Start building the ‘new Union’ now

What is good for the Scottish goose should also be good for the Welsh gander, says Gareth Hughes.

David Cameron has endorsed giving more powers to Scotland, should they vote ‘no’ in September’s referendum. He said this on the back of a report from his Scottish party. saying amongst other things that the Treasury should hand complete powers over income tax to Holyrood. More particularly the setting of rates and bands for income tax in Scotland would be decided by MSPs. Mr Cameron is endorsing a move that his Government is refusing to grant to Wales.

If he is really serious about devolution he could back Andrew RT Davies, the Welsh Conservative party leader’s call for the full implementation of the Silk Commission proposals on income tax by removing the lock step that stops Wales varying the rates of tax in the individual tax bands. He could amend the Welsh bill going through both Houses of Parliament to put this into effect. But don’t hold your breath.

It’s dawning on Westminster politicians that a No vote is not a done deal. That’s why the Prime Minister is happy to endorse these latest proposal, which amount to devo max. How he must now regret his insistence on it being a yes/no referendum and no question on “devo max” a position that most Scottish voters support. But that’s by the by.

Belatedly the three Westminster are now competing with each other to offer more and more to Scotland. Gordon Brown believes that the pro-UK parties should introduce new devolved Scottish tax powers speedily in the event of a no vote in September.  Now of course these offers are being made to bribe the Scots to stay in the Union. But if the proposals are sensible, they have equal validity for Wales.

The Conservatives having opposed all things devolved, have had a Damascus like conversion, they would now seem to be far away the most devolutionist of the unionist parties. Ok, they have recognized that devolution is here to stay. And now devo-max is an option that the Tories are happy to endorse. But what is good for the Scottish goose should also be good for the Welsh gander.

If Mr Cameron is able to convince the Scottish voter that he’s sincere, he undermines the SNP contention that a Tory Westminster government spells the end for further devolution. If the voters of Scotland believe him it’s a boost to the No campaign.  But proof of that sincerity should not have to wait until September. Devolution is more than just about Scotland. The Prime Minister should set up the constitutional convention, as called for by Carwyn Jones, now.

Granting Scotland additional powers has implications for Wales, Northern Ireland and for England. The debate should start now, not after the event. It Scotland is going to have extensive powers over their finance their will be impact for Wales. Let’s debate it now.



The IWA is organising a conference on the implications of the Scottish referendum vote for Wales on the afternoon of September 11th at the Wales Millennium Centre. Details will be on the IWA website in the coming days



Gareth Hughes is a Political Commentator and Life Fellow of the IWA This article originally feature on his blog

20 thoughts on “Start building the ‘new Union’ now

  1. “Start building the ‘new Union’ now”. Obvious question Gareth: why?

  2. Mr Cameron ought not to regret his insistence on a straight in/out referendum. After all, that is the real question. Everything else is window dressing. A servant cannot serve two masters. Either we keep the Union or Scotland and Wales go it alone. Anything in between is procrastination. No use pretending otherwise. Better for all concerned if we stop wasting time and make up our minds one way or the other.

    Asking the real question also makes sense in terms of Mr Cameron’s own political advantage. If he wins, he goes into the General Election the saviour of the Union. If he loses, then the West Lothian Question is answered to the advantage of the Conservatives in Westminster.

    The Strathclyde Report is therefore a regrettable last-minute loss of nerve. Looking at it – thanks for the link, Gareth and Victoria – one cannot help wondering if it was scribbled of the back of an envelope. There seems to be no sense of direction or consideration of the longer term issues – a typical addition to the growing library of devolution.

  3. David: “Because the old one isn’t working”. I agree David, but why replenish a lapsed concept?

  4. John Winterson Richards,

    I agree with you to a point but if the Strathclyde report wasnt on the table and there was a fairly close referendum with the NO cote winnning then there would only be endless demands for devo max afterwards. At least this way, if the No vote wins and Scotland stays then we are all clear that Devo Max is the end point of the devolution journey…. no more bickering, just get on with it.

    Hopefully devo max will then be quickly offered to Wales by a referendum as the potential endpoint for our own devolution journey. However, if that referendum is not won and the Welsh public vote for the status quo, then once again the message to Welsh politicos and career nationalists should be clear…. no more bickering, just get on with it!

  5. No, the present Union isn’t working. But independence in Europe is a much better option than tinkering with Westminster control. It works for Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg – why not for Scotland and Wales?

  6. @Martin Jones and Dafydd Williams

    93% of the Welsh electorate do not want what you are suggesting. Does the wishes of your fellow Welsh folk not mean anything to you?

    Who am I kidding? since when has the wishes of the majority meant anything to selfish and self righteous Welsh nationalists.

  7. SeaMor: In the same vein that 91% of the UK electorate did not vote for UKIP, but we are perpetually bombarded by claims that “the nation” or “the country” desperately wants to leave the EU. Your final sentence is also a bit of a generalisation, one senses, as in “all politicians are corrupt”.

  8. SeaMor – love the reference, by the way – the point is that ‘devo max’ would not be the end of the journey. The whole history of devolution since 1997 proves the assertion, first detailed by Professor Dicey a hundred years ago, that any subsidiary legislature will increase its power until it is independent, or at least so autonomous as makes no difference. Leaving aside the question of definitions for the moment, can you really imagine a Scotland or Wales with ‘devo max’ not at some point inching towards that final short step?

    Yet, we may be on agreement on one point: an immediate referendum on ‘devo max’ in Wales would at least cut short the prolonged period of uncertainty and prevarication, and would no one in any doubt about devolution’s final destination.

    Sadly, the views of the Welsh people, whatever they might be, are the least important factor in the high-level power game that is now under way.

  9. @ JWR

    High level politics has never been an exercise in following opinion polls but any serious constitutional development in Wales would require the sanction of the electorate in a referendum.

  10. Rhobat, what you say is entirely correct – but a footnote should be added: as 2011 confirmed, any referendum will be little more than a formality if the whole political Establishment is on one side and there is no properly organised or funded opposition on the other.

  11. JWR. Dicey was talking I through his hat. Anyone would think there were no stable federal states in the world. The United States has been a federation since 1776. New York and Connecticut are still not ‘independent’. Germany, Australia, Canada all have powerful sub-national governments which do not try to expand their powers or become independent. Switzerland, a small country with four official languages, is a confederation, stable for centuries. This slippery slope argument really is nonsense. There is no iron law here, we really can choose the degree of autonomy suitable to our circumstances. I wish people would argue things on their merits instead of trying to frighten the punters with bogeymen.

    Dafydd Williams: the weakness of your position is that no-one explains what powers not currently available to the Welsh government are actually necessary to promote prosperity and well-being in Wales. Nor, having specified what is important about ‘independence’ do they say what they would do with the powers in question. That leaves the Welsh population fearing that a Welsh government would make a bigger horlicks than we have at present. You need to get down to brass tacks and say what we could or should do rather than. implying that money trees would sprout in every Welsh garden once the English yoke was removed. Right now, you lack credibility.

  12. Mr Tredwyn, Dicey distinguished between different types of federation, especially between the organic and the artificial, between those which represent a union of previously sovereign states and divisions imposed from the top down. So the situation faced by the Thirteen Colonies in 1787 was not the same as that faced by the Welsh-born Sir Samuel Griffith QC in Australia in the 1890s – a situation with which Dicey himself was personally familiar – and the situation of Wales in 2014 differs from both. Since one size does not fit all, just saying “federation” is not in itself helpful.

    Moreover, with one exception, every example of a stable federation you cite has been historically unstable.

    In the United States, tension between federation and state government was resolved only by a bloody Civil War which imposed a top down solution in plain contradiction to the 1789 Constitution.

    The Sonderbund War performed a similar role in Switzerland. Contrary to Orson Welles’ famous “cuckoo clock” speech, Switzerland has not been “stable for centuries” as you suggest.

    The current German lander are artificial and unnecessary, a purely political reaction to National Socialist centralisation. The original lander were sovereign feudal states forced into a centralised empire by Prussian brute force and Bismarckian guile – not a model for David Cameron, we hope!

    Canada, of course, still has the Quebec Question.

    Australia is exceptional, possibly because it was largely a blank canvass on which Imperial administrators could paint whatever they pleased, the local inhabitants being few, scattered, and militarily insignificant.

    Having criticised your first paragraph at length, balance demands that the brilliance of your second paragraph should be acknowledged. It really deserves to be inscribed in letters of gold on the walls of the Assembly building. It sums up perfectly the issues raised by devolution all the parties should be addressing but none are. They need to stop talking about grand constitutional concepts and start talking about how they will make lives better.

  13. Its time Plaid Cymru was campaigning for Independence and the end of the union. Who wants London Tories be they New Labour, Real Tories, Cleggites or Fruitcakes meddling in the affairs of Wales?

  14. Mr Richards. Your historical knowledge is broad and impressive but ancient quarrels do not really bear on my point. The states I cited were no less stable than England or France, which are both unitary to a fault but also had civil wars and revolutions. Those federal states are stable now and not subject to the inevitable disintegration you implied.

  15. Keith Parry, must this be a dialogue of the deaf? Why not join us on planet Earth and respond to my challenge to Dafydd Williams, above?

  16. Mr Tredwyn, the point is that the ‘federal’ settlement in each of the cases you selected was a response to specific circumstances which are not applicable to Wales in 2014. What is happening is not a coming together of states but the dissolution of an existing nation state into what can only be described as sub-nation states. Some of us fail to see the advantage of this.

  17. I am a supporter of devolution partly because the UK was always highly centralised but had become ridiculously so after successive governments, notably the Thatcher ones, dismantled local government, removing all most of its powers and financial independence. The principle of subsidiarity applies in the UK as much as the EU. Welsh people should be able to make their own choices about matters affecting only Wales not be subject to one-size-fits-all policies devised in Westminster. However there is good reason to remain in a union for matters that transcend Welsh boundaries. Independence would require a drop in living standards that there is no sign that Welsh people wish to undergo and no Party has made a reasoned case about how they could use it to further well-being. I conclude some form of federalism for the UK is the best outcome, a view shared by some people in all political parties.

  18. Mr Tredwyn, we do agree on one thing: the UK is too centralised. However, another level of government was never the answer. Nor is replacing an overcentralised UK government with an overcentralised Welsh government. You are right that the principle of subsidiarity deserves broader application, but this means following it all the way to its logical conclusion – giving real power to local communities, families, and individuals. The Assembly is just another obstacle to that.

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