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.

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