A chance to promote a new union

Kirsty Williams explains why she thinks Scotland should remain in the Union.

There is no doubt that the vote over Scottish independence next week is one of the most important votes our country has ever faced. Although only 8% of British citizens will be heading to the polls, the result will have a colossal impact on the entire United Kingdom and its politics.  Whatever the result, one thing is for certain: the status quo will not continue.

This week on Click on Wales

 This week on Click on Wales we’ve been examining the implications of the Scottish vote on Wales with a series from Welsh party leaders Leanne Wood, Kirsty Williams and Andrew RT Davies.

This comes ahead of the IWA’s key conference held this Thursday at the Wales Millennium Centre, which sets out to ask ‘What about Wales?’ This event focused on the effects of the referendum features an exciting lineup including Simon Jenkins, Gerald Holtham, Leanne Wood, Kirsty Williams and David Marquand. Limited numbers of tickets are still available at our Eventbrite site.

The referendum offers us a chance to promote a new Union, rather than stubbornly defend the old.  The Welsh Liberal Democrats offer people a more positive future:  not one of isolation, but one in which all corners of the United Kingdom are indeed stronger and better together.

I firmly believe that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. Being part of a strong family of nations like ours is in the best interest of not just Scotland but the rest of the UK too. We all benefit from a stronger economy, greater national security and a powerful international voice that would be hard to match as separate states. However, Scotland must have more powers to determine its future.  To simply do nothing in the event of a ‘No’ vote cannot be an option.

It’s clear that the constitutional make-up of the entire UK will have to change even if the ‘No’ side wins. All three unionist party leaders have already committed to more powers for Scotland in the event of a ‘No’ vote and finally, a debate is opening up about the powers Wales and the regions of England could be given in the future.

For many years my party has called for creation of a constitutional convention. This is why in 2010, the Liberal Democrat Manifesto called for a citizen’s convention to draft a new constitution for the people of Britain. In 2012, I gave evidence to the House of Commons’ Political and Constitutional Reform committee calling for a UK-wide constitutional convention to establish a durable settlement for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the regions of England.

I regret the fact that it’s taken such a large threat to our Union for many people to stand up and take notice and start discussing improvements to our nation’s constitutional relationship with the rest of the UK. Liberals have been advocating greater home rule for Wales and Scotland for over a century, and the Liberal Democrats have championed a federal solution for decades.  We want to bring a wider range of decisions closer to the people they affect, enabling local solutions to be found that take into account local circumstances.

While Wales, and the rest of the UK, must gain stronger powers, I have never quite understood the logic used by the SNP and Plaid Cymru to argue for independence. Both parties rightly recognise the vast benefits that come from being part of the family of nations that is the European Union – the economic prosperity, the millions of jobs, the cultural experiences. Yet both parties fail to apply this same reasoning to the United Kingdom – itself a family of nations that musters its economic and cultural strength from all four corners of these isles.

In an ever-changing world with an increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent population, it seems nonsensical to be putting up new borders. We should be taking every possible opportunity to co-operate with our neighbours across the world to deal with issues such as cross-border crime, global tax avoidance, climate change – problems that all nations face but cannot deal with alone.

In just a few years in Government, the Liberal Democrats have already delivered significant powers for Wales.  This momentum must continue. The rest of the UK has to gain greater devolved powers after September, and I will not allow Wales to be left behind in any such discussions. We must be given the tools we need to build a stronger Welsh economy, create a fairer society and provide the opportunity for everyone to get on in life.

Kirsty Williams is the Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. She is Assembly Member for Brecon and Radnorshire.

14 thoughts on “A chance to promote a new union

  1. Never understood the logic of the Liberal Democrats. They argue for decentralisation, but Kirsty’s party, during their period in Coalition at Westminster, has never seriously advocated Federalism – the obvious solution – whilst churning out the tired ‘Better Together’, ‘new Union’ rhetoric. This moribund talk of a family says it all. A family is not an egalitarian body. It is hierarchical. Scotland is not equal with England (neither are Wales and Northern Ireland). England is the parent, and the Celtic nations are the children. Scotland, in so many ways, wants to grow up and become a parent. Scotland doesn’t need the uncertainty of a No vote, with its promises (ha! ha!) of constitutional conventions, the chimera of ‘greater powers’, etc. History teaches us that the Scots will be led down the garden path with no guarantee of progress; see events after the 1979 referendum, and observe the ways in which Canada deceived the people of Quebec with jam tomorrow, whilst spreading lies about an impending economic collapse should Quebec say Yes. Essentially, the Liberal Democrats, like the other Unionist parties, find the type of “bottom up” grassroots movements for democracy, currently witnessed in Scotland, unpalatable. If it is a Yes, then everything changes; Scotland gains its independence, and existing political orders within Rump UK will be challenged. If it is a No, then we enter the next phase of British nationalist hegemony, with its duplicitous behaviour. and rabid Euroscepticism. Is this what Kirsty really desires?

  2. It’s true that the Lib Dems have delivered a fair amount of powers for Wales in a very short time. However, Wales still needs much more devolution.

  3. Fair enough. However, the strongest argument for Independence is clearly that we (might) get what we vote for. Currently, there is no democracy in this country (perhaps there never has been). Millions of people marched against the Iraq war and yet we went to war and have done so again and again at the behest of foreign powers or to protect multinational business or oil interests. Millions of people didn’t vote for the Tory/Labour political public school elite to govern us and yet that is what we have got. Millions of people have been put on the Austerity naughty step in one way or another by the ‘financial sector’. There is dissatisfaction to put it mildly.
    Even the USA which is the embodiment of an excellent federalisation model (and properly written Constitution) seems to be splitting into separate countries with State legislatures increasingly dominated by extreme right wing politicians hell bent on making the states independent of Washington so that Tea Party, Neo-Con, Climate Denying and Christian? End Timers values can be imposed and Federal regulatory shackles tossed aside.
    I suppose the best thing that has emerged from this is that it has engaged the general populace (hoi polloi) in ‘political’ discussion without having to sort these issues out with guns, knives and pitch forks as in historical times past. Take that you Sassenachs!

  4. Federalism is indeed a future hope should Scotland remain. However, the Scottish threat to the Union is of Westminster’s own making only too well demonstrated by Camerons arrogance in refusing the possibility as a question on the voting form. Like all main British political leaders they have not seen the story of the ” from the point of view of the constituent nations except when they make a noise, as when Welsh nationalists bombed holiday homes, of when the Scots threaten to leave. The only thing which has united this Kingdom has been ‘Empire’ although even that was a tenuous unity anyway. With the fall of colonisation and the uniting feeling of superiority over others the glue weakened and things began to fall apart. Westminster has never been able to understand why the Scots have always enjoyed a half hearted commitment to a state that has never really endorsed their uniqueness within it. The Welsh have been disappeared by the British Establishment who have never apologised for their colonial approach to the Welsh language, for instance, and the cruelty exerted over children (and adults) who had the temerity to speak the tongue at school or work. “Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief….” A joke? Not if you have such prejudices thrust down your throat by the Nethanderal’s of both sexes who think that to insult the Welsh is an acceptable past time on the media. More importantly, the Scottish and Welsh politic has never expressed itself in the same way as that of England and has suffered continued marginalisation by the Establishment and Westminster’s obsession with everything ‘English’ when referring to Britain. To ‘experiment’ with the ‘poll tax’ in Scotland was more than adding insult to injury it demonstrated exactly how Westminster thought of Scotland. To flood small Welsh communities in order to provide Liverpool and Birmingham with water in the face of strong Welsh opposition was criminal – a crime mandate by the Government on behalf of a crass and careless Liverpool City Council from whom an apology has never been received. So, we are ‘Better Together’? from whose point of view? What guarantee have either Scotland or Wales that once the fear has passed Westminster will not do what Westminster has always done: renague on the promise because circumstances have changed?

    The Rev Tony Coslett

  5. PS May I also comment that it is only during my life time (I am 65) and within the last few years that this ‘family of nations’ has been recognised by the Lib Dems as well as the other two main British centric parties. How convenient for a Lib Dem to bring this up now and to complain of nationalist ignorance of this ‘fact’ when, actually, everything has been done to expunge at least the Welsh member of the ‘family’ from the map. Not only the suppression and denigration of her language but also the consigning of her culture to the ‘romantic’ with a popular image of ‘hill-side welcomes’, ‘Iechyda’s’, ‘Bara brith’ and a fanaticism for Rugby. perhaps the Lib Dem’s could comment on the position Wales holds in Europe as one of the poorest regions in the whole Union: East and West. This is nothing to do with the Sennedd but everything to do with Westminster policy as our national poverty reaches far back into our history and is the direct outcome of rule from London. Wales could hardly be worse off out of the Union and is likely to be better off. So, poor, struggling to keep her language alive but proud that she has been able to despite unbelievable pressure from the Westminster elite, almost turned into one ‘National Park’ – anyone recall that suggestion from Westminster politicians some decades ago?- Cymru remains distinct but by her own efforts not those of the politicians who, through the centuries, have sold her out to self interest in London and the Capitalism that has exploited her resources for private gain and offered precious little in return. Plaid Cymru are far from the ideal but at least they offer an alternative to the three main London centric parties whose concern now is not for Cymru but for their own political positions in these islands should the family split and each go their own way. Frankly, if we have been a family then it has been disfunctional and the ‘kids’ (if Westminster is the ‘Mother of Parliaments’) would be better off going it alone. They might even be able to find another family Europe?) that ahs already offered them resources for their own growth and might welcome them as they grow up.

  6. “Being part of a strong family of nations like ours”

    The strong one of the family is England, the wife and kids have to do as they’re told regardless of whether they agree or benefit from the actions of the patriarch.
    As Kirsty Williams points out a hundred years of marriage counseling by the Liberals and Lib Dems hasn’t worked.
    That’s why divorce is a real possibility, Mam’s packed her bags and Dad is promising to change.
    Whether there is a divorce or not the kids will have to grow up quick as Mam is going to be busy restarting her career and no longer in the kitchen for the kids to run and hide behind when Dad starts acting in a way, well like we know he usually does.

  7. “I have never quite understood the logic used by the SNP and Plaid Cymru”

    It really is quite simple Kirsty (or did you just not want to say it)… it’s based on an inferiority complex fuelled hatred of the English. Nothing more, nothing less

  8. To the Rev Tony Coslett,

    I’m not sure what I’m more suspicious of….a religious man or somebody who refers to a country/nation/piece of rock as a “her”.

  9. Usual Liberal Democrat waffle I’m sorry to say. Citizen’s Convention ? What does that mean in everyday English for a start? How will the composition of this convention be decided? Will it be elected or selected from the great and the good ? Will the sans culottes even have a say or will it be the usual suspects? When after the First World War Germany had to draw up a new constitution the Constituent Assembly was elected. When 12 of the 13 colonies met to draw up the US constitution the delegations were all selected by the colonial legislatures and they all had mandates. The constitution had then to be approved by the same legislatures. Rhode Island which is often mentioned in the First Minsters’ musings on federalism and which didn’t attend the Convention was the last to approve the constitution. In fact it was forced to under the threat that if it didn’t it would be carved up by its surrounding states. This leads on two other points which Kirsty Williams might answer. Will the Citizens Convention have equal representation from Wales, England, Northern Ireland and Scotland or will representation be based on population? Population based representation would, of course , mean domination by England. Secondly would the written constitution which emerges from the convention have to be ratified by a UK wide referendum and what would happen if a majority in that referendum rejected the constitution? Why is Northern Ireland even included when there is now an opportunity to write the injustice of the 1918 UK General election where the democratic wishes of the Irish people for a United Ireland were ignored? Surely the people of Northern Ireland should first have a referendum which asks whether they wish to join a federal UK or join the Republic of Ireland? Serious questions would also have to be asked and answered about the financial arrangements of any proposed UK Federation. Given as Kirsty Williams points out the Liberal Democrats have been arguing for Home Rule all round for over 100 years I’ m assuming that we might get some answers. Sadly this is a mess made in Westminster by all the mainstream UK parties. The cause of a United Kingdom has also not been helped by the divisive policies of the Tory/ Liberal Democrat Coalition. Why should anyone in Scotland hit by the bedroom tax which the Liberal Democrats supported vote yes? Frankly it has been embarrassing watching the performance of the UK Party leaders in Scotland today. I’m surprised Cameron didn’t start to sing Ammanford’s Donald Peers’ hit song which reached no 3 in the charts ‘Please Don’t Go’. Even if no do win next week I dread to think what is going to happen if and when we have a referendum on the EU given the performance of all the main UK parties in Scotland.

  10. Is this the Same Kirsty Williams who conned Nick Clegg to promise Devo Max to Wales or thereabout when all polls of recent commissioned by BBC Wales clearly show that most people in Wales have no interest in more devo, circa 40% want WAG abolished and significant number do not have a clue what WAG is about!?

    Most Lib-Dem MP’s will be lucky to keep their deposit in Westminster elections next year and most likely will be wiped out from Wales in 2016.

    UK people want honesty and integrity from their political representatives and Lib-Dems in the Bay and Westminster have disfranchised most of their supporters.

  11. Jeff Jones, Don’t worry, there won’t be a referendum on the EU. If Scots vote no the next govt will be a Lab-Lib coalition and they won’t hold a referendum. If the Scots vote yes the next government will be a minority Conservative government under George Osborne and they won’t be able to get the referendum through the House of Commons against Labour and Liberal opposition. Having lost one referendum they thought was a shoo-in win (if they do), the Liberals will not support the Tories to hold one on Europe. I agree with you that the performance of UK politicians has been abject and that no constitutional convention will take place, If Scots vote no, some sort of devo-max will be cobbled together ad hoc in the time-honoured British fashion.

    I like Kirsty Williams but she is suffering from delusions of grandeur in writing “I will not allow Wales to be left behind…”. Oh no? What exactly will you do about it – you and who’s army? Of course Wales will be left behind, nothing surer, because we don’t know what we want anyway. Take Carwyn who wants to be offered more powers so he can turn them down because he doesn’t get enough money. Hopeless.

  12. Fuck me – Jack & CapM – there’s a simple reason why England dominates the UK. Its because its bigger and has far, far more people living in it than the rest of the UK.

    Federalism and electoral reform is the way forward – not ‘independence’ based on willfully ignorant nationalist fantasy.

  13. @ James
    “Federalism and electoral reform is the way forward – not ‘independence’ based on willfully ignorant nationalist fantasy.”

    In a little over a week it might be evident that the “willfully ignorant nationalist fantasy” was actually the preserve of British nationalists, or Unionists as they prefer to be called.

  14. The Rev Tony Coslett. Your analysis is about 100 years out of date as whilst there is still widespread relative poverty in old working class areas,there is also relative wealth amongst many in management positions in public sector.Just have a look at the car park in Waitrose in leafy Cowbridge and compare with Tesco in Bridgend.Even rugby football which used to be a game for all classes with very affordable prices at International matches is now dominated by the well-off who can afford the average ticket price of £60-£80 per match. We are now much more like southern England than nationalist/socialist pretend as the gap in wealth/educational attainments between the old working class and the professional/managerial classes are widening as we speak. The state in Wales is now practising a form of linguistic separation in its schooling policies which will have further detrimental impacts on welsh life. In conclusion this welsh ‘nationhood’ is a myth as the capitalistic model has won the day.

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