues to exist. The massive socio-economic imbalance in the United Kingdom between London (and its commuter belt) and the rest, is not something any politician anywhere in the UK has the luxury of ignoring or dismissing as an ‘English-only’ matter.

    And so I conclude that Leanne has had to walk a difficult tightrope between genuinely addressing the problems that an unbalanced United Kingdom brings in the here and now (and by necessity offering some feasible ideas for the future) whilst not seeming to proscribe any given ‘spatial’ approach for England. On balance I think she makes that point clear, but perhaps is too ready to share her preference.

    Devolution within England is one theoretical option. But it is just that, an option. I would have liked to have seen her explore redistribution strategies for the ‘UK economic area’ that involve no changes to English territorial arrangements as well. If Welsh nationalists are to contribute to cross-border thinking they owe it to their English counterparts that they think and work on both sides of the social and spatial axes.

    One for next time Leanne…

  10. This is about what I expected, what would this Welsh woman say if we English tried to divide her nation into regions. She states that that’s apart from Cornwall, sorry that’s another heavily subsidised area of the UK and definately part of England.

    She states that of course it’s a matter for self determination and also puts forward the old socialist mantra of Regions, how dare she? When are we the English going to be allowed our say, the last opinion poll showed 67% of us want our own Parliament as against what was it Ms Wood 20% of the Welsh population wanted an assembly?

  11. Phil ; Funny how suddenly this a marvellous article, yet anyone else you basically slag off without any democratic political points.
    Leanne Wood is a little bit lacking in certain department , not very wise and switch on at all.
    I cannot believe this is the leader of Plaid Cymru, with an attitude like this, and trying to back the Labours/ Prescott North South of England divide, is she is Labour in disguise ?.
    Anything to disadvantage England goes well in Wales and in Scotland by the way is the Celtic league in action . Very Very discrimative and Undemocratic.

  12. Leanne Wood appears to have been invited by IPPR North to give her views and the standpoint of Plaid Cymru, so perhaps those wishing she would ‘butt out’ could address their views to IPPR North. (Her thanks for the invitation at the start of the speech has been edited out of this IWA version.)

    Of course Plaid Cymru should have a standpoint on matters beyond the English border. The party has members in the UK parliament. It is a possibility that one day, when one of the other parties falls just a couple of MPs short of a House of Commons majority, Plaid Cymru’s MPs might make up the numbers to form a coalition government.

  13. I don’t know what Stuart Eels means by “the old socialist mantra of regions”. The Tory prime minister John Major signed the Maastricht treaty and Regional Government offices were set up in response. These were later reduced from 10 to 9 with the merger of Merseyside with the North West region.
    But Stuart Eels is either a member of, or in sympathy with, Ukip and holds to the untenable belief that there can be both an English parliament and the continuation of the United Kingdom.
    The fact is that there can be an English parliament OR devolution to regions (either the standard regions, or Salveson’s super-regions), given that the status quo, which discriminates against the English, will not be tolerated for much longer, The consequence of an English parliament will be the end of English membership of the UK.

  14. Aled Powell. Some invitations should be declined. This was one.. IPPR North and Paul Salveson have of course been addressed, though unlike Ms Wood they have not (yet) defined themselves as foreigners to the English. Plaid’s representation in the UK Parliament does indeed enable it to meddle in English domestic matters. That fact does not legitimise such meddling, any more than it legitimises the meddling of other Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish MPs.

  15. Quite a polished speech from Leanne Wood, and certainly a contribution that displays her credentials as a political figure more animatedly of the left than of the nation.

    With that in mind, there is an ineluctable logic to her argument that Wales stands alongside the north of England as co-victims of a political system that concentrates its energies into over-heating the English south east and London. It isn’t clear from this speech where the midlands and the west of England fit into her analysis, but by most indicators these areas are closer to the alleged neglect of Wales and northern England than to the supposed hyper-development of the south.

    If so, Leanne Wood’s logic suggests that the real solution is not separation for Wales and decentralisation within England, but independence for the south east and London? Aren’t these, as she claims, the outlier regions, the parts that suck the life out of the rest of the UK? Take these out of the constitutional equation and, as Leanne Wood asserts, there is real commonality between the regions and nations of what remains. These, she claims, share the same broad malaise, enjoy a similar commitment to progressive left solutions and thus stand to benefit together from the same programme of economic regeneration.

    Moreover, if an over-mighty south east is able to call the shots to the exclusion of all else in a United Kingdom, why should we suppose that it would be other than better placed to do so in a post-UK scenario? Real solidarity between Wales and the north of England, which this speech commendably exhorts, does not mean abandoning the enfeebled to the mighty. No, her logic calls for that part of the UK that has developed down markedly different lines to go its own way and leave the rest, with its commonalities, to set to work re-building itself.

  16. Adam Higgett rightly identifies Londonia as the UK’s biggest problem, but how can it be prevented from treating the rest of the UK as colonial territories to be plundered for talent and resources?

  17. Isenstan asserts that a English Parliament and Regional devolution are incompatible and that ” The consequence of an English parliament will be the end of English membership of the UK.”. Unless this author has supernatural powers these are opinions, not facts. The only way to find out whether the predictions are correct is to have an English Parliament. Let us do so. If they prove to be right this will still be the better option for the English.

  18. England is like a sore to the likes of Ms Wood they have to keep scratching,Being Leader of Plaid Cymru isn’t keeping her busy enough ,what is it with people like Ms wood that have a compulsion to see England if not wiped of the map chopped up into pieces?
    Look after Wales Ms Wood and when the time comes fight harder to break from England ,but keep your nose out of English matters.

  19. Adam 6.43

    A delectably mischievous bit of reasoning ‘off the page’ there Adam. But you’re too clever a bloke to disregard all of the ‘national’ and ‘cultural’ factors argued elsewhere and continuously by Leanne aren’t you? You’ll forgive her for not closing off every conceivable rhetorical loophole in a twenty minute speech to a left-wing think tank won’t you? If you were a Plaid/Leanne neophyte I’d understand you taking this text in isolation, but regrettably your breadth of knowledge precedes your name…

    A wonderful piece of textual forensics though…

    You haven’t contributed for a long time. I miss your posts.

  20. Quite frankly Ms Woods you should just keep your nose out of English business! English governance is a matter for no one other than the English people! Were we to reciprocate the favour and begin preaching to the Welsh about how they should now put their house in order for our benefit, you and your fellow ‘nationalists’ would predictably be foaming at the mouth! Do us all a favour please and just keep quiet!

  21. The comments from English nationalists on this speech need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Unfortunately, the English Democrats are quite reactionary. They want to be offended all the time and the latest manifestation of this is that Plaid Cymru is trying to undermine England or suggest it be “broken up”. This is despite Leanne clearly saying in the article she would like to see an English Parliament and that it “depends on English public opinion”.

    Robin Tilbrook and others will twist anything to suit a hostile, suspicious style of nationalism where the EU, the Scots or the Welsh are the bogeymen. What Plaid Cymru really wants is quite different, especially as they’re not Eurosceptic. I think Leanne’s comments sit well with what Alex Salmond said last week about wanting Scotland to stay in “five out of six unions”. These are vital discussions to have, and I think Leanne understands that economic power within the UK doesn’t necessarily equate to who has a parliament or an Assembly.

    English readers have seized on the issue of an English Parliament or regions but Leanne makes it quite clear in the speech that that’s up to the English and that Plaid would engage with “whatever structures emerge”. That seems sensible and respectful to me, and I would also disagree with ‘Bob Jones’ who thinks this is the “Brit Left” or whatever. England is our closest neighbour and economic partner. What we want to do is reorganise and renegotiate our partnership with England so that we are eventually on an equal footing. We are nowhere near the level of economic success as the Basque Country, sorry Bob. They’ve had decades of almost total self-government and nationalist hegemony, and are hugely confident because of that and are ready to roll, depending on if they want to go for independence. To get anywhere near their level of success we need to figure out how we approach or resolve the economic imbalances (some of the worst in the world) within the UK. I see Leanne’s speech as a solid contribution to that.

  22. A referendum for a Welsh National Assembly in 1979,
    Followed by a 2nd referendum eighteen years later.
    As Ms Wood seems to think it ok to meddle in the affairs of England, can we expect her to call for a
    Referendum in England, on the return of England’s National Parliament?
    If not- Please stay out of English matters Ms Wood.

  23. Regional devolution in England, whether complete or partial would likely faciliatate further devolution in Wales regardless of what happens in Scotland. It’s possible to imagine a devolution “arms race” developing between English regions and Wales leading to a situation where the level of devolved power is such that the Welsh electorate view independence as a tempting and nonfrightening option.

    Devolved regions in England whatever the geographic split would most likely result in at least two if not three English regions with boundaries with Wales. How much less difficut perhaps to have agreements on eg transport, energy and water, shared heath and education resources, with such regions than having to go through a London based UK or English government monolith.

    It appears that there has been a rather modest number of responses to this week’s series of articles from the English or British left. Whatever the reasons the low level of input must be significant. Maybe the English left should look for the opportunities of devolution in England. A more than decent chance of forming a number of regional governments and no chance ( Kernow excepted) that nationalists will spoil their party.

  24. The Welsh have their assembly and the Scots their Parliament thanks to devolution both at national level, but I don’t remember the English (British maybe) sticking their noses into Welsh and Scottish business, yet Leanne Wood can take time from her obviously not so busy schedule to tell us English what is the best type of devolution for England, well Leanne it really is none of your business, the time will come when the people of England will have had enough of interference both from outsiders and the British telling us what is good for us and will embark on independence, we will have an English Parliament best suited to England’s needs and not anyone else’s.

  25. James Matthews is wrong, I didn’t say that an English parliament and devolution are incompatible. There would be nothing to stop an English parliament from deciding to set up regions, but I can’t see why it would. The point I was making was that the only way for the UK to continue is devolution to English regions, either the standard regions favoured by the EU, or Salveson’s super regions. An English parliament is not compatible with the continuation of the UK, and that was the point I was making.
    Okay, that is an assertion, but it is where the evidence points. I suspect that Mr Matthews is a supporter of Ukip, which is misleading the electorate by suggesting that the English can have a parliament, exit the EU and that the UK will continue intact..

  26. Could Leanne Woods enthusiasm for England to be divided into the 9 standard regions reflect the threat posed by an all England parliament of bringing about the end of the UK and thrusting independence on the Welsh? Perhaps life without Mother England is beginning to look less appealing.

  27. Isenstan

    I’ve merely followed Leanne Wood’s logic. I haven’t endorsed it. As for preventing the south east/London from plundering the rest – I’m out of ideas. Trade sanctions?

    It has always struck me as odd that the proposed solution to London’s supposed indifference to Wales is to reform the constitution such that London is compelled to be even more so. No matter how poorly you judge the status quo in attending to the needs of the people of Wales, it is difficult to see how either an independent England or an independent south east England would be other than more indifferent/negligent in this regard.

    You may well of course answer that Welsh independence isn’t about how England behaves but about how Wales does, but as Isenstan points out England doesn’t just vanish into the ether if and when this separation comes about, and the European motor regions that are London and the south east remain exactly where they are now.

    Perhaps the real question here is how to deliver more balanced economic development throughout the UK whatever the constitutional arrangements. In that sense Leanne Wood thesis here, Plaid’s Cymru’s raison d’etre in general – and indeed Labour’s ongoing focus on devolution – aren’t precursors to the development of real solutions: they are impediments. They allow us to kick the can of what needs to be down down the road until region x or nation y has the powers it needs for itself. Perhaps what we actually need is to recognise that the economic development imbalance in the larger island of Britain is a structural feature for the forseeable future – in any constitutional scenario. Perhaps what we need is less, not more, constitutional-ism.

    Just a thought.

  28. Adam,

    Your unitary arguments hold true if one believes in the effectiveness of centralised economic planning – that redistribution can be planned and executed by a single authority – a traditional British Labour position of course, nobly held I’ve no doubt.

    But it hasn’t worked to-date, and I can’t think of anywhere in the world where it has. The most widely (spatially) distributed economies in the world are normally the most decentralised (USA, Germany for example).

    There is something about independence of policy and action (sometimes fiscal, sometimes regulatory, sometimes incentive) – something about geographic competition – that works economically.

    You’re right, white-hot London and the SE doesn’t go anywhere in an independence scenario, and neither does any self-respecting Welsh nationalist want it to. When free to trade with London and others on its own terms, a Welsh nationalist wants its neighbour to be as rich as possible. Its just elementary economics Adam.

    But I guess you’ll always have a problem with the ‘individual’ and always deny its potential in a nil-sum game between excessive, greedy individualism and harmonious collectivism.

  29. English Unionism is an unpleasant, norrow-minded nationalism.

    Why on earth shouldn’t Wales involve herself in what happens in England?

    England has always meddled in the affairs of other countries from here to China and back around the other side. They’re not the only ones because everybody else does it too.

    On a local note England rules Wales by force. Today it’s called Fascism. England has stolen from us for generations and told us how inferier we are. Some idiots still believe it. What England does effects us. So trying to make England a Democratic, co-operative nation benefits us and other nations nearby.

    A Conservative MP not long ago described London as a State with the country of England attached. It’s clear that London has to loose population as well as political and economic power to those territories it currently rules.

    In the Victorian age there was less centralisation which changed through the 20th Century. As more power now goes to Wales and Scotland we “pull” from London, which not only benefits us it benefits the likes of Bristol. Business people I have worked with across the water are delighted with more power going to Wales as it helps them withstand the “pull” of London which helps improve their economy at the expence of London.

    The Row over HS2 is marked by many people outside London seeing that the primary driver behind it is to make London richer not the North-West of England.

    So I say meddle on in English affairs. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as the English say.

  30. Plaid Cymru has some of the best brains and most committed politicians in Wales but I will not vote for a party that is so unrealistic in its aims. Its ambitions for an independent Welsh speaking Wales are fantasy. Most of the voters live in the anglicized eastern areas and many are English or of English parentage.Even in the Welsh speaking areas independence is not a burning issue. Plaid Cymru peaked some years ago and is on the slide.
    The best hope for Wales is for Plaid members to leave and exert pressure from within the parties closest to their wider political beliefs. Plaid needs its “Clause IV Moment”. The fantasists can shout and demonstrate to their hearts’ content from within Cymdeithas and the loony fringe and the pragmatic majority can make sure the other parties put Wales first.

  31. There is a certain irony about those complaining that Welsh politicians have no right to comment on England’s ‘internal affairs’. Why, one wonders are they closely following a site that is primarily concerned with Welsh policy?

    The non-interference stance is also somewhat undermined by the day-to-day reality that Wales’ ‘internal affairs’ are micro-managed by English politicians on pretty well a daily basis. The refusal of English politicans to allow the WAG to have any say on agricultural wages is a typical recent example.

  32. @ Chris Madoc-Jones- the only thing that is fantasy is the assertion that we want to create ‘ a welsh speaking Wales’. In 2013 that is not the aim of the party. Being a member I wouldn’t have joined myself if that were the case. Just to reiterate- that ”aim” is not any manifesto I’ve read, any policy document or any where else. It’s just a myth bounded about by the party’s enemies.

  33. Chris Madoc-Jones; All political ideologies – even yours – have to contain an element of fantasist vision. That’s why they are political philosophies. Whatever you may think, the truth remains that, of all the available options, it is only Plaid Cymru who seek to establish a free Welsh polity; that is the maturation of a Welsh nation-state, who can rightly take her place at the tables alongside the other autonomous nations of the world. Plaid rejects British Unionism and UK Imperialism, unlike all of the other parties, and therefore linking up with those on the Left – be it in Cardiff or London – who ultimately espouse the failed policies of Brit-ism is not on the cards.

  34. C M-J, you have hit a rather substantial nail on its colossal head. I am a Plaid member and happy to be known as one. But I do lean just a bit towards the right of center (in England I would be a pinko, but that is another matter). We are faced with an awful void in Welsh politics at the moment, that there is no effective voice for those who both believe in Wales (rather than blaming England for everything) and believe that the capacity for the state to deliver our salvation is somewhat circumscribed.

    We do need to get like-minded entrepreneurs and engaged business people into the conversation about our future, but there is no real place for them in the way th parties currently align themselves.

  35. Gwyn; What complete rubbish,you are acting inferior with a massive chip on your shoulder,you need to read your history first ,your own Welsh ancestors sold you down the river with the British Govt.
    Who by the way rules the English with a iron rod, and have treated we English appallingly. That includes Welsh Scots irish and ENGLISH in the British Establishment.
    Your a nationalist but you dont like other nationalists …….well English,
    says all gwyn your an Anglophobe.

  36. Phil

    Mine isn’t a unitary perspective. What I suggested is that whatever the constitutional arrangements for the current UK – separation into constituent nations, strong federalism, status quo, return to pre-1999 settlement – the most important question will remain how to ensure that prosperity (however you choose to define that) is more evenly spread than at present.

    You make the entirely valid assertion that it hasn’t worked under either the status quo or pre-1999 settlement, but (leaving aside your somewhat sketchy international survey) you make the mistake of assuming it has ever seriously been tried.

    This is where Leanne Wood’s new position here makes things quite interesting. Hitherto, her and Plaid’s argument has been that Wales is neglected by rule from London and hence the best thing to do is for Wales to break away and run its own affairs in its own interests. That, as we both acknowledge, doesn’t deal with the problem of “Londonia” (as another contributor termed) it. In my opinion, it makes that problem worse.

    But as Leanne Wood points out, Wales should actually make common cause with the north of England (and, though she doesn’t mention it, the midland and west as well). Add in Scotland and Northern Ireland and you actually have a dominant voting block in favour of policies that will seek to do exactly what she argues for her – i.e spread the development more evenly throughout the UK.

    This isn’t my argument by the way. For the record, I’m a much more radical decentraliser than anyone in Plaid with it’s state-building urges will ever be. But if you follow the logic of Leanne Wood’s case here you reach the inevitable conclusion that it isn’t independence that Wales needs – it’s an alliance within the current UK with everywhere except Londonia.

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