T N D Anderson argues that independence is the only remedy for economic marginalisation
Every weekday morning, hundreds of Wales’ best and brightest board trains for London and Manchester, or drive to Bristol or Birmingham. There, they earn good incomes, admittedly most of which is spent in Wales. Their rail fares and fuel costs go elsewhere, but that is small beer. They also add substantially to the GVA/capita of the areas where they work and produce. But not to that of Wales.
Our daily brain drain is probably our most significant export, yet Wales receives little return for it. The Barnett formula does not account for it. Overall, it is a large net loss. But we cannot condemn them for choosing to work in England. There are insufficient high-quality jobs in Wales currently to support the talented and innovative, whether graduates from Welsh universities or otherwise. They have made the choice to seek better prospects across the border. Who can blame them for making such a rational decision?
Will Wales ever provide sufficient quality work to retain those people and their skillsets here? In part, the answer will be driven by external forces. Climate change is continuing to drive up energy costs. Commuting – already a waste of time, money and energy – is likely to become increasingly, even prohibitively, expensive and less frequent. Deployment of ultra-speed broadband throughout Wales could facilitate much more home-working, and consequently higher local productivity.
Our existing transportation infrastructure is geared to meet the needs of England, and to a lesser extent Europe. Most highways and railways run west to east across Wales, while north – south travel remains difficult. This north – south divide harms our country politically – and economically.
Both the Labour Government in Wales and the UK Government are seemingly intent on providing further infrastructure – the New M4, the third Menai bridge – which will reinforce Wales’ position as a colony, supplying more of our most valuable resource, people, to enrich the economy of England. And allowing microscopically more efficient passage for freight from Ireland to and from mainland Europe, without touching the sides.
Already, the GVA/capita of Wales is the lowest of any region of Britain. There is no current initiative to redress this imbalance. Transfer payments from the UK Treasury make little difference. Fundamental structural reform appears on few agendas. Similarly, smart and sustainable growth.
Following the London model, the Cardiff City Region wants to adopt beggar-my-neighbour policies to increase its GVA/capita, already the highest in Wales, at the expense of the rest of Wales. The Metro – another unwise investment at its proposed scale and range – would aid and abet the pre-eminence of Cardiff. Small business owners outside of Cardiff (and Swansea, another putative city region in the making), should be alarmed by the drift of employment and economic activity into the city. This will undermine or bankrupt many local enterprises.
Continuing with and reinforcing the present model, in short, will perpetuate and exaggerate the differences in productivity between Cardiff and the rest.
Certainly not the Cardiff Establishment, which exhibits indifference to those outside it – in the Valleys, West, Mid and North Wales. Leadership will not here be found – either in big business or in the unionist parties. Despite all the data to the contrary, their interest is in holding on to the coat-tails of UK plc as being the best hope for Wales.
Well, we’ve tried that. Ask anyone from Blaenau Gwent or Haverford West or Ynys Mon if they think it has worked? Why has the proportion of hungry children in Wales increased from 31% to 33% in very recent years – despite the manifest brilliance of the UK Government’s financial and economic policies?
Fortunately, the Federation of Small Businesses, trade unions and many local councils have a clearer idea of how Wales could flourish. Sensibly, the FSB opposes the New M4 as irrelevant to the needs of Wales. The Wales TUC, in conjunction with the New Economics Foundation, has argued for a new industrial strategy for Wales. These are the people and organisations with their feet on the ground – where we all live and attempt to survive the vicissitudes of austerity and other counter-productive or ideologically driven Westminster policies.
There is no doubt that the Labour Government in Wales is culpable to the extent that they have been able to influence policy. Fair play to them, they have softened the worst of the clumsy mendacity reaching us from across the border. But not much. Some will hope that Jeremy Corbyn will make a difference. To the upper reaches of the Labour Party in both Wales and England though, Corbyn is just a bad dream that will soon end, and business as usual can resume. A cosy capitalist cabal, with only a tiny tinge of socialism…
At least since Thatcher, England has been a land of no alternatives. The peculiar cast of mind that challenges the status quo is absent, the intellectual community has been quietened, the universities have been emptied of mavericks, brown crap rules, and economists are in disarray, as ever. Meanwhile, the Government is not listening. Perfect.
Much of Scotland has realised that England has been doing them few favours. Independence there is surely inevitable. It is apparent from this blog that people in Wales have been doing some serious thinking about our country as well. Voices in the wilderness as yet maybe, but dissatisfaction is rising, and the people of Wales are beginning to think like the Scots.
Economic power flows from political power. Scotland’s renaissance is beginning. Mere devolution is proving not to be enough. Scotland’s strong national identity, much deepened by the referendum, has fostered a demand for self-government and independence.
Scottish solutions for Scottish problems…
Wales can choose to remain under Auntie England’s wing, and remain a peripheral basket-case with a limping economy. Or it too can say, we can do it better than Westminster and Whitehall! Welsh solutions for Welsh problems!
Is Wales to be, or not to be? Country or colony, that is the question. It is in our hands.
When we vote in May 2016 for the National Assembly, do we commit ourselves to marginal economic prospects for another four years? Or do we vote for change, and unequivocally begin our journey to self-realisation as a country and a culture?